Drama Review: Answer Me 1988

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On the back (from left): Yoo Jae Myung, Kim Sung Kyun, Kim Sun Young, Lee Il Hwa, Ra Mi Ran, Song Dong Il & Choi Moo Sung. Middle row (from left): Park Bo Gum, Ryu Jun Yeol, Hyeri, Go Kyung Pyo, Kim Seol & Lee Dong Hwi. Front (from left): Ahn Jae Hong, Ryu Hye Young & Choi Sung Won.

Answer Me 1988 is the third installment of the Answer Me franchise produced by tvN, and to my surprise, turns out to be the best written. I still remember cringing at the thought of 80’s fashion, and how ugly they were, or how I would have allergies seeing it. Little did I know it brings back so much nostalgia from that era, and the simplicity of life back then became the ultimate winner for the storyline.

Everyone contributed to this drama with their best, and left the viewers with loving and lasting impression. It is hard to say goodbye, and I sort of wish this show would go on a little while longer, because there are still so many stories the writer can tell us about them. The journey of Answer Me 1988 characters has not ended because we have reached the finale episode, for them, it was the beginning of a new chapter. I wonder, if it’s possible, tvN ever considers a spin-off or even just a Special episode for Answer Me 1988?

Answer Me 1988 tells the story of 5 families who live at Ssangmun-dong. Even though there are 5 households, but only 4 mothers and 4 fathers in Ssangmun-dong, and each parent is unique to their own, and has different personalities. Note: In this drama, the character names of the parents are the actors’ real names.

The Mothers

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Left: Kim Sun Young, Ra Mi Ran and Lee Il Hwa

Dong Ryong’s Omma doesn’t have much screen time, and she plays a working mother, so we don’t get to see much of her outside of Ssangmun-dong. The 3 housewives/mothers are the main focus: Jung Hwan’s Omma (Ra Mi Ran) is the oldest and wisest of all, follows by  Deok Sun’s Omma (Lee Il Hwa) who I find is the most patienthaving to raise 3 children with different personalities, and enduring a husband who wastes money on useless things; and then we have Sun Woo’s Omma (Kim Sun Young), a widow. I love the friendship between the ahjummas. They may be gossipy, but they are also trust-worthy, loyal and supportive of one another. They don’t for once hesitate in taking care of each other’s kids when the time calls for it. This sort of neighbour-friendship-relationships are hard to come by, and may not exist in our current times anymore. Thus, it is especially precious.

My favourite mother is Jung Hwan’s Omma. There was an episode where her husband tells their eldest son, Jung Bong, how tough his mother was when younghow both his parents were so poor that they never finish school, and how capable his mother is despite being poorly educated. Having been through poverty, Jung Hwan’s Omma does not grab on to money like her lifeline, instead, she is always generous to her neighbours. She is understanding, and is the coolest and spunkiest mother in Ssangmun-dong. Ra Mi Ran is an excellent and versatile actress; she can be anything the show needs her to be. She makes me cry and she makes me laugh. A lot of her performance comes off natural because she ad-libs a lot.

This doesn’t mean the other 2 mothers were not good. Lee Il Hwa is the permanent cast of all Answer Me series, so naturally, the weight of her character is just as important. Kim Sun Young’s character did pale a little when compared to these two; however, her little romance with one of the fathers did add more interesting bits into the show, and that her second marriage is the reason why the children’s romance hit a wall. Nonetheless, my heart goes out to Ra Mi Ran this time round for her impressive portrayal of her character.

The Fathers

Unlike the mothers, I don’t have a favourite for dads, which is weird. I think this is because none of them particularly stood out for me like Ra Mi Ran did. The closest to leaving a strong impression would be Jung Hwan’s Appa (Kim Sung Kyun)—for being that quirkest weirdo in Ssangmun-dong. He is easy-going, always cheery but weird; he likes cold jokes that only Deok Sun finds funny.

Deok Sun’s Appa (Song Dong Il) is another permanent cast from the Answer Me series. He talks really loud—I am not fond of his yelling because he can be so loud that my ear pops when watching the drama. Other than that, I think he is pretty spot-on playing a husband, and a father who looks tough on the exterior, but internally, his heart is as soft as marshmallow.

