Dear King of Beer,
I present to you a long-promised work. You told me time and time again that this show was pure k-drama gold. After watching it not once, but three times, I set myself to writing this review. It’s rather massive because, well, you were right.
Answer Me 1997 is amazing.
Here’s to you, King of Beer!
It was a completely visceral show for me. I didn’t think while I watched. I laughed, cried, cringed, yelled, and smiled without even realizing it. It was like I was part of the show, living it and feeling what everybody was feeling. It was nostalgia to the nth degree.
I started high school in the ’90s and even though I’m American, the similarities in high school, friends, music, fangirling, arguing with parents, leaving for college, growing up and remembering the good ol’ ’90s were scarily uncanny. It was like they were telling my story.
It’s the story of each kid who ever became an adult. It’s the story of each adult who sees the child they once were within themselves.
As adults, we long for the past and what it meant to us. And that’s what this show does for us. It brings us back. Or it brings “back” to us.
Answer me, 1997. Do you hear me? I think it’s time for you to visit. (Without the bad hair.)
The story centers around two time periods: the late ’90s and 2012. The ’90s plotline depicts everyday life as a high schooler and focuses on the tales and antics of six friends. The 2012 plotline brings the friends back together for their class reunion.
The beauty of this setup is in its simplicity. It’s just basic storytelling – and then they put a twist on it. We the viewers do not get to watch ’90s segments straight through and then jump to 2012. It’s scrambled. It is absolutely brilliant how the director and writer interchange the scenes from different time periods, focusing on a different theme in each episode, and paralleling occurrences past and present. A question is posed in each episode and through slow reveals, we discover the answer.
Important points to note about the ’90s: takes place in Busan, lots of fangirling, first loves, blowouts with parents, growing pains, passing major historical milestones in ’90s Korean history. The mundane content is what makes this show special. It’s stuff everyone can relate to, whether they are Korean or not.
So we begin at the 2012 reunion where we meet the six main characters:
- Sung Shi-won: A fiery, hot-tempered, earnest, crazy H.O.T fangirl, Tony Ahn-loving woman who is a writer.
- Mo Yoo-jung: A fickle, but sweet, woman who is Shi-won’s best friend.
- Yoon Yoon-jae: An uptight, brilliant man who has been lifelong friends with Shi-won.
- Kang Joon-hee: A mild-mannered, sweet, intelligent man who is Yoon-jae’s best friend. Joon-hee has confided his darkest secret only to Shi-won: his first love is Yoon-jae.
- Do Hak-chan: A porn-and-alcohol-loving Seoulite who clams up around women. Because he’s played by Eun Ji-won, the writer definitely makes some plays on his Sechs Kies days that are ridiculously hysterical.
- Bang Sung-jae: The talkative, rather socially inept final member of the group who rounds things out and keeps everyone laughing.
Shi-won voices over during the 2012 reunion. She explains that one couple will announce their engagement. w00t, now we can play detective!
Back to the ’90s and we learn that Shi-won and Yoon-jae are best friends since birth. Yoon-jae and his genius older brother, Tae-woong, lost their parents and have since been emotionally adopted by Shi-won’s parents. The two families had been close friends all of the children’s lives and for a better part of the adults’ lives as well.
Shi-won and Yoon-jae bicker like siblings, know everything about each other and are just coming to notice each other in the “man/woman” sense. Well, it’s more Yoon-jae than Shi-won. He falls in love with her their first year of high school and this causes him lots and lots of anguish because she remains oblivious throughout their high school years.
What makes things more complicated is that Tae-woong starts to see Shi-won as a women during her later years of high school. He’s especially drawn to her because of her similarity to her older sister, who he was engaged to marry.
Then she died in a bus accident.
The show never forgets to periodically remind us that the characters have suffered at the hands of death. Yoo-jung walks by Shi-won’s sister’s room and shuts the door to prevent the boys from snooping; Shi-won’s father takes a long, sad, loving look at a photograph. It’s the little daily things and man, oh, man, did it get me right in the gut.
It also never fails to show us how completely crazy fangirls are. Shi-won sneaks out to stalk Tony Ahn at his house, to attend fanmeetings in Seoul and even has a fall out with Yoo-jung over Yoo-jung’s switch in loyalties from H.O.T. to Sechs Kies. I cackled hysterically over the catfights that ensued over whose oppa was better and how, back in the ’90s, we had to be home to push the button on the video cassette player to record our favorite shows.
We see friendship that lasts through the years. Shi-won and Yoo-jung giggling and fighting over idol groups in both time periods. New boy Hak-chan moving to Busan in the ’90s, ridiculed for his Seoulite ways and then accepted into the fold by virtue of his massive porn and alcohol collections. ’90s Hak-chan confiding his girl troubles to Yoon-jae, Joon-hee and Sung-jae (and getting no usable advice in return.) Yoon-jae and Shi-won fighting like cats and dogs no matter what time period it is. Sung-jae getting in trouble for running his mouth wherever (and whenever) he is. Joon-hee loving his friendship with Yoon-jae as well as just plain ol’ loving Yoon-jae.
Speaking of love, that’s another theme this show deals with so well. Yoon-jae romantically falls for Shi-won the first day of high school when she doffs her glasses and dons contacts. He thinks she’s pretty for the first time and falls harder for her as time passes. When he discovers his older brother, Tae-woong, loves Shi-won as well, Yoon-jae gives up on her. Tae-woong gave up everything to take care of Yoon-jae after their parents died. It’s a relationship that Yoon-jae cherishes and although he loves Shi-won enough to run to her rescue in freezing weather with no jacket and wearing only slippers, he won’t sacrifice his relationship with his brother.
Shi-won doesn’t realize that she loves Yoon-jae until after he confesses to her on their last day of high school. She even dates Tae-woong for a while, because he is an oppa she looks up to and cherishes and feels comfortable with. I don’t think she was ready for love in high school. Not romantic love anyway. She was busy dealing with her parents, fangirling, writing slashfic and friends. She was immature and not in need of love as Yoon-jae was.
Yoon-jae leaves Busan, intending never to see Shi-won again, but they meet by chance in a coffee shop. By this point, Shi-won is 25 and knows very well that she loves Yoon-jae. He is not quite as happy to see her – he’s spent the intervening years trying to forget her and avoiding any event at home that could bring them to cross paths.
Then, in 2005, they randomly meet in a coffee shop. They sit across from each other at a table and Shi-won, true to her forthright personality, asks if he has a girlfriend. He lies and it starts up their relationship again. They fall into each other like they’d never been apart. But there is one thing that is different: Shi-won knows how she feels about him now. She loves him. She wants to be with him. She has to work on him for a while, but finally he caves and they happily, giddily, get together. Their relationship progresses slowly to his dismay, but they love and fight as they always did.
