Be wary of spoilers ’cause there are many of them in this article.
Words cannot even describe how excited I was when I heard that were was going to be a live-action adaptation of this manhwa. As there are going to be quite a few references to the manhwa and the series alike, I don’t think I can avoid spoilers (my apologies).
The series is an adaptation of Who Can Define Popularity? by Tak Bon under KENAZ and is very popular among manhwa fans (despite its limited access). Although I’m not that big a fan of “oh I was ‘unsightly’ back in school, so I had to change myself to gain popularity” plotlines (and was pretty frustrated when I started the manhwa) but the two main leads clowning around, respecting each other’s boundaries and learning to accept a lot of things about themselves pulled me in. By the end of it, I wished there were more extras/side chapters because I just couldn’t get enough.
Directed by Hwang Da Seul—who’s known for her earlier BL works such as Where Your Eyes Linger (2020) and To My Star (2021), the series was fully released on March 31, 2022 (all at the same time) on iQIYI under NEW Entertainment, and is 11 episodes long. It stars Kang Eunbin, who works under Rama Entertainment, as Siwon, and Cho Hyukjun, an actor under Yubon Entertainment who debuted in the drama series Meow, the Secret Boy (2020), as Dawoon.
The story follows Cha Siwon, a college freshman majoring in film studies, and his story of popularity among his seniors and his peers. He does a lot to maintain his image because of his past life of unpopularity (one which he’d like to keep under wraps). He meets Hyeong Dawoon, a classmate of his with perfect looks, good grades, and everything at his fingertips. Siwon’s feelings of wariness for his classmate soon change into something else, especially when he sees another side to Dawoon as he spends more time with him.
In terms of production and execution, I must say that the creators have done a great job. It is not easy to adapt a 70-chapter long manhwa with numerous characters and subplots into a live-action series that has episodes that are only 14 minutes each. The cinematography is amazing, and the casting is on point. Some of the changes in the live-action version are welcome—including the film projects they show at the beginning of the series, and Yunjeong (played by Kim Sobin), an art major in Siwon’s batch who also has a crush on him, actually taking the initiative to save herself from her stalker sunbae (senior) instead of Bawoo—Siwon’s classmate, played by Ahn Dokyu—doing it all by himself.
That being said, there were quite a few track changes that slightly threw me off (not to mention other fans of the manhwa, who had their rant sessions online). For one, there are two more couples in the manhwa—Siyeong (Siwon’s younger sister), and her love for Yujeong, as well as what seems to be Bawoo’s unrequited love for his childhood best friend, Hoon—that are barely mentioned/given screen time. I can’t blame them, though. The series was too short to explore these two couples and their subplots. There also seemed to be barely any time to take a better look at Siwon’s history with Yujin, a subplot that lent itself to a major part in problematising ‘lookism’ in society and questioning the importance of beauty in achieving success.
There were a lot of other changes such as the conflict between Siwon and Dawoon being associated with the latter’s family and their connections to the film industry, as well as Siwon’s tumultuous family life that eventually serves as inspiration for one of his first independent film projects. Although not a bad plotline, it’s what this results in that irks me. The weightage given to Siwon’s life in the series (that isn’t in the manhwa), which took a lot of the screen time and wasn’t really that necessary, compromised on one of the most important things in the storyline—the portrayal of Dawoon’s personality.
While Siwon’s personality is thoroughly explored through his relationships with his family, his trauma, and his body, Dawoon’s trials and tribulations are barely mentioned. His character pales in contrast to that of Siwon’s, and this lack of depth is probably worsened by the fact that the series left out a very significant part of his personality—his narcissism. Without it, Dawoon’s character is not as interesting as it could have potentially been in the series. In other words, a whole lot of the clowning’s missing, and there’s so much more to him than meets the eye, which should’ve been there. They did manage to depict his reaction to a picture of Siwon’s younger self (one of the most wholesome moments of the manhwa), and that is commendable in itself.
I’ve seen mixed reviews from non-manhwa readers as well. Many viewers loved the series, but some found Dawoon’s characterisation not up to the mark, and it may be for the very reasons I’ve mentioned above. A shame, really, because the man is actually pretty interesting.
Hopefully, the fact that quite a bit of Dawoon’s subplot has been left out may turn out to be good news. There may be a second season where all of this is explored (or maybe not). This series does deserve another season, especially with this quality of production, I’m sure viewers would want one as well. The chemistry between the main leads (the softness between them, their kisses—so beautiful) and their brilliant acting are more than enough for the viewers to want more from the series.
Rating: 4 out of 5