THE SHORT VERDICT:
Answer Me 1988 feels like a larger, bigger-hearted story than its predecessors, thanks to expanding its focus to its community of characters, rather than simply fixating on the leading lady’s husband and the lovelines that feed into it. The adult characters get as much narrative care and attention as their kids, and that helps to make this drama world feel altogether pretty balanced and whole. The entire cast is endearing and committed, and – despite a touch of green in spots with the delivery – exponentially add to Show’s generous earthy winsomeness.
It’s true that the handling of the ending is flawed, but overall, I still found this show to be charming, slice-of-life retro at its best.
Answer Me 1988 OST – 혜화동 (혹은 쌍문동)
THE LONG VERDICT:
I am probably in the minority(?) when I say that I liked this installment of Answer Me the most so far, out of all the Answer Me shows. In fact, in spite of this franchise’s flaws, each new batch of characters in each new iteration of the show has managed to worm their way into my heart just a touch deeper and more firmly than the last.
This means that, much as Trash Oppa (Oppa-yaa~!) stole my heart and I reallyreally loved Na Jeong and her hodgepodge boarding house family in Answer Me 1994, I think I love Answer Me 1988’s characters even more.
With AM1988’s large cast of characters and its intricate-yet-slice-of-life plotting style, I feel like there’s so much to potentially say about this show that it’s pretty much impossible to say it all. Instead of attempting to say all that there is to say about this show (and risk never ever finishing this review), I’m going to touch on the characters and relationships that I’d like to talk about in a fairly moderate fashion.
THE EPISODE LENGTHS
Again going against the grain, I found that I actually enjoyed AM1988’s long episodes. Like, seriously. I’d literally find myself feeling wistful as I got to the end of an episode (particularly if it meant that I’d be all caught up for the week with no new episodes to watch afterwards). Sometimes, I even rationed the episodes, to make ’em last. I’d watch half an episode one day, and save the other half for the next day.
There were times when I found the episodes slow (I wasn’t too interested in the extended Go-Stop arc, and I think too much time was spent on the singing competition), but in general, I genuinely enjoyed Show’s unhurried pace. What a turnaround, since I’d chaffed a fair bit at AM1994’s episodes, which had been just as long, and which I’d found bloated.
In my head, there’s a combination of reasons why I actually liked the long episodes in AM1988 versus the episodes in AM1994 and versus so many of my blogger friends who didn’t like AM1988’s long episodes:
1. No on-going reunion, phew.
Unlike its predecessors, AM1988 doesn’t have an on-going present-day reunion that’s stretched over the entire run of the show, and that helped a lot. I’d quickly grown tired of the long-drawn-out reunions that never seemed to end. Worse, those reunions teased mercilessly at who the hubs was, of each show’s leading lady, and that felt gleefully manipulative, to me. Didn’t like that much.
On the other hand, AM1988 comes right out with showing us Present Day Hubs, and it’s up to us to make what we will, of the clues/red herrings that Show serves up. I know some folks felt played by this too, but I honestly was so relieved at the improvement that I actually enjoyed the segments with Present Day Deok Sun (Lee Mi Yeon) and Present Day Hubs (Kim Joo Hyuk).
I mean, rather than being shown headless/faceless Present Day Hubs, we actually get to see him properly and fully, in the face. AND we get to see him interacting with people too, which I found interesting for the hmm-which-of-the-boys-would-talk-like-that train of thought that I entertained casually.
2. More story room
I also feel like writer-nim was writing for the longer episodes, which helped a lot, I think. The larger cast of characters also provided room for more story to be developed, and I enjoyed how Show gave each character his or her own time in the spotlight.
Of course, it can be argued that tighter editing could have achieved the same result while shaving down the episode lengths. Even though the pace sometimes (or a lot of the time, depending on your perspective) leaned indulgent, I personally liked the languid slice-of-life pace coz it made me feel like I was literally living life with the characters.
3. My lens
I didn’t recap the show. Which sounds like such a small thing, but really, it makes so much difference. Because I didn’t recap the show, watching the longer episodes wasn’t hard for me. I know that if I’d been recapping it (not that I write recaps, since they are SO high-commitment!), I would’ve found the episode lengths and Show’s tendency to linger on small moments much harder to deal with.
STUFF I LOVED
1. THE FLESHING OUT OF THE COMMUNITY
Ahh, the neighborhood. This is seriously my favorite favorite thing about the show, rather than a single character or loveline.
I love that instead of a single household, this installment of Answer Me chooses to focus on several families. Even better, I love how in practice they’re more like one big hodgepodge family, and there are barely any lines at all, defining who owns a particular problem. If one family has a problem, pretty much everyone in the neighborhood fusses and worries and helps, as if the problem was their own. I freaking love that.
Right away in episode 1, with the large-scale food sharing between households that ended up filling Taek and his dad’s (Park Bo Gum and Choi Moo Sung) otherwise sparse dinner table with home-cooked goodness, I knew that I was gonna love this bunch of people.
The matter-of-fact way the mothers of each household prepare extra food and send it along to their neighbors, speaks so loudly, of how naturally the borders of each family’s dinner table – and more than that, each family’s heart – extends beyond their own household to include their neighbors. Guh. It’s such heartwarming stuff, truly.
The members of this big ragtag family care for one another in such everyday ways that it’s impossible to number all of the times they warmed my heart and made me smile. But here’re a handful of highlights:
1. When Sun Woo’s mom (Kim Sun Young) gets the terrible news that she might have to give up her house, the other moms rally around and each offers to give what she can.
2. When Taek’s dad collapses, he’s saved purely by the nosey warmth of Deok Sun’s dad (Sung Dong Il) who seeks him out for a drink. And then, during his recovery, everyone rallies around to bring him food and tend to all of his needs. AND take turns calling Taek over for meals so that he’ll be taken care of. It’s so wonderful and amazing and completely heartwarming that these people love one another so matter-of-factly and embrace and accept one another so wholly. I love it.
I also love the scene of Sun Woo’s mom washing Taek’s dad’s hair at the hospital. It’s such a personal thing, done so matter-of-factly, like it’s no big deal, that of course she would be doing this for him. Sure, later in the episode we find out that they’ve known each other for way longer, but I believe that any of the other moms would’ve done the same.
3. I also find it really charming how everyone in the neighborhood treats Taek with extra affection and care. I feel it’s partly coz they’re proud that he’s the nation’s baduk genius (it’s so endearing how everyone in the neighborhood believes in Taek and waits anxiously for updates whenever he has a competition), and partly, I feel like they’re loving him extra coz he’s the only kid in the neighborhood who doesn’t have a mom. Which, aw. <3
In episode 13, it moved me to see everyone feeling equally crazy-worried about Taek’s safety. It was so clear, that Taek’s one of their own, collectively. He’s not just Moo Sung’s son, he’s the entire neighborhood’s son, and I love that.
4. In the same episode, I was also moved by how Mi Ran (Ra Mi Ran) and Sun Young fret over Il Hwa’s (Lee Il Hwa) biopsy results almost as much as she and her husband do.
These little moments and story beats all add up to one main theme, that of family.
I love this show because it’s about so much more than who marries Deok Sun (Hye Ri). It’s about interdependence and love, without differentiating what’s yours and mine. It’s about knowing and accepting one another, in all your weaknesses and at your worst moments.
