Perfect teen drama, thy name is Answer Me 1997.
Warning: This review contains spoilers.
Answer Me 1997 is winding down to its last four episodes, and the plot just gets thicker and thicker. The best and worst thing still so far about this drama is the reunion scenes. They make me crave for someone to drop the hint of who Shi-won ended up marrying, but at least they let us know that no one got lost along the way to 2012, so the viewers already knew that Papa Sung would be all right, but boy was Episodes 5 and 6 heart-wrenching anyways!
I thoroughly enjoy the dynamic between Papa Sung and Shi-won because it’s the typical father-daughter, parent-child, clash of the titans dynamic, but they are so funny together, and it’s clear that there is a lot of love between the two of them, although it’s mostly unspoken. So when Papa Sung was diagnosed with stomach cancer, their relationship was put to the test, and they slowly became more verbal about their love for each other. The scene where Papa Sung is praying to God for him to stay alive because Shi-won is still so young and still needs to be guided was one of the saddest scenes in the drama, and had me in tears. At least there was the blossoming love between Hak-chan and Yoo-jung to fill us with some light-heartedness to recover from the angst. It is also revealed that Hakjung will be a married couple soon in 2012; yay for fulfilled OTPs! Meanwhile, a storm within the relationships of Yoon-jae, Shi-won, and Tae-woong is brewing.
Episode 7 makes us realize that the end of high school and childhood is nigh as exams begin to approach, and career plans must be drawn and figured out with the guidance of their teachers. Tae-woong hands out some hard truths to the students and tries his best to help make the right choices in life, things he wasn’t able to do himself because of a pesky thing called fate, and do things that they enjoy. It’s an interesting stance, seeing as how driven South Korea’s educational system is on people conforming to be the best, and not do something they love as individuals.
Meanwhile, the other teachers place their time in persuading the more apt students into going to good schools, not for themselves, but for boosting the school’s reputation. Yoonjae, the school’s star student, however, doesn’t want to go to Seoul National University, but wants to follow in his late father’s footsteps and become a part of the National Air Force. Coincedentally so does the school’s number two student, Jun-hee, to the dismay of the school. This episode is full of wonderful moments between Jun-hee and Yoon-jae, as we are shown how Jun-hee fell for him and as they try to enlist together, only for Yoon-jae to fail for the first time in his life because of his bad eyesight, thanks to having an even blinder optometrist. Jun-hee, not wanting to join in the air force without him, leaves with Yoon-jae and thus ends a beautiful OTP moment.
Trouble ensues for Shi-won, who has terrible grades and won’t be able to be admitted to any university, especially the one of her dreams, Tony oppa’s university. Why can’t fangirling be a paid, full-time job? But with luck, Shi-won’s fangirling does give her a stroke of luck with her strong skills in writing fiction–fanfiction. Tae-woong begins to help Shi-won after her fanfiction is read aloud hilariously by her homeroom teacher, by changing up her story and making it fit to enter in a writing contest, whose grand prize is admission to university. The closeness between both Tae-woong and Shi-won begins to make Yoon-jae jealous, and the tension builds as the three of them begin to make a love triangle.
As much as I like Yoonwon, Taewon is sweet because Tae-woong clearly enjoys helping Shi-won, and begins to want to take care of her as his feelings developed. It’s tragic that Tae-woong’s girlfriend–Shi-won’s older sister–died and Tae-woong might be trying to fulfill his relationship that was cut short through Shi-won, which might be a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective, but doesn’t make it any less tragic. Other than the development of his love for Shi-won, Tae-woong seems to be rethinking what he’s done with his life, and for himself, as Yoon-jae is preparing to head off to university. As for the dynamics within the six friends, Hak-chan and Yoo-jung are constantly making up and breaking up because of Hak-chan’s bumbling, Yoon-jae and Shi-won continue to bicker at every moment, Jun-hee is holding back his feelings for Yoon-jae and Sung-jae is hopelessly hilarious as always.
