There is no secret that Thai BL (boys love) dramas have taken the world by storm. The genre’s popularity had been on a steady climb until it truly exploded in 2019.
Now you’re seeing Filipino media companies rushing to get their own BL dramas on the air. And South Korea has decided to throw their hat in the ring too. All this is partly seizing on the hottest and buzziest new trends. But perhaps more importantly, it is a positive step forward for more inclusive storytelling in mainstream media.
It’s interesting because stories about young gay men and women are certainly not new, even in what would be considered conservative Asian countries. But to have such stories in mainstream entertainment has definitely been uncommon.
The South Korean web series Where Your Eyes Linger (너의시선이머무는곳에) is seen as a sort of test run for possible future, full-length productions. And it is a solid, positive start.
The series tells the story of chaebol heir Han Tae Joo (Han Gi Chan), who by order of his father, is protected by best friend Kang Gook (Jang Eui Soo) as a sort of bodyguard. They even live together on their own while they finish high school. Their feelings for each other seem to develop into something more than just friendship, though both young men are hesitant to express those feelings.
They are soon forced to come to terms with how they feel, however, in the series’ bittersweet climax.
One’s reaction to the premise of the series itself may differ depending on your experience with BL drama or really any story focusing on young gay men and women coming to terms with and understanding their sexuality.
For some, the story is very familiar. Maybe even a little cliché and predictable. The short-form format also lends itself to feeling a little bit of “Been there, done that” for many of the series’ moments.
For others, while there are some familiar aspects, there are moments and situations here that are unique to these two young men’s experience and the experience of others like them in real life. Unique experiences that are not regularly seen in this form of media.
The plot of the series definitely fits much better as a full-length feature film though. Being a web series with short episodes sort of negatively dictates the story and its flow thanks to the necessity for essentially succinct 10-15 minute chunks.
Having the plot play out as an uninterrupted 90-minute film, for example, would allow it and the characters to breathe. And in turn result in an even more impactful story. It’s a kind of engaging story that is much more suited for that long-form treatment in a way that could even be Korea’s answer to Thailand’s seminal The Love of Siam.
Indeed, a recent article says that a director’s cut would screen in theaters in June. But there hasn’t been any updates on that as of this writing.
But that said, the series is still very well-done.
Han Gi Chan and Jang Eui Soo are excellent actors who are able to take relatively standard characters and make them empathetic and relatable, no matter your background. Their chemistry and performances help establish the characters’ friendship and their burgeoning feelings even in just a short amount of time. And that is a major accomplishment. You feel invested in their difficult situation, making the climax more impactful.
The visually pleasing cinematography gives the story an extra bit of a fairy tale feel at some points which also adds to the overall hopeful vibe of the series. Stories like this paired with the high-production quality usually seen on Korean dramas could make for some stunning series.
The direction here does what it can with the format, but it is definitely preferable to watch all eight episodes in one sitting.
Overall, with a strong and charming cast, Where Your Eyes Linger is a sincere, albeit familiar story that is relatable and down to earth despite how groundbreaking it might be in terms of the greater media sphere. It is hopefully just the first of many more stories like it to be told in mainstream media to come.