‘F4 Thailand’ Review: When A Story Gets One Too Many Versions

‘Boys Over Flowers’ got a Thai makeover

F4 Thailand a.k.a. Thailand’s version of Yoko Kamio’s Hana Yori Dango/Boys Over Flowers recently wrapped. As expected, it caused quite a buzz just like its previous iterations.

F4 Thailand plot

The story is about Gorya (Tu Tontawan Tantivejakul), a girl from a poor family who is able to go to an elite high school through a scholarship. She secretly despises the school’s open secret, which is a free-for-all bullying campaign towards anyone who gets a ‘red card’ from the F4 led by Thyme (Bright Vachirawit).

One day, Gorya gets into trouble with the F4 when she tries to defend her friend from Thyme’s bullying. Gorya becomes the school’s new target because Thyme issues her a red card. Done with how the F4 runs the school, Gorya declares war against Thyme. At first, Thyme accepts the challenge. However, Thyme slowly realises that the more Gorya fights back, the more he’s actually falling in love with her.

The series ran for 16 episodes, all available via GMMTV’s official YouTube channel.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the other versions, it’s safe to say that this story is iconic and, of course, Thailand’s take on the story piqued our interest. That’s why we decided to check it out to see how different it is from the other versions plus deliver our verdict on whether or not this adaptation did better than its predecessors.

The original Hana Yori Dango story

Hana Yori Dango has undeniably become a classic. It can even be credited for reinventing the rich-boy-falls-for-poor-girl trope in recent Asian pop culture.

It follows the story of Tsukushi Makino, a poor but strong-willed girl who goes against the rich and popular quartet known as F4 led by Tsukasa Domyouji. As Tsukushi continues to fight against the F4 and the entire school’s bullying, she finds herself unexpectedly getting a declaration of love from Tsukasa himself.

The manga ended with a total of 37 volumes. In 1996, it was adapted into an anime series. But its true success was found in its many live-action television adaptations.

The Hana Yori Dango/Boys Over Flowers TV adaptations over the years

The Hana Yori Dango TV and film phenomenon actually started with the lesser-known 1995 Japanese film adaptation of the same title starring Shosuke Tanihara and Yuki Uchida. The manga was still ongoing at the time this movie was released, which meant a lot of liberties were taken plot-wise. Even now, not a lot of people know that this version existed.

In 2001, however, the manga’s inarguably most well-known adaptation was created. Taiwan’s Meteor Garden led by Jerry Yan and Barbie Hsu kickstarted the F4 fever all over Asia. This resulted in a spin-off, Meteor Rain, which aired the same year and Meteor Garden 2 in 2002.

Japan, of course, released its own drama version, Hana Yori Dango in 2005 starring Mao Inoue and Arashi’s Jun Matsumoto. This adaptation had a second season in 2007 called Hana Yori Dango Returns and a 2008 film Hana Yori Dango: Final, which earned JPY7.75 billion at the box office. In 2018, it had a sequel Hana Nochi Hare based on a manga series also created by Yoko Kamio. The drama featured new leads but included cameos from the original series cast, including Matsumoto.

In the same year the Japanese sequel was released, the Chinese Meteor Garden reboot starring Dylan Wang and Shen Yue also aired. This version, as expected, reignited the F4 fever.

But, if we’re being honest, we thought that 2018 was the last we’ll see of this narrative, especially since Hana Yori Dango’s problematic themes like glorifying and even romanticising toxic masculinity and bullying no longer have a place in today’s television.

However, fast forward to 2022, F4 Thailand starring Bright Vachirawit and Tu Tontawan Tantivejakul happened. They are joined by Dew Jirawat Sutivanichsak as the melancholic second male lead Ren; Metawin Opas-iamkajorn as the group’s playboy Kavin; and Nani Hirunkit Changkham as the group’s calm but mischievous member MJ. Supermodel and host Cindy Bishop completed the main cast as Thyme’s-mum-slash-iron-lady, Roselyn.

girl in uniform and boy in suit

F4 Thailand starred Bright Vachirawit as Thyme and Tu Tontawan Tantivejakul as Gorya. (Photo from: @bbrightvc)

F4 Thailand review: what this adaptation did better

The bullying wasn’t ‘out in the open’

In the other versions, the bullying was open all over the school, with teachers afraid of what the F4 might do to their careers should they speak against the quartet. Every student besides the female lead was also shown to be completely enchanted by the F4 and are all willing participants in bullying whoever receives a red card.

However, in the Thai adaptation, the bullying was done in an abandoned stadium on the school grounds, free from CCTV cameras. This shows that the F4 isn’t all-powerful unlike in the other versions and are mere enablers of this ‘dark practice’ the students do to those they target.

It was also shown that not every student is on board with what the F4 was doing, which is why the bullying is done in a place with no CCTV. This is because the students, F4 included, still somehow fear that what they’re doing will be exposed and that there will be consequences.

Gorya’s shoes and her using them to teach Thyme a lesson

One of the most famous lines from Boys Over Flowers that is repeated in all versions is “good shoes take you to good places”. This is said by every iteration of Shizuka Todo’s character, a woman Tsukushi admires, who also happens to be the second lead Rui’s first love. Shizuka ends up giving Tsukushi a beautiful pair of heels, which is a very Cinderella-like reference.

While F4 Thailand also recreated this moment, this version made the context even more heartfelt. In the pilot episode, Gorya’s parents said the same line as they gave her a pair of simple school shoes. They said that, hopefully, it would make her feel less left out by her rich classmates.

