Answer Me 1997 confessions

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I don’t get the pop culture references (Sechs Kies who?), I’m perplexed by the screaming (people in love whisper sweet nothings to each other, not yell their lungs out, eyes blazing), I like but am not enamored of the lead couple. (What?! Did you just say that? Are you feverish? How you crazy?) I also don’t remember behaving this puerile when I was eighteen. By that age I had already experienced the loss of a father and the wrath of a customer whose pristine white skirt I had just made un-pristine with a generous serving of Coke. Of the latter… okay, I have butter fingers but hey, it was my first job and no one told me that placing a tall glass at the edge of a tray was a bad idea.

Wait, there’s more. For the past four days I’ve had the worst case of writer’s block. Short of standing on my head, I just can’t string together a review of Answer Me 1997. Everything that I want to say has probably been said on a dozen other blogs. Wait, I take that back. Bet no one else has said this of the drama: “At first I could not watch it fast enough but later I could not wait for it to end.”

See what I’ve done? Pissed off the five of you who came running here the instant you saw the title on your twitter or email. But before you pelt me with whatever that’s close at hand, you must hear me out. I love the drama, I really do. Except not to itty-bitty bits.

Ouch, must you throw that?!

Now that I’ve got you all properly riled up, I suppose I should just shut up and not tell you who my favorite character is. After all, how many viewers pick the porn addict from Seoul as the character they miss the most when he’s not on the screen? Especially when he’s the go-to guy in school for all things XXX-rated (on screen or in print, just name what you want and Do Hak-chan will procure it for you) yet is an embarrassment in front of the female species because a deadening shyness suddenly envelops him and he can’t muster a word or even lift his head. I’m sure you don’t find that cute at all.

Pretty sure, too, that you gasped “kill me now” when you saw him pairing a V-neck pullover with a V-neck tee. Okay, so he’s not the most stylish guy in school and in that group of six he does not stand out or say much. He’s not terribly bright, and for all the porn he devours he’s surprisingly clueless about the opposite sex.

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But you know what? I adore Hak-chan for being bumbling. I adore how earnest and unwavering he is with Yoo-jung; of all the relationships in the drama, theirs is the sweetest and least complicated. One of their scenes (hint: a bus is involved) also moved me to tears (not just the eyes threatening to well up; no, I’m talking rivulets and boxes of tissues). That in itself is special because although I was touched by many scenes in Answer Me 1997, only four made me cry.

In fact, one of the four scenes has already found its way into a post of its own. And now I shall tell you why that scene marked that point where I said to myself: “This drama is a keeper.”

When I was a wee thing many moons ago, my mother got it into her head that I was a smart lass and could be counted upon to fulfill her cherished dream: to have one of her children become a doctor. That misguided notion (misguided because even at that age I would rather swallow a roach than look at blood) was really my fault: I breezed through kindergarten and topped my class in early elementary school. Then the unthinkable happened. I dropped to third place when I was nine. So furious was Mom when she saw my grades, she took a pair of scissors to my head and lopped off my flowing locks; I went to school the next day with the exact same haircut that Shi-won sported. If Mom wanted me to never forget that punishment, she succeeded.

But no, that’s not the reason I cried when I saw that scene. I cried because the moment Yoo-jung took off her cap and I saw that she had the same awkward hairdo as Shi-won, I at once remembered a day last month.

A friend whom I’ve not seen in the last four years wanted to take me out for lunch. Since the restaurant was just a short walk away, we met in her home first. We sat and talked and because I’ve always felt at ease with her, I began to tell her how this year had just been the pits and how I’ve never been more afraid in my life. As she listened, tears began to flow. She stood up, walked over to me and, without saying a word, hugged me tight.

How Shi-won felt seeing Yoo-jung was how I felt that day with my friend.

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And now I shall tell you about the third and fourth scene that made me cry even though I know you’re on your way out the door because it’s 900 words and I’ve still not mentioned Yoon-jae or Joon-hee.

Shi-won’s father is sitting alone in a church and praying for perhaps the first time in his life. He makes just one desperate request and it’s for his younger daughter. That’s one scene. In another, he’s sitting with his uncle and this time he’s silent, unlike in the church and unlike in much of the drama. He listens quietly as his uncle goes on and on about the past. Somewhere in that long and one-sided exchange, the significance of a certain pound cake is explained.

