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Review: “Answer Me 1997″ (By Bridget)

By on November 19, 2012

Review: “Answer Me 1997″ (By Bridget) thumbnail

Answer Me 1997 <응답하라> 
South Korean Drama 2012
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Episodes: 16

Rating: 

Cast

Jung Eun Ji as Sung Shi Won
Seo In Guk as Yoon Yoon Je
Shin So Yool as Mo Yoo Jung
Hoya as Kang Joon Hee
Eun Ji Won as Do Hak Chan
Song Jong Ho as Yoon Tae Woong (Yoon Jae’s brother)
Lee Shi Un as Bang Sung Jae
Sung Dong Il as Sung Dong Il (Shi Won’s father)
Lee Il Hwa as Lee Il Hwa (Shi Won’s mother)

Foreword

Worth the hype and then some. Nostalgic, heartfelt, and hysterical to boot, the only thing between this drama and perfection for me is if H.O.T. was replaced by the Backstreet Boys. Oh, to be 18 again.

Review

I heart this drama. With nothing new to its name aside from its cast, Answer Me 1997 succeeds where most coming-of-age (a.k.a. all) dramas have not – it is universal and touches you right there. In other words, it gut-wrenchingly tugs at your heartstrings while simultaneously making you laugh your head off. Whereas most youth dramas these days have been lifted from manga plots, this series is a sweet letter to all that good stuff in real life: first loves, best friends, coming of age, and that most priceless of all things — family. Taking a routine premise and spinning surprising gold, the dramedy goes for emotional highs and lows, accented by perfectly nostalgic touches. Dance Dance Revolution, dial-up internet, floppy disks, the pain of realizing a family member accidentally recorded something else on your video tape, and carefully ripping out pictures of your favorite celebrity from magazines with a ruler… it’s as if this drama stole these moments in my adolescent life and plopped them on film.

Superficial references aside, this drama was a master at showing all the emotions, angst, and excitement associated with adolescence, and none of it feels manufactured. Anyone who has ever been a teenager will relate to at least one thing in this drama, and for me, the characters, the conflicts, and the emotions hit me in all the right places. Girls will relate to the days when their idol oppa meant everything, when it was perfectly rational to refuse to go to school after an unfortunate haircut, and how easy it was to fight and make up just as quickly with your BFF. Guys will relate to the moment Yoon-jae hides in the bathroom to wash his underwear in the morning (and getting caught by his older brother, no less – watching this was one of the few times I’m glad I’m a girl), getting caught trying to download porn by a weapon-wielding dad, and liking your best friend who has no effin’ clue your heart goes thump-thump whenever she (or he) is around. In short, this is youth drama at its finest.

Part of what makes these themes so affecting is the execution: assured storytelling in the format of a mystery, with gradual, meaningful flashbacks, character beats and reveals (Tae-woong is Yoon-jae’s older brother, Joon-su is gay and in love with his best friend, Hak-chan watches porn but freezes whenever a girl is nearby in real life). It was a clever writing gimmick that kept the audience vested in sticking with the series.

The love triangles make me dizzy but none drive me crazy, which is a supreme feat and goes to show just how much I grew up love and care about all of the characters in the show. For once, I didn’t care who ended up with whom, I just didn’t want anyone to get hurt… but I knew that was inevitable. I loved how Joon-hee and Yoon-jae ended up being roomies in their adult life despite Joon-hee’s crush. I equally love how Shi-won considered his feelings for Yoon-jae as equal and apologized for getting together with Yoon-jae at the end. These kids may be young, but they know more about what truly matters than some adults today.

And of course, the concept of family was conveyed so well here: imperfect, but inclusive and full of love. I love how Yoon-jae bought a car for his surrogate parents (and future in-laws) with his first paycheck, while he himself continued driving a car whose wipers would go off randomly, whose driver car door didn’t open. I love how all the kids gather at Shi-won’s house to watch soccer with her parents and they bicker but thump each other on their backs when their team won. I cried with Shi-won when she found out her dad has stomach cancer, bawled when her dad tried to stay on the bus as long as possible when she left for Seoul. But through my tears, I also cracked up at how her dad referred to her as a gangster, marveled at Yoon-jae’s bravery for having the guts to marry Shi-won, and many of the friendship moments among the high school buddies.

The series earns much of its points from its leading lady – Jung Eun-ji, whose Busan accent (which is real, by the way) gives much of this series a heavy dose of local love. She is the definition of sass and it is her natural, winning performance as the brutally honest Shi-won that anchors the show. She has killer chemistry with Seo In-gook, who is angsty, romantic and funny as her first and last love. And perhaps even more than Yoon-jae’s relationship was Shi-won, I was more taken by the relationship Yoon-jae had with his brother Tae-woong, portrayed by Song Jong-ho. As an older child, I identified a lot with Tae-woong, and Song’s performance as the quietly loving hyung really fleshed out the character.