I just freaking love how the members of this big ragtag family take care of one another and look out for one another so completely, so that there isn’t a single member of the community who ever needs to be afraid of being alone. <3
2. THE CHARACTERS
I really like Show’s way of giving each of the characters time in the spotlight. It feels a little like a family drama about a multi-generational family, in some ways. By the end of the show, I felt like I’d gotten to know each of the characters quite well, and I liked that a lot.
The characters truly are the heart of the entire show, and even though the sheer number of characters is rather daunting, I thought I’d give quick to moderate shout-outs to (almost) all of them.
Hye Ri as Deok Sun
I’m going to begin by saying that I liked Hye Ri in this role, and appreciate her lack of vanity in throwing herself into the role of Deok Sun. Whether Deok Sun is getting uglified with garish ’80s makeup or being caught in mortifyingly embarrassing situations, Hye Ri goes at it with gusto, and I admire her for being so gung-ho about it all.
However, I do feel that Hye Ri’s delivery is a little flat, overall. Compared to many of her cast-mates, her delivery didn’t quite have the depth and 3D sort of effect, which I thought was a pity. It’s not for lack of effort, though, since I can clearly see that she gives the role her all. I think it’s possibly the limits of her young acting chops.
To Hye Ri’s credit, she still manages to make Deok Sun a very endearing and likable character, and I rooted for her all series long.
Despite Deok Sun’s general lack of talent in most areas, I find her earnest and caring personality very charming indeed. I love the small moments that show us her sweet and giving nature; the way she gives up having a fried egg with breakfast to give Mom an easier time; the way she forgives easily, when Dad meets her with a birthday cake in hand, to make up for years of her having to play second fiddle to Bo Ra (Ryu Hye Young) during their joint birthday celebrations.
My favorite Deok Sun moment, though, has to be in episode 14, when her class president and seat-mate suffers a seizure and she takes charge of the situation. I love how, when Class Prez recovers and slinks into class feeling embarrassed, Deok Sun blithely treats her exactly the same. She talks to her like a friend without tiptoeing around her, and it’s exactly what Class Prez needs, in order to not feel like a Weirdo Outcast, and I love that Deok Sun’s lead also cues everyone else in class to do the same.
Just, so awesome. I mean, Deok Sun’s pretty awesome in general, but in this moment, her awesomeness is particularly clear. Even though Deok Sun’s terrible with the studying, she’s fast, and smart, and is great with people. Which is why I honestly think her eventual career choice of cabin crew is perfectly perfect.
Ryu Joon Yeol as Jung Hwan
Oh, Jung Hwan.. Such a quietly stoic, gruff-on-the-outside, tender-marshmallow-on-the-inside bundle of contradictions. Whom I found very appealing, I might add.
His silent smirks and relative deadpan reticence scream bad-boy swag – which is probably why all the moments that reveal his sweetness and loyalty feel all the more awww-some.
Ryu Joon Yeol embodies Jung Hwan’s awkwardly-sweet-tough-guy to a T, and I couldn’t help melting a little more every time Sweet Jung Hwan showed up on my screen.
Over the course of the show, Jung Hwan shows his sweet and loyal side multiple times, but my favorite time has got to be in episode 11, when he finally realizes that Mom’s been hanging up on him not because she won’t read out her name in English to him off her passport, but because she can’t.
I love how he chooses to comfort her by buying her roasted chestnuts and awkwardly giving them to her, instead of saying anything about how she’d kept hanging up on him. And then, we later see him quietly writing the English spelling in Hangul for her, right into her passport, so that she’ll never feel handicapped in this area again.
AUGH. HOW SWEET IS HE? LUFF. <3
Park Bo Gum as Taek
OMG guys. Park Bo Gum just totally sneaked up on me and stole my heart as Taek. Which is no small deal, considering how Taek’s introduced to us as quite the silent, reticent character. He almost feels like he’s on the sidelines of the group, and his screen time was correspondingly limited, especially in the initial episodes.
Yet, Park Bo Gum made every second of that initial limited screen time count, and basically engulfed my screen every time he appeared on it. Before I knew it, I had a giant – completely colossal – soft spot for Taek that felt like it had come out of nowhere, but really, had been built up bit by bit, by Park Bo Gum’s meaningful delivery of Taek’s small moments.
As those of you who follow me on instagram probably know, this scene in episode 2 is THE moment when I saw the light.
This is the moment that I realized that Park Bo Gum is So Much More than just a (very, very) pretty face.
Without being spoilery, let me just say that he took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes, when his expression morphed seamlessly from pleasant anticipation to puppy-eyed tearful pain in a mere matter of seconds. Just, wow. He didn’t actually need to say anything (although he does, right after); I was completely sucked into his emotions simply by watching the expression on his face.
Still on the subject of the expressions on his face, I have to confess that it made my day every time Taek smiled. I swear, Park Bo Gum has an internal switch that, when he flips it, just makes him totally light up and look like he’s about to explode. I love that look on Taek, and it melts my heart that his friends bring that out in him.
All in all, even though Taek does do a lot more than just show up onscreen and smile, essentially, that’s all he needs to do to make me smile. Like in episode 11, when Taek shows up at the end of the episode, smiles, and gives a simple Happy New Year greeting to one of the adults. That’s literally all he does, and I was instantly melting into a puddle. Taek’s flat-out adorable, and I want to fold him up and put him in my pocket, for reals. <3
Here are just 2 quick examples of what I mean when I say Park Bo Gum makes every second count, as Taek.
1. In episode 3, there’s a little beat when Taek comes home to the boisterous dancing in his room and silently leaves without being noticed. Little moments like this one consistently feel full of meaning, thanks to Park Bo Gum’s delivery. I feel like these quiet beats actually say something. Another little beat in the same episode, of him continuing to stare at the crumpled and dirtied notice about the overnight trip that his friends had left behind, even while sitting in front of his baduk board, says so much. He doesn’t need to say anything, but it’s so clear that he does feel excluded, and he does feel like he’s missing out. Poor baby.
2. In episode 4, when Taek’s feeling down about losing a baduk match, Park Bo Gum gives depth to Taek’s angst without even saying anything much. There’s a Moment, when Jung Hwan walks into Taek’s room, and Taek looks up, stricken, and Jung Hwan meets his eyes. Seriously, that pause is so pregnant with meaning; there’s a connection there, an understanding, that then is given voice by the rowdy friendship the other 4 bestow on him. It may look like they are making light of his pain, but really, they’re meeting him where it really matters. The way Taek laughs, with relief and release, is such a gratifying thing to watch.
Love those kids. And, love Taek. Just can’t help myself.
Go Kyung Pyo as Sun Woo
Go Kyung Pyo is pitch perfect as the model boy-next-door Sun Woo. Sun Woo’s a total sweetheart, who’s a good son to his mom and a good brother to his sister, and is doing his level best to be a good man of the house, after the death of his father.
Even though Sun Woo may sound a little vanilla on paper, I appreciate that writer-nim takes the time to eventually peel back some of his layers to reveal the angst that he hides deep beneath the surface.
In the midst of the larger beats, it’s the smaller moments that stick with me, when I think of Sun Woo. Like how he never says anything bad about his mom’s cooking, even though it’s a running gag that her cooking is flat-out terrible. In fact, I love the little moment in episode 2, when Sun Woo stops outside his home to eat the dinner his mom had packed for him, so that her feelings wouldn’t be hurt. Just, so very thoughtful and sweet.
