It seems like 4 is the perfect number for bromance in dramaland. With the popularization of the drama-version F4, productions have generated more quartets that stirred the hearts of the viewing public. Each member would have a distinct personality from the rest of the gang; and together they light up the screen as different versions of our ideal man. Whether they fight over the girl or show four-way brotherly love, it’s always a win-win situation for the audience. (Gender-bender is also welcome, when done properly.)
And it has several advantages, especially for the female viewers:
- More eye-candies. We’re not stuck with just 2 options
- Bromance multiplied
- Can be evenly-split, which can be useful for in-squad pairings
- Yet there’s not too many of them to sacrifice screentime/back-stories for each
So for this edition of #Fave5, I’m listing down my 5 favorite dramaland ensembles:
5. The Musical Squad: A.N.Jell (You’re Beautiful)
Idols may unofficially be the second most popular dramaland occupation next to chaebols. In particular, there have been several 4-member bands featured in dramas – like Modern Farmer’s cabbage-planting band Excellent Souls aka ExSo (I see what they did there) and Entertainer’s Ddandara band (or as I’d like to call, “the broken ones”). To me, however, nothing beats my first dramaland band – A.N.Jell, which brings music and fluffy gender-bender romance in one.
Go Mi-nam – (whose actual name is Go Mi-nyeo) a would-be nun who reluctantly substituted for her twin brother as the newest member/vocalist-keyboardist of A.N.Jell. Sweet, cute, and innocent, it’s no wonder why the guys fell for him/her.
Hwang Tae-kyung – lead singer, guitarist, and talented composer, he’s your typical moody dramaland jerk plus a serious neat-freak. While I did not understand his hairstyles, I swoon at his pouty face and killer smile.
Kang Shin-woo – bass player, rapper, and all-around nice guy, who’s the quiet and gentle kind. I’m in pain whenever his timing is off and misses the chance to steal Mi-nyeo’s heart. But he ultimately gets the girl…in another show, as another character.
Jeremy – drummer, the ball of energy, and the most clueless guy on the show. He gives a loli-shota vibe with his childish behavior and cute maknae charm, especially when he’s with his pet dog Jolie.
Smart casting choice: actors with singing chops and idol-like visuals as the lead roles (Jang Geun-seuk and Park Shin-hye), supported by actual idols from actual pop rock bands (Jung Yong-hwa from CNBlue and Lee Hong-ki from FT Island). I never once was convinced by Mi-nyeo’s disguise but I had fun watching her try nonetheless. I also liked how the show built a pretty solid idol world, complete with catchy tracks, actual performances, fandoms, and the band’s cartoon versions on various merchandise. Its cult following later on led to Japanese and Taiwanese remakes, where the original leads made cameo appearances.
4. The Elitist Squad: The Flower 4 (Meteor Garden/Hana Yori Dango/Boys over Flowers)
Featuring the wealthiest, most powerful campus crushes in the arguably most-loved Cinderella story we’ve ever seen in dramaland – Hana Yori Dango is an international phenomenon and a landmark franchise that we’ll never get tired of seeing, no matter how many versions of this story come out. (Well, scratch that last part. I didn’t really care about the China and US versions.)
Dao Ming Si/Tsukasa Doumyouji/Gu Jun-pyo – F4’s leader and the school’s king-slash-bully with a weird signature hairstyle, who always gets what he wants just because he’s way up the social ranks. Impulsive, ill-tempered, slightly-immature with a bit of a sister-complex, he’s actually a naïve guy who’s passionate and loyal to the people he cares about.
Hua Ze Lei/Hanazawa Rui/Yoon Ji-hoo – the brooding one, also known as the heroine’s real soulmate. Often with a faraway look and an air of mystery, he’s the perfect shoulder to cry on. Sadly, nothing more.
Xi Men/ Nishikado Soujiro/So Yi-jung – the Casanova born in a traditional family, but his backstory runs deep and he’s actually more serious and broken than what he appears to be
Mei Zuo/Mimasaka Akira/Song Woo-bin – a fun-loving playboy who’s interested in older women (in the Taiwanese & Japanese versions). His character is the least explored in all versions, but he’s a cool guy.
When your world is all about money and political connections, the only genuine relationships that can embrace your chabeol-problems are with your equally-privileged and equally-troubled childhood friends. I’ve watched three out of five adaptations and enjoyed how each gave its own flavor to the original story. The Japanese version would always be my personal favorite, though.
3. The Ahjussi Squad: The F44 (A Gentleman’s Dignity)
They’re the perfect example of the saying “men age like wine” with their charisma onscreen. They may be suave, successful, and well-dressed, but these gentlemen can turn into immature, hot-blooded teenagers whenever they hang out together. It’s almost too amusing to see men in their forties look cool in dealing with girl problems. I did see that this F4 could each have a counterpart in the original F4, based on some character resemblance.
Kim Do-jin – a smooth ladies’ man obsessed with his car, who’s trying to win the heart of a woman in love with his business partner and best friend.
Im Tae-san – he’s got ‘macho tough guy’ written all over him; but he’s actually warm-hearted and whom I categorize as one of the good guys in the group (together with Yoon).