One scene resonates more than the other but both reiterate the same theme: family matters more than anything else.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that although I’m a sucker for first love and coming of age stories done just right (evoking sentiment rather than manipulating sentimentality), what I appreciate about Answer Me 1997 is how it makes me reexamine family and friendship. It makes me question the amount of time I should be spending with the people who are important (sorry, dear dogs and chinchillas; nah, you’re not included in my apology, lizards); it makes me more determined to not sweat the small stuff. I look at Shi-won’s relationship with her dad and it makes me feel, for maybe the first time in my life, rather sorry for myself because I never did share that sort of closeness with my father. True, I wish they yelled at each other less (I really do not get the constant shouting; is it a cultural thing?) and I also think Shi-won behaves like a spoiled brat sometimes (how different is the 33-year-old version from the 18-year-old? not much, methinks). Theirs is a family that feels real.

Since I have a favorite character and all and was even suitably moved, why did I admit earlier that I could not wait for the drama to end?

Because the Riddle Me This, Who Did Shi-won Marry? teasing got tiresome after the halfway point and I began to feel that the drama was treating me like an idiot. Because of course we all knew who she chose; the clues were so clear.

She chose him!

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21 thoughts on “Answer Me 1997 confessions

  1. At first I could not watch it fast enough but later I could not wait for it to end.”
    Pretty sure quite a few folks felt this way, including myself. Nice to see you back thundie!!7

  2. Ah, the scenes you chose were probably one of my favorites, too. I also like the scenes with mom and dad, especially the ones in the hospital. They were so sweet.
    My favorite character was Hak-chan, also! I loved his relationship with Yoo-jung more than with Shi-won and Yoon-jae, though they were cute in their own ways.
    I probably liked Answer Me more than you did because I enjoyed the pop culture references and I loved the regional dialects, but it definitely wasn’t perfect or without its faults. I also think it sort of dragged a bit towards the end and wasn’t as charming, but it’s still one of my favorites of this year.

  3. I loved this drama because I thought it was so completely well-rounded, particularly, as you mentioned, with her father. I appreciated that they took time to develop his character as well, though, when an actor as fantastic as Sung Dong Il is playing him, how could you not? I thought many of the heart-tugging scenes in the show were created by him – the scene on the bus as she leaves for Seoul, when he walks into her room to potentially buy her the jeans and of course, the many moments while he was in the hospital. The real treasure of this show for me was the unexpected warmth actually shown between father-daughter – and I think it’s because he hit a home run with his acting.

  4. I am certainly not going to throw anything! I loved Hak Chan and I kind of feel that their story was a tad neglected towards the end :/ And I liked everything you had to say. I think more than anything, I loved the ensemble of this cast. And yes, the whole riddle thing got rather tiresome and boring and also irritating.

  5. Thank you for this review. Like D, I also agree with your “At first I could not watch it fast enough but later I could not wait for it to end.” statement. I was devouring all the eps like crazy, raided all blogs I could find, transcaps, live recaps, recaps, raw videos, everything. But then, somewhere along the way, I slowly lost that “urge” to watch the episodes immediately. I still read the recaps, though. It took me a week or two after the finale to watch the last 8 episodes.

    One of the scenes that made me bawl was Dad’s hospital scene. Starting from when Shiwon received the phone call up until when Mom was desperately pleading to the writer to change the course of the drama that the patients were watching. I am a Daddy’s girl through and through, but not the shouty type. I joke around my Dad a lot, but I can not imagine myself shouting at him.

    Also, the scene where Yoo-jung was telling her friends to appreciate their parents while they still have the chance pricked my conscience. We are not the touchy feely sort of family so I am not as filial a daughter as I believe I should be. I still am trying my best to get over this and follow YJ’s words.

    All in all, it was an entertaining drama. In fact, it might be the only 2012 drama I have managed to read and watch from start to end.

  6. Thuuuunddiieee uunnii!!! Yes,u’re right. You pissed us off and then you made us laugh. Kamsamida. Arigato. Hope Laica is feeling better now.