I love, too, the little repeated detail, of Sun Woo always kissing his little sister on the cheek. It’s such a tiny detail, but it’s just so sweet, that he makes it point, no matter what. Aw.
[END MINOR SPOILER]
Lee Dong Hwi as Dong Ryong
Dong Ryong feels a little like a secondary sort of character, in the sense that he gets less screen time than some of the other kids, and we also see a lot less of his family life. In a way, Dong Ryong feels like the proverbial oft-forgotten middle child, in this hodgepodge big family. Additionally, with Dong Ryong’s comic bent, he almost feels like a comic-relief sort of character, inserted only to bring the laughs.
Often, however, that set-up only serves to highlight just how important Dong Ryong is to the group, in contrast to his mostly jokey persona. Consistently, Dong Ryong proves to be the unexpected voice of wisdom to his friends, &/or a caring mother hen. This group would literally not be the same without him, and writer-nim makes sure that we know it.
Credit to Lee Dong Hwi, for making Dong Ryong such a likable, endearing character.
Consistently, Dong Ryong is the one who notices when people are out of sorts. Although Jung Hwan is sweet for stepping out of his comfort zone to make both his dad and his mom feel better in their moments of gloom, credit goes to Dong Ryong for noticing it and spelling out for Jung Hwan what the problem and the solution is.
And what about the time in episode 14 when Dong Ryong points out to Deok Sun the same thing that’s been on my mind all series long: that she should be focusing on figuring out who she likes, rather than who likes her.
Such insight and wisdom, from such a lovably gangly, awkward source.
Honestly, I found the repeated moments of Dong Ryong taking care of Taek really cute. Like in episode 6, when Dong Ryong helps Taek get his walkman to play, and then later, helps Taek button his shirt, all while nagging at him. It’s all so matter-of-fact and so cute.
His moment of angst
I tend to root for the underdog, so when Dong Ryong got his moment in the spotlight with the unveiling of his hidden angst, I really felt for him.
His rejection and dejection in episode 10 feels so poignantly universal. To feel forgotten and neglected on his birthday, many birthdays in a row, must really bite. Dong Ryong’s feelings of neglect, and his hunger for parental affection land with a palpable plaintiveness; another piece of evidence that Dong Ryong is a lot more sensitive than his carefree persona lets on.
Which is why I couldn’t help smiling in vicarious satisfaction when Dong Ryong finally gets some attention from his mom in episode 15, and laps it up with so much delight that he looks like he’s about to burst. Aw.
Ryu Hye Young as Bo Ra
Out of all the characters, I found Bo Ra the hardest sell, at least at first. Her prickly persona, coupled with her scary hair-pulling fights with Deok Sun, made her appear unreasonable and almost hostile.
Thankfully, Show’s efforts to soften up Bo Ra as a character are successful. As early as episode 2, we start to see glimpses of her more understanding side, and by mid-series, Hostile Bo Ra feels almost like a distant memory.
Props to Ryu Hye Young for making Bo Ra believable in each of her facets, and for weaving Bo Ra’s contrary qualities into a cohesive whole.
Here’re just 2 quick instances where Softer Bo Ra came out to play.
1. In episode 2, it’s heartwarming to see that the moment Gran passes away, an unconditional truce takes over and Bo Ra comforts the younger siblings that she usually terrorizes. It’s also sweet that the younger siblings just cleave to that care, without holding a grudge for past terror attacks.
2. I like the quiet way Bo Ra shows care for her family in episode 13, while Mom worries about her biopsy results. Coming home early; suggesting they order in; lingering over dinner while Mom waits for the phone to ring; those little gestures say a lot about how much Bo Ra cares, even though she doesn’t actually verbalize it.
Ahn Jae Hong as Jung Bong
Oh, Jung Bong. He’s the character that I felt bemused by the most, at least in the beginning. He’s So Serious and So Dramatic, and yet, that laser focus and obsessive attention is mostly given to the most inane past-times.
As the episodes progress, though, and as Show revealed more about Jung Bong’s inner workings, I grew affectionate of this earnest Drama Queen – or should I say, Drama King?
I must say, one of the most memorable arcs involving Jung Bong is his loveline with Mi Ok (Lee Min Ji).
At first, their romance almost feels like comic relief, coz both characters approach their loveline in a hilariously dramatic fashion. Little everyday sorts of events get turned into Moments of Destiny by these two, and it’s adorably amusing. Like how they meet in the rain and react to each other in slo-mo wonder, then proceed to obsess over each other with starry-eyed infatuation. It’s very funny, but it’s also a fairly true representation of the dramatic state of the Moonstruck Teenage Heart.
By series’ end, in spite of how their scenes are largely played for laughs, I found their romance very endearing, mostly thanks to Jung Bong being so serious and earnest about it.
Choi Sung Won as No Eul
Maybe it was all because of Eun Ji Won, who acted as a character much younger than his actual age, in Answer Me 1997; it now feels like each installment of Answer Me needs its own much-older-actor-playing-much-younger sort of character. AM1994 had Kim Sung Kyun playing a student, and here, Choi Sung Won fills that need by playing teenaged kid brother to Bo Ra and Deok Sun.
Although No Eul feels like a secondary character compared to the other kids, he does get a spot of narrative attention here and there, and by series’ end, I’d grown affectionate of him too, in spite of his smaller amount of screen time.
One of moments I remember most clearly involving No Eul, is less to do with who he is as a character, but more to do with how he affects another character; in this case, his sister Deok Sun.
In episode 8, when Deok Sun thinks that someone’s bullied her kid brother and made him cry, the way she steps out to fiercely (so fiercely!) protect him, is really sweet. Guess you’re never too old to have your noona fuss over you (as we see in a certain present-day scene as well, heh).
Sung Dong Il as Sung Dong Il
By now, Sung Dong Il (& Lee Il Hwa too, of course) is practically synonymous with the Answer Me series, having played Dad in all 3 installments. The first time he’d reprised the role of Dad in AM1994, I’d felt weirded out, coz it felt like Na Jeong (Go Ah Ra) had stolen Shi Won’s (Jung Eun Ji) parents, in a way.
This time, though, I must say I took to Sung Dong Il’s Dad-ship much more easily. Partly coz the Answer Me franchise has trained me well, perhaps. But probably more because Dad’s a more distinctly different character this time around.
I loved Sung Dong Il’s warmth in the role, which shone through whether his character was being cranky & gruff or quietly thoughtful. There’s this lovely depth that Sung Dong Il brings to the role that I like very much.
Over the course of the series, I really enjoyed seeing Dad’s love for his family come to the surface, in all of the little ways that his gruff exterior can’t hide.
Here’re just a small handful of times when I couldn’t help but stop to appreciate Dad a little.
1. I love the time in episode 1 when Dad bawls with happiness to see Deok Sun on TV. Just, so gruff and loving, and so awesome.
2. After Deok Sun’s tearful outburst about never having her own birthday cake and always having to play second fiddle to Bo Ra, I do love how Dad makes it up to her by meeting her outside the house and presenting her with her own birthday cake. Such a sweet, understated way to make it up to her.
