Answer Me, 1988 Mini Review

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Answer Me, 1988

Credit for all pictures go to their uploaders.

I just finished watching TvN’s latest in the Answer Me series: Answer Me, 1988. The drama aired between November, 2015 and January, 2016, and starred a whole slew of younger actors who seemed to have reached stardom due to their outing in this drama. This time around the story focused on the four families that live in one neighborhood and covered their lives from 1988 and on.

The telling of the story in itself could get too complicated based on the fact that we are dealing with all of the characters above and more. So, a quick overview instead. Recaps are available on Dramabeans, and there are extensive reviews all over the web.

The story revolves around two generations. The parental generations who trudge through their lives, depending on their friends and dreams for their children to bring color into their lives. Worries about money, debt and making ends meet make life difficult for a few, but friends rally around and save the day. Additionally, the story is about how the older generation still needs love (a widow marries her widower friend) and their partners/friends to support them in making everyday life bearable. We go through the drama with them as they deal with injuries, illnesses, menopause and forced retirement. 

We then have the younger generation with our heroine Duk Seon. She has an older sister, Bora, and a younger brother, No Eul. She lives in a basement apartment because her father, the only earner in the family, co-signed for a loan and his wages are now being garnished. We have Duk Seon’s female friends, one of whom has her own love line (with Jung Hwan’s brother, Jung Bong), and we have the friends she grew up with, the neighborhood boys – Dong Ryong (the weird yet wise one), Taek (the famous Baduk player), Sun Woo (the guy who ends up with her sister), and Jung Hwan (the cool, silent type).

Jung Hwan falls in love with Duk Seon, and lets obligations (to family and friends) and his own self-consciousness hold him back from confessing. He watches the girl he loves go to one of his best friends. Sun Woo falls in love with Bo Ra, confesses to her, and the two have a happy dating life until she dumps him for her career. The two reunite years later. We have Taek who is the absent-minded genius who knows nothing of the practical, but knows enough to fall in love and pursue the object of his affections 5 years later. And we have Dong Ryong, the wise friend who is the classic latchkey kid and watches from the sidelines and gets no love line at all.

There are interactions between parents and children, where the parents, of course, show their love of their children, but there are also moments where the children show they have grown up to be mature and caring adults. Things like setting up a surprise wedding, helping a mother through her menopause, accepting a mother’s new romance or showering a father with gifts or laughing along with his jokes . . . all show how much the children love their parents.

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Answer Me, 1988 had overlong episodes, clocking in at 90+ minutes per episodes, and while the drama itself was a warm, touching watch, but being the third in the series also made it tiring. Roles that had been fresh and new when we watched the first Reply drama have now become cliched and irritating at some points.

We have the quirky characters on the sidelines. They are different. They might be silly. They might be wise at times. But that’s all they are. Dong Ryong was the one the friends went to when they had questions like why was mom mad? He was never given a love line, and we don’t see him years later. I liked Dong Ryong, sympathized with his need for his mother’s love, and wanted to see more for him than a business that was flourishing. In a drama and a culture that celebrates family, it sucked that we didn’t get to see that for him. Or for Duk Seon’s other friend. Or for Jung Hwan.

I think it kind of blows that in this drama that sometimes clocked in at almost 2 hours per episode, why couldn’t the team give some time to giving each of the friends a bit more than just this side character status. And yet, there was enough time to focus on the OCD tendencies of the brother Jung Bong, who made cranes or scratched scratchers or had a romance. The drama team lovingly told us about Jung Bong and ruthlessly pushed others to the side to do so. Answer Me, 1997 had a similar side character who ended up alone. And I am not liking this trend. If you, drama team, are going to make a story with so many lovable characters, then treat them a bit better. Give them their happily ever afters, too!

Similarly to each of the earlier Answer Me series, we had the secondary lead couple (Bo Ra and Sun Woo) who had their ups and downs. We knew they would end up together. They did. And yet, the entire last episode was about them getting married. Okay.

And then we had the dreaded triangle. 😦 And the salt in the wound, this was after there were promises made that there would be NO “who’s the husband” drama. I HATE triangles and a Korean drama’s propensity to rub these triangles into our faces grates on me. And then to have the same tired mystery of who the husband was? I don’t care! In keeping this thing a mystery, they shortchanged the audience and shortchanged the heroine, Duk Seon.