  7. love your post! made me well up at some parts… maybe cuz Answer touches our hearts in a very real way. i have no real fave on the drama but i love the whole cast. always, it’s the little things with the family, the way we spend our time with our loved ones that counts. at the end of the day, they are what makes us as a person. watching dramas like Answer makes us appreciate this. thank you so much for this post.

  8. I felt the same way.

    I loved the first episodes but started to lose interest with the last several and didn’t even watch the finale. I will probably never watch it, but that doesn’t take away from my happy feelings for the show.

    This show had a weird way of getting IN me. You know what I mean? It made me feel and remember and get all nostalgic about things I didn’t even experience. I want to read a book like answer me 1997. Hell, I want to write a book like it ( but with out all that who-did-she-end-up-with stuff). I want to capture the feeling that answer me did in those first episodes and then read it over and over again.

  9. Hi Thundie,

    Your post was right on for me. While I mostly enjoyed the drama, I, too, had a hard time with all the screaming. (Mine is a loud, boisterous household, but there is no disrespectful screaming going on – it just makes me uncomfortable.) I was mostly annoyed with Shin-won and her lack of maturity, which actually made it less believable that the older brother would have fallen in love with her. Mid-way I was also anxious to finish it up, so much so that I fast forwarded through the scene with the Dad and Uncle, but now I’m thinking I should revisit it.

    Even if I hadn’t watched the show, your personal story in this post made it worth reading. That’s what I love about your writing (I gave you another shout-out the other day.) I’m happy to see you back at it again.

  10. Oh, and I have to say, I am dumbfounded that parents actually cut off their kids’ hair as punishment! I’d never seen anything like that before, and knowing it happened to you puts a whole new spin on it. I guess it’s effective, though, because I once cut my daughter’s hair about 4″ shorter than she wanted and she was traumatized, haha! (But then you still didn’t become a doctor…)

  11. I like the light-hearted plot of this drama. It makes me feel entertain and love life more. it makes me experience my teenage years all over again. Continue the vibes.

  12. I feel somewhat the same way about this show. I finished it two days ago, and I would say that it’s a show with a lot of hearts, but I cannot relate to the female lead at all. When I started the show, I was prepared to dive into a pool of emotions of teenage angst and whatnots because I’m 18 and just graduated highschool and started college. But I ended up learning and appreciating family values more than anything else from this show. I cannot relate to crying and flailing at your favorite idol or yelling at your parents. I would say that I can relate more to Yoon-Jae than anyone else from the show.
    However, there is one thing that I commend this show for, and it’s the fact that they chose to not undermine the topic of sex, esp. for a teenage show. It cracks me up when Yoon-Jae is washing his underwear in the morning, and Tae-Woong asks if he had another dream. That’s hilarious! Or when Yoo-Jung is stressed out because she was on her period when her boyfriend asks her to come over that night. It speaks true to being a highschooler, and it’s not typical for an asian show to discuss sex in such a light way. They don’t skirt around the topic nor take it too seriously: it’s just like how it is in real life (or at least how it was with my experience)– we were curious and talked about it often.
    Overall, I think this was a solid choice to marathon over my winter break :D

  13. Thanks for your thoughts thundie. I enjoyed the show well enough but did have problems with all the shouting ( in fact i warn people that esp initially the shouting can be almost alarming cos it felt like it never stops! ) and also felt that the first half was much stronger than the second. I wouldn’t say that I couldn’t wait for it to finish but I stopped getting excited for the coming episodes after a while.

    I felt that the drama’s biggest strength was in evoking that feeling of being young and uncertain about what exactly one is feeling and as you pointed out, the importance of family and friends in our lives.

    Thank you and I hope that 2013 will lift you, not just out of the pits, but really really high.

  14. My sister’s favorite is Hak-chan, too. Every time I mention him she GIGGLES. And my favorite bits were the family bits. Or when Dong-il smiled at the picture of the two families sitting side by side.

  15. This is why I loved Answer 1997. It wasn’t a typical rom-com, although you may think so at first. After a while i think the is it one brother or another turned into a bit of a joke… we all knew what it was going to be. It was a show about families. All kinds of families the one you’re born into and the one you choose via friends. it wasn’t all about the love line it was about their friendships and their families and the sacrifices they made for each other.

