“Answer Me 1997” (응답하라 1997)

Answer me 1997_1

By Jae-Ha Kim
jaehakim.com
January 30, 2016

3 stars

Sung Shi Won (played by Jung Eun-Ji)
Yoon Yoon Jae (played by Seo In-Guk)
Yoon Tae Woong (played by Song Jong-Ho)

Everything that “How I Met Your Mother” did wrong (including its series finale), “Answer Me 1997” does right. Funny and poignant with superb acting by the entire cast, the series tells the story of six childhood friends whose lives are intertwined through adulthood.

There is a lot going on in this 16-part series, which originally aired in Korea in 2012. And almost all of it is perfection.

Answer-Me-1997

Sung Jae___________Joon Hee_____Yoon Jae_____Shi Won_______Yoo Jung______Hak Chan

It starts out with a high school class reunion. We are told that one couple will become engaged that day. But what we don’t find out until later is that another couple had gotten married and were expecting a baby.

Most of the series takes place in 1997 — but flashes forward through 2012 — just as the K-Pop machine was gearing up.

At the center is Shi Won — who is obsessed with a band called H.O.T. — and Yoon Jae, the smartest student at their school. Their friendship grew even stronger, when — at the age of 11 — his parents died. (Their parents had also been childhood friends.)

Yoon Jae’s older brother, Tae Woong, gives up his dreams and sticks close to home to take care of him. Both brothers are handsome, ridiculously smart and driven. Though they have their own house, they are welcomed at the Sung home for meals, family gatherings and game nights. They are, in essence, a blended family.

When Tae Woong tells his little brother that he is going to ask Shi Won out, Yoon Jae is heartbroken, but says nothing. How can he hurt his brother, who sacrificed his own goals to stay behind and take care of him?

Answer Me 1997 a

As I started to write about the relationships that keep the characters intertwined, I realized that dissecting them didn’t do them justice. Just as in real life, the romances here are messy and maddening, but also filled with love and devotion.

There is the camaraderie of family and friends. And there are the ramifications of self-sacrifice.

There is also unrequited love that is beautifully poignant. Kudos to K-pop Hoya (of the group Infinite) for his thoughtful (and unstereotypical) portrayal of Joon Hee, a gay teenager who is in love with his best friend; and to the writers for not portraying it as “weird.”

All the over-the-top histrionics aside (especially early on with Shi Won’s tantrums over life in general and H.O.T. in particular), this series at its core is about unconditional love. One of the sweetest moments is watching Yoon Jae drive an old beater that’s doors don’t work properly. (I believe it had belonged to his parents.) We learn that when he had his first job, he bought her parents — who had become his surrogate parents — a new car.

I really enjoyed learning more about their past as the series progressed. For instance, about mid-way through the series, we see that Yoon Jae is in the hospital with a broken arm. We don’t learn until the final moments how that happened.

I also found it amusing that each time a D’oh moment happened, the bleating of a goat could be heard. Maaaaaaaa.

Answer me 1997_2

Spoilers:

The couple that gets engaged at the reunion are Hak Chan and Yoo Jung, who was in love with Yoon Jae in high school.

We also learn that Shi Won and Yoon Jae have already been married for a few years. She is pregnant with their second child. Their first child was an unexpected surprise. Yoon Jae’s brother — who already had his own wedding planned — gave them his wedding date so that they could be married prior to the child’s birth.

Tae Woong falls in love with the doctor who performed surgery on him. It turns out that like Shi Won, she is a huge idol fangirl. There’s a nice flashback to the first time they met — though neither remembers it. He was in line getting music for Shi Won. His future bride rudely brushes past him, having picked up her latest CDs.

Yoon Jae is deathly afraid of frogs. While still in high school, the six friends take a photo together at the park. At the last minute, Shi Won opens her hand to reveal a tiny frog and Yoon Jae freaks out, falls backwards and breaks his arm. This is how the series ends, and it’s kind of perfect.

You may recognize:

Jung Eun-Ji, who portrays Shi Won. She’s a member of the idol group, APink.

Shi Won’s very loud father is played by Sung Dong-Il, who had a much more muted role as the prodigal professor son in “Miss Granny.”

Eun Ji-Won, a member of the group Sechs Kies, plays the porn-obsessed Hak Chan. Sechs Kies is H.O.T.’s rival. There are some clever meta moments: Hak Chan’s girlfriend is obsessed with Sechs Kies. Watching a video of the group, Hak Chan mumbles that he’s more talented than they are. At the reunion, his fiance, Yoo Jung (played with Shin So-Yool) says she’s now obsessed with Infinite. Hoya is a member of that K-Pop band.

Lee Yong-Nyeo, who played Madam Goh — matchmaker to the dead — in “The Master’s Sun” plays a cancer patient here.

My favorite scene:

Lee Shi Un and Lee Jae Won

Though the series is filled with heartbreaking and romantic moments, my favorite was when the friends all gathered together as the Sung house to watch Korea play against Japan in a pivotal soccer match. Mr. Sung, who is the coach for the Busan Seagulls, tells motormouth Sung Jae (portrayed by Lee Shi-Un) that if he can keep quiet for the entire game, he will give him one of the star player’s bats. You can see the frustration on his face as he listens to everyone getting mixed up about facts and pop culture. Finally, he doesn’t care about the prized bat and he explodes with a barrage of corrections.

He reminded me so much of Lee Jae-Won, who played a similar character in “The Master’s Sun.” Their mannerisms, laugh and (to a lesser extent) looks were so similar that I had to keep checking IMDB to make sure they indeed were two different actors.

Extras:

Seo In-Guk parodies the popularity of his character on an episode of “Saturday Night Live Korea.” If you’ve got three minutes, watch it. It’s hysterical … and spot on!

© 2016 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved

Comments (7)

  1. Jessica Gant says:

    I am obsessed with Answer Me 1995 right now and plan on watching all of them. I’m SO glad to hear this one is good too.

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      I’m watching them in the order they were released. So I just started “Answer Me 1994 – 응답하라 1994” (aka “Reply 1994”) and then will watch “Answer Me 1988” (“응답하라 1988”) — which I’m REALLY looking forward to (with all the ties to the The Olympic Games in Seoul). The parents in 1994 are the same ones in 1997. 🙂 I love them!

  2. Jenny Lee says:

    I absolutely loved Answer Me 1988, and look forward to hearing your thoughts on it. There were some things I wish the writers had done differently (toward the end), but it’s become one of my favorite kdramas. I think I laughed and cried in every episode.

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      Did you like 1988 better than 1997 and/or 1994? Do any of the characters from the previous two series show up in 1988, too? Maybe the parents… ?

      • Jenny Lee says:

        I’m watching 1994 right now, and have to say that 1988 is my favorite of the three. So far 1994 is my least favorite, but I’m only a few episodes in. The parents are the same in all three, and you do see other familiar characters. I grew up listening to my parents’ Korean music, and listened to Korean music all throughout my college years so watching this series is so nostalgic for me.

        • Jae-Ha Kim says:

          I’m only on episode 1 of 1994 and I’m cracking up everytime the goat noise pops up! So much better than a laugh track! ?

          • Jenny Lee says:

            So glad you’re ok with the goat noise. My friend couldn’t watch 1988 because she was so annoyed by the goat and the ahjummas and ahjushees yelling. I could be wrong, but I think they increased the number of goat sounds by the time they made 1988. 😀

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