However, later in the story, the bullies snatched Gorya’s shoes and ended up giving them to Thyme. Thyme slashed one of the shoes with a knife while mocking Gorya. When Thyme threw away the shoe, Gorya picked it up and wore it despite its ruined shape. Remembering how much her parents worked just to buy her the shoes, Gorya used them to kick Thyme to show him that she will not back down. Episode 2 opens by showing the audience that Gorya’s mum stitched the shoe together and she continued to wear it to school.

This change definitely added an extra layer of emotional context to why Gorya decided to fight back against Thyme. It’s a great parallel to the Japanese version where the female lead was reminded of her family’s sacrifices, which motivated her to do what she did.

Thyme apologising to his ‘victims’

In Episode 11 of F4 Thailand, the drama did something that none of the other versions did: Thyme’s character apologising to the victims of F4’s bullying. While the drama didn’t exactly deliver this ‘redemption arc’ in the best way possible (more on this later), it’s interesting to finally see a version that called out the actions of the F4 upfront and even went out of its way to show Thyme apologising to his victims one by one.

four men in formal clothes

Left to right - Meet the F4. Dew Jirawat Sutivanichsak as Ren, Bright as Thyme, Metawin Opas-iamkajorn as Kavin, and Nani Hirunkit Changkham as MJ.

F4 Thailand review: what this version did not-so-well

Thyme’s redemption arc was treated poorly

Following the previous point, while they did something the other versions didn’t do, it was also treated very lightly. The scene happened in not more than five minutes through a quick flashback. It was implied that every single one of Thyme’s victims accepted his apology and that he was ready to move on.

We never really see him having to deal with it emotionally because the scene was done in passing. It felt as if it was an afterthought, a catalyst for transitioning to the other arcs of the story. It also villainised other characters to show that Thyme was sincere about ‘being better’.

F4 Thailand’s attempt to reshape Thyme’s character was great and all, but it felt so lukewarm that it made the story more frustrating than something worth applauding.

In comparison, the Japanese version’s treatment of the male lead’s growth was a lot more fleshed out. While Tsukasa Domyouji never apologised to his victims, he later learned how his problematic behaviours affected people when he ruined the life of an employee-turned-friend with his actions. It impacted him so much to the point that it haunted him in his dreams. He was willing to give up his love for Tsukushi if it meant being a worthy heir to their company. He started treating people better and started to slowly change. In the 2018 sequel, the red card was even called out for being a horrible part of Domyouji’s past.

Gorya was reduced as Thyme’s therapist

F4 Thailand’s biggest issue is its treatment of its female lead. The drama seemed to have forgotten that while the story is also about the F4, the female lead’s strength and determination are the real reason why this story became iconic. Hana Yori Dango’s protagonist was not meant to be the male lead’s therapist; the female lead was a worthy equal who taught the male lead never to underestimate anyone regardless of any prejudices. She was also prone to making mistakes and learning from them, making her relatable to some extent.

In this version, Gorya can seem to do no wrong and is merely there to preach every single time Thyme does something bad. Even in Gorya’s encounter with Thyme’s mum Roselyn, they made it about Thyme and Thyme’s ‘growth’ rather than Gorya fighting for her pride and dignity.

Gorya and Thyme never had room to ‘grow’

Another of this version’s ‘con’ is Gorya and Thyme’s relationship became the sole reason why they ‘grew’. The plot never allowed Gorya to overcome challenges outside of Thyme and the F4 unlike Shan Cai, Tsukushi, and Jan Di in the other versions. In moments where she has to go through something, she’s allowed to process it alone for two seconds on screen before someone swoops in with a solution.

Meanwhile, Thyme’s ‘growth’ is very confusing, since he acts mature and ‘better’ in some moments and then reverts to his problematic self the next. Gorya either becomes Thyme’s punching bag (not literally but verbally) or his guardian angel during these moments.

The scoring usually doesn’t match the scenes

Harlem Yu’s Qing Fei De Yi for Meteor Garden, Flavor Of Life from Hikaru Utada for Hana Yori Dango, Paradise by T-Max of Boys Over Flowers Korea — these songs added to the fullness of the dramas.

And while F4 Thailand’s main theme Who Am I (sung by the cast’s F4) is a great drama opener, the songs and musical score they chose for the rest of the scenes are usually mismatched. In some instances, dialogues are drowned out by sappy ballads. In other cases, emotional scenes are scored with funky upbeat music. It definitely ruins the mood and makes you wonder if it would come across differently with another song playing in the background.

The product placement ruins emotional moments

We get it — product placement is part of any TV show or movie. And yes, Korean dramas are great examples of how these ads can be too obvious sometimes. But we usually don’t mind because product placements in K-dramas are usually reserved for lighthearted filler scenes.

F4 Thailand is different. Scenes like someone making an emotional apology to Gorya, a heartfelt conversation between Kavin and MJ about F4’s friendship, and even Thyme and Gorya’s romantic moments are often bombarded by obvious product placement that take you away from the scene completely.

Overall verdict

The drama started out strong with its first two episodes. However, as it started to explore the love story between its two leads, its attempt to ‘modernise’ the story and make it less problematic than its predecessors made it feel like it's trying too hard to be ‘woke’. While it did have some good takes on the Hana Yori Dango narrative, F4 Thailand is proof that remaking storylines should have limits.

(Cover photo from: @bbrightvc)

Next, check out our breakdown of Twenty Five Twenty One’s ending.

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