I want to start this article by making some disclaimers. First, I have no desire to dredge up old wounds or shame anyone associated with this show, because it seems like at least some of the people on the crew (the producers especially) really did care about dramas and wanted the series to be a success. They just didn’t fully understand what they were getting into and found themselves in over their heads. I ask that you be kind in the comments. It’s fine to critique the quality of the show (and the behaviour of a few of the people associated with it), but let’s not be nasty or hateful. (Except towards that wig scene. That scene does not deserve kindness. It deserves a fire pit, a match, and a gallon of gasoline. May it go down in flames.)
Second, in writing this article, I attempted to track down all of the old media that existed during the show’s creation. Articles about the project, the Viki show page, the production’s website, etc. Unfortunately, some of this media no longer exists, or if it does, I was not able to find it, but I did my best to track most of it down and include it at the bottom of this article for any of you that might wish to see it.
And finally, the timeline of events is rather fuzzy at this point, so I might have some things out of order, but hopefully, this article will do a good job of giving you the gist of what happened with this production and why it ended in such failure.
Ok, disclaimers out of the way. On to the meat and potatoes.
Ah, Boys Before Friends. How many of you reading remember this train wreck? I don’t know anymore how many episodes I made it through, but I definitely didn’t watch the entire thing. The level of cringe and astoundingly poor quality made it impossible for me to stomach for long. But even though I was never able to finish it (what there was of it), I’ve never stopped thinking about it. What led to Boys Over Friends’ failure, why did it fail so hard, what really was going on behind the scenes, so many unanswered questions. Hence this article, lol.
So why was it such a failure? Hopefully, I’ll be able to answer that question in this article.
From the beginning, the production was plagued with problems. First, there was the funding. The producers launched a poorly planned and extremely unsuccessful crowdfunding attempt, what seemed at the time as their only means of funding the project. However, from my research, it looks like they might have attempted to court investors first.
I can’t speak to the reason as to why courting investors might not have been successful, but the crowdfunding’s lack of success was solely due to the minimal effort made to prove to the drama community that the people behind the production were legitimate and not scammers out to take our money. They offered up little information about themselves to the community, their qualifications and proof of their qualifications, why we the audience should trust them with our money, why we should believe them when they say they genuinely care about dramas and the drama community, nothing. Instead, they expected us to just accept that the things they were saying were true. This, of course, meant very few people felt comfortable donating to their campaign, and they ultimately had very little money with which to make a full-fledged show.
Looking back, with all the information we have now (which is still very, very limited), it doesn’t seem like this was intentionally done. I seem to remember there was a video or some kind of document floating around that was written/filmed by the producers (after things with the show had turned into a big mess) explaining why they had decided to do this semi-remake and why they had kept their own identities so secret, and you get the impression that they really were passionate about dramas and wanted to bring them into the mainstream in the west, but due to the nature of their jobs, they were concerned with anonymity, and that’s why they didn’t share this info sooner.
Unfortunately, you can’t just go on the internet and ask people to give you money without giving them some information about who you are and why you deserve it. (Well, you couldn’t do that then. Todaaaaaay… you might actually be able to get away with it.) By the time they’d shared that information about themselves, the show had squandered any chance it would ever have at goodwill with its audience.
Somewhere along the way, an ‘informative’ website (websites?) about the show was erected, but it was so bare bones and janky and bereft of information and Ugly To Look At that it would have been better if they’d never created it in the first place. It served no real purpose since they were sharing very little information about the production on it, and pulling up the site just turned into a game of ‘Will there be some actual information on here today?’ And it wasn’t a coin flip, because there was never any new information. As for their presence on social media, I don’t really remember what it was like, but I don’t think it was much better than their website.
But again, thinking about this through the lens of the time, crowdfunding and using the internet/social media to share information and create interest for your project was not as commonplace as it is now. There were fewer examples of people doing it affectively, which meant no real blueprint for others to follow. I don’t totally excuse the team for being so bad at online marketing, because they could have put a little more effort into it, but I do cut them some slack on this issue.
As far as funding and promotion are concerned, those were the main problems with the production, but they weren’t the only egregious issues. The rest of the show’s problems had to do with the quality of the show itself. To start, the casting was poor. The female lead was too aggressive and, for lack of a better word, unfeminine for the character, which really turned a lot of viewers off. Also, everyone in the cast looked and felt too old to play their characters with little done to age them down and make them look more believable. And the entirety of the cast’s acting was… not very good. And that is as diplomatic about it as I can be. Of course, multiple cast changes throughout the shows short-run didn’t help the production much either.
But the production is what it was, very low-budget, independent, somewhat on the down-low for the producers, etc. they had to take what was available, and that unfortunately meant actors/actresses who were inexperienced/not good and/or not truly invested in the production. And while some of the cast changes were their own fault (the bad initial choice in the female lead), others were not (the lead actor behaving like an entitled so-and-so).
Then there was the filming and editing. The filming and editing not only looked and felt low budget but were incredibly lazy and boring and uncreative as well. The cameraman and editor weren’t just phoning it in, they were calling from another planet over a dead phone line.