Hoya is a sweetheart as the gentle Joon-hee. It isn’t easy to portray a gay teenager, especially in a debut performance, but he is quietly affecting and heartbreakingly sincere in the role. The glances he steals toward Yong-jae, the awkwardness with which he shrugs off his hugs are some of the best and most touching moments in the drama. One thing this drama proves is that idol singers can act (Hoya is of boy band Infinite, Jung Eun-ji is from girl group A Pink, and Eun Ji-won is from Sechs Kies – yes, the very group that is mocked mercilessly by Shi-won as H.O.T. biters), and Hoya is a big reason why Joon-hee is my favorite character in Answer Me 1997. There was something so bittersweet but fitting in the scene in the finale where Joon-hee is the last to leave the reunion, and just watching him standing quietly in the rain and the soft smile as he got into the mysterious car…I nearly burst into tears. Joon-hee, my heart bleeds for you!

I recognized Shin So-yul instantly from her guest appearance on variety show, We Got Married, and she doesn’t disappoint here as the cute and smiley sidekick to Shi-won. Her best moment was during Yong-ju’s dad’s funeral, when she turned around and gave a sad smile to her best buddies who had made the trek back to Busan. My heart also warmed at the scene where she takes off her hat to reveal a (bad) haircut styled in solidarity with Shi-won’s new cut that was a punishment from her father for being too idol-obsessed. However, her character’s crush on Yoon-jae raises one of the very few debits of this series, which is the fact that the writers never dealt with how Shi-won manages her feelings for Yoon-jae given Yong-ju’s feelings. Shi-won acknowledges Joon-hee’s feelings, but the series never goes down the path of her dealing with knowing her best friend likes the same guy.

Eun Ji-won is the weak link acting-wise in the cast, but benefits from having one of the funnier characters and his performance works for the role. The meta jokes in the series referring to him as a Ji-won lookalike also help his performance. Sung Dong Il was fantastic as Shi-won’s father, masterfully balancing the role of a frustrated but loving father along with some great chemistry with Jung Eun-ji. Lee Il Hwa made a good pairing with him as well, and Korean drama fans will get a kick out of the post-cancer plot that has Lee yelling at scriptwriters for killing off their main characters via terminal disease. One thing this series does very well is poke fun at itself.

A rare gem, Answer Me 1997 is a series that makes love and everlasting friendship seem absolutely, wondrously possible. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll call up your best friend or family just to tell them you love them. This drama is pretty much what I always wanted someone to make – and now that it’s over, I’m once again reminded that all good things must come to an end… just like my teenage years.

Watch Episodes Online

Watch complete episodes of “Answer Me 1997 at Dramafever.com, a free online source for legally licensed Asian dramas subtitled in English.

This review was written by Bridget, a Contributing Writer at JayneStars.com. Visit Bridget’s blog!

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  • Readers' Comments (34)

    1. purplepaw says:

      South Korean Drama 2002??? pretty sure it’s 2012 xD

    2. yinnie says:

      I’m addicted to kdrama. Is this really good? My favorites are city hunter and you’re beautiful.

      • menuiq says:

        You’re beautiful! Try Queen In Hyun’s Man. It’s great! Daebak

      • Bridget says:

        Yinnie, if you like K-drama this is highly recommended. I’m a huge K-drama fan and this is definitely one of the top series of my list this year!

        • yinnie says:

          Is it new? I will watch it then!! I am a massive k drama fan. I no longer watch TVB series but I still like to keep up with the gossip. K and j dramas are fantastic.

    3. kristykream says:

      Usually I cannot stand korean dramas and end up pressing the fast forward button. But this drama surprised me! It was cute without being too draggy and like the review states, the chemistry between the two main couples were amazing. I wonder when will TVB be able to create a drama this cute….

    4. Kidd says:

      The puppy is real cute.

    5. Vicky says:

      I love this drama! I agree with the review A LOT. I recommend this to everyone..whether ur a drama lover or not! It’s seriously worth it :)

    6. Funn Lim says:

      I am looking for a great K series and this might just be it. But wasn’t that interested until I saw Eun Ji Won! Oh how I miss him! He can do deadpan! But buying will be expensive. Anywhere I can watch online with english subs? If good enough I will buy it!

      • Funn Lim says:

        Absolutely can’t recognise Jiwon from the poster.

      • Funn Lim says:

        I am an idiot. Dramafever as per the link. And I am a member, but never watched a single episode. Now I got one marked.

        Thanks Bridget for the recommendation!

        • Bridget says:

          Funn, if you like Eun Ji-won’s deadpan delivery this will be awesome for you!

          Ah I miss this drama. Apparently they are considering filming a sequel throwback to 1994… which wouldn’t be as awesome as 2002 (the original plan) for me since 1994 would technically be before my time, but I’m sure that would hit the boomer/X generation right there (whereas 1997 is made more for Gen Yers).

      • Funn Lim says:

        16 episodes only? Short even for K standard. Good Good.

        • sehseh says:

          16 episode is standard for K-drama, usually running over 60 minutes without ads.

          Of course, due to ratings war and popularity, some series extend to 20 episodes.

        • Funn Lim says:

          Then why is it everytime I tune in most series are 20 episodes and beyond?! Maybe I should stop tuning into those historical dramas!!

