Love can be an unexpected thing.
For the tenants of the South Korean BL Oh! Boarding House, love is a subtle guest that thrives off showing up unannounced.
I am a picky viewer. While I’ll watch every new drama that drops regardless of genre, many things need to come together for a drama to make it onto my recommended list. That’s not an easy task.
I am the first to admit that I am not only hard to please but probably frustrating to talk dramas with because of my high expectations. Cohesiveness and emotions are musts for me. I want a well-rounded story, and I need to feel something. I need to be emotionally involved to get lost inside that fictional world. Whether it’s anger, sadness, joy, or laughter, the key to connecting with a drama for me is feeling it.
I felt Oh! Boarding House, and that surprised me a little. I didn’t go into Oh! Boarding House with high expectations. When Korean BLs swept onto the mainstream viewing scene, I devoured them, and I was impressed with the quality. Over time, however, my feelings about them became conflicted. More plot holes developed with each release, transitions got choppier, and quality was sacrificed for quantity. There are exceptions to this, namely Light On Me, To My Star, and Semantic Error, but all in all, I had started losing my zeal for the newer releases. I don’t need a drama to be long to love it, but I do need it to feel complete.
I haven’t seen much talk about Oh! Boarding House online, and viewers’ opinions are mixed when I do. But personally, I was and still am pleasantly surprised by how much I like this one. The production cost for this isn’t high, and like the dramas before it, it compresses itself into a short story format to fit the time allotted, but Oh! Boarding House had a purpose. And it met that purpose for me.
This drama premiered while I watched a lot of heavy, emotional BLs, which made its timing perfect for me.
Starring Shin Yong Seok as boarding house manager Seol Won, Oh! Boarding House uses his character as a center point, surrounding him with tenants who have ongoing stories. Of particular interest is teacher Kim Cheol Soo (Im Sung Kyun), who later falls in love with Seol Won.
Their story warmed my heart.
Although the gay couple doesn’t meet until the end of the first episode, the pacing itself is quick, which isn’t unusual for short dramas. What makes this story stand out is the chemistry and unexpected growing feelings between Seol Won and Cheol Soo. They have very different personalities. Seol Won is an open, somewhat clumsy, and compassionate character, while Cheol Soo is quiet, protective, and a little intimidating. At least to fellow high school tenant Nam Jae Woo (Ho Jin).
This contrast between Seol Won and Cheol Soo works, and it works well. I felt every moment between them, even the ones added for comedic and suggestive effect.
Oh! Boarding House is very different from the short Korean BLs that came before it. It’s a romantic comedy that reminds me of the ensemble British comedies my grandmother introduced me to. Like those comedies, this one has an understated energy that’s amusing without overtly trying to amuse. I found myself laughing at moments I didn’t expect to laugh at, and I liked that.
Oh! Boarding House doesn’t focus on one character or couple. While Seol Won and Cheol Soo are the BL focus of the drama along with Seol Won’s friend Cha Bong Deok (Shin Ki Hwan), there are also other stories.
Tenant Wang Ye Min (Kim Hee Joong) is a writer who falls in love with Cheol Soo’s sister Kim Hee Soo (Han Seo Ul), a woman who has an uncanny resemblance to his ex. Tenant Nam Jae Woo (Ho Jin) is Seol Won’s mischievous cousin and a student of Cheol Soo’s. Cha Bong Deok is Seol Won’s best friend who has unrequited feelings for Seol Won.
An interconnected ensemble team like this made the drama feel less like a BL and more like a story that includes a BL couple. Like the classic American sitcom Friends, these characters become boarding house acquaintances who go through different life moments. I feel like the writers behind this are fans of these kinds of stories, and I admit that I am as well. The diverse tenant stories made the BL couple feel more natural.
But here are the downsides. Ensemble comedies that interconnect like this really should have more time. I would have loved to follow each of their journeys for much longer than eight episodes. Although this drama had fewer plot holes than some of the Korean BLs, there are a few things I would have liked to see explored more. Mainly for depth. What happened between Wang Ye Min and his ex-girlfriend? How did everything with Bong Deok work out in the end? From the Christmas gathering at its conclusion, it’s obvious everyone came together, but I would have loved to see how. Nurturing deeper relationships between some of the characters, like Bong Deok and Seol Won, would have created a deeper emotional understanding toward their unrequited story rather than feeling like an unexplored triangle that got rushed off the screen.
Despite this, each actor embraced their role and did an incredible job portraying them. Even though the lighting and sound had iffy moments due to budget, the overall acting and story carried it. Acting is essential in ensemble works.
Nam Jae Woo, portrayed by 2Z member Ho Jin, particularly stood out. Although he’s a supporting character who flits in and out of the drama, he is an amusing thread of energy that made every moment on screen a joy to watch, especially the love counseling moment in the final episode. I need to see him date someone so I can watch him stumble his way through his own advice. He comes across as spoiled when he’s first introduced, but it’s soon evident that his mischievous, mouthy nature hides a caring, fun side that makes him the proverbial know-it-all son they all love to tease. He added a deeper dynamic to the boarding house, and I would have been thrilled to see more story for him.
This brings me to the main reason why I think this drama gets less attention. It’s an ensemble comedy inside a BL entertainment world where viewers prefer to focus on the same-sex couple. As a bisexual viewer who enjoys both representation and ensemble comedies, I liked it—a lot. But many BL viewers prefer a targeted BL story. Unfortunately, this means the non-BL side characters tend to get very little love. All fandoms have a toxic side. In the BL fandom, the toxicity trends toward erasing characters that don’t fit into a BL narrative.
While Oh! Boarding House has its issues due to budget and time; I hope we get more dramas like this. I hope we get fuller and longer ensemble stories that personally interconnect, that introduces a wide range of characters. I’m thankful to the writers who brought this idea to the table. It was different, and I enjoyed it. I became invested enough in their lives that I wanted more time with these characters and more story for all of them. Hence my only real complaint about the need for more depth. I really would love to see more ensemble stories that include many love lines, BL or otherwise, and interconnecting personalities.
If you are looking for a romantic comedy with an ensemble cast, I suggest checking out Oh! Boarding House on Viki or Bilibili.
Rating- 4 out of 5