But as the end of school year approaches and D-Day is fast-approaching, the laidback and simpler time of their friendship draws to a close, and things become serious. Shi-won gets into college, and with the end of exams, Yoon-jae plucks up the courage and plans to reveal his feelings for Shi-won, through a puppy that looks like him and he named after himself no less, but all of that goes to hell when his brother confesses to him that he likes Shi-won as well. Despite his feelings, Yoon-jae wants his brother to be happy, with all the things in life he’s sacrificed to make Yoon-jae have a good life, and doesn’t confess. Meanwhile, Tae-woong, once Yoon-jae passes his exams, says carpe diem and quits his teaching job to start an online business through a site called I Like School.
And thus Yoon-jae steps aside and lets his brother go on his path to happiness. Backing away from Shi-won is a symbol of Yoon-jae’s growing maturity, but the coldness and the anger he feels towards Shi-won shows that Yoon-jae is still unable to let go of his feelings and they impede upon his ability to move on, and fully grow up. These scenes break my heart the most because Shi-won is clearly unable to look at Yoon-jae beyond being her oldest friend, and is hurt and confused by how he’s rejecting her. As much as I understand that this is for the sake of tension and it is a drama, I can’t help but frustrated by wanting them to just talk it out. But I think that is the luxury of being an outsider looking in, and dramatic irony rubbing it in my face. Eventually, Tae-woong confesses to Shi-won and they end up being sort of a couple, much to Yoon-jae’s and my dismay.
To break up the tension, the writers and PD give us Hakjung to be the more simple relationship, in terms of structure, but that they constantly go back and forth between being complicated and just plain hilarious, Sung-jae lightens up the mood whenever he’s around, and other than the bromance between Yoon-jae and Jun-hee, my favourite, for comedic sake, bromance is between Sung-jae and Hak-chan. Sung-jae is more or less everyone’s punching bag, even for sweet ol’ Hak-chan. There is a sweet story of how Papa and Mama Sung came to be a couple, all because younger Mama Sung confused which person was the crush of her best friend, Yoon-jae and Tae-woong’s future mother, and becomes a messenger between the two of them until the messenger and younger Papa Sung fall in love. Fate brings the two sets of friends together, revealing how the two families became intertwined.
That side-story, along with Jun-hee giving up Yoon-jae–the puppy– to a little girl who lost a dog who just like him, were the sweetest parts in Episode 9 and relief from the angst between Yoon-jae and Shi-won. The creative team behind Answer Me are great at balancing the various feels of the drama and managing to keep well-paced despite the story’s layers. Episode 10 had us learning about the reasons why the men of Answer Me 1997 love their crushes and/or significant others.
Most of them choose their looks, for lack of being able to put anything to words due to being put on the spot, but Jun-hee continues to be the perfect male K-drama character–gay or straight–by saying, through voice-over, that he loves Yoon-jae simply because he’s Yoon-jae, and if he knew so easily why he loved him, he’d be able to stop. Cue tears and endless sobbing. But Sung-jae definitely had the funniest answer for his new-found love in Eun Gak-ha by saying that he loved her because of her chest. A true gentleman. Personally, I don’t mind that Yoon-jae, Hak-chan, and Tae-woong used pretty as the reason why they liked Shi-won and Yoo-jung respectively, especially when they added that they were pretty to them. Meaning that everything about them is pretty, or nice to them, so regardless of what another person might say, they’re pretty to them and that’s really all that matters.
Episode 11 and 12 might be the best episodes yet in terms of drama and angst, with school concluding and everyone preparing to set off on their own paths. Shi-won gets into trouble by almost being attacked by a serial rapist but is rescued by Yoon-jae.
I didn’t like the build-up to this scene where everyone tells Shi-won to call Yoon-jae or use him as a chaperone home, but Shi-won doesn’t listen and says that she’s fine on her own, and nearly gets raped as a result. It felt like it was saying that see this is what happens when you don’t listen to your parents/women walk home alone at night. I might be looking at it too deeply but it was something that bothered me. But Yoon-jae coming to save Shi-won, in pyjamas and despite falling and scrapping himself, which seemed so heart-warming because Yoon-jae will always be there for Shi-won. I think the acting was well-done for Yoon-jae who played the emotions of fear and relief perfectly, and this scene is when Shi-won begins to realize Yoon-jae’s feelings for him.
