Watching Flower Boy Next Door while also doing a re-watch of Flower Boy Ramyun Shop made for some awesome opportunities to compare and contrast the two dramas. They were both helmed by the same director, Jung Jung-hwa, and there were some obvious moments of similarity. (One example: both male leads arrive by plane, and their reactions to their fellow passengers tell us how they interact with the world.)
But what I most enjoyed seeing was how differently the two dramas played with the typical romantic-comedy structure to tell their stories. That’s what this post is about.
Oh yes, there will be spoilers. Lots and lots of spoilers.
Ramyun Shop embraced (and sometimes made gentle fun of) that structure, tweaking it up to an almost surreal level to create interest in what was, on the surface, a very conventional plot. While Next Door consistently pulled the rug out from under our expectations, breaking from (sometimes explicitly) while at the same time using that structure and audience familiarity with it, to provide tension for what was actually a low-key, slice-of-life plot.
For clarity, I’ve broken down the typical rom-com structure into these seven stages: Meet Cute; Initial Rejection; Confused Jealousy; Declaration of Love; Sacrifice for Love; Truth Revealed; Happily Ever After. (I’ve provided what I consider classic examples in K-drama of each stage at the end of this post. Beware spoilers.)
Meet Cute: The main couple meet in an interesting way — something that makes for a funny and/or awkward story.
Ramyun Shop: Chi-soo slams into the bathroom stall Eun-bi is exiting. To keep her quiet (he’s hiding from some people), he fake-seduces her as they stand over the toilet. They almost kiss and bells literally ring. Sweet romance. In the public bathroom.
Next Door: They first meet when Enrique discovers Dok-mi hunched outside his door (she’s checking on a dog). But she makes a hasty exit, he lets her go, and neither seems that impressed with the other. It’s a funny meeting and we viewers know they’ll meet again, but there’s no bells and no hint of sexual tension. The cute is there (and will get even stronger with their next meeting), but the romance not so much. Not yet.
Initial Rejection: One character is annoyed (at best) by their future love-interest and wants nothing to do with them.
Ramyun Shop: Chi-soo cooly rejects Eun-bi using his classic (as described by him) technique: compliment her to get her quiet, and kiss her on the forehead to leave her stunned. This stage gets exaggerated though by Eun-bi overhearing him explain to his friends what he’d done. Her surging, bear-like, rage leads to her rejecting him via a volley ball serve to the head. Which was awesome and dramatic and cheer-worthy and leaves Chi-soo scrambling to get her back so he can reject her properly. (A classic rejection, but slightly wrong-footed.)
Next Door: The rejection is gender-reversed, in that it’s Dok-mi, not Enrique doing the rejecting. And it comes in an episode all about lying. One where both Dok-mi and Enrique confess to small lies they’d told the other (sick grandmother; bad GPS directions). So when Dok-mi lies that she’d prefer they never interact again (the rejection), they’ve both already started the discussion about lying and why it’s done. Enrique discovers the truth (pretty much immediately) and basically ignores the rejection. He knows it comes from Dok-mi’s social anxieties. And the thing is, she realizes it, too. Which flies in the face of usual trope where the rejector is sure they honestly don’t like the other person. But as this all happens at the end of one episode and the beginning of the next, it feels like a standard stage even as it’s unusually short.
Confused Jealousy: Despite the initial rejection, the character gets suspiciously upset when a possible rival starts sniffing around their future love interest. A competitive battle begins. Though understanding what’s driving the battle is often a step too far for our jealous character.
Ramyun Shop: It’s Kang-hyuk’s appearance in Eun-bi’s life that gets Chi-soo’s competitiveness raging. But Chi-soo isn’t just low on emotional intelligence, he’s practically inhuman. His feelings are so foreign he needs his best friend to explain them to him. And when given the unfamiliar word “jealousy” he actually rips the definition out of the dictionary (in a hilariously sneaky move that made it seem he was seeking out and keeping filthy, filthy porn) to peruse in private so he can wrap his head around this bizarre concept.
