YOU GUYS. Remember how much I loved Answer Me 1988? (Hint: a lot, with cherries & rainbows on top)
Well, it’s like Answer Me 1988’s slightly older, rougher-around-the-edges cousin came to visit, and proved to be almost as engaging and endearing – just in a much more compact package. At just 8 episodes, I found myself rationing out this show’s episodes like they were the last few morsels in a box of very, very special truffles that someone had brought from an exotic, faraway place; the kind that I can’t simply go out to the store to get more of, once it’s all gone. And now, this is all gone.
Sniffle. I wish this one was 16 full episodes, y’all. At least.
Every time I start to feel kinda jaded with dramas in general, I reach for a drama I already know is good (say, Coffee Prince, for example), and use it as a litmus test of sorts. If the good one grabs me, then it’s not me that’s the problem; the dramas themselves mustn’t be any good. After all, the good drama still grabs me, right?
Well, I started this drama as a litmus test too. Basically, I’d been trying – like, seriously trying – to get into School 2017, since I’d seen a fair amount of positive reaction to it. I was more than halfway through School 2017, and try as I might, I just couldn’t get into it. It got to a point where I began to wonder if I’m just finally over high school stories.
Bemused, I decided that I needed to test that theory, and opted to dive early into Lingerie Girls’ Generation (I’d been saving it for after School 2017, so that I would only have one high school story on my drama plate at a time).
Well, guess what, you guys.. I was instantly drawn into this drama world. From the very first scene where the girls are rocking out with crazy, delicious, wild abandon to Abba’s Gimme Gimme Gimme, I felt Completely Sucked In, and enjoyed this one to the very last drop.
Looks like I haven’t outgrown high school stories after all. 😉
STUFF I LOVED
1. This world pops
This drama world pops, somehow. It feels alive and organic, rather than artificially constructed. I don’t know if this drama world is constructed in as detailed a fashion as the Answer Me series have been, but I do know that everything feels believable. The entire world, from costuming, to accessories, to buildings and furnishings, feels wonderfully organic and real.
To add to the retro nostalgic awesome, we get treated to a lovely range of 70s flavored tracks on the OST. I recognized quite a few classic English oldies in this one, and that was a bunch of fun in and of itself. I have no idea if the Korean tracks on the OST are actual oldies with new arrangements, or new compositions written for this show, but they sound authentically breezy old-school, and I love it.
The characters themselves feel like real people too, rather than like cookie-cutter drama character types. And even though this story is set in the past, in a simpler, lo-tech time, the concerns and emotional journey of a girl in her teens feel so relatable. There are So Many one-sided crushes crisscrossing in this drama world, and together, it really feels like a teenaged world where feelings and hormones are speeding and crashing everywhere.
Altogether, very leap-off-my-screen engaging and charming, and right away too.
2. Dong Moon the dorky cutie
Hands-down my favoritest thing in this entire drama world, is Dong Moon (played to perfection by Seo Young Joo), who is just the sweetest, dorkiest, most endearing cutie I’ve seen in a long time. *hearts in eyes*
From the moment we meet him, he’s smitten with our female lead Jung Hee (Bona), and spends the entire show trailing in her shadow, watching over her, getting her out of trouble, and just being there for her, even when she’s heartbroken over another boy. I was so taken with his earnest sincerity and long-suffering loyalty, and rooted endlessly for Jung Hee to see the lovely diamond in the rough who was right in front of her, and wearing the cutest moony eyes for her, to boot.
Every time Dong Moon showed up on my screen, my heart melted into a puddle, he was just so sweetly adorkable. <3
[SPOILER] One of the funny Dong Moon moments that I remember fondly, is in episode 2, when Dong Moon saves Jung Hee after she falls into the water. Usually, I roll my eyes, hard, every time kdramas use mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and portray it as romantic. It’s just so clichéd, and SO unromantic. But in this case, the entire scene does feel sweet because Dong Moon is so desperate to save Jung Hee, and cares about her so much, and frets so much about disrespecting her in the process. His earnestness, sincerity and adorkability make it work. Plus, there’s his desperately gallant declaration, “No matter what, I’ll take responsibility for you!” Tee hee. Too cute. [END SPOILER]
3. Dong Moon & Jung Hee together
Since I love Dong Moon so much, it naturally made me happy to see him and Jung Hee together on my screen, since he was always so happy to be near his dream girl.