Things aren’t peachy within Hakjung as Hak-chan’s shyness gets the best of him and he ends up telling his mother that Yoo-jung is just a girl, and not his girlfriend right after he introduced himself to Yoo-jung’s childhood friends as her boyfriend, after hours of being too shy to meet them. Hak-chan just loves digging himself into deeper trouble. Yoo-jung is terribly hurt and they break up, but they reconcile after Hak-chan reveals proudly that he likes Yoo-jung to her class after losing a bet with Yoon-jae and Jun-hee that Jo Sung-mo wouldn’t be good-looking.
Episode 12 is the end of the 90’s and the end of the teenage story arc, with Yoon-jae confessing to no avail, Hakjung imploding because Hak-chan has to study abroad but didn’t tell Yoo-jung until the last minute, and Shi-won losing her best friend, all on Shi-won’s birthday. Episode 12 was heart-wrenching as the six friends drifted apart on not-so great terms. We don’t get a graduation ceremony at the end, because that would just be an awkward and painful event, and Shi-won leaves for Seoul with only her mother and father wishing her off. Shi-won’s train ride into Seoul is used to fast-forward into 2005, and the 21st century, where Shi-won is a junior writer and meets Yoon-jae at a cafe by chance. We get to see Tae-woong back at school and teaching, after selling of his stocks in his online business. The episode ends with many loose ends like what happened between 1999 and 2005 for all of the characters, are Tae-woong and Shi-won still together, and will Yoon-jae and Shi-won reconcile?
Episodes 7-12 leaves us with a lot of tensionand unanswered questions leading up to the final four episodes. The transition between the lighter earlier episodes flowed well as the characters struggled with maturity and taking the next steps into adulthood, leaving reason for the seriousness to come into play. The love lines are complicated but none of them drag the drama down or seem tedious, because of the writing, pacing, and the acting. The motivations of each of the characters’ relationships are clearly drawn out and the complications are understandable, especially with the Shi-won,Tae-woong and Yoon-jae love triangle. Never have I been so torn with a love triangle. Everyone just wants to make the other happy, and the theme of sacrifice hangs heavy in the drama, and although everyone wants to keep their relationships intact, life goes on and people have to make choices. Yoon-jae giving up his friendship with Shi-won breaks that theme, by him hurting the one he loves the most, because he’s finally making a decision for himself, to make everything hurt less for him, and it’s selfish and painful.
It’s a contrast to Jun-hee’s handling of his unrequited love, as he accepts it and is able to move on and maintain his friendship with Yoon-jae, despite how painful it might be. Does it mean that Yoon-jae was less mature than Jun-hee? Yes, but I think his decision to break off his ties with Shi-won was cathartic for him and the only way he knew how to move on and get on with his life. Unlike Jun-hee, Yoon-jae confessed directly to Shi-won and I think it was the best decision was to separate and rethink without having to go through the awkward rebuilding of their relationship.
The relationship between Hak-chan and Yoo-jung, as they have issues, I think that they’re the least complicated relationship in the drama because a) we know that they end up together b) they aren’t lodged in a mess of a love triangle, despite their relationship maturing from innocent love and stupid breakups, to miscommunication and bigger breaks. The drama would be a lot more simpler and easy to solve if only they could straighten things out and be more open with each other, but those are the problems with youth isn’t it? Being unable to put things to words and settling things out before they get out of hand.
The last two episodes of Answer Me 1997 have been extended, and they will both one-hour in length and air on two separate weeks. The subbing for this drama is as slow as ever, even at the most crucial episodes. It’s times like this that I wish I knew Korean so I could help out, and hopefully they’ll be out soon. How is everyone liking Answer Me 1997 so far? Are you Team Taewon or Team Yoonwon (Yes, I went there)? I’m Team JunJae, or more like Seoya. I’m going down with this ship, even though it’s all but fizzled out and it’s inevitable that it won’t happen, sigh. So, then I’ll leave you with “All For You,” the duet that Seo In-guk and A Pink’s Eunji released for the drama as a sign of who I want Shi-won to end up with. (sorry Tae-woong!)