K-drama Review: Answer Me/Reply 1997

Monday, September 24, 2012

Answer Me 1997 is my latest another addition to my all time favourite dramas list. It was a show that came out of nowhere for me because I didn't follow any of the news about it beforehand. But after checking it out, I was pleasantly surprised how nostalgic, sweet and poignant this show was. 

Though the drama is about high schoolers and is obviously very relatable to younger audiences, I see it being very appealing for adult viewers just as well. But above all, it's simply a show for people who can still remember what it was like to be young, insecure and going through the lengthy process of growing up and finding yourself.

 Plot summary: 

Back in 1997, spunky Jung Shi Won (Jung Eun Ji of A Pink) was a devoted fan of the boyband H.O.T. At that tumultuous time in life, Shi Won and her gang of friends, including childhood buddy Yoon Yoon Jae (Seo In Guk), fellow H.O.T. fangirl Mo Yoo Jung (Shin So Yul), thoughtful Kang Joon Hee (Hoya of Infinite), charismatic Do Hak chan (Eun Ji Won), and the talkative Bang Sung Jae (Lee Si Yeon)learned their first valuable lessons in love and life. 
In the present, the 30-year- old Shi Won meets up with her old gang at a class reunion, where they catch up and reminisce about the past times. By the end of the night, one couple in the reunion announces their marriage.

SPOILER ALERT! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

 What I liked: 

The elaborate use of flashbacks/flashforwards. I usually find flashbacks in dramas rather tedious. They are overused and, in most cases, unnecessary. Not to mention, oftentimes also very confusing when used too many times in a row. 

But I appreciate how R1997 built its plot entirely on flashbacks and flashforwards. A pretty risky thing to do as it can overwhelm the viewer and make the story lose its focus. Thankfully, the writers of the show put a lot of thought into the general structure of plot and only used flashbacks that were relevant to the story. These sequences gave valuable insight about the characters and their backgrounds. Nothing felt out of place. The writers clearly knew how they wanted to tell the story and by taking us back and forward in time, each following scene had more emotional impact. 

But above all, all the twists and turns in the story came unexpected thanks to this unique plot construction. I loved how the scenes were piled upon one another, from the ordinary to the important, to reveal a certain twist at the end of each episode. (The best example of this is episode 4. It starts out very ordinary, showing characters in simple everyday situations, but unexpectedly culminates in a heartbreaking revelation at the end of the episode.)


The cast and acting. I can't stress enough just how much I loved the cast. It was the perfect ensemble of actors. Each of them was wonderful in their respective role and made it special in their own way. Moreover, the uncontrolled chemistry between them was just lovely to watch. Considering that we had four idol-actors and several relatively beginner actors in our main cast, the series truly impressed me with natural acting performances that made me feel like I was watching real people instead of drama characters. It was definitely a combination of the actors' personal charm and charisma, their devotion and effort to acting, and the director's skill at guiding them. 

Most of all, I was impressed with out leads, Jung Eun Ji and Seo In Guk, whom I'd never seen act in anything before. Although I didn't exactly expect them to completely fail in depicting the characters, I wasn't counting on them to give a very memorable performance either. But against all odds, Eun Ji and In Guk amazed me. Eun Ji's portrayal of the fearless and sassy Shi Won was refreshingly original, while In Guk's emotionally loaded performance made me root the prickly yet adorably lovesick Yoon Jae.

My love also extends to the other cast members, whom I had been either completely unfamiliar with or hadn't had a chance to see in anything noteworthy yet. Shin So Yul was simply adorable, Eun Ji Won amused me with his confidence to make fun of himself, and Lee Shi Un cracked me up more times than I can remember. Song Jong Ho was also charming and won me over as the world's greatest big brother. Hoya was probably the weakest actor out of everyone, but I still enjoyed his understated portrayal of Joon Hee.

A special praise goes to Sung Dong Il and Lee Il Hwa, who were on their own separate level of awesomeness as Shi Won's constantly bickering but ultimately affectionate parents. 


The family ties and friendships. I've said before that oftentimes it's not the romantic relationships in dramas that get me invested the most. If done well, homely interactions between family or sincere friendships can be way more satisfying to watch than romance. 

