Exploring Korean Drama: Answer Me 1997

answer me 1997 90s poster

Shi Won’s rocked to her core when she discovers that Yoon Jung is secretly a turncoat, aka, also a Sechs Kies fan.  Shi Won won’t speak to her for days over it, and it takes a dramatic gesture from Yoon Jung to facilitate reconciliation.  Yes, it’s ridiculous, but it’s also a totally realistic thing that a high school girl would do.

answer me 1997 adoration

We’ve all been there, Shi Won, in one way or another.

One of the most touching scenes of the show is also of Shi Won at her craziest.  Not when she sits and cries in the rain because she tore her limited edition H.O.T. raincoat, but when she takes the bus to Seoul and sits outside Tony’s house (Tony is the leader of H.O.T. and her biggest crush; she calls him Tony Oppa).  She spends hours outside, staying when all the other fans have left.  She sleeps overnight in a box on the street.  Finally, she jumps the wall to his house and goes up right to the door.

Tony rebuffs her when he notices her.  Shi Won goes to the corner of the garden and starts bawling.  Not because she was denied the meeting for which she waited so long, but because she’s embarrassed.  She admits she must have shocked Tony, breaking onto his property like that.  In a sweet gesture, Tony calls her back, signs her shirt, and asks her if she has transportation money to get back home.  But he also reminds her not to do this sort of thing in the future.

The scene is handled with such love for Shi Won.  It definitely doesn’t shy away from disapproving of what she did, but it doesn’t paint her as a crazy fan at whom we’re supposed to laugh or write off.  Adult Shi Won is still in touch with that part of her past; she’s still a fangirl at heart, she’s just more mature about it than when she was a teenager.  Her reaction in 2012 to a relative being elevated to president of a national fan club is one of my favorite moments in the series.  It’s like the writers or others behind the show were (or are) mega fans: they understand.  So do I.  I wasn’t involved in the boy band craze, but that’s because I was too busy being a very early Ryan Gosling fangirl.  We are not going to discuss some of the things I did.

answer me 1997 scandal

Scandal!

The boys don’t escape realistic scrutiny, either.  Hak Chan’s so awkward around girls because he has a legendary porn collection.  He makes VHS compilations that he passes around the school, and before long the boys, spearheaded by Hak Chan’s access and Sung Jae’s fast-talking, are running their own distribution side business.  It’s not a major plot point nor something off of which they make a lot of money, but it’s a recurring character insight that follows the show, even in the 2005-set latter half.  It’s yet another embarrassing, realistic depiction of teenagers from which Answer Me doesn’t shy away.

The kids in Answer Me 1997 don’t stay teenagers forever.  The series loses some of its heart and momentum when midway through it jumps to 2005.  What I like about the jump, however, is that it represents a return to the past for the characters.  High school graduation fragmented the group, and although there’s some communication, they stay that way for years.

Events in 2005 bring them back together, and as Yoon Jae says in voiceover, it represents in some ways a return to their 90s selves.  Not their teenage immaturities, but a reconnection with the parts of their past that inform who they are even as adults.

The 2005 section lags a bit because by then, we’ve more or less figured out the answer to the mystery.  The first one — who’s getting married — was actually revealed earlier, but immediately replaced by another.  But by the last few episodes we’ve figured that one out too, and the show’s insistence on not unveiling the answer until the last episode feels stubborn and almost unnecessarily coy.  Why bother dragging it out when the audience knows, and when the earlier mystery wasn’t dragged out longer than needed?

answer me 1997 forever 90s

Forever 90s in our hearts.

That’s really my only complaint with Answer Me 1997.  That and the weird goat noise the soundtrack uses as a replacement for a laugh-track.  It seems to serve as a way to break tension during funny-awkward moments, but it’s a bit jarring to me.

I also wish that we were shown who was waiting in the red car for Joon Hee at the end; I don’t know if the show was too shy to reveal it, or wasn’t allowed, but I wanted to know.  Those are the only criticisms I can level at this fantastic little-show-that-could.  Its success in Korea speaks to its appeal to any generation, but it’s especially a must-watch for any child of the 90s.

Kdrama tropes to watch out for: Not really any that I can think of.  Characters act stupid sometimes, and Tae Woong is a bit of a Daddy Long Legs, but he’s accused of being such.  Very little, even the frustrating bits, retreads overtired tropes, which is another reason to love Answer Me 1997.

 

You can stream Answer Me 1997 from Amazon, Viki, or Hulu.

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