[Review] Answer Me 1988 – 응답하라 1988

AN OLYMPIC-SIZED FAMILY DRAMA

Set in 1988, Answer Me 1988 is a family drama about five families living on the same street in Ssangmundong in Northern Seoul. Like the previous Answer Me series, the story focuses on childhood friends who grow up together.

Sung Duk Seon (Lee Hye Ri) is the middle child in her family who isn’t as smart as her older sister but is vivacious and caring.  Living upstairs from her is Kim Jung Hwan (Ryu Joon Yeol) who is smart but nicknamed “Dog” for his prickly attitude. Nicknamed Doryeongnyong (Salamander), Ryu Dong Ryong (Lee Dong Hwi) is often known as the neighborhood counselor. Choi Taek (Park Bo Gum) is a genius at playing Go and plays professionally but is an idiot when it comes to everything else. The most normal out of the group is Sung Sun Woo (Go Kyung Pyo) who is smart, caring and devoted to his mom and his younger sister.

Sojin [Girls’ Day] – 매일 그대와 (Every Day With You)

소진 [걸스데이] – 매일 그대와

What was particularly different about this edition of the Answer Me series is that many of the stories focused on the family and the community. This format is based on the popular MBC family drama of the time, Three Families Under One Roof (한지붕 세가족), that ran for 8 years in the late 80’s until the early 90’s. I actually don’t remember this drama myself but I do know that a lot of the actors that were in are still acting today. You can’t really have a great family drama without a great cast and I think what is so endearing about this cast is how great they were in assimilating into their characters that appeared on screen. I was so moved by the characters because they not only felt so familiar and real but they each portrayed multi-layer of emotions from comic to heartfelt.

Noel – 함께 (Together)

노을 – 함께

Sung Dong Il (Sung Dong Il) and Lee Il Hwa (Lee Il Hwa) return to the series as Sung Duk Seon’s parents. They are so ingrained with the series that it wouldn’t be the Answer Me series if they didn’t return. And yet, with each reprisal in the role of the lead heroine’s parents, the kind of the parents that they depict were all so different.

I think what’s most touching in this drama is their relationship with each of the kids. With Bo Ra (Ryu Hye Young), they put most of the responsibility and trust in their first child. Though Bo Ra is awkward with her dad and may not know him very well, there is a lot of love in their relationship.

Lee Juck – 걱정말아요 그대 (Don’t You Worry)

이적 – 걱정말아요 그대

No Eul (Choi Sung Won) gets a lot of the freedom as the youngest child and Duk Seon is overlooked as the middle child. In fact, where Bo Ra lacks knowledge of little things like her father’s shoe size, Duk Seon fills that gap in the family. They each have their important role in the family.

In the beginning, I wasn’t sure what role Kim Jung Bong (Ahn Jae Hong) filled within his family. He was often obsessed by his various hobbies and interest and mostly played up for the comedy. Even in his pursuit of Duk Seon’s friend, Jang Mi Ok (Lee Min Ji), their parodies of famous movies and dramas often brought laughter.

However, like other relationships, we feel the pain and separation when a hardship tears them apart only to feel joy when fate brings them back together again.  In fact, it’s this twist with many of the characters that endeared me to them even more as it not only brings the actors a multi-layered character to play but a realistic character for the viewers to relate to.

The roller coaster ride of relationships isn’t only limited to the young cast. Kim Sun Young (Kim Sun Young) has to deal with the hardships of being a widowed mom and living with the scorn of her in-laws.

However, her friends and neighbors are always there for each other and what’s more Sun Young has her own romance with the oppa from her old neighborhood, Choi Moo Sung (Choi Moo Sung). It was quite unexpected to find that this romance was blossoming right next door but who says that plotline is reserved just for the kids in the drama?

Wable – 보라빛 향기 (The Scent of Violet Light)

와블(Wable) – 보라빛 향기

I can’t leave out Ra Mi Ran (Ra Mi Ran). As tough as Mi Ran is in the drama, nicknamed Mrs. Cheetah, for her fierceness, she shined brilliantly when she showed Mi Ran’s more vulnerable moments, such as when she worried over Jung Bong’s heart surgery or shyly confessed that she was unable to read English letters to Jung Hwan. She also had incredibly chemistry with Kim Sung Kyun, even though in real life, he wasn’t that much older than the actors who played his sons. Even though they brought a lot of humor to the show through their constant bickering, as viewers we could see that there was also a lot of love in that relationship.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Answer Me series without dragging out for week on end about who the husband would be for the female lead. And I have to say that there were more than two candidates and after seeing the adult versions, played by Lee Mi Yeon and Kim Joo Hyuk, I was sure that I picked the right husband. Since the drama did a great job in playing up the stories about the community, I didn’t mind that it dragged out until about the 10th episode. I think I was so focused on one character (and was growing increasingly frustrated with him) that I ended up jumping from that “ship” and I’m glad at who the husband turned out to be.

I’m not going to give away his identity because part of the fun of the series is finding out without the spoilers. However, I will say that I love the narration of one of the suitors’ in Episode 18. He says: “But fate and timing is not just chance that finds you… He was more earnest and I should have had more confidence. The bad thing wasn’t the traffic light, not timing but it was my endless reluctance.” That’s kind of says it all about the difference between the hero who gets the girl and the second lead who does not and I like how the drama flips our expectation. Those who don’t seize the opportunity is at risk of letting life just slip by.

Oh Hyukk – 소녀 (Girl)

오혁(Hyukk Oh) – 소녀

Adding to the nostalgia that the Answer Me series brings, I’ve always enjoyed the selection of music that represented the times. However, what’s even more meaningful about this one is how they remade and revamped many of the favorite oldies. I grew up listening to these songs because of my parents but I distinctly remember not loving the songs because I felt that they were songs from my parents’ generation. I was probably too busy listening to NKOTB but certainly, as you can probably tell from the number of OST tracks I’ve posted here, I love the OST. The songs not only make you relive the times but it brings out the depth of emotion and the love of community that the stories and characters of this series embraced.  There were more than a few times when the swell of emotions and the music had me not only tearing but at times sobbing because the overwhelming affection I felt for the drama, particular during the track “함께 (Together)”.

December – 네게 줄 수 있는건 오직 사랑뿐 (The Only Thing I Can Give You Is Love)

디셈버(December) – 네게 줄 수 있는건 오직 사랑뿐

After watching the drama’s first two episodes, I was slightly worried that it wouldn’t live up to the success of the previous Answer Me series. The first two episodes are a bit slow and I found myself dozing off several times while watching them because there are so many characters that you need to get to know. However, what sets this drama apart from the others is that it is filled with the dreams, hopes and fears of not only the kids as they experience growing pains but their parents as well. It’s that community that makes it such a family drama.  To be honest, Answer Me 1997 will always be my favorite because honestly that was my story but Answer Me 1988 is a close second for the ubiquitous storylines and the warmth of its characters.

Rating

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