To me, the interactions within the Jung household (including Yoon Jae and Tae Woong) is one of the most realistic depictions of a family that I've seen in a drama. The everyday bickerings reminded me of so much of my own family, and while watching Shi Won's fights with her dad on numerous occasions I felt like I've had a similar argument with my own parents. Yet small moments, like mom's habit of preparing loads of food for every family gathering, or dad's dramatic freakout over a pack of cigarettes, proved the strength of their family ties. Cause despite all the little fights, they were always there for each other. And the fact that Shi Won's parents loved Yoon Jae and Tae Woong as they were their own children just makes my heart warm and eyes teary.

The same goes for the friendships in the show. 

Especially Shi Won and Joon Hee who always understood and supported each other, although they both cared for Yoon Jae the same way. How much I loved that Shi Won always considered Joon Hee's feelings and saw him as an equal contender to Yoon Jae's heart. 

Or Shi Won and Yoo Jung who got over their fangirl differences and were able to stay friends even through the most epic fanwars. How much I loved Yoo Jung's display of loyalty by getting herself the same ugly haircut as Shi Won. 

Or Yoon Jae and Joon Hee, who stayed the bestest of friends throughout their lives, even if feelings of misguided jealousy could have easily broken their bond. How much I loved that Yoon Jae did not freak out when he found out for whom Joon Hee's heart was beating for and how he didn't act any different towards him.  


The characters. To me, the characters made this drama. Shi Won rocked my socks off as the crazy fangirl willing to camp out at her idol’s house or take part in epic fanwars. But aside from her H.O.T. obsession, Shi Won made way into my heart with her gutsy and straightforward personality, always staying true to her outspoken character. And wasn't it sweet that despite all those heated arguments with her father, she was still a daddy’s girl through and through.  

Yoon Jae, however, could turn me into a piece of jelly with those puppy eyes that were glued to Shi Won. Even if Yoon Jae tried his hardest to hide his feelings behind a moody facade, little did he know that his every emotion was written all over his face. His sincere love for his brother, appreciation of family ties, and unconditional friendship he offered to his close friends made it impossible not to love him.

Meanwhile, Joon Hee broke my heart many times. His thoughtful, soft-spoken and generous personality was simply admirable. And his pure unwavering love for Yoon Jae makes me wish there was another version of this drama where he would get his man.

And although Tae Woong was a threat to my OTP, I just couldn’t possibly hate any older brother who was as caring and protective of his younger sibling as him. In fact, he was more like a father figure to Yoon Jae, and the one who taught Yoon Jae to get up and fight for what he loves.

Yoo Jung, who chopped off her hair for her best friend, and Hak Chan, who was a combination of shyness and charisma, were the funniest, sweetest couple from that first awkward handshake they shared. Their hilarious relationship dynamics cracked me up, yet their love and devotion for each other was no laughing matter.

And then Sung Jae, who was hilarious as well as caring. He came across as an immature guy with a serious foot-in-mouth syndrome, but his kindness towards friends and others in need of help was not to be doubted. He might have looked like the class clown, but in reality he was just guy with a big heart.

And who could forget Shi Won’s parents. The free-minded but protective mom, who made sure there was enough food to last til the end of the world. And the grumpy dad, who despite his bad temper, always put his loved ones first. Their fiery temperament and constant bickering amused me to bits, but it was nothing compared to the way they stayed together in times of hardship.


The soundtrack.
You, soundtrack, complete me. 

As much as I liked Eun Ji and In Guk's sweet duets "All for You" and "Just the Way We Love", it was the rest of the soundtrack that really got me. Thanks to R1997, I found numerous additions to my personal song collection, including Deli Spice’s "Chau Chau" and "Confession", Riaa's "Tears", and Sechs Kies' "Couple". And I even recognized some Western songs like Bee Gees "Holiday" and The Carpenters "Yesterday Once More". But there were lots of other songs that I'm still trying to track down in Youtube. 

What I love about the use of music in this drama is that it does not only compliment the scene, but also amplifies the emotions, giving the scene a lasting impression. Every time I listen to these songs, I imagine that particular scene it was featured in and relive the emotions all over again. And this is exactly the effect a soundtrack needs to have.