Dong Ryong’s Appa (Yoo Jae Myung) is a school teacher, and is strict with Dong Ryong, but he is also another quirky character. He is not nearly as weird as Jung Hwan’s Oppa, but still a comical character in Ssangmun-dong. Like his wife, he does not have as much story to share with viewers as other 3 fathers.

Lastly, we have Taek’s Appa (Choi Moo Sung) who the neighbours describe as a bear (gom)—because he is stoic, quiet and comes off as a boring and unflexible person, LOL, but then later on he completely changes our impression of him looking like this! HAHAHAHA!

Even though I don’t necessarily resonated with the 4 fathers, I do, however, have a weak heart for any tear-jerking daughter-father scenes; hence, Deok Sun’s Appa takes the place, although Kim Sa-Chang steals the scenes like his wife, Ra Mi Ran.

The Children

The story revolves around these 5 kids of the same age (18) and their families. Sung Deok Sun (Hyeri) is the heroine, and the 4 boys: Sun Woo (Go Kyung Pyo), Dong Ryong (Lee Dong Hwi), Jung Hwan (Ryu Jun Yeol) and Taek (Park Bo Gum) are her childhood friends. I particularly love the introduction of their childhood story at the end of episode 2. I don’t know why, but it puts me to tears when they all gather together cheering Taek up, and the scene flashes back to narrate their childhood. Couple with the background music, it touched my heart deeply, that there are friendship as beautiful and strong as theirs exist. What am I kidding, I love every bit of their friendshipspast, present or future. Best of all, it isn’t just the kids’ friendships that are good, but also their relationships with their families, between siblings, and the relationships between the neighbours too.

I want to specially call out 4 young actors who really shine in this drama: Park Bo Gum, Go Kyung Pyo, Ryu Jun Yeol and Ryu Hye Young. They have taken the characters they have been given, and made it unique to their own. I cannot imagine anyone else playing their roles.

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Park Bo Gum is in no doubt, gave the strongest performance playing Choi Taekthe duality he displays as a pro in baduk world versus the angelic and innocent Taek when hanging out with the kids, and then there is the handling of different layers of emotions Taek goes through in different stages. Park Bo Gum revealed on January 16, 2016 in his first fan meeting that he did not audition for the role. The scriptwriter and director seeked him out, in which they first asked him to read lines from 5 characters. Even though he read 5 different characters’ lines, I think it was clear that Taek was meant for him. Bo Gum was personally hand-picked for his acting versatility, and capability to emote and relay emotions to the viewers.

I was deeply puzzled for not seeing much of him for the first 5 episodes, especially knowing his acting capability, and popularity in the entertainment industry were already well-established. So I have to applaud the show for keeping him hidden throughout the first half of the show.

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Ryu Hye Young is definitely the black horse among the 4. Her acting shows maturity, and I am surprised that she isn’t well-known before this show. Her character starts out as that scary, firey tempered tough unni, which I admit I find annoying at first because the show painted her as a bully. Nonetheless, she left a striking impression, albeit it being negative at first. But as the show goes on, we see her transform, and negative impression became positive. At times, I even find Bora prettier than Deok Sun in terms of personality. Ryu Hye Young is a fairly new actress in the entertainment world, so it would be lovely to see more of her after this, because clearly, she has the potential of a leading lady.

Go Kyung Pyo and Ryu Jun Yeol both play the sweetest sons the ahjummas wish they had, yet the way they show their love are completely different. It tugs at our heartstrings when viewers see how considerate, thoughtful, and sweet they are to their mothers and father. I am not particular drawn to Sun Woo’s character, but I like his portrayal of it, and I think it’s because it is played by him that I had liked Sun Woo more. Go Kyung Pyo has been around for quite some time, but always playing supporting role, and I think he is also a leading man material, if producers would let him be.

