Note: This is a series that I’ve breezed by on netflix more than a dozen times. Why, you ask? I didn’t find the summary and premise all that appealing. In fact, it was probably the least interesting summary of all the k-dramas that are currently on netflix. So, I’ll be taking my own advice in the future and not judge k-dramas by cover images and summaries alone. Sometimes the reward outweighs the risk.
That said, To The Beautiful You is based on the Japanese shōjo manga series, Hanazakari no Kimitachi e. And while I haven’t watched the Japanese or Taiwanese TV adaptations, I am going to judge this series solely on what I know. If you have read the manga or watched the other TV adaptations, feel free to weigh in with your comments. I’m genuinely curious to know how To The Beautiful You did at bringing this story to life on the small screens.
To The Beautiful You tells the story of high-schooler, Goo Jae Hee. She grew up in America and had a tough time there. She was bullied heavily, and you can tell that it took a toll on her. She looked pretty miserable and depressed. As a victim of bullying myself, I found that I really understood where this character is coming from.
Then, one day, she sees Kang Tae Joon pole vaulting on TV and she’s completely enraptured by him. And it’s not just because of his looks or his athletic ability — it is also by the things he says. Miracle is just another name for hard work is one of his quotes that Jae Hee takes to heart. He inspires her to join track and field. She perseveres and becomes a great runner — a success she believes is all thanks to Tae Joon. So, when Jae Hee learns that Tae Joon is injured, she gets the crazy idea to travel to Korea and masquerade as a boy at all all boys school. This is all with the intention to repay a debt, but the relationship between Tae Joon and Jae Hee blossoms into something much more amazing as the series progresses.
Throughout the series, Eun Gyul develops romantic feelings towards Jae Hee. He even admits that he likes Jae Hee to Tae Joon. I think this situation, among many others, helped Tae Joon realize his growing feelings for Jae Hee.
You know what I love about this series? Early on, Tae Joon discovers that Jae Hee was a girl. From episode 4, he keeps her secret, and he helps her multiple times without blowing Jae Hee’s cover to her or anyone else. Sure, he’s still a bit cold and calculated at times, but he quickly thaws and opens up in Jae Hee’s presence. There is a lot they do for each other. She helps mend the relationship between his father, and Tae Joon does his best to stay by Jae Hee’s side and keep her secret, well, a secret.
Being such a steady, firm, supportive force in Tae Joon makes a massive impact on this character. He opens up, becomes a better friend and person, and he rediscovers the thrill of “flying” from pole vaulting. Jae Hee’s unwavering faith in Tae Joon is truly spectacular. I went into this series expecting that Jae Hee would be wearing blinders and travel across the world just to be closer to Tae Joon because of who he was. Sure, this is a perk, but it is never her biggest motivation factor.
I won’t lie that she’s really enamored by him in the beginning. For so long, he was like a celebrity to her. Maybe celebrity isn’t the right word. I think, in Jae Hee’s case, that Tae Joon was her hero. If hard work could help make him successful, then the concept could essentially translate over to anyone — herself included. And if anyone worked hard and went above and beyond on a daily basis in this series, it was Jae Hee. She did everything and more within her power to help heal Tae Joon physically and mentally. She even kept an accurate log of his jumps and made notes when he was especially off his game. It wasn’t until the very end that Tae Joon is ready to throw everything away and chase after Jae Hee that her discovers her “diary” in his gym bag. Inside, is an accurate, detailed log of his progress since she came to Genie High.
After seeing that, Tae Joon returns to the field and successfully jumps over the pole. While being interviewed, he tells Jae Hee to wait for him. It isn’t until a year later that he finally has the opportunity to go to America and see her. They smile and embrace. A few words are spoken, but it ends just like that. And while the hopeless romantic in me loves a good, happy ending, I can’t help but think of the loose-ends dangling in my mind.
Linger thoughts and questions.
The ending felt a bit lackluster as I was left with a few questions. How did the competition end? Did both boys from Genie High School go on to train for the Olympics? Is this why it takes Tae Joon a year to go to Jae Hee? Was he training during that time? Also, whatever happened to John Lee (Kim Woo Bin!) after his brief roles in episode 9 and 10? It just seemed like he was added as a plot device to make Tae Joon jealous and realize his mounting feelings for Jae Hee. Maybe that wasn’t the case at it, but it sure felt like he was a poor man’s second male lead in this series. And what I mean by that was that this character was seriously underdeveloped. This could be the Kim Woo Bin fan in me complaining, but I felt like his character could have been completely removed and it really wouldn’t have affected the plot.
I would have liked to see more of an ending for Eun Gyul. Sometimes the second male leads really get the shaft and it kills me… especially because Eun Gyul was so endearing and sweet. It was especially difficult watching him grapple over his feelings for Jae Hee when he thought she was a boy. True, she had to keep her identity under wraps for Tae Joon’s sake, but once she had gotten him back on track, I wish she would have fessed up to Eun Gyul because he had to suffer for a long time — wondering about his sexuality. It’s why I understood his heartbreak and anger when he accidentally discovers that she’s a girl. Eventually, he didn’t care about his sexuality and whether Jae Hee was a girl or a boy, but the point is that I feel some of his suffering was unnecessary since Eun Gyul was her best friend.
All in all, I enjoyed this series immensely. I felt that Jae Hee was a really likable female lead for the most part. She often sacrificed her own desires to help those around her succeed. Yes, she was oblivious to Eun Gyul’s feelings for her until he confessed, and I felt bad that she didn’t/couldn’t reveal the truth then. There was also her helping Tae Joon’s gymnast friend, Han Na after she suffers an ankle injury. The significance of this is that Han Na has always been harsh and rude to Jae Hee, especially after she learns the truth, but Jae Hee decides to help Han Na the way that Tae Joon helped her.
Also, Tae Joon was a refreshing change in pace for a male lead. While he could be cold and rough around the edges, he was a really good guy who was just struggling with his mother’s death and feelings of bitterness and betrayal towards his father. He also had a more gentle, vulnerable side come out after he and Jae Hee became roommates. Also, how adorable were his interactions with the dog, Sanchu? Sanchu hates guys with the exception of Tae Joon. To be quite honest, I was pretty impressed with Choi Minho (not to be confused with Lee Min Ho). And, also, he has really beautiful eyes.
A scene worth mentioning: There is a pretty bad ass paintball game scene. See, the stakes are pretty high. Jae Hee ends up getting hurt, and the losers have to end up stripping. Tae Joon knows this can’t happen because Jae Hee’s a girl. Tae Joon becomes fierce and goes out to defend Jae Hee and to win just to protect her. He’s literally jumping and running and flying all across the paintball course, and it is easily one of my favorite scenes in the entire series that truly showcases what a flawless, loyal, sweet guy Tae Joon really is. (Of course, that is not meant to discredit the awesome things Eun Gyul has done for her.)
So, if you’re looking for a high school setting that isn’t endless drama and crazy plot twists, I think To The Beautiful You is a great choice for a weekend marathon. It won’t be the best k-drama you’ve ever watched, but it definitely ranks higher on my “daebak” scale that a lot of other dramas I’ve watched this year. So, if you’re like me and you’re on the fence about a female character masquerading at an all boy’s school, don’t judge too harshly too soon. It’s honestly not half as eye-roll-worthy as you think.
Also, an honorable mention goes out to Kang Ha Neul who played Hyun Jae, Eun Gyul’s roommate. I’ve seen Kang Ha Neul first in Monstar, then the Heirs, and lastly To The Beautiful You. I just love this actor, and I hope he’ll be a first male lead one of these days. Who’s with me?