3. Up until episode 3, we see Dad overextending their finances to help people in need, by buying the most ridiculously useless items from them. That it takes seeing his son being called “Half Basement” as a nickname to shake Dad up about their financial situation, says a lot about how much he cares about his kids. All the reasoning that Mom had done, had made no difference, because Dad had been convinced that they were doing just fine, and were happy. But to have his son saddled with a derogatory nickname because of their financial situation, that he can’t live with. Such a protective big-hearted Papa Bear, truly.
Lee Il Hwa as Lee Il Hwa
As with Sung Dong Il playing Dad, I also got very comfortable with Lee Il Hwa playing Mom in the Answer Me installments. There’s something very soft, warm, and also, a little fragile about the way she plays Mom that I really like.
Behind the gently cheerful surface, Mom worries for her family, and Lee Il Hwa brings out that quiet concern in a way that is subdued and elegant, yet speaks volumes.
Here’re just a couple of moments where Mom touched my heart in her own understated way.
1. It’s almost a throwaway sort of thing, but we’re shown how Mom scrimps on herself, while trying to give as much as she can, to her children. The scenes where we see her quietly using almost-empty bottles of lotion and skincare samples on herself, feel so poignant because it’s just rather sad to see her scrimp on herself so much, while trying to be a good mom to her kids.
2. In episode 5, when Mom spots Bo Ra being confronted by police officers, the way she throws herself in front of Bo Ra to protect her in every way she knows how, with such desperation, completely moved me. It’s so clear, that she literally loves her daughter more than her own life.
3. I love the beat in episode 14 when Dad confirms that he is now out of debt. It’s such a breathlessly poignant moment for Mom especially; you can just see the wonder and joy in her eyes. I love how she splurges on breakfast the next day, and pretty much has tears in her eyes at the reality that she can now buy the things that her children want. So sweetly moving that I had tears in my eyes too.
Kim Sung Kyun as Kim Sung Kyun
After seeing Kim Sung Kyun play a student in AM1994, it took some getting used to, having him here as one of the neighborhood’s dads.
Initially, I found his character’s sense of humor pretty weird and out-there, but I eventually developed a soft spot for him. Although Kim Sung Kyun the character is played a lot for laughs, I really appreciate the thoughtful underbelly of the character that we eventually get to see.
My favorite thing about him is how he loves his wife, really. In episode 11, there’s a scene where he tells elder son Jung Bong that Mom didn’t go to college but is the smartest person he knows, and that he’d like Jung Bong to take after Mom instead of himself. Aww. How perfectly lovely, right? What a wonderful way to see his wife. <3
Ra Mi Ran as Ra Mi Ran
OMG Ra Mi Ran’s Cheetah Ahjumma is totally one of my favorite parts of the show.
Loud, brash and naggy a lot of the time, Cheetah Ahjumma is easy to dismiss at first as a one-note – or rather, one-layer – sort of character type. But she’s so much more than just a loud ahjumma. She’s also empathetic, sensitive and giving. And fragile and insecure too, when she thinks nobody’s looking. She’s such a layered character, with so many different facets to her, and Ra Mi Ran brings out all of those facets with a natural, seasoned sort of ease that is enviable.
Here’re just a few of my favorite moments featuring the awesome Cheetah Ahjumma.
1. I really like the beat in episode 1, where she reaches out to a reticent Jung Hwan to ask him to talk to her more. I really liked that. Instead of screaming or crying, she talks to him nicely and shares how she feels ashamed in front of the other ladies. Even more, I love that she then hugs him a little, even though she’s so awkward about it. It’s so awesome, how she’s stepping outside of her comfort zone for this. She really does want to connect with her son.
2. Something that we see over and over again, is how she shares her abundance with her neighbors. She always cooks enough to share with everyone, and the way she gives it away isn’t condescending. It’s genuinely warm, and I like that about her a lot.
3. Mi Ran’s audition for the singing competition in episode 16 is freaking hysterical, and it’s thanks to Ra Mi Ran being so gung-ho about it. I mean, I experienced So Much secondhand embarrassment just watching her, but she just goes for it, and I really hafta admire that about both character and actress.
Watching AM1988 showed me that Ra Mi Ran is absolutely fabulous, and I can’t help but luff her for her awesomeness.
Choi Moo Sung as Choi Moo Sung
Aw, Taek’s Dad! I can’t tell you enough how much Taek’s Dad ended up surprising me through the course of the show.
He’s so very stoic and deadpan almost all of the time, and yet, beneath that controlled gentle-giant sort of surface, there’s a velvet teddy bear that’s just waiting to come out. I loved discovering new layers to him over the course of the show, and he’s one of my favorite parents in this lovable ensemble.
Here’re a handful of moments where I felt Taek’s Dad shone particularly brightly.
1. I love how he loves his son. He’s far from demonstrative, but there’s so much care and love that runs deep below the surface, that we see expressed in the mundane and everyday, like how he waits for Taek with an umbrella every time it rains.
2. I love how much pride he takes in wearing Taek’s decidedly girly gift of fluffy pink mittens. Seriously, isn’t that so very sweet?
3. It’s completely adorable how he takes care of little Jin Joo (Kim Seul), and lets her tie up his hair into the most ridiculous little pigtails, and carefully and patiently cuts out paper clothes for her dolls. So Cute!
4. I totally teared up at how he worried over Taek’s safety in episode 13, when it was feared that Taek might’ve been in a plane crash. The desperately violent breaking of the lock on Taek’s drawer, to get the phone number of the hotel; the shaking hands; the tears. And then, reining it all in once he knew Taek was ok, so that he wouldn’t worry Taek. Just, wow. This scene showed me beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Taek really does mean the world to him, in spite of Dad’s normally stoic exterior.
5. I think it’s really cute, how Taek’s Dad turns out to be so athletic in episode 15. I feel like there’s so much depth to him that we just might never run out of new things to learn about him, heh.
Kim Sun Young as Kim Sun Young
Widowed at a young age and doing what she can to give her two kids a happy life, Sun Young is an underdog sort of character that I enjoyed rooting for a lot. Even though she doesn’t have much, she’s earnest and grateful for the small things in life, and happy to share what little she has, with her friends and neighbors.
Like Il Hwa, Sun Young scrimps on herself as much as she possibly can, if only to give her children a life that’s just a little bit better, and that motherly sacrifice touched me every time it showed up on my screen.
As strong as she tries to be, Sun Young has her own fears and worries as well, and the scene that stands out in my mind around this, is in episode 5, when Sun Young’s mom comes to visit.
Sun Young does all she can – from wearing borrowed clothes to filling her rice chest with rice from Mi Ran’s kitchen – to set her mom’s heart at ease. Mom notices her hardship anyway, and leaves her money, along with a letter containing the accepting, encouraging words that Sun Young needs to hear.
The way Sun Young breaks down bawling over the phone with her mom afterwards, totally tugged at my heartstrings. Even though Sun Young works so hard to be strong for the people around her, she needed to cry her heart out to her mom too. Such a poignant message, that Moms need to be encouraged and strengthened as much as they encourage and strengthen their families.
Yoo Jae Myung as Ryu Jae Myung
Among the parents, I felt least connected with Dong Ryong’s parents – which shouldn’t come as a surprise, since Dong Ryong’s home life gets the least amount of screen time in the entire neighborhood.
Still, I appreciate that Dong Ryong’s Dad gets to reveal a couple of layers in the course of the show.