Eventually they get pregnant, and have a shotgun wedding, stealing Tae-woong’s wedding plans. At the 2012 reunion, Shi-won is pregnant with their second and she is absolutely livid that she can’t drink. Heh. But they are happy together.
Then we have Hak-chan’s love issues. Let me explain him a bit before I proceed. Hak-chan may be the king of porn, but put a living and breathing human of the female variety before him and he becomes a veritable flesh-and-bone statue. He can barely look a girl in the eye. So, how, you ask, does this boy have love issues?
Well, Yoo-jung’s first crush was on Yoon-jae before Hak-chan moved to Busan from Seoul. Hak-chan watches as she attempts to win Yoon-jae’s affections and as he coldly rebuffs her every attempt. Yoo-jung also is the first girl to touch Hak-chan: she hugs him, grabs his arm, hangs on his neck nervously during a soccer game, and all sorts of other small gestures that are nothing to her, but world-ending to nervous Hak-chan. Eventually, they get together and Yoo-jung is as fickle with romantic relationships as she is with her loyalties to idol bands. She breaks up with him for trivial reasons, like how he eats crab. Every once and a while they have a real fight, like when he was too embarrassed to admit that she was his girlfriend to his mother. He even denied their relationship in front of Yoo-jung’s friends!
When 2005 rolls around and Hak-chan returns to Korea for Yoo-jung’s father’s funeral, they act like they’ve never been apart. And then in 2012, they are the couple to be married.
Theirs is the classic on-again/off-again relationship of the show.
Then there is Joon-hee. Sweet, mild-mannered Joon-hee with one of the hardest secrets a teenager can have: the fact that he is a homosexual. He is in love with Yoon-jae, his best friend, and confides this fact to Shi-won. He doesn’t talk much about it, but he makes the decision to go to college based on where Yoon-jae wants to go, and quietly helps Yoon-jae through all of his dire teenage dilemmas. Joon-hee is the person my heart breaks for. His love is not only one-sided, but frowned upon by society. If people knew who he loved, he wouldn’t be just a heartbroken fool, he would also be a ridiculed outcast. And if Yoon-jae knew that Joon-hee loved him, Joon-hee could lose his best friend.
What to do?
Joon-hee tries, over the course of the drama, to confess. He even gets the words out at one point during high school, but Yoon-jae thinks it’s a joke. In the end Yoon-jae overhears the truth. He is shocked, but he treats his friend the same as he always did.
I know I’m talking about Joon-hee, but damn, is Yoon-jae amazing that way.
Joon-hee never confesses to Yoon-jae, but he does eventually move on when Yoon-jae starts dating Shi-won, saying goodbye to his first love in a sad, poignant moment. Yoon-jae hugs Joon-hee from behind, knowing what the moment means: I love you, goodbye, I understand.
Sung-jae doesn’t have any major plot lines, but he is an integral part of the others’. He keeps the group together with humor and supports them unconditionally. He listens to his friends’ love woes. He is the first to befriend Hak-chan (because of his porn collection, but still.) He is the first person with Yoo-jung when her father passes and cares for her like a brother. We all want a Sung-jae.
Then we can’t forget Shi-won’s parents and their fun flashbacks with Yoon-jae’s parents. We get to meet all four parents as school kids and watch them flirt and get together. In 1997 and 2005 we get to see how much Shi-won’s parents love each other, adore their kids and miss Yoon-jae’s parents. We get to see them suffer through Shi-won’s crazy growth spurts, her love for H.O.T., her crazy hairdo’ decisions, and her heartbreaking departure for college. Dad is just the cutest thing, fighting with her all the time and loving her even more. Mom can’t cook small portions to save Korea. They both love Yoon-jae and Tae-woong as their own sons and treat them that way, which Yoon-jae appreciates more than he can express. They miss their oldest daughter, who was killed in a bus accident. We get to see Shi-won’s parents fussing over Shi-won in ways that everyone who has had a parent fuss recognize. And the beauty is in the fact that most of these situations are small, everyday things, but they stick in our minds for the rest of our lives.
A lot of the plot deals with Shi-won’s family and how they deal with things. Her father gets cancer at one point and the women rally around him and then Yoon-jae and Tae-woong rally around them. They do small things to cope with the grief that is just absolutely poignant. Mom incessantly calls the scriptwriter for a drama that dad’s hospital ward is watching to beg for the main character to live and give the ward hope.
And I haven’t spoken much about Tae-woong, Yoon-jae’s older brother. He is so important in this. After their parents die, Tae-woong gives up everything to care for Yoon-jae. Although he is a brilliant man, was the top of his class and could go anywhere for school and do anything, Tae-woong became a teacher to be with Yoon-jae. He was a favorite teacher and no one knew of his relation to Yoon-jae save Shi-won.
He was engaged to Shi-won’s sister who was killed in a bus accident.
Tae-woong falls in love with Shi-won, partially because of her similarity to her sister and then afterwards, because she is Shi-won, a bubbly, fun, vivacious, and beautiful young woman. He woos her and dates her without knowing that his brother is in love with her. She eventually tells him that she’d rather be friends and he promises to wait until she’s ready.
Never good news.
Anyway, after Yoon-jae graduates, Tae-woong sets off on a business venture (while eating ramyun on his bed, heh) and makes a social networking site that gets him rich and famous. He eventually gets tired of it, donates all his money to charity and sets on another venture. Yeah, the guy is that brilliant. In 2005, he has to have a procedure done at the hospital Joon-hee is interning at. This is shortly after Shi-won and Yoon-jae meet after their long estrangement. He overhears that Shi-won and Yoon-jae are dating and is shocked. He’s held a candle for Shi-won all that time. It’s a triple whammy:
- The girl he likes likes someone else.
- The girl he likes likes his beloved little brother.
- His beloved little brother likes the girl he likes.
So Tae-woong meets his brother for a chat. Yoon-jae has been steeling himself to reveal the news that he is dating Shi-won and the showdown is shocking for both of them. Tae-woong declares that he won’t back off, which stuns Yoon-jae into silence. Yoon-jae adores his brother beyond belief. He is his friend, only family, and hero. So he really doesn’t know what to do after that declaration. He agonizes over the decision.
After sitting at the coffee shop all day, Yoon-jae goes on a blind date that Tae-woong set up for him and made him promise to attend. On his way, he calls Tae-woong and declares that he, too, will not give up Shi-won. It’s a big step for him because that was his problem in high school: the second he found out his brother liked Shi-won, Yoon-jae backed off to save his precious relationship with his brother.
