Title Translation: Boys Over Flowers / Boys Before Flowers (based on a Japanese pun meaning dumplings over flowers )
No. of episodes: 9
Theme songs: "Wish" - Arashi (opening); "Planetarium" - Otsuka Ai (interlude)
* Based on the Japanese shoujo manga of the same title, by Yoko Kamio
Matsumoto Jun as Doumyouji Tsukasa
Inoue Mao as Makino Tsukushi
Oguri Shun as Hanazawa Rui
Matsuda Shota as Nishikado Sojiro
Abe Tsuyoshi as Mimasaka Akira
Sato Megumi as Sanjou Sakurako
Kaga Mariko as Doumyouji Kaede (mother to Tsukasa)
Matsushima Nanako as Doumyouji Tsubaki (sister to Tsukasa)
Sada Mayumi as Toudou Shizuka (first love to Rui)
Nishihara Aki as Matsuoka Yuki (friend to Makino)
Sakai Ayana as Kurimaki Ayano (fiance to Tsukasa)
Since the plotline of this series is roughly the same as the Taiwanese version of this manga, Meteor Garden (MG), which everyone under the sun has either watched or knows about, I will concentrate on the analysis of this series. I've watched MG 4 or 5 times, so I will do this review in a kind of comparison style.
Why oh why did the casting team follow in the footsteps of its Taiwanese counterpart and cast a boyband member (Matsumoto Jun) to be F4 leader in Hana Yori Dango (HYD)? Did they learn nothing from MG? Obviously not. I'd never thought I'd say this, but both Jerry Yan and Vic Zhou from MG surpass Matsumoto Jun and Oguri Shun in terms of acting ability. How sad. Why? First off, both Japanese actors are physically wrong for their roles. Matsumoto Jun is thin and short and looks like Inoue could crush him with her finger if she wanted to. I remained completely unconvinced that this Doumyouji could take on the dozens of people that he beats up in the manga. And don't get me started on Oguri Shun, who is much too pretty-boy to be Rui. And why on earth would Rui have an earring and dress in super-fashionable clothes? He is not supposed to be Mr. Trendy.
In terms of acting, Matsumoto Jun is average but Jerry Yan was better. Jerry captured both the immaturity and bullheaded-ness of his character and he is really scary at the beginning when beating people up. As for Jun, I'm sorry, but I laughed during the scenes in which he was a bully, because he did not exude even half of the intimidation that Jerry was able to. There is one aspect in which Jun is better, and it is that he has better chemistry with Inoue than Jerry did with Barbie (despite the many kissing scenes of the latter).
Then comes Oguri Shun. At first I was thinking "This guy is supposed to be Rui?!". No. So darn wrong for the role and it doesn't help that the Japanese screenwriters made him talk so much. Rui is not supposed to be a chatterbox. He is supposed to be quiet and mysterious. So in this way, the script fails Shun but... well, his performance was nothing to write home about anyway. Three words describe him: plastic pretty boy. Ok, so Vic Zhou is not even a pretty boy (don't shoot me, fans, but I think the guy's ugly!) but at least he got the 'quiet expressionless' Rui-ness down.
Matsuda Shota and Abe Tsuyoshi are just as forgettable as Ken Zhu and Vaness Wu were in MG, but better looking. As for the supporting performances, once again MG reigns supreme. Kaga Mariko does not even hold a candle to Zhen Xiu Shen as Tsukasa's mother. Yes, Mariko laughs evilly and smirks, but nowhere did she compare to Zhen's performance, which absolutely breathed authority, coldness, and intimidation. Same goes for Matsushima Nanako and Mary Hsu as Tsukasa's sister. Nanako smiles way too much; I get that she is supposed to be nice to Makino but she is also supposed to be tomboyish and be able to push Tsukasa around. Nanako was way too ladylike to be who I imagined Tsubaki to be, especially around Tsukasa.
The one redeeming factor in the cast is Inoue Mao, who is a much more natural and consistent actress than Barbie Hsu. She does well with the role of Makino, giving her strength and tomboyishness. Too bad the rest of the cast wasn't paying as much attention as her.
Grab Bag: Miscellaneous Comments
Since HYD is so short, it is actually much more like a Japanese comic or cartoon (especially the opening credits - which I loved), whereas MG was... well, a Taiwanese series (more melodramatic, etc). Both do well portraying the elite university and its snobby students, with HYD doing better in terms of providing expensive props (Manolo Blahnik shoes, diamond watches) and MG doing better portraying the grandness of Eitoku. The storyline and its chronology are almost identical, with a few differences. In HYD, Sanjou kidnaps Makino and Doumyouji goes to save her and it is revealed that Sanjou had always loved Doumyouji and even had plastic surgery in an attempt to gain his attention. In MG, the character of Sanjou is Li Zhen, and Shan Cai (Makino) is actually kidnapped by a guy named Xiao Xun whose brother was once almost killed by Dao Ming Si (Doumyouji). HYD also features the little-shown Teen of Japan competition (which was absent in both the Taiwanese and anime remake of the manga). HYD is also closer to the manga by casting Makino's younger brother in the series (who was missing in MG). But HYD writers also put in that bit about Rui and his apples which was, to say the least, annoying and irrelevant. In general, MG has a better script with the benefit of length to flesh out plots, subplots, and characters.
So which is better? In my opinion, MG by a long shot. Maybe if HYD were longer and re-cast Doumyouji and Rui, it would be better. And if they took out the part after every episode where the cast tries to sell its DVDs or get the audience to enter in contests by having the cast speak directly to the camera. That killed any sentiment of credibility and reminded us that we were, yes, only watching TV.
When Makino visits Doumyouji's mansion for the first time and when trying to find her way out, she reaches the dining room that is as grand as the Grand Hall from the Harry Potter movies. Her eyes widen as she says in disbelief "What the heck is this - Harry Potter?".
From the Grapevine
Inoue Mao and Matsushima Nanako belong to the same talent agency, Seventh Avenue. Inoue is a first-year student at Meiji University majoring in theatre and she's taking Chinese as her second language elective. Some might recognize Matsushima from the uber-scary Ringu, the Japanese TV horror series that was remade into the Hollywood movies The Ring and The Ring II.
To Watch or Not to Watch, That is the Question
Strictly for Meteor Garden fans or fans of the manga/anime for comparison purposes. Might not contain anything compelling for anyone else.