The beat that left the deepest impression on me, with Dong Ryong’s Dad, is how he quietly takes over the household duties, including cooking and cleaning, and caring for a baby, when Dong Ryong’s Mom struggles with her identity and self-worth and leaves home, in a late-ish episode.
Given how Dad’s consistently been shown to be either a strict and rather harsh parent to Dong Ryong, or a bit of a joker among the parents, seeing him be so patient and understanding with his wife really felt like a breath of fresh air. It totally helped me to see him in a brand new light, and I thought the way he handled the situation was pretty darn awesome.
3. THE RELATIONSHIPS
I love-love-love the friendship among the kids, particularly among the dong-gap five pictured here. They have so much easy fun sharing everything, from the happy, to the sad, including all the food, fun, foibles and feelings in between, that it makes me want to have my own faux-sibling sort of clique too.
It never ceased to give me heartwarming tingles to see them practically live in one another’s homes like it was the most natural thing in the world. Everyone going in and out of Taek’s home whether he or his dad was home or not, and everyone defaulting to hanging out in Taek’s bedroom as a matter of course, was one of my favorite quirks of this bunch of friends.
I love the matter-of-fact way they embrace, accept and love one another, faults, farts and all, even if the words aren’t explicitly said.
I found it endlessly charming that the kids are all super proud of Taek. Even more, I loved that even though Taek plays in big championships and his winnings are big, that all the celebrations are so homely and small. The kids demanding things like ddukbokki and pizza, and Taek himself, choosing to watch a movie as his reward. It’s all so down-to-earth and endearing.
One of my favorite moments of these five friends is in episode 6, when Taek wins a competition and the rest of the kids wait in line outside his room, and take turns greeting him with a congratulatory hug. Augh. SO ADORBS. I LUFF the hug line!
Afterwards, I love how the boys promptly and very naturally sleep over at Taek’s, all lined up in a row, sharing blankets. Hee. Like cuddly little pigs in a blanket, happily snuggling up to one another.
I love how the parents form a very natural sort of support network for one another, in their little neighborhood.
In concept, most of them are pretty different from one another; Deok Sun’s Dad is loud and gruff; Taek’s Dad is quiet and stoic; Jung Hwan’s Dad is offbeat and quirky; Deok Sun’s Mom is long-suffering and gentle; Jung Hwan’s Mom is outspoken; Sun Woo’s Mom is a little shy. But in practice, I love that they just all get along, and genuinely care about one another.
I love how they support one another beyond surface things like feeding each others’ kids. [SPOILER] Like in episode 7, when Taek’s Dad confides in Sun Woo’s Mom about feeling like a terrible father, and Sun Woo’s Mom consoles him. I found it very sweetly poignant, that these single parents try so hard, for their kids, and found it comforting that they aren’t actually going it alone, but are part of a larger community. [END SPOILER]
The way these parents care for one another’s families at a genuinely heart level, I can totally imagine how they might’ve raised their young kids together in that neighborhood; quite possibly with one set of parents easily calling out to another set, “I’ve got your kids with me; don’t worry about them. They can eat and sleep at my place until you’ve come back from your hometown and gotten that thing sorted out.” Or something like that. I just love that level of care and trust that they share. It’s all just so easy and personal. <3
Parents and their kids
Another important type of relationship that gets showcased in AM1988, is the relationships between parents and their children.
What I love about how these relationships are handled, is that it’s all far from preachy or treacly. Instead, it all feels true to life, in how the relationships tend to be teased out in the small, everyday moments. Love is demonstrated, not in grandiose statements, but often through wordless, almost mundane sort of gestures. I love the end-effect, of uplifting warmth that feels real and true.
Here’re just a handful of the parent-child moments that made my heart a little warmer, and often, my throat a little tighter too.
1. Taeks’ Dad crying overwhelmed, happy tears at the girly pink mittens that Taek gives him in episode 7, is so sweet. That just got me right in the heart.
2. Sun Woo’s mom taking on a job at the bathhouse, so that she’ll be able to save for Sun Woo’s education, and Sun Woo then getting all upset at his mom working, and then swallowing it all, for her sake – to allow her to express her care for him in the way that she wants to – is very poignant. She would give her son the world if she could, and he would do the same for her too. Aw.
3. It’s a small but momentous moment between Taek and his dad in episode 16 when Dad broaches the subject of wanting to spend his life with Sun Woo’s mom.
Dad’s all awkward about it, and Taek smiles his bashful smile and tells Dad that he’s ok with anything as long as Dad’s happy. The tears in both their eyes gave me tears in my eyes too.
4. When Bo Ra moves out, the feelings on all sides come leaking out unbidden. Mom gets all teary-eyed, and Dad waits around the corner to give Bo Ra a bag of just-in-case medicine to take with her. And then we see Bo Ra driving away, bawling properly as she goes. Aw.
5. In episode 17, when the topic turns to dreams, each and every parent talks only about dreams related to their kids and their kids’ well-being. Not a single parent harbors dreams for themselves, and dream only for their children. It’s a smallish moment, but speaks such volumes of the kind of matter-of-fact, sacrificial love that parents have for their children. Not gonna lie, this moment brought a tear to my eye.
The ahjumma sisterhood
My gosh, I freaking love these 3 ahjummas together. They truly are more than neighbors, and more than friends. They are sisters.
I love how they spend their time together so consistently. Literally not a day goes by without them having a chat, or at least touching base. And nothing’s off-limits too, with their chats dipping past children and household matters, into bedroom talk as well.
Most of all, I love how much empathy they have for one another. There are no lines drawn between them, when it comes to problems or worries that crop up in their lives. If one of them is worried about something, the other two hearts are engaged at almost the same level as the one who’s worrying. I truly love the solidarity that they share, beneath the good-natured, easy, everyday sort of vibe.
Sun Woo & Taek
You know how, sometimes, you just sort of fall into a closer sort of friendship with one friend, among a group of friends? I feel like this is the case, with Sun Woo and Taek. Even though they’re buddies with everyone else in the group, these two fall into an almost confidante sort of relationship which I found all kinds of heartwarming and adorable.
The two boys confiding in each other about their respective love interests is super cute. Sun Woo talks to Taek about Bo Ra, and Taek tells Sun Woo about Deok Sun, and I practically implode from the cute.
Case in point, this conversation from episode 14:
Sun Woo: “Why Deok Sun? I mean, there’s tons of girls who like you. Why Deok Sun? What’s the reason? Why do you like her?”
Taek: “I just like her. I just like her when I’m with her. When she smiles… I almost feel like I could die.”
OMG, how adorable is that?
On a more serious note, I love that these two boys get to legit become brothers. When Sun Woo’s Mom and Taek’s Dad start to become closer and it becomes a distinct possibility that marriage is on the cards, I love the quiet conversation that Sun Woo and Taek have about it, in episode 17.
Sun Woo: “Taek.” … “Never mind.”
Taek: “Sun Woo. Before… One time I was at the Baduk Club and came home early. But Dad was alone. He was eating just cold rice mixed with water. He hadn’t expected me to be home early. Dad was so flustered and surprised. I had a thought at that moment. When I saw him so flustered… And so surprised that he didn’t know what to do with himself… When I saw him standing there like that… I thought to myself that it would be nice if he had a good person by his side. I’m happy that it’s your mom. It’s a relief.”
