Flower Boy Ramen Shop (2011) is an absolute joy to watch! It features irresistible characters and an entertaining romantic story, through all of its sixteen episodes and charming surprise ending. Although technically aimed at the teenage and 20 to 30 year old age brackets, I still found it fun and addictive to watch as an older woman, due to its high energy level and humor, not to mention its very attractive cast. I watched with my sixteen year old daughter at the time, who also enjoyed it. I am a sucker for anything that makes me laugh, and this made me laugh a lot! I bought the DVD set so I will always have a copy.
Lead Actor Jung Il Woo is always a complete delight to watch. Loved him as The Scheduler in 49 Days. He has a grin and a twinkle in his eye that beats any other Korean actor out there today. That's what brought me to seek out his other work, like this terrific show, a deft romantic comedy and yet another "Noona Romance" (older woman, younger man) that the Koreans have become so great at creating in the last few years. Like many Korean rom coms you DO get some melodramatic moments thrown in with the comedy and romance, to add depth and to spice up character development. Every character in this show has had some sadness in their family and in their lives, but the comedy abounds regardless, because you can either give in to sadness and become morose, or you can plow through difficulties and seek the light at the end of the tunnel to happiness. Created by the same production team as the historic 2009 Korean drama Boys Over Flowers, it succeeded very well and received high ratings wherever it was broadcast in Asia. I have to admit I enjoyed it even more than Boys Over Flowers!
The Story: Eun-bi Yang (Chung-ah Lee, a perky, ebullient actress I fell in love with here) is the daughter of humble ramen (pronounced raymun in Korea) noodle shop owner Chul Dong Yang (In Ki Jung of Glass Slipper and many other dramas over the years). She is in her twenties and desperately studying hard to pass her civil servant test to become a high school teacher, a test which is very difficult and competitive in Korea. Around the same time she is thrilled to be hired as a student teacher at a rich boys' private prep school.
One afternoon she accidentally runs into handsome, devilish Chi Soo Cha (Jung Il Woo) in town - in a woman's public restroom of all places! - as he tries to escape the clutches of his rich father Ok Gyun Cha (Hyun Joo) and his goon bodyguards, who want to nab him and forcefully return him home upon his arrival in Korea after failing school in New York City. Chi Soo covers Eun-bi's mouth with his hand so that she doesn't make a sound and give away his hiding place, and she is immediately struck with how handsome and exciting he is. It almost looks like he might kiss her, but it's all in jest, which puts her on the defensive. He suddenly departs from her after the goons leave, but their paths cross yet again later at a local fair, when both grab a bite to eat at an outdoor cafe and happen to sit at opposite tables from one another. Then Eun-bi jumps up when she sees her boyfriend arrive, whom she was supposed to meet that day at the fair. However she is shocked to see he has a new girlfriend clinging to him and so she starts up a fight with them in public, after which the new girlfriend starts to throw water balloons at Eun-bi! This delights Chi Soo, watching from the sidelines with a big grin on his face. He heads off to the parking lot to leave, at which point Eun-bi spies him and jumps into his car and tells him to quickly drive off, as water balloons hit his luxury car from the crazy new girlfriend of her - now - ex-boyfriend. Chi Soo parks his car near a bridge by the Han River (I swear I see that exact same location in numerous films and dramas, including a key scene in Shark) and he teases her and tells her she isn't his type and that she should leave his vehicle immediately, which she does, incredulous that he would abandon a woman in that deserted location.
The next morning she spies him with a group of his friends, all wearing the prep high school uniforms from the very school she teaches at. They are all approaching the school together. She is floored that this boy, whom she took for a grown man, will be one of her students. Because of his wealth, and the fact that his own father owns the prep school, Chi Soo is the "cat's meow" at the school (sort of like Jun Pyo - Lee Min Ho - was in Boys Over Flowers), and he doesn't take kindly to being shown up by a student teacher. He can tell she is attracted to him so he pulls out all the stops to tease her and taunt her, for instance backing her into quiet areas of the school and once again pretending he is going to kiss her. Deep down though he begins to grudgingly admire her; for instance he sees how athletic she is and how feisty she is and that's different from the other girls he had been close to in the past. Eventually all the sexual attraction conflicts between the two result in Chi Soo's father firing her from the school as student teacher, at which point Chi Soo finally realizes that he actually likes the woman! He tries to get her her job back, to no avail.