I appreciated the idea that even after Jung Hee has said that she’s going to forget her crush Son Jin (Yeo Hoe Hyun), that it doesn’t work out as easily as she expects. Despite her efforts to get over Son Jin, just the sight of him stirs up her heart again, and that feels true to life, and relatable. I found it really endearing, that Dong Moon continues to watch over her even while he knows that her heart is beating for another boy, and even while that knowledge crushes his poor puppy dog heart.
I did very much enjoy seeing Jung Hee’s heart shifting in Dong Moon’s favor, bit by bit, over the course of the show. Every time Jung Hee wondered why she was thinking of Dong Moon, even while Son Jin was right in front of her, I did a silent cheer for Dong Moon.
[SPOILER] I found the scene of Jung Hee and Dong Moon crying side by side on the bridge, in episode 3, super cute. And, I thought it was very sweet of Dong Moon to come for Jung Hee with an umbrella in episode 5, expecting to then walk home in the rain himself. How telling, that Jung Hee would risk punishment to share the umbrella with him, just so that he wouldn’t have to walk in the rain. Aw. [END SPOILERS]
4. Jung Hee’s personal journey
I hafta say, I genuinely enjoyed Bona as Jung Hee. Bona isn’t a gifted actress, but she comes alive in this show in a way that I find believable. Kinda like Hye Ri came alive as Deok Sun in Answer Me 1988. Not everything about her feels 100% natural, but somehow, magically, it works. In this, I could really believe that Jung Hee was a real person, awkwardly bad crying scenes and all.
More than her crush on Son Jin, or Dong Moon’s crush on her, I felt most invested in Jung Hee’s journey in the area of her personal growth. Girl makes some significant strides forward in the course of our story, and each time she did so, I felt proud of her, like a legit mama hen.
[SPOILERS] In episode 5, I felt so proud of Jung Hee for working hard, and improving a whole bunch in her studies. In the same episode, when Hae Joo (Chae Seo Jin) is sent out to run in the rain for protesting against Teacher Oh’s (In Gyo Jin) punishment methods, I felt proud of Jung Hee for standing up and going out to run with Hae Joo – not out of friendship, but because she couldn’t agree with Teacher Oh. She’s learned to stand up for what she believes in, and I like that, a whole lot. [END SPOILER]
5. The growing loveline between Hae Joo & Young Choon
This one sort of snuck up on me, but by the later stretch of the show, I found myself rooting for the burgeoning loveline between Hae Joo and Young Choon (Lee Jong Hyun).
Because Hae Joo is a high school student, and Young Choon seems a fair bit older, since he’s working and all, I didn’t really expect a loveline to actually develop. I was cognizant of the fact that she seemed to like him, and he seemed to like her, and I thought Show would just leave it at that, since this is a story about high school crushes anyway. It wasn’t until past Show’s halfway point that I started to think this loveline might actually go somewhere. And because of the context of their situation, by Show’s end, I didn’t find the idea of them being together so odd after all. In fact, I found this loveline sweet, in its own understated way.
[SPOILER] There’s a scene in episode 5 which I found quite special. Hae Joo, who’s broken in spirit, soaked to the bone, and nursing a twisted ankle on top of it all, seeks refuge at the pharmacy, and Young Choon sits her down to rest. She’s too exhausted and downcast to take the dry towel he offers, and so, he takes the towel and gently starts drying her off. As he works the towel gently on her sleeves, and then her shoulders, in the most respectful way he can, the scene naturally transitions into Hae Joo crying into his shoulder.
This is the first actual embrace they have, and it’s a big step, because they are crossing a line they have been carefully toeing thus far. Young Choon continues to wipe Hae Joo’s back, as she continues to cry. The air between them is so charged, and without either of them needing to say a word, the scene communicates how much Hae Joo wants to lean on him, and how much he wants to take care of her. Yet, at the same time, it’s clear that they both feel that a relationship would be forbidden. Such an understated scene, which managed to say so much without having either character say very much at all. [END SPOILER]
5. The reluctant friendship between Jung Hee & Hae Joo
I found the growing reluctant friendship between Jung Hee and Hae Joo heartwarming and sweet to witness.
Granted, the reluctance is all on Jung Hee’s side, because of her petty jealousy over the fact that all the boys – including Son Jin (but excluding sweet Dong Moon!) – are falling over themselves for Hae Joo, who is the glamorous pretty girl from Seoul. Credit to Hae Joo for never once taking back her offer of friendship, even when Jung Hee kept changing her mind. I found it cute to see Jung Hee’s defenses come down, especially when Hae Joo needed a helping hand.