    My fav character was JoonHee not only was he adorable but he reminded me so much of myself. Unfortunately I’m the kind of person who will give up everything in silence for the person I love. Even if they don’t notice it, even if they don’t appreciate it.. I give, because I can’t help myself.

    I really loved how much ShiWon’s family interacted. my family is the same way almost. We’re loud and we’re close. I might not yell at my mom but we share and talk daily. With all their yelling and bickering I still found myself hoping I’d grow up and have a family like ShiWon’s of my own one day.

    Aja Aja Thundie even when life gets you down remember things have to start looking up eventually.

  16. I enjoyed reading all the posts about this drama more than watching the actual thing. It has just finished here on a California channel and for me it was the most irritating and frustrating drama to watch. We were never sure when it would come on, and then when it did, we never knew which episode, or would it be a repeat again. I got slightly tired of shooting back and forth between the 90s and 2012. I didn’t like the shouting. I don’t think Korean children, especially teens would ever yell at parents. Maybe I am wrong. I thought the fan groupies were shown exactly as they must be now, today. Crazy and pushy into entertainers lives. They really do break into houses and interfere in the most illegal ways nowadays. Nevertheless there were some real and touching moments throughout the drama. I wanted to keep watching to find out what happened to all those in the group not just the main couple. I like the Hak chan character and I like the actor very much. He is an odd soul and very quiet and calm whatever show he appears in. It’s as though he knows it is show business and he can go home afterwards to his real world. I also did not watch it all. I had to find out what happened and found it on line. It was not all that impressive as an ending. Liked the hero…if you could call him that. I’m glad my father was not a shouter but then he died when I was seventeen so maybe he would have shouted at me when I was going through the end of my teens. I changed though after he went., I loved him and he was my hero. I was no longer the life of the party and laughing all the time. I grew up I think.
    This drama was called ‘Reply.1997′ over here this time around. I think it was worth watching really. Better than many of the recent dramas shoiwng modern life.

  17. Thundie, I am having such trouble with my PC. I have written about this drama on another page of your blog. It darts from one place to another. I finally did watch all of this drama from start to finish and I loved it once I got really interested in the characters. It was so real and so Busan and not smart sophisticated Seoul. Hak Chan actor was actually a member of Sech Kies so it was funny to see when they were talking and showng posters of him in the 1990s.
    Kangta is also doing a little acting in a Korean drama aain. He is in the drama ‘Happy ending’ which I talked about on the page which is really about Kimchi Family. Please don’t ask me why. I just went with the page presented to me. It’s my PC not your blog. Love Peg.

  18. one of the best reviews i have ever read. thank you for that :) i love AM1997 but you are so right… “At first I could not watch it fast enough but later I could not wait for it to end.” and its all because of that who is she gonna marry mystery… even to the last episode, they had to push that plotline. :)) but still despite that flaw and all its other flaws, AM1997 would be one unforgettable drama for me. it even topped my list hihi.

  19. This drama is still popping up on TV and somehow I have to take a look. I have grown to love Seo In Guk. think that is the name of our hero here. He is a singer, and a good one. He has acted in several dramas already and He can change for any character it seems. I never really liked Shi Won altho she also played her role well. I did not see what he saw in her. Of course they did grown up together and then as he said in the drama . ‘Boys turn into men faster than girls mature it seems.’ His ongoing attraction was very much a physical one added to the way he knew her as a pal and longtime family type person. She was so slow. All her thoughts went to her song group qnd whoever led in her mind. All pipe dreams of course and those fans still exist in dreamland now.
    Yes I liked the Hak Chan character and of course he could not look at a real girl without embarrassment. He would instantly see her minus a few clothes because of his rich porn knowledge rolling around in his head. poor lad. But it all worked out in the end. I think all the charcaters were important and all of them made us feel some kind of real emotion. I would have believed more in Shi Won if they had allowed more scenes when she could have shown her real love for him and how she would treat him properly instead of always fighting him. They must have had a most powerful love and closeness really. It was the only thing that did not quite reach me as did the other characters in action.

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