Sun Woo: “You’re okay with it? You don’t think about your mom?”
Taek: “It’s been longer for me than it has for you. I guess that’s why it’s easier for me.”
Sun Woo: “I must be younger than you.”
Taek: “You didn’t know that already?”
And just like that, it’s settled; they’re ok with their parents marrying. I love that their conversation is so quietly understated yet so needed. They needed to express to each other that they were ok with it, and inquire whether the other person was ok with it, and it’s so warmly, quietly, matter-of-factly done. I just love these two together.
Jung Hwan & Jung Bong
Jung Bong and Jung Hwan are as different as chalk and cheese, but as the show progresses, we get a better sense of the deep brotherly bond between them underneath the gruff, and I must say that that bond moved me deeply.
Jung Hwan, taking it upon himself to fulfill Jung Bong’s dreams by becoming a pilot, because Hyung’s heart condition prevents him from doing so himself, is just so impossibly sacrificial. I mean, making your Hyung’s dream your career is no small deal. You’ll eat, sleep and breathe that career for the rest of your life. And yet, Jung Hwan does it willingly for the love of his brother, all the while insisting that he’s becoming a pilot because he wants to.
And in spite of his surface cluelessness, Jung Bong’s deeply aware of just how much his younger brother is doing for him. That moment, in episode 17, under the stars, when Jung Bong makes his wish about Jung Hwan, “For my little brother to be able to do what he really wants to do,” is just really sweet.
These two clearly mean a great deal to each other, and it’s a pleasure to witness.
Deok Sun & Bo Ra
When we first meet Bo Ra and Deok Sun, they’re usually at complete loggerheads, literally screeching and pulling each others’ hair. What I found poignant, though, is that underneath the antagonism, these two really do care about each other, and when push comes to shove, they cleave to each other and help each other as needed.
[SPOILER] I like that we see this pretty quickly too, at the passing of their grandmother early in the show. Gone are the antagonistic scowls and barbs, replaced only by comforting words and a sense of solidarity. And true to real life (for most folks, I think), these two become even closer in adulthood. I liked the scenes of Present Bo Ra hanging out at Present Deok Sun’s house, chatting and sipping on coffee instead of heading home to her husband. I really enjoyed that little detail, that Bo Ra actually really likes hanging out around her sister. Aw. [END SPOILER]
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
Sun Woo & Bo Ra
I must say that Show took me by surprise with the loveline between Sun Woo and Bo Ra. Particularly given how when we’re introduced to Bo Ra, she appears pretty unreasonable, what with her prickly, shouty and hair-pully ways. Yet, when Show builds the context and teases out the relationship between Bo Ra and Sun Woo, I honestly couldn’t help thinking that these two are quite perfect for each other.
The entire side arc of Sun Woo wearing Bo Ra down, and Bo Ra agreeing to date him, is really cute. When Bo Ra agrees to date him in episode 10, Sun Woo’s face, wearing an expression alternating between disbelief, wonder and happiness, when he realizes what she’s saying to him, is adorable.
Plus, both Jung Kyung Pyo and Ryu Hye Young approach the skinship gamely, making the kisses between Sun Woo and Bo Ra pretty hot indeed. In particular, I love the low, husky, almost-cracking tone of Sun Woo’s voice in episode 11, as he asks if he can kiss her. Ooh sexy.
They definitely kiss like they mean it, and the long, extended beat, of them just taking their time and drowning in the feels, is hot.
More than the giddy courtship and the sizzling skinship, I do love that these two truly care about each other.
In episode 14, when Sun Woo struggles with his guilt towards his bio dad, I love that he’s able to cry about it to Bo Ra. And then in episode 15, when we see Taek’s Dad run out excitedly to meet Sun Woo, Bo Ra watches from a distance, with a smile on her face. It’s just really sweet that they connect so deeply, and care so much.
I was a little disappointed, though not surprised, when Bo Ra broke up with Sun Woo in order to focus on her studies. But, she totally makes up for it by stepping out of her comfort zone to ask to start over, in episode 18.
I do love that the 3 conditions that Sun Woo lays down, have nothing to do with punishing her for how she’d treated him in the past, and everything to do with building a healthy foundation for their relationship, and planning for the future. That’s how serious he is, about making the relationship work. I do love that after Sun Woo’s got his 3 conditions, he really is the Oppa in the relationship. And, I’m just really glad for these two, that they got their happy-ever-after. <3
As an aside, I thought the big reveal of Sun Woo’s relationship with Bo Ra, in Taek’s room in episode 20, was priceless.
I didn’t see it coming, but it’s So Perfect, coz everyone does hang out in Taek’s room. And Taek’s deer-in-headlights face is just perfect too. Hee.
Moo Sung & Sun Young
As the only single parents in the neighborhood, I felt a sense of solidarity between Taek’s Dad and Sun Woo’s Mom long before Show started hinting at a possible loveline between them. And it’s that quiet solidarity and understated interdependence that remains my most favorite thing about this couple.
Honestly, I would’ve been perfectly happy too, if Show had made them besties instead of a couple. I really wouldn’t have minded either way. I just liked seeing them support each other and give each other the listening ear and companionship that they both needed.
What a bonus, of course, when their connection started to turn romantic, coz I thought it was the sweetest thing. I loved the idea of Mom and Dad having each other, and Sun Woo getting a new Dad and Taek getting a new Mom.
There’s a sweet understatedness about Moo Sung and Sun Young’s relationship that I find very heartwarming. Like, I love how he goes to wait for her at the corner and walk with her, after she’s done with work, all without a word, because he’s worried about her and knows that she’s scared.
With this couple, I never felt the need to see them in overtly romantic conversations or situations. Just watching them do little everyday things together, in a family sort of manner, was enough. Like this little scene in episode 17, where they walk home together after he greets her at the corner, and she feeds him red bean bread as they walk, with Jin Joo fast asleep in his arms.
Just, so subtle and so endearing.
The way Show treats their romance, is just right. Nothing more is said after he quietly pops the question. All we see is that there’s now a doorway linking their two houses now. Which, awww. <3
The new family
In the same way, the new family comes together without a whole lot of dramatics. The biggest hurdle is Sun Woo’s guilt towards his bio dad, and even that’s resolved relatively quickly.
The thing I love the most about this new family, is how completely each parent embraces the other’s child. Dad practically trips over his own feet in his happy hurry to play catch with Sun Woo in episode 15, and Mom fusses over Taek like he’s her own son.
I love that Sun Woo and Taek now share a family and get to bask in the attention of two parents instead of one, and I love that we see Slightly Older Jin Joo nagging both of her oppas equally. It just makes me feel that this family has thoroughly fused into one, down to its core, and I like that a whole lot.
MY THOUGHTS ON THE LOVE TRIANGLE/HUSBAND HUNT
To be honest, I’d felt rather peeved, when I first realized that tvN was reneging on its promise to stop with the Who’s-The-Hubs game with this installment of Answer Me. I hadn’t liked Who’s-The-Hubs in AM1997, nor in AM1994, mostly because I’d felt like the production was being gleefully manipulative about dangling almost-answers at the audience, before not answering anything at all. All. Series. Long.
Gah. By the time Am1988 rolled around, I was SO ready to leave Who’s-The-Hubs behind.