[SPOILER] I loved the scene in episode 2, of the two of them running together as punishment. When Hae Joo is too tired to keep going, Jung Hee puts aside her petty jealousy and holds onto Hae Joo’s hand to pull her along, which is how the two end up completing the punishment – hand in hand. Aw. I love that Hae Joo then returns the favor by singing Jung Hee a silly song to cheer her up, on their way back from the library, which ends with them spontaneously singing and dancing together on the hillside. Double aw. [END SPOILER]
STUFF I DIDN’T LOVE
1. The darker elements of this drama world
Probably because 1979 was a less secure time, the world in which our bunch of teens are growing up is a darker and more sobering one than the one in Answer Me 1988.
I found it a little jarring, to see so much abuse and violence – both emotional and physical – by the adults in this world, towards the kids. Teachers and parents are so shouty and rough with the kids that I found it quite startling. In episode 3, there’s a scene of Teacher Oh beating troublemaker student Ae Sook (Min Do Hee), and he does it in such a violently scary way, that watching it, I felt like the stick was going to break tiny Ae Sook in half. At home, Jung Hee’s father (Kwon Hae Hyo) and mother (Kim Sun Young) are also shown shouting at their kids regularly, and beating them too.
The bias in favor of sons over daughters is also starkly brought out in Jung Hee’s family, where her twin brother is treated significantly better than she. Every time Jung Hee found herself treated unfairly (which was pretty often), my heart went out to her.
[SPOILERS] In episode 5, Jung Hee is uber excited to share her progress at school with her parents. Mum is suitably pleased, but Dad is reluctant to praise her, and even tells her that she should be sorry to her brother for discouraging him.
In the same episode, Mum goes to snuggle with Jung Hee in her room after standing up for Jung Hee and speaking up for her. For a moment, I felt sweetly cozy seeing that Mum was cuddling up to Jung Hee. But then, Mum muses that Jung Hee didn’t get much milk as a baby coz of her brother, and Mum says she’d wondered whether Jung Hee would survive. My word. That just made my blood run cold. Mum had withheld milk from the girl, in order to make sure the boy had enough; had risked the girl, to secure the boy. And she says it so matter-of-factly too. I felt so sorry for Jung Hee in that moment. But I also remembered that this wasn’t Mum being particularly evil; this was how my own mother grew up too.
By mid-series, we also see other dark elements rising to the surface, like Hae Joo’s dad (Jo Duk Hyun) going missing and being accused of being a communist, and the mess and blood that Hae Joo comes home to. At the same time, the existence of the curfew, and how our teens risk getting apprehended by the police for being out during curfew, also throw a dark sort of shadow on our little drama world. [END SPOILERS]
Yet, in the midst of the darkness, our youth continue to be youth, and have crushes, and celebrate or sob as their hearts soar or sink. I found that enduring nature of our youth’s brightness endearingly poignant.
2. Mean Dad
So yes, Dad being shouty and abusive is a sign of the times, but, that doesn’t excuse him, in my books. I guess his whole holier-than-thou attitude was what bugged me.
[SPOILERS] Particularly given the fact that he was, in fact, cheating on his wife (and therefore his family too) with the family help, I found Dad’s holier-than-thou attitude really off-putting. He was regularly doing things for Imo (Park Ha Na), like buying her crackers to eat when he would never buy any for his own daughter, and sneaking off to meet her. Yet, this betrayal didn’t even put a damper on how accusingly he would shout at his wife and daughter. I found that particularly distasteful.
Also on the topic of the affair, I found it very weird and disturbing, that Imo freaking caressed the chamber pot every day while polishing it. I mean, that’s where Dad peed and pooped. Just, ew.
Plus, in episode 3, after Imo has just witnessed a fresh outpouring of Dad’s wrath (he flips dinner off the table in anger, and the hot soup scalds Imo’s hand), she actually looks genuinely touched because he buys medicine for her. That is so messed up, seriously. It made me want to gag, and it also made me want to shake her. But, it is also a sadly true depiction of so many women who fall for abusive men. Sigh.
I’m not saying that Show shouldn’t have told this story about Dad and Imo, but, I don’t have to like it. [END SPOILERS]
3. Mean Teacher Oh
I didn’t like Teacher Oh for his general bullying attitude, and how he regularly told the girls that they were basically stupid pigs. I was particularly disgusted with the way he seemed to take delight in giving the girls inappropriate and degrading punishments.
