WWATD?!: Answer Me 1997
Usually, I try to get my WWATD?! posts in while we’re still watching a series and before it ends, but we wrapped up Answer Me 1997 weeks ago. Still, by waiting until the end (ok, I’ve been really busy…), I get to give a wholehearted instead of a wait-and-see recommendation for this drama.
I picked out this drama to watch because I thought it would likely be a lot of fun for Sunnie and her memories of high school. It follows six Busan high school friends, starting with their high school reunion now and flashing back to their senior year in 1997. While it was a couple of years off from Sunnie’s senior year in high school, it was close, so I thought it would have likely touch on a lot of fond memories for her, and it certainly did. She was able to give me a lot of insights into some inside jokes (the series is full of them) that wink at big events from that time.
The series is very focused initially on Sung Shi Won, played by A Pink’s Jung Eun Ji, and her complete obsession with the Kpop boy group, H.O.T.. A Busan-girl herself, Eun Ji is a a newcomer to dramas and doesn’t provide a huge range in her acting, but this small range actually works very well with Sung Shi Won’s character. Shi Won is first and foremost a super fan. She gets horrible grades and skips school to hear H.O.T., and particularly Tony Ahn (who makes an appearance as himself), on the radio, to watch them on TV, and to travel to see them. She goes farther and farther in her obsession with Tony, even stalking him at times. Honestly, while this was a bit amusing, it was totally another world for Sunnie and me, as neither of us have let our obsessions run quite so extreme. Shi Won is blunt, no nonsense, and not averse to kicking a boy in the shins or getting in a fist fight with the fan of another Kpop boy group. Her sly grin and simplicity are endearing, and like I said, her limited emotional range is a big part of her character.
The other lead is Yoon Yoon Jae, played by Seo In Guk (winner of the singing competition Superstar K). Yoon Jae has lost both of his parents and is now raised by his older brother, Yoon Tae Woong, played by Song Jong Ho who we last saw as a villain in The Princess’ Man. Tae Woong is good at everything and so they use him, in Forest Gump fashion, to wink at all sorts of Korean history, from the creation of the super popular social networking platform Cyworld, to the current presidential race. Yoon Jae is one of the best students and athletes in the high school. Shi Won’s parents, who were best friends with his parents, have helped look after Yoon Jae and his brother for years. So while Yoon Jae has a crush on Shi Won, she views him as a brother. Yoon Jae is known for his sometimes being cold and almost heartless in his focus. The drama sets up a love triangle very early and is hilarious in dangling the carrot of finding out how it ends throughout the series. In the modern scenes, you find out that Shi Won is pregnant, and they tease you with not knowing whether her husband is Yoon Jae, or his brother Tae Woong. Episode after episode sets up ridiculous shots where someone is talking about her husband and a noise in the bar covers up his name, or some such nonsense. It’s a lot of fun how the series is so blatant and mocking about their devices.
We get another couple when a new student from Seoul arrives, Do Hak Chan, played by Eun Ji Won. Hak Chan is liked by the girls for being cool and by the boys for his large stash of porn. He is an expert at splicing together sex scenes from various VHS movies and passing them around to his fellow students. This is another example of the brashness of the series, as they have a hilarious scene of him waiting with anticipation as line by line a nude picture is downloaded over his dial-up modem connection. Despite his porn obsession, Hak Chan is hopeless with girls and freezes up anytime one of them touches him. Shi Won’s best friend, Mo Yoo Jung, played by Shin So Yool, takes a quick liking to him. Yoo Jung is known as being rather fickle with her affections, and big drama occurs early in the series when she takes a secret liking to H.O.T.’s biggest adversaries, the boy group Sechskies, and in particular, to Eun Ji Won. Yes, that Eun Ji Won, so the series has Eun Ji Won playing a boy who dates a girl obsessed with Eun Ji Won, and they have a lot of repeated jokes about this dynamic. Yoo Jung is funny and sweet and hopelessly bosses Hak Chan around. Hak Chan’s deadpan face and expressions are spot-on. Really, the entire cast does a great job with their characters.
The drama as a whole is really just such a joy to watch. It’s fluffy fun and one of the easiest dramas to watch in years. Let’s face it, the lives of high school kids are often filled with drama, that is by and large ridiculous, and this is a great walk through a history that today’s 30-somethings can look at fondly. Before wrapping up, I wanted to touch on a few more characters and actors who help make the show. Kang Joon Hee, played by INFINITE’s Hoya, is perhaps the first gay character in a Kdrama that I’ve seen who’s been given a completely straight (no pun intended) deal of the cards. What I mean, is typically, these dramas shy away from homosexuality, or if they have it, they cover it up with gender-bending, or hijinks, like one character pretending to be gay in order to be able to scope out a house, as in Personal Taste (although, we had a wonderful, honest portrayal of a gay man in that show, but it was a small character). Here, we have a main character in the show, Joon Hee, who is in love with his best friend, Yoon Jae. Maybe they felt it would be less controversial because of the boys’ ages and that people might see it as a crush, but for whatever reason, the writers give a very straightforward, unfiltered portrayal of Joon Hee’s love of his friend, and how he ultimately knows it can’t be fulfilled, but nonetheless, he can’t let go of it. Kudos to the writers, the director, and the actor, Hoya, who does a fine job with a very likeable character that you can’t help but feel empathy for.
Finally, I also wanted to highlight Shi Won’s dad, Sung Dong Il. We’ve previously watched him be completely goofy in a number of shows, such as Lovers in Paris and My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, but he was a riot here. His rage at Shi Won’s fan obsession and their endless fighting is funny, and his tender portrayal of the sorrows of his life make the show more than just farce. The only thing that irked me about this show at all, was the overuse of a bleating goat as a laugh track. Laugh tracks bug me as if something is funny, you shouldn’t need a cue to tell you that it’s supposed to be funny. Answer Me 1997 is funny and the constant bleating at every funny part was only a distraction. I highly recommend this drama. We raced through it, and it was just a joy to watch!