Ryu Jun Yeol as Jung Hwan is particularly memorable. He is mostly unresponsive to his parents, but when time calls for it, he is always there for them. He is so bad in expressing love, and he gives love quietly or in hidden ways. It makes the audiences melt, but we learn from the show that this is his biggest weakness. We go oh and aw for his actions because we were shown, but not his loved ones, so this resulted in him on the losing end, since his love message isn’t getting across to the people he loves.

I find Jung Hwan’s personality, and the experience he went through interesting and meaningful on a reality basis. I find his inability of expressing love is true to many Asian men, or Asian culture in general. Moreover, I love how the scriptwriter makes us learn the lesson of expressing our thoughts and feelings through Jung Hwan. Other than this, Jung Hwan’s relationship with brother Jung Bong is cute and sweet. His self-sacrificial personality extends to his love for his brother as well. The script writer really did a good job with his character, regardless of how unhappy some fans are with his screen time in the latter episodes.

The biggest beneficiary of this drama had to be Ryu Jun Yeol—suddenly garnering so much media attention and grabbing fans’ hearts. My concern now is whether or not he will continue to shine in all future projects. Jung Hwan isn’t an emotionally expressive character; hence, a lot of the time Ryu Jun Yeol has the same sort of expression across his face. However, I’m curious if his acting is just as good when he gets other characters that are opposite of Jung Hwan.

Overall Impression

One can’t watch this drama without a tissue box on the side, or cracking a laugh so loud that your neigbours think you are mental. The show puts your emotions on a roller coaster, and if you are not careful, it will become an addiction. My favourite thing about this drama is its focus on love in all forms—love between a parent and child, siblings, friends, neighbours and so on; it tugs on the heartstrings. The drama started with heroine Sung Deok Sun (Hyeri) introducing the 5 families that live at Ssangmun-dong, and ended with an older version of her (cameo by Lee Mi Yeon) in 2015-2016, concluding the drama theme as a story about youth—the youth of the fathers, mothers, hers, friends and everyone elses’ she loved.

Answer Me 1988 also retains the tradition of the franchise, where we go through a series of husband hunt for the heroine. I enjoy the mysteries and the guessing game, but do not recommend taking it too seriously. Many drama fans are eternally burnt, because they invested too much love into one husband contender. Thus, when that character isn’t the one, fans’ reactions became vile, accusing writer of script change, and blaming it on fan service. This is not true: if we pay enough attention throughout the series, and watch all episodes, we will find that even though it is true that the writer intentionally misleads usbecause she has to, it’s the traditional theme of the franchiseshe has also sprinkled a lot of hints throughout the show. It really is up to the viewers to identify, interpret, and solve the mysteries. Even if we can’t or disagree, she gives us no choice during the final revelation when she ties up all the loose ends.

A drama is never without flaws, but Answer Me 1988 has done splendidly in the script, characterisation, directing, cinematography and the 80’s settings. There is not one character that is lacking in depths or layers; even though it would be nice if some characters get a little bit more stories of their own to tell e.g. Dong Ryong (Lee Dong Hwi) and his family. On a personal level and out of curiousity, I would love to know a little bit more about Taek’s baduk world, as in what sort of player he is.

Answer Me 1988 is a drama all viewers can easily relate to; even though it is fictional, it has been written based on everything we experience in real life. It is a family oriented, but unlike the typical Korean daily family drama, it has no makjang elements and thus, feels genuine. Through the show, international viewers gain knowledge on Korean history that we hadn’t known about during that era. Most importantly, the drama reminds us of our own youth: the old (good and bad) memories with our family, relatives and friends.

tvN as a cable TV station broke the rating record with Answer Me 1988—registering an average rating of 19.6% with its finale. A cable TV drama has never achieved such high rating before, so Answer Me 1988 has become a phenomenon. One crucial contributing factor has to be because most viewers who control the remote control in the house, the ahjummas, are from the 80’s.

As a drama fan of Answer Me 1988, I can only express how delighted I am that the show receive such good ratings, and now, I just wish the hurting fans can come to their senses, and appreciate the craft; the time and blood the casts and crews have poured into making this drama. ❤

-9/10

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