At the end of 30+ hours of drama, I didn’t know the girl named Duk Seon. I didn’t know any of her internal thoughts about a HUGE part of her life, namely what did she feel about these males in her life? It seemed as if she would have liked anyone who confessed to her, and that just made me disappointed in her. Her friends told her that Sun Woo liked her, and she started crushing on him. Her friends then told her that Jung Hwan liked her, and she started crushing on him.  And then Taek kissed her, and she was all his. She loved whoever loved her, and she gave up when they did nothing. Why did she wait? Why didn’t she confess? Why was she so dense, so passive . . . I felt the writer degraded her own creation by making Duk Seon an object to be picked and took away her ability to be the actor in her own life. She frustrated me. The writer frustrated me. And the writing frustrated me.

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Duk Seon, I was going to give [this ring] to you when I graduated. But I’m giving it to you now.  I like you. I’m saying, I like you. Hey… do you know what I’ve done because of you? I waited an hour by the front door every day to go to school with you. I waited every night until you came home from studying.  And I couldn’t sleep at all because I was worried about you. “Why is she so late?” “Did she fall asleep again?” I thought of nothing but you. Just you. When I ran into you,  by chance, on the bus… And when we went to the concert… Also, when I got the shirt from you on my birthday… I was really… so happy that I thought I was crazy. I wanted to see you more than a dozen times a day. I was happy just to see you. I wanted to tell you this a long time ago . . . I really like you . . . I love you.

~Jung Hwan (Credit subtitles from Viki)

This is the first time in my life that I have been on the wrong ship. It is not pleasant. To see Jung Hwan fall in love and suffer from that love was depressing. And the saddest thing of all? No one knew! He had NO ONE to speak to regarding the pain he was going through. His rival knew, but what good did that do him? He couldn’t talk to Taek about his broken heart. Why did he let no one else in? My heart hurt for how alone he must have felt while going through this heartache.

He seemed cold and prickly, but his every action was to make the people around him happy. He noticed his mother’s pain and self-consciousness, and made efforts to alleviate it. He lived out his brother’s dream. He let Taek know that it was okay to pursue Duk Seon, and stepped back when he found out that his love was loved by his best friend. He confessed to Duk Seon, but made it a joke when he could clearly see she was waiting for Taek. her eyes trained on the door the entire time they were hanging out.

His failures? He NEVER said anything. He took away Duk Seon’s right to choose. And he gave up without trying. Even then, he learned from his mistakes and knew to blame only himself and not fate when he ultimately lost her.

He was the hero of this story. The strong and silent type, who suffered from his unrequited love up until the end. He confessed the above to Duk Seon (with NO reaction from her! What was she thinking? Did she care?), but only as a joke. The tears in his eyes were real. And the heartbreak, as evidenced by that special ring being left behind on the table, was real. He just let no one see it. He was strong, and I hoped that he would be okay. I comforted myself with the fact that it was a first love, a high school love, but the reality was that he was still in the depths of that love when he moved into young adulthood. The sad thing? We don’t get to see him being okay! We don’t even get that crumb. He completely disappears, and we hear nothing about him in the present. Honestly, I don’t care who got Duk Seon. She wasn’t that impressive. But this hero deserved a happily ever after and he didn’t get it, and that is what really, really bothers me about this drama.

The team behind this drama went with the same tired question of who the husband was until the very last episode, and, thus, it shot itself in the foot by hiding so much of the characters from us. We don’t get to know some of them because of this choice (like Duk Seon) and we don’t get to see the endings for others (like Jung Hwan) because of it. Despite how great the families were, the husband mystery, the triangle, and the failure to give us a good ending for the hero of the story made it a bittersweet watch at best. I gave the drama 6 out of 10 for Jung Hwan. I don’t know if I have it in me to watch the next Answer Me series, because I don’t really think they have it in them to do anything new anymore. There’s only so much you can stretch the utterly ridiculous premise of who the husband is before it snaps and we snap. I think I’ve reached that point.

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