When he goes to meet the blind date, he finds Shi-won instead. Tae-woong has met the blind date.
This is so telling of Tae-woong’s character. He loved Shi-won hard, but knew when to give up. He wanted to teach his brother when to give up and when to fight. Yoon-jae will never lose his brother, especially not over a woman. They are too close. I really love that this show played on the family bonds and showed us how strong they can be. Yoon-jae didn’t know that Tae-woong loved him that much and just breaks down in sobs when he sees Shi-won. It’s a beautiful moment.
Take all of this, plus more stuff I didn’t want to detail, mix it all up in flash backs and flash forwards, and you have Answer Me 1997‘s plotline in a really big nutshell.
Directing, Writing and Cinematography
I said it earlier and I’ll say it again: Gold. This show is gold. Sure, there are some decisions that were a bit annoying, like showing the “who’s the daddy?” bit in the hospital three times, but you have to forgive a show that had me crying at every turn for every reason just because the emotion hit me so acutely.
The beauty in this show is in the parallelisms between 1997 and 2012, between the issues that the parents have and the issues that the kids have. Shin Won-ho PDnim takes parallel moments in time and pit them against each other for some very striking juxtapositions. PD Shin uses conversations from the 2012 reunion to pose questions about the characters’ pasts, love lives, and other issues. The interactions in 2012 make the relationships between the characters ambiguous: who loves who? Who ends up with who? Who is the baby daddy? Who is getting married?
Then the PD builds intrigue through mundane scenes that are extra poignant because there isn’t anything flashy about them. For example, we often see the kids in a classroom, raving over H.O.T.(or Sechs Kies) or drooling over the opposite sex or fighting. It’s mundane. Everyone did it. Our kids will do it. But its that stuff that sticks in our minds as we get older.
I mean, I totally remember freaking out over going to concerts when I was that age and having fights with my best friends and making up.
I really loved how neatly the flashbacks and flashforwards fit together. They could’ve been a hot mess that confused the shiznit out of me, but they were clear and highly effective. That’s kudos to the directing and the writing.
Another thing that really shocked me was how much this show made me cry. There were so many small moments that it highlighted that just blew my mind. At one point Shi-won’s dad is searching through a drawer and finds an old picture of his family with Yoon-jae’s family. It brings back memories that play out on screen, but then we go back to dad’s face. He smiles sadly, fondly and stares at the picture for a long moment, then sets it down. It’s such an intimate internal moment and the director shared it so beautifully with the audience.
Moments like these are all over the show and all of them are powerful.
Also, it was damned funny. I was bustin’ a gut the entire drama through. That is, when I wasn’t crying. Shi-won’s tantrums are hysterical. Her fights with Yoo-jung over Yoo-jung’s wavering loyalties to H.O.T. The beeper fights and fighting over the phone because each house only had one line. Or getting kicked off of the internet because someone picked up the phone. @!#$%#$%^@#$%@#$%#$%
The awkward moments, like Yoon-jae grabbing Shi-won’s boobs by accident and then the amazing sheep bleating noises that accompanied every such moment. I love those sheep bleats. My sister and I now bleat at each other when something awkward happens.
Answer Me 1997 highlights the beauty of the little things in life. Family, friends, love. The fights we have with our parents matter as much as a first kiss. The awkward moments help us grow into more mature adults.
Characters and Actors
Sung Shi-won (Jung Eun-ji)
Words cannot describe how much I love Jung Eun-ji. She totally killed this role. She was amazing. She was fantastic…okay, I’m rambling. But you get my drift. She was everything that Sung Shi-won needed to be at every phase of her life. She was a bubbly, dedicated H.O.T. fan. An adorable, tantrum-throwing daughter. When she had to be serious, the air literally stilled so that it could listen to what she had to say. When she smiled, so did I. Eun-ji WAS Shi-won. There wasn’t a moment when I thought her acting was awkward or stilted. I completely forgot she was acting.
As for Shi-won as a character, she was wonderful, too. So beautifully, wonderfully flawed. So perfectly typical of a late ’90s teenager. She is happy in her little world with her family, her best friend Yoon-jae, and all of her friends. She’s ridiculously selfish. She has her H.O.T. obsession. Shi-won doesn’t want anything else. Nor can she imagine or see anything else. It is both good and bad. She lives life to the fullest, enjoying each moment, letting each emotion air as she feels it. But at the same time, she’s resistant to change. She’s happy as she is.
When Yoon-jae starts to fall for her, she remains oblivious because she’s happy with him as her best friend. She doesn’t understand that he is changing either. Put that and Yoon-jae’s tight-lipped sensibilities together and we get a very big fight over some serious miscommunication. That and she doesn’t realize that dating Yoon-jae’s brother is breaking Yoon-jae’s heart.
She dates Tae-woong when he asks her out because she loves Tae-woong as an oppa, a brother, and looks up to him and trusts him. It’s comfortable. It’s fun. But when he wants to hold her and kiss her, she realizes she’s not ready for that kind of relationship him. Not with him. And not with anyone, really. She’s still too busy being a H.O.T. loving teenage-girl. Years later, when he asks her if she’s ready to date him, she isn’t, but she still can’t figure out how to express that to him. It’s one of the only times her feelings aren’t communicated clearly.
Now let’s get to Shi-won and her tantrums. Ever since I watched this, I noticed that I throw these all the time with my sister. *glances around* I can’t believe I just admitted that. But there is something just so satisfying about plunking down on the ground, kicking your legs and wailing! Shi-won does it so well – like when her dad ripped up all her H.O.T. posters. THE HORROR.
She’s also not a very diligent student, which drives her dad bonkers. She spends most of her time writing slash fiction on H.O.T., researching H.O.T., listening to H.O.T. albums and other assorted and sundry H.O.T. related activities. My parents would’ve killed me if I did what she did. But I guess she did get quite the earful from her father.
I adore how purely she loves her family, Yoon-jae and her friendships. They are as part of her as her own skin. She sometimes treats them frivolously as Shi-won is wont to do, but she is as loyal as anyone can be to them. When her father gets cancer, she had just selfishly sent a letter to the radio to win a pair of expensive jeans. In it, she’d lied about her father getting cancer. Then he does get cancer and it’s just absolutely onscreen magic to see Eun-ji cry for her father…and for herself. It’s a sad, beautiful growing moment for her. She goes to her father and cries her heart out on his shoulder. Gah, getting teary here.
I realize now while writing this review that the show didn’t delve too deeply into how Shi-won felt about her sister passing. I know she doesn’t want to lose another important person in her life and that she misses her. This kind of going along with Shi-won though – she goes on living life to the fullest.