[SPOILERS] I mean, not only does he snap the girls’ bra straps as punishment, he insists that the rest of the class cheer him on while he does it. How twisted is that? I mean, in what universe can this be rationalized as appropriate teacher behavior? In episode 3, Hae Joo speaks up and challenges Teacher Oh to stop snapping the girls’ bra straps as punishment, and Teacher Oh seems to be genuinely shocked. I couldn’t believe that it’s never occurred to him that it’s not ok. The rage he gets into afterwards, for being humiliated by a student, is also very violent and very disturbing. [END SPOILERS]
Show works to humanize Teacher Oh by the end of our story, but I have to say that I didn’t find the transition all that convincing.
4. Not getting to know Jung Hee’s clique of friends better
It’s true that Show only has 8 episodes to tell its story, and therefore writer-nim likely had to make some tough choices in terms of where to spend our limited screen time. I did find it a pity, though, that we never truly got to know Jung Hee’s little gang of friends. Considering that this is the foursome that literally opens our show with a bang, this felt like a bit of a disconnect, and a missed opportunity.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
The final episode is an hour that feels full of movement for our main characters. There are hellos and goodbyes, and it’s sad, yet happy, and therefore all kinds of bittersweet. A total workout for the ol’ heartstrings, I say.
On the downside, I would have liked to have seen more of how Ae Sook’s story worked out. Even though Ae Sook terrorized her schoolmates regularly, I did feel sorry for her. Girl seemed set on destroying herself, and it felt like a determined attempt at proving everyone right for saying she’s trash. I would have liked to have seen Ae Sook at least taking some solid first steps towards a better self image, and therefore a better life.
Other than that, though, I felt that Show did a very solid job of giving us varying degrees of closure with our other characters.
The chapter on Dad’s affair is finally addressed, and necessary actions taken. Imo packs her bags and leaves to start a new life, and I’m.. quite thoroughly surprised by how much compassion Mum shows her. Not only does she give Imo some money to help her start over, she genuinely empathizes with how much guilt Imo must’ve been living with. I felt so sorry for Mum, for the betrayal that she endured, and also, the tired, resigned way in which she continues to live life afterwards, the way it had always been lived in the household. But, Dad does sincerely apologize and doesn’t fall back on excuses, but squarely accepts all the blame, which counts for something. I feel like Mum is doing the best she knows how, for the sake of her kids. At the same time, I also felt rather in awe of this woman who genuinely appreciates Imo for the person that she had always been, and doesn’t see her only in the light of the affair. The compassion that Mum demonstrates for Imo, is powerful stuff, and really sticks in my mind.
Even though I do wonder about Hae Joo’s dad who’s left in prison at the end of the show, I have to admire Hae Joo for having the courage to follow her heart. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t quite root for a high school student to drop out of school and leave town with an older man, but this story takes place in a different time, and I feel like Hae Joo’s mature enough to understand the magnitude of her decision. Plus, she wasn’t given a choice about school, and we’re given the assurance that she’s going to keep up with her studies and pass the GED. At the same time, with the kind of stuff that Young Choon and Hae Joo have been through together, I feel like they’ve already gotten into the rhythm of sticking with each other through thick and thin. And so, I echo Dong Moon’s sentiment on this one: Hae Joo’s gonna be just fine.
I also found it sweetly heartwarming, that Hae Joo and Jung Hee promise to keep in touch and keep up their friendship. After the many ups and downs in their friendship, thanks to the times that Jung Hee turned away from Hae Joo, it’s just really nice to feel like these two have finally settled into being friends for the long haul, and that a small thing like geography isn’t going to prevent them from staying in touch, and staying accountable, and being besties.
Most of all, I was so pleased for Dong Moon, who finally got his girl. <3 I felt so sorry for him while he was softly crying in the theater, thinking that Jung Hee had stood him up, but I knew in my gut that Show wouldn’t let me down. We’d been seeing Jung Hee’s heart turn to Dong Moon in sure degrees, and I so wanted to reach into my screen and pat Dong Moon on the shoulder, and tell him it was gonna be ok; that his girl would show up, coz she really did like him back. And she did. D’aw. It gave me the goofy grins, to see Dong Moon quite literally over the moon at the realization that Jung Hee had come to the theater, knowing what it meant. Dong Moon getting all beaming-shy-happy-I’m-gonna-explode while walking home with his new girlfriend, was the best note Show could’ve left us on, hands down, and I am grateful.
Thank you, Show, for the warm memories and the feels. <3
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Charming & nostalgic, with lashings of poignantly bittersweet.
FINAL GRADE: A-