Eun-bi's father tragically dies from heart disease, which causes Eun-bi to feel guilty that she hadn't been fair to her father in the past. Then comes one of the most remarkable and most moving scenes I have EVER seen in a K-drama, as Eun-bi breaks down in grief while at her father's humble ramen shop and sees her relationship with her father pass before her eyes in memory, showcasing several different stages of her life, babyhood, childhood, rebellious teenager, grown woman. I had to rewind that scene several times and watch it over and over, it was that great. Who among us hasn't thought back over our relationships with our parents, especially after their deaths? This is perfect evidence of why I say never be fooled when a show is labeled a romantic comedy, because woven inside the majority of them are very beautiful and serious scenes that make you care deeply about the characters.
Eun-bi wakes up from her memory dream to find the man she is hugging in grief is not her father, but rather Kang-hyuk Choi (very tall and handsome actor Ki-Woo Lee, who played the friend Ye Jin Son married in the film The Classic) who has just arrived on the scene because Eun-bi's father had left him the ramen noodle shop in his will. Eun-bi doesn't even know this person, but it turns out that her father had helped Kang-hyuk straighten his life out when he was just a lad, grown fond of him, and he had hoped if he left the noodle shop to him that Eun-bi would marry him and they'd run the shop together as a business. Now with Eun-bi fired from her student teacher job she has no other option but to move back home to the apartment complex above the shop and she and Kang-hyuk agree to revamp the restaurant and make it successful. They hire "flower boys" from Chi Soo's school as cooks and waiters, a strategy which smartly brings in a lot of new female customers who want some eye appeal with their lunch! The restaurant booms with new business and its financial success provides Eun-bi with the monetary security and independence she has always longed for. Whereas when she was young she had hated her father's restaurant now it becomes exactly what she needs to straighten her life out.
Kimchi Making Can Lead To All Kinds Of Trouble!
Meanwhile Chi Soo has watched all the changes in her life from the sidelines and has become quite jealous of Eun-bi's nice and friendly working relationship with Kang-hyuk. Kang-hyuk even calls Eun-bi "wife", which infuriates Chi Soo. Chi Soo himself begins working at the restaurant to stay close to Eun-bi. She has never forgotten her attraction to him, despite everything, and now with his constant presence in the shop their romantic and sexual attraction intensifies.
Chi Soo's wealthy father Ok Gyun is not in favor of Chi Soo's relationship with this middle-class woman. His own wife had come from humble origins and he blamed their break-up and divorce on their social class differences. He gets set to buy out and demolish the properties on the street where the ramen noodle shop is, which will imperil the restaurant's success. Chi Soo's alliance is now solely with Eun-bi and the noodle shop and he defies his father, at which point his father disinherits him and revokes his American citizenship, which makes Chi Soo subject to Korea's two year required military draft for all men in the country. Ok Gyun sees these strategies as essential to breaking up Chi Soo's relationship with this woman. Will they work, or will they backfire? The ramen shop is forced to close and Eun-bi has to make a decision: will she stay with the nice and stable Kang-hyuk who calls her "wife" and who truly loves her, or will she choose Chi Soo and his insecure financial future, made even worse by the fact that she won't see him for two years while he's in the military?
This little "flower boy" romantic comedy show is deceptive on the surface: it actually has a lot to say about choices in life and the repercussions which can develop when heart and mind are divided over the future. I loved all the actors in the show, they were perfect for their roles, including secondary characters who were just as wonderful to watch as the main characters, for instance Dong Joo Kang (pretty Yee Won Kim) who is a ballerina with a flirty air about her who used to date Chi Soo but who is really in love with the tempestuous Ba Wool Kim (cutie pie Min Woo Park) who works at the ramen noodle shop, and Eun-bi's best friend, the flighty Dong Joo Kang (beautiful actress Yi Won Kim from Who Are You? and Operation Proposal) who lives just to flirt with many different boys at once while claiming to each of them that they are the love of her life.
I think this show is the best of the "flower boy" type Korean dramas from a story standpoint (although I did prefer the Boys Over Flowers music soundtrack). I loved seeing all the growing maturity in the characters of Chi Soo and Eun-bi. It was a great lead part for Jung Il Woo, made the same year he did 49 Days which had been more of an ensemble show than a showcase for his talents alone. Watch and decide for yourself if I'm right. Enjoy!