Shi-won is also completely blunt and honest. When she feels something, we know it. When she wants something, she asks for it. When she realizes she loves Yoon-jae, she tells him. There is no bush to beat around for her. Her feelings are laid out for the world to see and she’s not ashamed of them. It’s part of why Yoon-jae loves her and is definitely part of why I love her. Even after they’re together, she moons over H.O.T. and makes no excuses for it. Heh.
She is a wonderful character and she stays pretty wonderfully flawed to the end: loud, nagging, selfish. But she is so loving as well. And fun. And funny.
Yoon Yoon-jae (Seo In-guk)
Seo In-guk. Another brilliant young actor. He was so natural as the uptight Yoon Yoon-jae. And he has the most winning little smile. I just wanted to pinch his cheeks every time he smiled. His acting was as quietly nuanced as his character was. I am seriously giving uber kudos to the casting director. I have nothing bad to say about the actors.
Now onto uri Yoon-jae. How I love my little tortured soul. He’s a brilliant kid, top of his class. He lost his parents when he was young and lived with his brother Tae-woong from then on. He spent a lot of time with Shi-won’s family growing up and her parents treated him like family. But he still feels the strain of being orphaned and putting pressure on his older brother. He feels it’s his fault his brother isn’t making more of himself. Yoon-jae tends to place a lot of burdens on himself and then internalize them so no one knows what’s going on in that pretty head of his.
He falls in love with Shi-won at the beginning of high school and has to contend with her acting as close as they’d always been while his burgeoning feelings make being close to her very, very difficult. He assumes that she and Joon-hee have a thing for each other when they hang out a lot but can’t say anything to either of them. Then he makes up scenarios in his mind and worries over his feelings and what Shi-won and Joon-hee are doing. As his crush grows, he gets moodier and no one understands why.
When he finally makes up his mind to confess, and plans a grand gesture (giving Shi-won a puppy), he finds out his brother likes her. Instead of becoming another contender for Shi-won’s affections, Yoon-jae backs down. His brother is his world to him. They are the others only family left. Yoon-jae can’t see another way around it so he gives Shi-won up romantically to save his relationship with his brother. This is, of course, the wrong thing to do. He should talk to his brother, but this is Yoon-jae we’re talking about. He doesn’t communicate well.
I think this makes him a fun character, the inward orientation. He’s as inwardly tuned as Shi-won is outwardly tuned. But they both care for the same people and they have a history together that is so solid. He’s also got a very one track mind. When he heard Shi-won wanted to marry an aviator like his father, he made it his goal to go to military school – then he found out his eyesight disqualified him from flying and very begrudgingly gave up on that. He studies hard, he is devoted to his friends and brother and he wants very little. But what he wants, he works ridiculously hard for. I think that plus his inability to fight his brother for Shi-won led to his desertion of her.
The last day of high school, he confesses to Shi-won and tells her he doesn’t want to see her again. He can’t. And honestly, although I think it’s kinda silly, I see where he’s coming from. He sees Shi-won and knows her. She’s not ready to love him or to change their relationship. All he wants is to change their relationship and Yoon-jae is Mr. One-track Mind. It would be endless torture for him to continue to be with her until he overcomes this part of himself and, well, grows up a little.
When they meet in 2005, he’s tried to forget her by working hard to become a judge in Seoul (yeah, let’s ignore the fact that he’s a judge at 25…) and spending long hours at the office. He’s living with Joon-hee and avoids everything to do with Shi-won and Busan. He’s had time to cool off, but he hasn’t. What a devoted man you are!
Anyway, when he meets her by chance in a coffee shop, everything he’d worked for in terms of his mental position on Shi-won flies out the window. They are back as they were with some added tensions.
This time, however, feelings are out in the open. Shi-won confesses days into bumping into him again and basically forces Yoon-jae to stop being a blinded ass and go out with her.
It says a lot about him that he still broods and shies away from change, but he goes for it anyway. He grew up, even if it was just a little bit.
And then there is his relationship with Joon-hee. To me this says everything that needs to be said about Yoon-jae. The boys are best friends. They’re the top of their school, they’re the most athletic, they can talk about everything. But Joon-hee likes Yoon-jae. Yoon-jae doesn’t find out until 2005 when he accidentally overhears it. What does he do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. He hangs with his bestie like he always did. Treats him like he always did. Loves him like he always did.
When Joon-hee decides to move out of their apartment after Yoon-jae starts dating Shi-won, Yoon-jae sends him off with a backhug.
That there is a quality human being.
Mo Yoo-jung (Shin So-yool)
Shin So-yool is the cutest thing EVAR. She has this little grin that makes me want to pinch her cheeks. Where did this actress come from? So cute and such an effective actress. She cried so many times during the show for so many different reasons and I just remember thinking, “Wow, she can cry so many different ways.” Even though she’s older than Jung Eun-ji, she can be just as adorable and cheeky when pulling off all of those scenes that take place in 1997.
So-yool ssi, I’m keeping my eyes on you.
Now onto her character, Mo Yoo-jung. Yoo-jung is Shi-won’s best friend (well, female friend) and, at first, fellow H.O.T. fan. We don’t know much about her except that she’s pretty bubbly and is stuck to Shi-won’s side, or Shi-won is stuck to hers. Whatever. She is pretty girly and has an eye for boys.
One of the best things about Yoo-jung is that she is Shi-won’s ear when Yoon-jae isn’t. And Shi-won is Yoo-jung’s unilateral ear. One day they have a huge blowout over the fact that Yoon-jung has switched over to becoming a Sechs Kies fan and hid that fact from diehard H.O.T. fan Shi-won.
(A funny side note, her favorite Sechs Kies singer is Eun Ji-won who plays Hak-chan.)
Anyway, Yoo-jung gets into a huge blow out with Shi-won. In the period when they won’t speak to each other, Shi-won sneaks out of the house and gets punished by her father – he cuts her hair off so she has to wear a bob for the rest of the school year. Yoo-jung is really a super softie at heart and can’t stand being estranged from her bestie. So one day, while Shi-won is walking down the halls, she glances up and sees a girl with her hairstyle. It’s Yoo-jung who has cut her hair in a move of solidarity. They stare at each other and smile like only besties can and silently make-up.
I really love that Yoo-jung is that kind of friend. She will cut her hair to apologize. A teenage girl’s hair is no joke. We prize our hair like nothing else. Heck. I’m far passed teenagerhood and my hair is still much to precious to be shorn! As fickle as her love may be for idols, her love for her friends is unwavering.
Speaking of love, for a Korean, Yoo-jung is pretty handsy with her friends. So when shy, bumbling Hak-chan drops in on the scene, he is completely blindsided by Yoo-jung’s wandering hands. Heehee. She always puts her arms around his neck, or touches his arm, or doesn’t avoid brushing against him when leaning across him. Basically, she treats him like a gal pal, which drives him bonkers enough to fall in love with her.