Of course, at this point, you probably know what I’m going to say next. This production was loooooow-budget, so low-budget it really had no business existing, so there was no way they were ever going to be able to hire high-quality cameramen and editors and equipment (and that’s without taking into account the eventual drama with their first editor, which I’ll talk about later on). I do think this is the one area of the production that people would have been more willing to forgive for being kind of awful if there hadn’t been so many other problems. That being said, it’s also the one area I feel like they had the most wiggle room in terms of making their budget work for them, and that they ultimately didn’t really try to make it work at all. There are many, many ways to film something that doesn’t require really high-tech equipment; found footage style, old camcorders and phone cameras, etc. Why not intentionally use an unusual but cheap filming method and make it part of the series aesthetic? It might not have been the highest quality in terms of how it looked, but it certainly would have been better than what the show ended up looking like. (The camcorder/phone camera angle could have been really interesting when framed like it was the characters themselves documenting everything that was happening. That would have been a fun and unique method of storytelling that could have been easily incorporated into the overall story.)
The final flaw of the show was how little effort was made to make it more relatable and more in-line with the culture of a western audience. Most likely no one who wasn’t already an Asian drama fan was going to watch the remake, but even western Asian drama fans were still going to expect the show to be better translated to a western audience. It didn’t need to be like the TV shows you would find on western television networks, but it certainly needed to be toned down and somewhat western-ified from the original version.
This one I don’t forgive the production team for at all. If they were really legitimate producers who worked in and understood the western entertainment industry, they should have known more changes to the story were going to have to be made in order to make it more translatable to a western audience.
So those were the flaws with the show itself, and on their own, they probably would have been enough to eventually kill the series, as the novelty of the production would have eventually worn off, and people would have stopped watching. But we’re not done yet, because next came… the “scandals”.
Having to fire the first editor and hire a new one because the first one had oversold their talents by over 9000 and ended up making the whole thing look like trash; petty actor drama seemingly led by the male lead (and possibly some of the other main cast members) who was too big for his britches and thought he was a god among men and that this piddly little show was beneath him (in which case, Why Did You Agree To Do It, You DOOFUS) and who was eventually removed from the production (along with other said main cast members); legal battles that most likely caused some serious financial drain on the shows already tiny budget; it just got to a point where all you heard about the show was negative, and it made you uninterested in watching any more.
But while the production value of the show is absolutely something the producers and their team are responsible for, the scandals the show went through don’t appear to be their fault. It seems to have been an unfortunate situation of hiring someone who wasn’t as qualified as they claimed to be and hiring someone, or multiple someone’s, who was unendurably stuck on themselves and probably made the production of the show a living nightmare.
I can’t lie, though. There’s one specific thing about this drama that has always stuck out to me the most and made me cringe the hardest. Everyone say it with me.
That. Stupid. Wig.
I don’t know who thought everything to do with that wig (wigs, cause there were two if you remember) was a good idea, but it was a bad decision and a precursor of what was to come. Now I know the haircutting scene is an iconic moment from the original show (I’ve never seen it myself), but that entire scene was unnecessary. They could have just had her shave off a chunk of hair on the back of his head or something instead and achieved the exact same story beat without it being utterly ridiculous. I ask myself every time I think of that wig, how the actor, how the producers, how everyone on set, was able to keep such straight faces when they looked at it. How did they not burst into laughter so hard it caused tears?
Guys, that scene was our warning and those of us, who didn’t jump ship then, were fools.
So there you have it. The poor production quality, the lack of meaningful marketing efforts, the sad attempt at crowdfunding, the scandals that dragged the production down, are all why the show ultimately failed. Things kept going wrong, and people got tired of giving it second chances. Since there were already hours upon hours of legitimate Asian media content just waiting to be consumed, there was no reason for us to stick around hoping Boys Before Friends would get it’s act together.
I do wonder whether the Boys Over Flowers’ remake attempt was ever noticed by any big wigs in Hollywood and if maybe it made some sort of difference in terms of proving that there was (and is) an audience for this type of content.
Obviously, the production itself wouldn’t have changed any minds due to its poor quality, but what about the viewers’ reactions? After all, we were all at least a little hyped for the series, incredibly hopeful that it would be good, and very, very engaged in conversations about it on most drama platforms leading up to and during its short airing. Just looking back at the old articles on MyDramaList, the engagement was incredibly high, so people clearly cared.
Of course, it could have also been such a niche project that no one else in the industry ever noticed or cared.
If there is one take away from the failure of Boys Before Friends though, it’s that it has managed to serve as a template of what not to do when creating and promoting a remake of an Asian drama. From acting to filming to marketing, there was very little about this production that was redeemable. Every part of the show was poorly done. I’m not saying the team should feel embarrassed or bad for trying to make something and not succeeding at it. They clearly weren’t prepared for the task, but they took a risk in order to do something they were excited about, and I think that is to be commended. It was a nice thought what the production team tried to do. It was just… an abject failure.
And I guess I’ve always been a little sad that that happened. Boys Before Friends could have been a decent show if things had been done right.
P.S.: And someone out there must have liked this show or else this wouldn’t exist, lol. To that one person… I am very glad you found this train wreck enjoyable. Fan Video
Edited by: Yuanwei (1st editor)