        • sehseh says:

          Sageuk are usually very long, mostly 30-50 episodes. Another long drama would be sitcom/weekly drama which also run as long.

          Prime time series (Mon & Tues / Wed & Thurs) are shorter and usually limited to 16-20 episodes. Sometimes the series feedback is so goodm it’s extended longer like Gaksital which got extended to episode 28 (not that I complaint, it’s an awesome series not to be missed).

          King2Hearts still reigned as best series in 2012 to me.

        • Bridget says:

          The romcoms and youth dramas are usually 16 episodes, as sehseh mentioned the saeguks are much longer. Many of the action dramas (City Hunter, Nice Guy) tend to be 20 episodes which is decent for me.

      • virpotter says:

        Funn,
        Watch it! It reminded me abt our NKOTB days…Finished the drama in 1 and a half days!!A new record for me…lol

    7. happybi says:

      This was the best 2012 Korean drama for me. I was hesitant in the beginning in watching it as I don’t know anyone in the cast. But due to a friend urging (she highly recommended it). I finally gave in an watched it and I’m so glad I did! Great chemistry from the cast and great character development! Everyone have a big role in the drama but of course Shi-won, Yoon-Jae and Tae-woong stand out for me. I think the reason why the story never explain Yong-ju crush on Yoon-Jae was because she’s wishy washy.. so 1 day she can be in love with him, the next day, not. =P

      This drama has a lot of heart! I love Shi-won parents in it and all the flashback of 1997! As I went through all the dail-up modem, slam dunk, tamagochi stages!

      Just a great drama! Please watch! It’s available on viki.com.

    8. Bridget says:

      sehseh, from a drama perspective K2H was also top of my list. I haven’t watched Nice Guy yet, though, which apparently is also stellar.

      • sehseh says:

        Nice Guy is a good melodrama, it has a bit loose end but saved solely by the acting of Song Joong Ki, Moon Chae Woon & Park Shi Yeon. It’s a character driven series rather than plot.

        You watched Gaksital yet?

        My next to watch list is Cheongdam-dong Alice. MGY is such a delight to watch onscreen, though her selection of project sometimes can be a flop.

        • Funn Lim says:

          I can’t finish Gaksital. Too dramatic. Acting not to my taste.

          Nice Guy is spoilt by me reading the detailed recaps and felt no need to watch. Also the idea of memory loss then rewind more memory loss and forward got back memory is just too one track. But that is what k-drama is good at; one singular track and making you feel for the characters in a more intimate way by placing them in impossible situations.

        • Bridget says:

          I’m with Funn, I tried Gaksital but it’s not my taste.

          I’m considering watching I Miss You, but I think it’ll be emotionally draining. Nice Guy I will watch despite knowing how it ends … after I watch Ghetto Justice 2, which is turning out to be a chore.

    9. Funn Lim says:

      Bridget,

      I watched the episode 0 thinking it was the start but it turns out to be TMO. Anyway this series is heavy on the 90s, HOT and such and frankly I have no idea who they are. I am wondering if I am able to enjoy this series without knowing anything about Korea in the 90s? I feel disconnected. And way too many so called idols acting. I am afraid I find their acting somewhat mediocre.

      But I love Eun Jiwon and that man has a sense of humour.

      • Bridget says:

        Funn, I know nothing about Korea in the 90s either, so really the only thing I enjoyed about this series was the heavy youth drama / angst / family focus with some very funny touches. It’s nostalgia, man!

        I’d say give it a try (dude I watched BBJX JUST FOR YOU, literally) for a few episodes, but if by like ep 5 you’re not yet hooked, I won’t judge you for giving it up, hahaha.

        • Funn Lim says:

          “dude I watched BBJX JUST FOR YOU, literally”

          And now is the time to return “debts”! Ok ok I will watch it for Jiwon.

        • Bridget says:

          LOL, at the very least I am sure you will like Jiwon here. The series makes very good use of his acting forte (as in, the ability to be deadpan funny).

      • vicky says:

        But hoya and eunji are such natural performers! Give them a chance :)

    10. Amy says:

      Hi Bridget, have u tried Love Rain?

      I really enjoyed that one.

      • Bridget says:

        Hi Amy, I tried and I gave up. Yoona was vapid for me and the male lead wasn’t much better. Glad you enjoyed it though!

        • sehseh says:

          I enjoyed the first 4 episodes, about the parent generation storyline. Afterward the writing and acting got a bit unbearable for me.

        • Amy says:

          Yeah I enjoyed the parents’ love story too! When it was over, I was like Dang! How I wish for more =x

    11. skinnymocha says:

      Ah, I keep hearing so many good things about this drama, but I still need to catch up on Vampire Prosecutor 2, White Christmas and Padam Padam (which I started earlier on in the year, but forgot to finish off). I didn’t realise Jiwon was in this though! I need my fix of Jiwon ever since 1N2D ended. I’m only reading recaps for season 2 right now…

    Readers are no longer able to comment on this old article.

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