At the time he falls for her, Yoo-jung is harboring a crush on Yoon-jae, which Shi-won doesn’t take seriously. Yoo-jung’s affections had always been fickle. Not that her affections much mattered, because Yoon-jae only had eyes for Shi-won. In any case, Yoo-jung pines for Yoon-jae while Hak-chan pines for her. I don’t think she really notices Hak-chan as a man until Yoon-jae breaks her heart and Hak-chan quietly comes to pick up the pieces. He sits beside her on the bus and pops an earbud in her ear, telling her that they can do whatever she wants to do the next day.
GAH! So sweet. She thinks so too, because after that, they’re an item. While they date, she continues to be fickle, breaking up with him for ridiculous reasons like how he wears a v-neck shirt under a v-neck sweater. When it’s time for college, they part and it seems like that is that for them. She becomes a kindergarten teacher.
But then her dad dies in 2005. The others rally around her save for Hak-chan who is in Hawaii. So-yool delivers a fabulous performance as the grief-stricken Yoo-jung, lamenting that she didn’t pay more attention to her dad and wishing she’d gotten annoyed with him less. The normally bubbly Yoo-jung is scarily muted by her grief. She doesn’t expect the others to come be with her and when she sees them her sad, appreciative smile is so sweet. Aww, tears.
Anyway, as the funeral procession gets on the bus, Hak-chan finally shows up and sits beside her like they did all those years ago. He comforts her and they are an item again.
I like that Yoo-jung is so ridiculously fickle about almost everything, including Hak-chan. It’s like she doesn’t even realize his import until he’s sitting there, being her rock. It’s a good thing she promised to marry him. Quick, marry her boy!
Kang Joon-hee (Hoya)
What was I expecting of Hoya? I have no idea. Idols are so hit or miss when it comes to acting. But we have a ton in this cast and all of them were spot-on, including Hoya. His calm, unobtrusive presence was beautiful. Even when he was dancing like he was on an Infinite stage, I still felt like he was his character. He felt like a rock in the cast for me, solid and dependable, even though he’s one of the younger actors.
And Kang Joon-hee. What an amazing, tragic, uplifting character. He is a brilliant, talented, athletic teenager who has everything going for him save for one fact: he is gay. To be a gay teen is difficult. To be a gay teen in Korea is even more difficult. To be a gay teen in love with your best friend is just plain brutal.
He deals with it so gracefully and no one would be the wiser if he hadn’t told Shi-won his secret. She becomes his confident and female best friend, which makes poor Yoon-jae so incredibly jealous. But it’s a beautiful friendship between them. Sharing that deep of a secret naturally forges very deep bonds.
Sadly, Joon-hee is so in love with Yoon-jae that he’s willing to follow him everywhere, including military school. He gives up on going to Seoul University to follow Yoon-jae to military school. When Yoon-jae doesn’t have the eye sight to pass, Joon-hee quits as well.
It’s sad how Yoon-jae doesn’t realize that every touch and hug both thrills and hurts Joon-hee and that Joon-hee would rather have that pain than nothing at all. He can’t say anything. He can’t act on his feelings. He is trapped by a society that would pretty much crucify him.
But one day he does gather enough courage and confesses. However, Yoon-jae thinks he’s joking and Joon-hee doesn’t have the strength to correct him. He’s terrified to lose his friend.
Joon-hee watches quietly as Yoon-jae pines for Shi-won and has his heart continuously ripped apart by her and by Tae-woong who is dating her. The only thing Joon-hee can do is be there to pick up the pieces for Yoon-jae; he also has to pick up the pieces for himself.
After Shi-won and Yoon-jae separate, Joon-hee and Yoon-jae room together while pursuing their educations and careers, remaining best friends.
My heart throbbed when I realized that Joon-hee was still pining after Yoon-jae, stuck in a love he couldn’t extricate himself from. And there was nothing more telling than the scene where Joon-hee was talking to Yoon-jae about his Shi-won troubles and Yoon-jae tells him that he should be a psychologist. Joon-hee tells him that he can’t be a psychologist because in order to be a good psychologist, one has to know oneself first.
Damn. Damn. damn. What a line. What a character. That is so deep. Joon-hee knows how flawed he is, knows how much he has to learn. It’s so sad and so beautiful. I love you, Joon-hee!
In any case, when Yoon-jae and Shi-won get together, Shi-won meets Joon-hee at the hospital in the stairwell and she apologizes to him for how much this much hurt him. It says a lot about their friendship that this wasn’t misconstrued. She is genuinely sorry for hurting him even though she doesn’t plan to break up with Yoon-jae. Joon-hee perfectly understands this and accepts it.
Yoon-jae overhears them talking and reels with the information that Joon-hee likes him. For all of one second I worried about what Yoon-jae would do. I’m sorry I doubted you, Yoon-jae! But then he proved how awesome he was by acting totally normal around Joon-hee. Joon-hee, however, knows that now it’s time to end his one-sided love with Yoon-jae and decides to move out.
I hate that he never tells Yoon-jae how he feels, but at the same time, maybe Joon-hee needed to feel it and get over it on his own to learn and grow from it.
When he leaves, Yoon-jae stops him with a back hug that says everything that he can’t say out loud and the look on Joon-hee’s face is heartbreaking: I love you. Goodbye.
Ack, tears coming up.
At the end of the 2012 reunion, someone comes to pick Joon-hee up. He found love. But it’s still secretive. I can’t wait for the day when that doesn’t have to be so.
Do Hak-chan (Eun Ji-won)
Eun Ji-won, what a delicious role you had and how well you played it. I’d heard about his, uh, less-than-stellar work back in the day and I was apprehensive. But hot damn was this guy adorable and he’s got the man-glare down to an art. RAWR!
First thing we have to touch on is that Eun Ji-won is in a show set in the time period when his idol group, Sechs Kies, was at it’s peak. (They debuted in 1997!) This makes for all sorts of awesome lookalike jokes. His character, Hak-chan, is constantly being told that he looks just like Eun Ji-won or being compared to him.
It’s actually pretty great, because compared to his ’90s and early ’00 acting days, Ji-won is a much better actor now. He’s got the nuance now and definitely doesn’t overact anymore. At one point, Hak-chan and Yoo-jung are on a movie date and watching Eun Ji-won’s film, Seventeen. Hak-chan is really bored and uber unimpressed with Eun Ji-won’s acting. In fact, Hak-chan bets that he could act better than “that guy.” Yoo-jung stares him down and he leaves to get more popcorn and give her time with her Sechs Kies love. Heh!
