ARE YOU THERE 1994? IT’S ME 1997.
Coming off the successful run of Answer Me 1997 is this drama about a group of college students living in Seoul. They are from all over the country and go through the growing pains of adjusting to a big city but also maturing into adults. They show explores the Korean fan culture and the social issues experienced by youth from 1994 and on.
Sung Na Jung (Go Ah Ra) is the outspoken, basketball fan loving, daughter of Sung Dong Il and Lee Il Hwa, who run the boarding house. When not helping around the house, Sung Dong Il coaches for the LG Twins baseball team.
Living at the house is Na Jung’s older brother and medical student, Sseu Re Ki (Jung Woo), Baseball Star Pitcher Chil Bong Yi (Yoo Yun Suk), Sam Chun Po (Kim Sung Kyun), Hae Tae (Son Ho Joon), Bing Geu Re (B1A4’s Baro), Seo Taiji fan Jo Yoon Jin (Tiny-G’s Min Do Hee).
There were many plot similarities with Answer Me 1997; the mystery husband, the deceased sibling, the gay storyline, the guy who is best friends with our female lead and the other couple pairing out of our cast of characters. I honestly found some of the plotlines to be a bit disappointing when I started the drama.
It’s hard not to compare it to the former but that’s different from comparing the two dramas as a whole than comparing this drama with the former as I’m watching it, in real time. You can make drama elements part of a franchise, like the 90’s references, celebrity cameos, the parents as vital characters, without having to copy the same dilemma and plot points. These were some things I didn’t mind at all.
Since there are a lot of plot twists and turns in this drama, I have to admit that even I didn’t know what the outcome would be. However, it felt like Lee Woo Jung just took many of the storylines in 1997 and gave them an alternative ending.
B1A4 – 그대와 함께 (With You)
In terms of the cast, the producers really got actors from all over the entertainment world. There’s the pretty starlet, film actors, supporting actors who have not been given the opportunity for starring roles and idols. The selection process was spread wide across the map. While producers initially worried that Go Ah Ra would ruin her pretty girl image playing Sung Na Jung, I was excited to see her take this role. I like Go Ah Ra and think that she’s a pretty great actress but find her a bit boring. She tackles some challenging (but hilarious) scenes in this drama and thus widens her horizons as an actress.
The other actors are pretty much newbies for me. I’m not familiar with Jung Woo, Kim Sung Kyun (I know I need to check out Nameless Gangster but can’t quite find the time.) and Son Ho Joon but I like them in their respective roles that it makes me want to continue following their career.
While Baro didn’t amaze me with his acting, I think he did pretty well in playing Bing Geu Re. Certainly his character’s storyline had all the familiar tones of another storyline in 1997 but ended up going a totally different path. Another drama newbie is Min Do Hee who was great playing various sides to Jo Yoon Jin. She goes from being the quiet, Generation X wallflower to young adult experiencing the pressures of the IMF economic fallout.
Yoo Yun Suk is great at being instinctively in tune with the characters he is playing. The same goes for how he plays Chil Bong Yi as his crush towards Na Jung is mostly a one-side affair; he plays it with sympathy and sensitivity. Though as a side note, I can’t say the same for his real life personality. As producer/MC Lee Kyung Kyu puts it, ‘Yoo Yun Suk is perfect except for that last 1 percent.’ It’s hard to get that until you see a lengthy interview featuring Yoo Yun Suk.
My favorite thing about the drama are the references to 1990 culture. It’s a great look back to see how culture and current events influenced a generation. Although I wasn’t in college in 1994, certainly I could relate to some of the social activities that they experienced.
I also loved the OST and loved hearing new covers of old favorites. Sung Shi Kyung’s “너에게 (To You)” and B1A4’s “그대와 함께 (With You)” are still on my playlist. Plus, the slow folky “서울 이곳은 (Seoul, This Place)” is such a delicately poignant track for the series.
Despite my criticisms, I still found the drama to be a lot of fun and it left me on the edge of my seat to the very end. The writing does have a way to make you care about the characters which is very important for an ensemble drama like this. There’s a lot to love about this sequel even though it feels like much of the same from its predecessor.