In principle, I’m a little exasperated with tvN for clinging to Who’s-The-Hubs. BUT, I’m (very, very) thankful that in terms of its execution, Who’s-The-Hubs went down a lot easier for me this time around. In my head, there’re a couple of reasons for this.
1. It’s doesn’t feel (as?) manipulative
I know not everyone felt the way I did about this, but I actually didn’t feel like Show was being manipulative in terms of teasing the audience about the identity of Deok Sun’s husband. I mean, yes, there was teasing and there were red herrings, but it didn’t feel mean-spirited, to me. In fact, it sort of felt like writer-nim hadn’t made up her mind, sometimes, and that she didn’t know who the hubs was, either.
To me, this was such a big improvement from AM1997 and AM1988, where Who’s-The-Hubs had often felt like the production was purposefully trolling us and having a cruel sort of fun with it, that I easily forgave the teasing and red herrings that we did get, coz those felt mild in comparison.
2. It isn’t the main focus
Because there’s so much more to this drama world than Deok Sun’s love life, each episode felt rich with meaning and story enough for me to not really mind the lack of progress or clarity with Who’s-The-Hubs. I loved getting to know the characters for themselves, and enjoyed their stories very well; enough to treat Who’s-The-Hubs as a secondary sort of thing, rather than THE thing.
3. Both potential husbands are great choices
Show does an excellent job of helping us get to know both of Deok Sun’s potential husbands, so much so that I had gigantic soft spots for them both. I loved both characters so much that I desperately didn’t want either of them to have his heart broken.
I honestly think I would have been fine with either boy getting the girl, since I loved them both and couldn’t ever seem to choose between them myself. I mean, under a microscope, you’d be able to see that my soft spot for Taek is a teensy-weensy, tiny bit greater, but the difference is totally puny, I swears.
During my watch, I’d regularly muse to myself something along the lines of, “Egad. I love both Jung Hwan and Taek. So much.” <3 <3
On a slight tangent, I thought it was a pretty great twist, to set perfect-boy-next-door Sun Woo up as one of the potential husbands, only to have that turned on its head 6 episodes in, when it’s revealed to us and to Deok Sun, that he’s been crushing not on Deok Sun, but on Bo Ra, all this time. It’s so neat, coz it makes all his excuses to borrow things from Deok Sun still valid, but in a completely different way. That totally changes the perspective. Nice move, Show.
I liked how that kept us on our toes, and evened out the playing field all over again, with Taek in the game the second time around. Very well-played, I thought.
Silently stoic, yet often simmering with quiet smolder with a side of smirk, Jung Hwan completely fit the bill of romantic leading man. In fact, Jung Hwan’s just the sort of male lead that I would swoon over.
Honestly, the best part of Jung Hwan’s crush on Deok Sun, was seeing his dorky side emerge in spite of his best efforts to hold himself in check. The amused smiles that he can’t quite hold in; the gruff yet silently thoughtful things he does for her; the adorably petty jealous reactions at the prospect of Deok Sun being alone with some other guy; his I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-myself discombobulation when Deok Sun’s nearer than he expects.. It’s all deliciously melty stuff, and I lapped it up eagerly every time Jung Hwan did his leading man thing on my screen.
The problem, though, is that Jung Hwan never acted on his feelings properly, to let Deok Sun know how he felt about her. Given that the odds were stacked in his favor at one point, with Deok Sun nursing a crush on him, it’s doubly frustrating to see Jung Hwan alternate between reining in his feelings and denying them completely.
I do appreciate, though, the fierce loyalty to Taek that drives Jung Hwan’s ultimate decision to suspend his feelings for Deok Sun indefinitely. As nobly idiotic as it may appear to some, it does demonstrate just how much his friendship with Taek means to Jung Hwan.
Of course, it can also be argued that if Jung Hwan had just turbo-charged the turtle’s pace at which he’d been approaching Deok Sun, he might’ve already swept her off her feet before Taek made his announcement about liking Deok Sun.
…Which brings me back to my earlier point, about Jung Hwan hesitating far too much. In episode 18, after the time skip’s evened out the playing field all over again, Jung Hwan again chooses to cop out, this time with his real-to-fake confession to Deok Sun in front of Dong Ryong and Sun Woo.
Truth be told, I was mad at him for copping out, even though I get that he was doing it as a way to formally let go of his first love. Those flashbacks of Jung Hwan secretly peeping at Deok Sun outside his window, and grinning happily to himself, and waiting for her in the rain, and then grinning to himself, hit me right in the gut. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him, but I also couldn’t help being mad at him for being a cognizant coward. Still, I give Jung Hwan points for being self-aware enough to admit to himself that it was his own indecision that got him in this situation.
I tell myself that we all have growing up experiences like these where we live and learn; I also tell myself that very few people get their happy-ever-afters with their first loves. Even though Show doesn’t show it to us, I’d like to think that Jung Hwan learned from this experience, and the next time he met a girl who made his heart flutter, he acted a little faster to let her know.
In the meantime, here’s Jung Hwan being silently swoony in his gruff, stoic, melty sort of way:
Aww. Such a sweetheart. <3
Because of the Sun Woo twist, Taek’s late to join the husband game, in the consciousness of the audience at least, and yet, he manages to steal my heart, so well.
It’s partly because he’s a bit of an underdog, given his socially awkward tendencies, and I almost can’t help myself when it comes to rooting for underdogs. Plus, Taek doesn’t have a mom. I just wanted him to have everything and receive love and be happy, y’know?
More than that, I have to credit Park Bo Gum, who makes Taek so compelling and endearing. Park Bo Gum’s wonderfully 3D delivery gives Taek’s reactions to Deok Sun a lovely depth that sucked me right in. For example, the way Taek smiles when he looks at Deok Sun is altogether wonderful. It always looks like it’s a joy that’s coming from deep inside, rising to the surface. I just can’t help but melt, in the face of that. Love.
Of course, the deal clincher, is that Taek, as reticent as he usually is, is unflinching and direct when he needs to be. Like how he moves so swiftly to shield Deok Sun from being hit by a stray volleyball in episode 10. And then, when Deok Sun teases, “Oooh, you’re a man,” I love how direct and matter-of-fact Taek answers, “Of course I’m a man. I’m not a woman.”
Plus, there’s that unhesitating declaration that Taek makes to the rest of the boys. “I like Deok Sun. Not as a friend, but as a woman.” Squee! And, flail.
I find that undaunted decisiveness very swoony indeed, and every time Taek demonstrates that quality, I found him a little sexier. Especially in this moment of decisiveness, when he decides to kiss Deok Sun even though he isn’t even sure if it’s a dream:
Omona. This gave me legit tummy tingles, y’all.
When I think about it, every key milestone in the journey towards Taek and Deok Sun actually coming together as our OTP, has to do with Taek being sharply, swiftly decisive.
Like when he forfeits a baduk match, in spite of his highly competitive streak – in order to be there for Deok Sun at the concert. And then when he gets the first indication from Deok Sun – from her single utterance of the word “but” – that she’s willing to look beyond the fear of awkwardness growing between them; the way he moves in so decisively to kiss her is melt-to-the-floor hot, seriously.
Guh. Flail. Puddle.
Armed with this kind of laser-sharp, ultra-sexy decisiveness when it really matters, I really can’t begrudge Taek getting the girl.