My other favorite Eun Ji-won reference is when they’re sitting at the 2012 reunion, reminiscing over the slash fiction that Shi-won wrote about H.O.T. It was that slash fiction that got Shi-won into college. She just changed the kissing to hand shaking and the shower scenes to basketball games. Hehe. But I digress. They’re talking about the slash fiction and Hak-chan squirms in his seat. He thinks that the idol group members are probably really uncomfortable knowing that people are writing such things about them. Ha, you would know, wouldn’t you
Aside from the idol references, Hak-chan is a wonderful, easily-loveable character. He’s my sister’s favorite. (She always giggles when I mention him or show her a screencap of him.) With men, he is a smooth-talking, charistmatic, fun guy. With women, he becomes an awkward, socially inept child who can’t bring himself to look them in the eyes.
What makes this even funnier is his massive addiction to porn. After he moves to Busan from Seoul, Sung-jae deems him cool because of his porn collection. He immediately introduces him to the gang, half of which Hak-chan is fine with. The other half, the female half, well, he can’t even look in their direction while blindly reaching out to shake Yoo-jung’s hand. Heehee. He is so stiff around Yoo-jung and Shi-won that at first I wonder why he even agrees to hang out with them. And then Yoo-jung is so handsy with him I seriously think he is going to die of stiffness or of his eyeballs popping out. The closer she gets to him, the wider his eyes get.
While he’s being integrated into our main group of friends, we also get to see that he keeps his porn addiction going strong. The writer/director delightfully point out the joys of the early days of the internet by showing what happens when a horny boy is trying to load a picture of a super nekkid busty blond and then his dad picks up the phone in another room, killing the internet connection before the twins are shown. BWAHAHAHA! COCK BLOCK!
In any case, this porn-lover eventually falls for Yoo-jung. I think partially because she’s the first girl he’s ever been close to and partially because she’s so open. She isn’t bothered in the slightest by his shyness. He needed that in a woman to get him to open up. After he comforts her when Yoon-jae breaks her heart, they become an item and the real fun begins. He gets to learn how to deal with women and date and get emotionally and physically closer to a very feisty one. If she doesn’t like what he’s doing, she threatens to break up with him. It’s hysterical how he runs to the boys for advice and they are just as clueless about how to deal with fickle Yoo-jung as Hak-chan is. He should’ve gone to Shi-won, but that would mean approaching another female, huh? Heeeeeeee.
Anywho, there is one part that is adorable. He invites her over to his house at night and she thinks he wants to do the horizontal tango and is actually anticipating it. But she has her period and frets over what to do. In reality, he has used his porn-editting skills (he sells edited tapes at school) to create a “best-of Eun Ji-won” compilation for his fan-girl girlfriend. But she doesn’t know this and blurts out that she has her period and that they can’t “do that”. Of course, this turns into a horrible mess where he says they can do “that” and she ends up mortified.
Oh, the trials and tribulations of young love…
Another adorable moment for him is when Yoo-jung wants him to meet her girlfriends. They don’t believe that she has a Seoulite boyfriend who is tall and handsome because they NEVER see him. Of course, Hak-chan is absolutely terrified to meet other girls. He’s gotten used to Shi-won, she’s sort of one of the guys. And Yoo-jung is the exception to the rule. The one girl he’s kinda, sorta not awkward with. But to meet a gaggle of giggling girlfriends is just too much for his make-up. He cops out on the dinner, humiliating Yoo-jung. That is, she’s humiliated until she goes to pays and realizes that someone has paid for all of their food and drinks. She sees him waiting outside for her and she happily introduces him to her girlfriends.
Such a great moment.
Then, in another brilliant writing moment, Hak-chan’s mother happens by and he denies his relationship with Yoo-jung in FRONT OF HER FRIENDS! !@#$@#$^@#$!@#$!#$%@#$^!#$@
I know you’re bumbling, but COME ON!
Anyway, years later, after Yoo-jung has gotten back together with Hak-chan and they are on a date, Hak-chan’s mother ambles by again. Yoo-jung stiffens, thinking he’ll deny her again, but he doesn’t. This time he takes her arm, places it in his and introduces her as his girlfriend.
It’s such a good growing moment.
Bang Sung-jae (Lee Shi-un)
Sung-jae isn’t quite as developed as the other five main characters, but without him, they would fall apart. He has no love line and no dire straits, but he is the person who is always there for his friends. He is that person who may feel that he has no place in life, but he is dearly important to his friends. In high school (and before and forever after) he is a chatty, busybody who is just full of heart. He does everything without thinking and is the instigator of trouble for the males of the ’97 posse. He makes things fun and lively when the situation is anything but.
After the time jump to 2005, he gets a job as the general fix-it man for the city. It’s a thankless job and he despises it. But there is one grandmother who keeps coming by because her light is out. He turns her town several times because he’s too busy or too tired. Finally, he agrees to help her. Turns out, she lives deep in the mountains and has made the trek to the city center to ask for help for three days in a row. He is horrified by how cruel he was to her and awed by her tenacity. Halfway up the mountain, the grandmother grows tired and he piggybacks her home. They chat and he finds out she lives alone and never sees her family, who she believes hates her. Then, Sung-jae and the grandmother, two lonely souls, spend the evening chatting and laughing together.
This scene explains Sung-jae. He may whine and wiggle his way out of things, but he is all heart. He is solid and there for people and he reminds me of my father in that way: always there, always comforting.
Yoon Tae-Woong (Song Jong-ho)
I’ll admit it. I didn’t even recognize Song Jong-ho at first. I had this niggling feeling that I knew him from somewhere and then it hit me: It’s Shin Myun! AH! He was so different as Tae-woong that I couldn’t process that it was the same man.
I thought his performance as Shin Myun was okay, not stellar, so I was pretty much blown away by him as Tae-woong. I need to seriously go back and watch The Princess’ Man and re-evaluate. This man is no small fry when it comes to acting. He was so achingly tender as an older brother, a man with a broken heart, a man in love. I approve Jong-ho ssi, and I’m sorry for doubting you.
I’ve already said a lot about this character in plot and with the other character bits so I’ll cut to the chase: Tae-woong is the kind of man everyone needs in their lives. Not because he’s brilliant and handsome, although that certainly doesn’t hurt one bit. But because he is gentle to the core. He is one of those people who is naturally sweet and puts others before himself. His brother, Yoon-jae, is first in his life. The care he shows for his baby brother is something I connect with as an older sister. Tae-woong gives up a future to care for Yoon-jae, to pull them together as the lone survivors of their family.