Next Door: Not only does this stage not happen, it gets totally reversed. As soon as Enrique meets Jin-rak he wants to become friends. Also, meeting Jin-rak creates interest in Jin-rak; it doesn’t boost Enrique’s interest in Dok-mi any higher than it was. And when he realizes Jin-rak has been nurturing a crush on Dok-mi for years, he tries to get them together. Enrique is confused about his feelings (he doesn’t realize, at first, the reason behind his deep commitment to help Dok-mi emerge from her hiding place), which does fit with the stage. But it’s that commitment, not any confused jealousy or possessiveness, that allow Enrique’s feelings to grow to a point he finally understands them.
Declaration of Love: After battling through the jealousy stage, finally the character (usually the guy) is ready to admit the truth. He is in love. This is usually followed by some sort of declaration (and if we’re really lucky, a kiss). The feeling is not always mutual –depending on how ugly the “Confused Jealousy” section got — but it’s the first giant step towards the happy ending.
Ramyun Shop: Chi-soo finally realizes why he’s so obsessed with Eun-bi, races off on a motorcycle to find her, pulls her out of a movie theater, and plants a kiss on her right there on the sidewalk. Bells ring. It’s highly dramatic and swoon-worthy and discussion (and Eun-bi’s reaction) comes later. This is the very first step in their recognizing they might start a relationship of some sort.
Next Door: Because the last two stages were either quickly handled or skipped over, Enrique and Dok-mi have had several episodes of getting to know each other. So when Enrique has his own moment of realizing that, “hey, wait a minute — I like her!” it’s not a big dramatic moment. And, because he’s got a good idea of how Dok-mi thinks, he doesn’t force himself on her with a dramatic confession. So she gets her own slow moment of realization and (more importantly for her) time to accept her feelings. And then they talk about it. And only then do they kiss. But it takes about 2 episodes for all that to happen — from Enrique’s realization to the kiss. Of course, it also means they’re both on the same page (about how they feel for each other, at least). But since we skip a stage (Confused Jealousy) it feels like the realization comes quickly, rather than after a lot of talking.
Sacrifice for Love (aka The Noble-Idiot): The character, finally realizing how much they love the other character, makes a sacrifice for them. It often involves a breakup of some sort and is the stage most open to misuse (hence “The Noble Idiot” moniker). But that’s another discussion. For now let’s just agree that this stage exists and is a common feature of the typical rom-com structure.
Ramyun Shop: Chi-soo and Eun-bi have been getting to know each other and he finally realizes he can’t, and actually doesn’t want to, force her to become someone she’s not. So he leaves her, at the same time saving the Ramyun Shop from destruction. He thinks the shop is the only thing standing between his friends and miserable poverty. His belief that if they don’t have the shop they’ll end up selling their organs for cash is overwrought, but his reaction is sincere. And actually kind of sweet. For the first time ever he allows himself to feel pain in order to protect others. It’s incredibly noble (and sweetly idiotic) and completely in character for someone so new at this compassion thing. Chi-soo has learned how to love.
Next Door: Both Enrique and Dok-mi are too into talking with each other for this stage to really get off the ground. The director teases the viewers by making it seem like Dok-mi is going to behave idiotically noble to convince Enrique to take a job opportunity in Spain. But neither are much for lying. Instead, after talking doesn’t clarify things, Enrique has them switch roles (him as the shut-in, her as the one knocking on the door) to better understand how the other feels. Which isn’t idiotic. And not so much noble as adorably funny and insightful (and frankly, pretty mature).
Truth Revealed: Finally, finally both characters realize they are loved by the other. Whatever called for a character’s sacrifice is resolved and they are finally able to fully declare their love and believe it and mean it. Music swells aaaand scene. (And hopefully, kiss.)