Choi Yoon – the group’s designated “mature one”, being the most reserved (and most logical?) in the group. He looks like he’s got his life together, but deep-down is still grieving for his late wife.
Lee Jung-rok – a flirty café owner who married a rich noona for money, he’s clearly not happy with his marriage but is sticking it out to keep his lifestyles.
Excellent main cast with amazing chemistry is what sold the show for me. Nothing much actually went on anyway for anything else to stand out. I wasn’t really into the love square or the other couples; rather it’s when the four are together that I enjoy the most. I sometimes cringe when they’re trying to pass off as young students in their flashbacks; nonetheless I enjoy their hilarious bro moments (“broments”?) on the episode prologues, showing their friendship through the years. These ahjussis gave energy and personality in portraying their respective characters, something that only seasoned actors can naturally pull off. But of course some screentime for Kim Woo-bin and CNBlue’s Jonghyun didn’t hurt as well.
2. The Squad Next-Door: The Boys of Ssangmundong (Reply 1988)
Growing up with your same-age neighbors has its perks, such as spontaneous sleepovers, unlimited side dishes, fierce loyalty, and being understood without saying anything. Also, being comfortable enough to fart in front of each other. (Technically Duk-seon is considered part of the gang, but these boys obviously leave her out a lot of times.)
Kim Jung-hwan – smart, new-rich, and frustratingly poker-faced with occasional bursts of cynicism; yet he can be the sweetest little puppy without ever taking the credit for anything.
Choi Taek – the baduk genius who’s worshipped by everyone except his neighborhood friends. He may be a formidable master in the world of baduk but he’s pretty much helpless with everything else (like how to hold chopsticks); which is why he’s sometimes treated by the group like a precious hatchling.
Sung Sun-woo – the model student and model son, and the most normal among the boys – maybe except for his taste in women.
Ryu Dong-ryong aka Salamander – the class clown, dance king, and the principal’s problem child. He doesn’t look much, but he’s actually the wise one who gives counsel to the neighborhood kids in need.
They may be the most recent and the least pretty bunch in this list, but these four know how to quickly charm their way to the audience’s hearts. They’ve got spunk and the most wonderful bond that is seen even in the smallest of things. The heroine may have openly liked 3 out of the 4, but no amount of shipping wars can tear them apart.
Extending to reality TV, the guys of Reply 1988 also went on a surprise backpacking trip in Youth over Flowers Africa with a slightly different lineup (Ahn Jae-hwan who played Jung-bong hyung took the place of Lee Dong-hwi due to the latter’s schedule conflicts). It was interesting to see how the actors are in real life vs their drama roles. For example, Park Bo-gum is still the baby everybody wants to protect; and Ahn Jae-hwan is a good cook like his Reply 1988 character. While the program encountered some controversy, what struck me were the moments that proved their bromance is real. Aww.
1. The Sageuk Squad: Jalgeum Quartet aka the Joseon F4 (Sungkyunkwan Scandal)
They might hold the record for the oldest campus-brosquad in dramaland, as they ‘existed’ way back in the Joseon era. Beautiful, intelligent, and dignified, these four have triggered countless shipping combos that fans absolutely love. They were named “jalgeum” by the gisaengs to describe the way women react at the sight of the foursome’s beauty: for lack of a better term, “pee-in-your-pants”. Ew. But you get it, right?
Kim Yoon-shik aka ‘Dae-mul’ (big shot) – the guy pretty enough to be a girl (and actually is a girl – Kim Yoon-hee – in disguise), who, despite being a commoner, enters the prestigious Sungkyunkwan with his wit.
Lee Seon-jun aka ‘Ga-rang’ (perfect husband) – the idealistic and principled straight arrow; the perfect man on paper whom parents would love to have as son-in-law, but can come across to others as a self-righteous know-it-all.
Moon Jae-shin aka ‘Geol-oh’ (wild horse) – a intelligent noble skilled at almost everything, but hides his true self under the guise of being a notorious hot-headed delinquent student of Sungkyunkwan.
Gu Yong-ha aka ‘Yeo-rim’ (forest of women) – the frivolous playboy (almost all of these gangs have a playboy with them!) who appears superficial with his love for luxury, but is very sharp and perceptive.
*I would’ve considered the time-travelling, tracksuit-wearing guys of Rooftop Prince as a contender in this category, but their relationship was heavier on being master-servants.
Thanks mainly to its cast, Sungkyunkwan Scandal is the only sageuk I successfully completed among the many popular sageuk titles I’ve seen (if web drama Splash Splash Love doesn’t count). This is the drama where I cared more about the 3rd and 4th members than the actual leads, seeing the amazing talents of Yoo Ah-in and Song Joong-ki for the first time. My heart belonged to Geol-oh the second he appeared onscreen (hiccups and all), and I just enjoyed watching Yeo-rim play mind games with everybody. Plus, their award-winning bromance together. I loved this gender-bender because I never saw Dae-mul as inferior to the rest, and he (she) had solid moments with each of the other jalgeum quartet members.
Fan of dramaland bromance? Who’s your all-time favorite brosquad?