There are some adorably hysterical moments between them as well. Each birthday Tae-woong tries to gives Yoon-jae designer items, and fails. He ends up getting him knock-offs. But the sentiment behind it is so pure that I just laugh at Yoon-jae’s indignation and know that one day both brothers will laugh as hard as I did.
I think I just love how quietly Tae-woong loves Yoon-jae. It’s my favorite thing about him. It wasn’t a question for him when he gave up his career aspirations to become a teacher and care for his brother. He, in his mind, had no choice. He was going to be there for Yoon-jae. That’s real love.
One of the most poignant moments between the brothers was when Yoon-jae tears off after Shi-won when she’s in trouble. A stalker is going after her and Yoon-jae runs to her, jacketless, in his slippers, without a thought for his own well-being. While he is running, he answers a call from Tae-woong, who is alarmed to hear Yoon-jae panting and even more startled when Yoon-jae hangs up. After Yoon-jae saves Shi-won, he returns home. Tae-woong rushes inside, searching his brother for anything wrong. Tae-woong is wearing his sweater backwards and panting. He is out of his mind worried about Yoon-jae and fusses over the cuts he has on his hands. I don’t think Yoon-jae really understands how Tae-woong feels about him then, but the audience does. It’s crystal clear. Number one in Tae-woong’s life is Yoon-jae.
Yoon-jae finally understands Tae-woong later, when Tae-woong takes his place on the blind date and sends Yoon-jae to Shi-won. I explained earlier under the “Plot” section how Tae-woong challenges his brother to not give up Shi-won again and he finally accepts the challenge and decides to fight for her. Then Tae-woong, who has done all he can to win Shi-won, gracefully backs out and goes on the blind date instead. The realization of how much his brother loves him hits Yoon-jae so hard that he breaks down in tears in front of Shi-won. Tae-woong always put Yoon-jae first, always loved him and now Yoon-jae knows.
It’s so brilliant how the writers make Yoon-jae see what we saw in Tae-woong the whole time.
It’s also a beautiful point of growth when Tae-woong quits his teaching job after Yoon-jae gets into college and graduates high school. Yoon-jae tells him to move on and Tae-woong finally feels ready to let Yoon-jae spread his own wings, like a parent would.
Then it’s Tae-woong’s turn to try his hand with the world and he does so, from his bedroom, eating ramyun and poking around on the internet. It’s so hysterical. Here is a brilliant twenty-something, making social networking strides on the internet from the messy comfort of his own bedroom. His website becomes a huge success and he makes loads of money, employs some college kids, inspires them and then grows bored with the venture. So he gives away all his money and starts again!
Seriously, the guy is just about creation and caring for other people. He just needs to be creating things and involving people in those creations.
Eventually, Tae-woong becomes the favored presidential hopeful and marries his quirky, fan-girl surgeon. It’s a fitting job description for him: challenging and deals with people. His people. His countrymen.
Sung Dong-il (Sung Dong-il)
What a powerful ahjussi actor. For serious. I have never loved a parent as much as I love Sung Dong-il and it’s because of the actor. He made me feel like I was in the Sung living room watching him fight, love, laugh and cry.
Dong-il is a baseball coach of the terrible Busan team. He loves his work and his family. He is ALL about family. He is still heart broken by the deaths of his friends, Yoon-jae and Tae-woong’s parents, and by the death of his oldest daughter. We don’t see the heartbreak that often, but it comes out in small, reflective moments.
Dong-il is the parent that Shi-won fights with like cats and dogs and loves even more. They rarely see eye-to-eye. He’s always pushing her to work harder and love H.O.T. less. A lot less. In fact, most of their fights come from Shi-won’s daring, H.O.T. -inspired escapades. She often runs away to see concerts, or meet Tony Ahn (who he likens to a monkey, heh), or buy concert tickets, or any other number of life-or-death fan-girling activities. Once, after she snuck off to stalk Tony Ahn’s home, dad chopped off her hair. Another time, he ripped up all of her H.O.T. posters.
But this is also the dad that couldn’t bare to see off his daughter to college. He kept double, triple, quadrouple checking that she had everything she needed while boarding the bus. He found every excuse in the book to prolong the departure because he couldn’t bear to see her go. At home, before she left, he and his wife, Il-hwa, were planning how they wanted to re-arrange her room, hurting Shi-won’s feelings. But in actuality, both parents were just trying to keep busy so that they wouldn’t remember that their only (living) daughter was leaving for Seoul. It’s sweet how he pretends not to care that she’s leaving and she pretends not to care about leaving them, but they are heartbroken about the separation.
The emphasis on family in this show really gets me.
Then there is also Dong-il’s relationship with his wife. They are from neighboring provinces that are notorious for fighting like cats and dogs and boy does this couple fight like cats and dogs. Shi-won often worries that they will divorce. At once point, she is so worried that she goes out to the car to check on them only to find that they are getting it on in the back seat of the car.
Yeah, they’re that kind of couple. Lovin’ and fightin’. Fightin’ and lovin’. Are you surprised that Shi-won and Yoon-jae turned out as they did? Mom and dad are seriously, adorably happy together.
Another big moment that highlights Dong-il was when he got cancer. He stayed strong in front of his his girls, but when he was alone, he sent up his first prayer to the heavens, begging to live. Who else could take care of his headstrong Shi-won but him? It’s absolutely the sweetest, most heartbreaking moment. *pauses to cry a little while writing this damn epic review* He then tells Tae-woong that he’s always thought of him like an oldest son, just in case things took a turn for the worst.
Dong-il is a man who loves his family and loves life and wants more than anything to live that life while walking beside his family. He gets that chance after being supported nonstop by his devoted wife and child.
Now let’s get to that wife.
Lee Il-hwa (Lee Il-hwa)
Lee Il-hwa is so awesome. She plays the typical Korean mom in a way that made me double over with laughter, but also in a way that made me appreciate her as an individual.
We have some really funny quirks that always made me giggle.
1) She always makes mountains, and mountains of food. Behold:
Yes, that is a mountain of kimbap.
Throughout the show, Il-hwa cooks enough to feed cast and crew for weeks on end, not just her three-person family and sometimes their friends.
2) While Dong-il is the uptight parent, she is the opposite. She is soooo laid back about everything. When Dong-il finds Yoon-jae’s cigarettes in Shi-won’s pocket, he pulls both of their hair for hours while Il-hwa just shrugs her shoulders and drives them home, letting Dong-il make his daughter and Yoon-jae bald.
At one point, the family is in the car driving who knows where when they are rear-ended. Dong-il and Il-hwa fake injuries to get insurance money, which is hysterical to watch. The pair has the phony routine down pat.