Ramyun Shop: After Eun-bi realizes why Chi-soo rejected her and the shop, she races to his rescue. Carrying a plunger. In a scene straight out of a fairytale, though very much gender-reversed, she confronts his father, claims Chi-soo as hers, and pulls him out of that gilded tower. They both admit they cannot live happily without each other and thus they should be in a relationship. Music swells aaaand scene. (And also, kiss!).
Next Door: Once again, we’ve skipped over a stage. And without the need for a sacrifice, there’s not really a moment of revealed truth. (Though we get another tease with a suggestion that, this time, Enrique is about to pull a sacrifice for love move. Which, of course, doesn’t happen.) What does happen is much more personal and related to this particular story and these particular characters. Dok-mi has to confront a situation similar to her time in high-school that led to her social anxiety. After she goes through it, with Enrique’s help, they’re able to fully settle into, commit to, their relationship. Which leads to a trip away together, mutual confessions, and a new trust in their ability to love each other. But because this is something they’ve grown into, not a dramatic moment of decision, music doesn’t swell and there’s no kiss. Not yet.
Happily Ever After: This is the coda to the piece and it’s not always included. Often times the “Truth Revealed” is considered enough. But if there’s any sort of epilogue the coda confirms that what our characters have realized is really, really true and they’re really, really together now.
Ramyun Shop: Chi-soo arrives back from his army duty and we learn he and Eun-bi haven’t seen each other the whole time he’s been away. So they’ve been on hold as Chi-soo transitions from high-school student to man. But now they meet in the middle of a bridge, closing the gap to kiss each other. And once more music swells and bells ring. It’s practically a redux of their last kiss scene. But, as the credits begin, there’s a last flicker of light from the Ramyun Shop that brought them together. They’re not going back there (Eun-bi is studying for her teacher’s certificate again), but it was their launching pad, and now they’re finally going forward, finally together.
Next Door: Enrique comes back from working in Spain, surprising Dok-mi with his early arrival. But they’ve been in constant communication. And while it’s at their reunion that we get the dramatic kiss with swelling music and swirly camera-work, there’s less a sense of a relationship beginning than one continuing on. Dok-mi still lives in her building and the last scene is of them and their neighbors. They both have a home, a nest, with Enrique grounded and Dok-mo no longer hiding. And their life is moving forward together.
These were two drastically different stories. Ramyun Shop was a coming-of-age, bigger and brighter than life; Next Door was more philosophical, quiet and understated. But they both used the rom-com structure to connect with their viewers. Ramyun Shop used the structure to ground their story, make its silliness seem familiar, the over-the-top moments understandable. Next Door used the structure to push quiet moments along, provide flair for otherwise understated conflicts.
Two drastically different stories, but both brilliantly told. I’m eager to see what Jung Jung-hwa does next.
Spoiler filled examples of the rom-com structure: The spoilers get worse as we go and are for Delightful Girl Chun-hyang; My Girlfriend is a Gumiho; Best Love; Personal Taste; Heartstrings; Prosecutor Princess; Secret Garden.
Meet Cute: Delightful Girl Chun-hyang: Chun-hyang leaps over a wall, accidentally lands on Mong-ryong and he accidentally takes up-skirt pictures of her with his cellphone.
Initial Rejection: My Girlfriend is a Gumiho: Dae-woong tries and tries and tries some more to get away, escape really, from Mi-ho.
Confused Jealousy: Best Love: Jin’s reaction to Pil-joo giving Ae-jung a rose on the dating reality show the two are doing.
Declaration of Love: Personal Taste: Jin-ho kisses Kae-in, confesses that he loves her and also that he’s not gay.
Sacrifice for Love: Heartstrings: Shin breaks up with Kyu-won so she’ll take advantage of a study-abroad program and realize her acting dreams.
Truth Revealed: Prosecutor Princess: In-woo and Hye-ri in the park, all issues and mysteries solved. Finally.
Happily Ever After: Secret Garden: Not only do Ra-im and Joo-won have a wedding night and a happily-ever-after montage. We see them several years down the road with three kids. Now that’s really, really, really together.