TV Show Review: “F4 Thailand” offers modern spin on Japanese romance with dazzling cast, disappointing plot

Director Thongpan crafts a worthy remake that starts off with a bang but loses steam


Carol Xu

While director Patha Thongpan rises to the occasion, delivering a fresh take to the beloved tale that tackles a burning, complex romance, the central plot disappoints as another rehashing of past adaptations, and quickly loses momentum as the series progresses.


When the Japanese manga series Hana Yori Dango was first published in 1992, no one could have foreseen the massive shudder it would send through East Asian entertainment. First, came Taiwanese drama adaptation Meteor Garden in 2001, with such high popularity that it spawned numerous equally successful remakes in South Korea, Japan, and mainland China, among others. Now, Thailand has come out with its own version: F4 Thailand: Boys Over Flowers.

F4 Thailand could easily have sunk. For one thing, viewers already had countless dramas featuring the same storyline to binge-watch. Moreover, in recent years the series has garnered rising criticism towards issues in the original tale concerning portrayals of toxic masculinity and the glorification of bullying. 

While director Patha Thongpan rises to the occasion, delivering a fresh take to the beloved tale that tackles a burning, complex romance, the central plot disappoints as another rehashing of past adaptations, and quickly loses momentum as the series progresses. 

Every Asian drama viewer, from the casual observer to the fastidious fanatic, knows the basic storyline inside-out. Meet Gorya: feisty and spirited, our female protagonist hails from a poor but loving family who manages to enroll her in the nation’s top private school, where the kids from the wealthiest families flock.  

There, Gorya crosses paths with the fearsome F4 (short for Flower Four), a quartet of handsome, slick heirs from the richest, most powerful families in Thailand. They rule the school with an iron fist; anyone who offends or attempts to expose their wrongdoings is dealt the Red Card, a sentence to brutal bullying from the rest of the school. 

In school, Gorya tries to keep a low profile, until she bumps heads with arrogant F4 leader Thyme, who in retaliation brands her with the Red Card. She, whose name aptly means “stubborn weed,” fights back against the system; he, with predictable speed, falls for her spirit. His mother, equally ruthless in the world of business, wages terror on Gorya’s family to tear them apart. Love, of course, prevails in the end. 

As with its predecessors, F4 Thailand’s inherent charm lies in a charismatic, talented young cast who bring a breath of fresh air to their characters. Their scintillating chemistry with each other, whether as romantic couples, best friends, or family members, adds special moments of warm joy in a story where the characters are so often embroiled in controversy and hardship. 

Tontawan Tantivejakul plays Gorya, our plucky heroine, with stunning sensitivity for a rookie actress. While past productions painted the “Gorya” protagonist solely as a fierce, strong bulwark against the world’s wrongs, Tantivejakul shows us a Gorya who isn’t always fighting. Her Gorya weeps just as much as she laughs, collapses as much as she stands firm, which makes us relate to her struggles that much more. 

As for Thyme’s actor Vachirawit Chivaaree, he brings a deeply moving performance that not only pivots between brooding bad boy and smitten lover, but also seamlessly captures all the painful nuances in between. 

But the real show-stealer is Cindy Bishop, who plays Thyme’s mother, the prime villainess. She oozes charisma, fizzles with intimidation, and when she glares at Gorya through the screen, goosebumps prickle on your own skin. Plus there’s the satisfying asset that she and Thyme look scarily alike enough to be mother and son. 

Clocking in at 16 episodes, F4 Thailand has by far the shortest run of all the drama adaptations. Meteor Garden consists of 50 episodes. Even Japan and South Korea,  known for producing shows with more episode economy, made their versions just over 18 episodes. 

As a result of its reduced screen time, F4 Thailand runs on a tighter, fast-paced plot that prunes down on and sometimes cuts out entire narrative arcs from the original. Despite all the axing, F4 Thailand, like its predecessors, is still encumbered by an unbalanced storyline. 

While older versions dragged out complicated and unnecessary subplots, F4 Thailand’s Achilles Heel lies in their whiplash plot progression that quickly loses steam after a compelling start. The last episode is particularly jarring, a bizarre, schizophrenic sequence that ratchets ahead with poor execution and little finality. 

For a story essentially stuffed with cliches, from love triangles to the disapproving, manipulative son’s mother to the enemies-to-lovers plot line, F4 Thailand does an admirable attempt to make the story distinctive from other romance dramas. The producers manage to put a modern spin on the story by incorporating the modern age of social media. 

But while F4 Thailand grasps the rapidity with which information spreads on the internet, it fails to recognize the full intensity of cancel culture and cyberbullying, where nothing remains buried forever. And like all the past versions, we never see F4 truly exposed for their bullying, nor face clear, hard-hitting consequences from the real world. In today’s fervent activism with movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, F4’s continuing dominance make for a rather chilling conclusion. 

Though F4 Thailand is a massive success in its own right–each episode amassed over a million views on YouTube–romantic appetites are shifting away from the over-recycled “bad boy and good girl” trope. As the entertainment industry attempts to wring out the last profits from the original Hana Yori Dango, new drama editions will eventually fall flat as viewers seek new, more unique romance storylines. 

Don’t think the F4 craze will ever die down–they will always remain in the hearts of viewers as an important piece of Asian entertainment legacy–but perhaps F4 Thailand’s chaotic finale is a sign that the unofficial F4 franchise is ready to retire.