But this also leads to some of the worst news of the family’s life: they find out Dong-il has cancer. The blow hits Il-hwa particularly hard. She feels helpless in the situation and has no idea what to do for her husband save nag at him to eat properly. Then, the cancer ward he’s staying in starts to watch a drama on television. The ward is all ahjummas and Dong-il, which he hates. He has to listen to them gossip and watch this drama. Il-hwa gets more disheartened and when the male lead in the drama gets cancer, she freaks out. The entire ward’s mood dims and they shut off the drama, discouraged.
So Il-hwa takes it upon herself to harass the writer. She calls incessantly and Dong-il often wonders where she is. One time he follows her and hears her talking. She is pouring her heart out to the writer, who has taken to letting Il-hwa blather while she writes. Il-hwa explains that the entire ward is watching this drama and it really lifted their spirits until the male lead came down with cancer. She wants the drama to go well to give the ward, and especially her husband, hope that they can survive. The writer wields more power than she knows.
Dong-il has heard it all and pretends he hasn’t heard a thing. He just asks her where she was and puts his arm around her. It’s such a lovely moment between the couple. Il-hwa finally realizes that all her husband wanted was for her to be around. He finally realizes how much she loves him and wants him to get better. It’s important to know, especially after you’ve been in a relationship for so long. You want to know that the person still wants you there and loves you, even if it should be obvious that they do. Il-hwa and Dong-il really illustrate this well.
What’s my verdict? I’d rather be watching this for the fourth time that writing this! I could seriously watch this show a million times and not get sick of it. It’s just pure heart. The show makes you feel good. It makes you feel happy remembering your teenaged years. And if you are, like I am, a product of the ’90s, it hits home even more.
The show takes everyday life and turns it into fond memories no matter what sort of memories they are. It shows how those experiences shape who we are as adults. Answer Me 1997 is about looking back at a beautiful time in life and seeing how it has made you who you are today. It’s about how that teenager in 1997 is still in the adult of 2012, frolicking about inside us and making each day crazy and fun.
Answer Me 1997 also had a killer soundtrack. Of course, I didn’t grow up with a lot of these songs on my cassette player, but they remind me so much of what I was listening to at that time. (‘Cept they did rock some Coldplay! And one of the songs sounded seriously like Oasis!) I can only imagine what it was like watching this show with that soundtrack and you grew up listening to Korean groups of the ’90s. It has to be ridiculously poignant. And then the original stuff, like the beautiful ballad sung by Jung Eun-ji and Seo In-guk, was just wonderful. These kids have killer voices and the song was beautiful.
Along with the soundtrack, we can’t forget the sound effects. Namely, the sheep bleat. I have never loved a sound effect as much as I love the sheep bleat. I crack up every time I hear a sheep bleat anywhere now. It’s so perfectly jarring as a noise of embarrassment – just as out of place as whatever awkward moment it is trying to highlight.
There was something I forgot to mention before and that was the adorable pair of actions shared between Shi-won and Yoon-jae. Whenever she thought he was being cute or wanted something from him, she’d scratch him under the chin like the adorable puppy he is. Then he’d swipe his hand over her face. It occurs over and over, a little hand language between them. I really love how it quietly persists throughout the show despite the fact that they’re growing up and changing.
And who can forget bringing back the good ol’ things from the ’90s: dial-up internet, brick phones, beepers, magazine cut outs and posters, buying tickets in-person (I went to the music store). I remember when my dad got his first cell phone. It was that huge brick thing that Kim Jong-min pulled out after he rear-ended mom and dad in episode 5. We were so impressed that it didn’t have a wire and I always wanted to call my friends on it but dad would never let me. *sob*
Or when everyone had a beeper but me and I learned every beeper code in the universe anyway. Or, for Americans, AOL was the it-thing. My friends and I would plan to meet up on AOL and chat. Yeah, those were the days. Who uses AOL anymore?
Anyway, it was just fun seeing these kids do what I did: get stupid haircuts, whine and cajole my parents for stuff, drooling over bands, cutting out pages from magazines (I still have the collages of cutouts. O.O) We had our groups of friends who came over all the time to watch VHS’s of recorded shows and who knew our parents well. We had our parents record our favorite programs MANUALLY on the VCR because we were staying after school to study or participate in a club. We had kids from different parts of the U.S. come down and get made fun of for their accents. (I’m from metropolitan Miami and we had a few kids from Tennessee and Georgia in my middle school and high school who got major heartache for their Southern accents. And then others who caught grief just for being from out of state. You can never win.)
I also loved how raw all of the emotions were in this show. That’s how we feel things as teenagers. The world is always ending, no matter what is going on. You could’ve dropped your books on the floor, but if you were in a mood, like I often was, tears would be the appropriate response. Man, I was a moody teenager. Like a combination of Shi-won and Yoon-jae: happy, hyper, and sullen. LOL. Wait, is that every teenage girl? I just adored watching my teenagehood playing out on screen and remember feeling all of it.
I still have a lot of that in me, like these characters do at their reunion. It’s a good thing to keep. I never want to be too jaded and forget how I was then.
Going with that, I really appreciate how the writer shows growth of the characters. They grow, but they still retain what made them them in 1997. After time passes, they keep their cores as well as adding the necessary bits gathered from life experience. In terms of writing the script, the parallel situations between time periods really work well. They so clearly highlights the changes between now and then. Things we couldn’t do before, we can do now. Situations we couldn’t work before out become clearer now. Courage we couldn’t muster before surfaces now. It’s the beauty of time and growing older. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a wonderful thing.
I certainly don’t feel much older sometimes. I still fangirl (of course now it’s over Park Shi-hoo and not JTT.) I still act super silly with my friends. But I have the wisdom that comes along with living through the years and I never knew how much I’d appreciate that. I used to dread getting older. Shi-won never even thought about getting older. But she and her friends now appreciate, as I do, getting older and retaining our 1997 selves.
Watching Answer Me 1997 isn’t just watching a show. It’s reliving that teenage part of yourself. You will find yourself laughing and crying without realizing it. You don’t need to be Korean to be completely in tune with these characters because it’s just about relationships and growing up. It’s raw and real. It focuses on all the little things that stick in our memories and help us through. It’s about living life and hey, what’s more relatable than that?
I think this show ruined a lot of other dramas for me. Watching other shows after it seems anticlimactic. I’m waiting for the 1997 high to die down and it hasn’t.
Like I said when I started, this is pure drama gold. Buy it, watch it, share it with your kids and pray the drama gods deliver another one like it very soon.
(Ratings are in the style of Dramabeans: how much I enjoyed it/objective determination of quality)
Broadcast network: tvN
Broadcast Period: 7.24.12 to 9.18.12
Director: Shin Won-ho
Screenwriter: Lee Woo-jung, Lee Sun-hye, Kim Ran-joo