As an aside, have I mentioned that I find there’s something very sensuous about Park Bo Gum’s lips? They mesmerize me. And not only when he’s kissing his leading lady either. (Ok, they mesmerize me extra, when he’s kissing his leading lady. Ahem.) They also mesmerize me in general, they’re so.. expressively sensuous. A slow smile from Taek is enough to make my eyes glaze over, seriously. <3
Jung Hwan & Taek
We see how both Jung Hwan and Taek take steps back from their respective feelings for Deok Sun, once they each clue in on the other’s feelings. While some might find this nobly idiotic (all’s fair in love and war and all that), I actually like the driving force behind the action: the desire to honor the other person; the choice to honor their friendship over and above matters of romance.
Beyond this, I really liked how we get to see what their friendship is really made of. They truly care for each other as friends and brothers, and nothing – not even an epic first love sort of crush – is going to get in the way of their friendship.
I do love that we see Jung Hwan taking the time to care for Taek in episode 12, even though Taek’s technically his romantic rival. There’s just something so sweet and endearing and pure about that.
And I really like how, in episode 19, Taek goes to visit Jung Hwan at the air base, to make sure the air between them is clear, before he resumes courting Deok Sun. It shows how serious he is about his feelings for Deok Sun, and his care for Jung Hwan, at the same time. I love that.
Of course, it pained me to see Jung Hwan brush it off as nothing and laugh about it. But the point is, these two valued their friendship above romance. And that’s what gets me in the heart.
Although many of Jung Hwan’s scenes with Deok Sun are admittedly pretty melty, there’s something that consistently niggled at me. And that is, Deok Sun’s feelings are shown to be quite reactive, from the very beginning of the show.
Before her friends had planted the idea in her head that Sun Woo must like her, she’d had no discernible special feelings for Sun Woo. The big crush on Sun Woo had only appeared after she got “clued in” that he liked her. Similarly with Jung Hwan, her crush on him had appeared only after her friends had insisted that Jung Hwan liked her.
For most of the show, we see Deok Sun basically obsessing about who likes her, and reacting to it by reciprocating with a crush. Taek is the only person whom we see Deok Sun react to with hyper-awareness, without being first triggered by someone convincing her that he has feelings for her.
In that sense, Deok Sun’s romantic feelings towards Taek are unadulterated by external influences. This is purely her, reacting to Taek. And that’s how it ought to be.
Taek, telling her in episode 12 that there’s nothing wrong with crying, after she encounters a flasher. Taek, waiting outside the bathroom for her, on the pretext of wanting a smoke. Taek, listening to Deok Sun when he won’t listen to anyone else. Taek, princess-carrying Deok Sun and running off with her, off the closed school grounds, while being chased by an angry guard.
I believe that bit by bit, Taek made his presence felt, and eventually, we see Deok Sun reacting with hyper-awareness and expectancy every time the door chimes tinkle in the cafe, in episode 18. She was waiting for Taek. Eee!!
I have to say that I liked Taek making his way to Deok Sun, slowly but surely. The way he enjoys his time with her, slowly and deliberately, is really endearing. And quite swoony too, really.
I also really enjoy how Taek and Deok Sun affect each other. He tells her it’s ok to cry, and carries her when she can’t walk. She is able to get through to him, about having his meals and taking less medication, when no one else can. And once they become a couple, he’s able to sleep like a baby without his pills. Which I find such a deep, significant detail, really, since Taek had been so dependent on the pills, for years. Deok Sun is good for him, literally. I love that.
As a couple, Taek and Deok Sun are absolutely adorable together, and I love that the way they interact is fundamentally the same as before, except with cuddles and kisses. So Perfect.
I love that they aren’t afraid to just cuddle in the middle of the street, even though any of their neighbors could pop up at any moment. And I freaking love the way Taek looks at her, with such unadulterated joy on his face. She totally lights up at him too. And I love how naturally he holds out his hand to her, and how easily she takes it.
I could gaze at these two just being goofy-sweet on my screen for hours, and am a little wistful that we didn’t get to see more of them as a couple.
I really like that almost every episode is built around some kind of theme, often with the characters going through experiences that look disparate on the surface, but which somehow all fit into the same theme. Sometimes, I really had to think about it, to figure out how the various threads across characters fit into that episode’s theme, but it would mostly become clear on its own, eventually.
I do love how the different threads each add a different facet to the theme, so that by the end of the episode, we get a deeper, more 3D sort of immersion into the theme, and the theme itself tends to linger afterwards as well.
Here’s a quick list of highlights, of some of the bigger themes in this show:
E2. The idea that adults feel sad too, and are just too busy being adults and therefore bottle it up. That’s such a universal thing.
E5. Moms and the way they love. And how moms need love too.
E7. Love comes in all shapes and forms, but still, tell each other anyway. And love now, today.
E8. Being strong for the ones you love.
E13. All dads want to be Superman to their family, even if they really are far from it on the inside.
Ultimately, I have to say that I enjoyed this neighborhood so much that I got to a point where I almost didn’t care what the focus of the episode was. Coz I knew it would be warm and cozy any which way. And I was not disappointed.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
By now, you’ve probably guessed that I liked a lot about this show, heh. Still, were there things that I didn’t like, or thought Show could’ve done better? Absolutely. Here’s a quick list:
1. I don’t love the eventual treatment of Jung Hwan’s arc. Although I get that the confession fakeout was his way of letting go of his first love, because we don’t see Jung Hwan eventually healing from this, and moving on, it feels like he got the short end of the stick, somehow. Show should’ve shown us – at some point, even if it was in the final episode, in the present day – that Jung Hwan’s moved on, has found someone really special, and is happy. That would’ve helped to balance things out, and by quite a lot too.
2. I wish we could’ve seen Taek and Deok Sun’s wedding. Those two are so cute together, their wedding would’ve given me goofy grins for days. Days, I tell ya. <3
3. At least a glimpse of the rest of the gang, in the present. We see Deok Sun, Taek, Bo Ra and No Eul.. and that’s all. I’d have loved to see the gang together, and have the assurance that although times, circumstances and locations may have changed, that they are still the same bunch of friends who tease each other, and love each other, and find ways to still hang out together.
4. Same thing, for the parents. These weren’t people who just happened to live in the same neighborhood. These were genuine friends who cared deeply about one another. I would’ve loved a scene of the parents, all white-haired and wrinkly, still chuckling over coffee.
It honestly broke my heart more than a little, that the families moved away and left the neighborhood behind. I mean, even when the gang was growing into adulthood, I’d already felt rather wistful. I just didn’t want them to grow up; I wanted them to just be the same gang, living on the same block, all young and bright-eyed, always.
But true to real life, Show demonstrates that time keeps moving on, and that often forces people to move on too. At the same time, I’m thankful to Show for also reminding us that it’s really all about savoring the memories that you make while growing up and figuring out life, and the people with whom you make those memories.
Those memories – like this show – are like a magic time capsule; step in for a bit, and all of the feels come rushing back. Even as time continues to pass, and as we continue on our life journeys, those memories are ours, always. Just like the memories shared by our AM1988 gang.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Poignant and heartwarming, with a mildly bittersweet aftertaste. Definitely recommend.
FINAL GRADE: A
…And a special spotlight on Taek/Park Bo Gum. Coz this boy legit gives me the goofy grins just by showing up on my screen. <3