The cameos and pop-culture references. I am one of those people who loves easter eggs, little meta-jokes and movie trivia, so the way R1997 made use of its extensive variety of cameos and pop-culture references totally made my geeky self happy. 


 What I didn't like: 

Complaints? I have none. But instead, I take the time to give a small tribute to Dramabeans

I have to admit, without Girlfriday’s recaps I probably would have missed so many things that I ended up cherishing about R1997. As a non-Korean person, I found Girlfriday's recaps absolutely vital as I could not have possibly gotten all the references and jokes in the show if I hadn't read Girlfriday's explanations. I honestly have never been so dependent on a recap as I was when watching this drama. I basically refused to watch the next episode if the recap hadn't been out yet, because I wanted to get the most out of my viewing experience.

So I believe I speak for many, when I say that Dramabeans contributed a lot in making Answer Me 1997 this enjoyable to watch for non-Korean viewers like me.


 Overall conclusion: 

Oh, where to start. This drama stole my heart and I’m still waiting to get it back.

In all seriousness, however, Answer Me 1997 really exceeded my expectations by a mile. With every half an hour-episode it captured the true essence of what it feels to be young. The characters felt so real I could swear those were my own friends and family, and the problems they had were like the confessions from the diary of my teenage self. This show had the heart and warmth that every drama needs to have an personal impact on the viewer.

And then the humor, the romance, the music, the directing, the writing, the cinematography –  there wasn’t a thing that was amiss. This series had everything I wanted and needed. True, it had its weaker points, yet even in it's less steady parts it was still extremely good. But when the drama put in all its might, I was amazed how a show that is about South-Korean teenagers in the year 1997, something that should be so remote and so distant, made a real connection to me.   

But it did. And I am both happy and sad that I've watched this drama. Happy because it was one of my most enjoyable viewing experiences out of everything. Sad because this means that the bar has been raised higher and it will probably take a while til anything comes close to being as awesome as Answer Me 1997.


 Verdict: 

Acting - Goes to show that having an inexperienced cast isn’t an indicator of the acting quality. The show is full of heartfelt performances and awesome characters.

Plot - Like I said, even when it wasn’t as strong as it could have been, it was still extremely good. And when it was strong, it was brilliant. Excellent use of flashbacks and wonderful way of telling a story.

OST - This has got to be the best use of music I have seen in a drama in a while. Such a wide range of songs used in the soundtrack. At times, the music is sweetly nostalgic, in other instances heart-clinchingly poignant..Oh, and LOL at the random sheep sound effects.

Romance - Loved the leading couple to death. Although, Yoon Jae's inability to confess his feelings was often very close to becoming frustrating, I still rooted for him no matter how hard I wanted to scream "For god's sake, make a move already!" I also found our secondary couple super endearing. 

Comedy - Full of witty meta-jokes, hilarious cameos and just overall good humor. The drama made me laugh as many times as it made me wanna cry, and sometimes it made me want to do both at the same time.

Editing and cinematography - The cameras were a little shaky a times, but the editing was unexpectedly well done. You would think that a show with so many flashbacks and flashforwards would get confusing, but no. Everything was smoothly edited and understandable. And I did like the creative use of camera angles. More vibrant colours would have been awesome, tho.

 Final rating: 10       Enjoyment: 10 


 Memorable quotes: 

Shi Won: "An age where you feel like you could love anyone, where you put everything on the line for the smallest of things. Eighteen. Adults say that it’s an age where we laugh if a leaf tumbles by. But back then, we were more serious than any adult, more intense, and had our strength tested. 1997. That was how our eighteen was beginning."
---
Yoon Jae: "When you like someone, you have eyes for her in the sides and the back of your head. And that if you don’t knock, there will be no answer. Standing in place will not get you what you want. There’s no such thing as fair play anymore."
---
Yoon Jae: "Go Stop, a game where you have to match the same shapes to get points. There was a time when we struggled to be the same. But in one moment, we began to be different. That we were becoming different types of people — why was that so hard to acknowledge back then? People are all different; that’s the law of the universe, the law of human growth. Eighteen. We were maturing into different people, and having to accept those differences meant we were faced with yet another consequence of growing up."
---
Yoon Jae: "Bumping into someone on the street, reaching for the same book at the library, or running under someone’s umbrella… I thought that falling in love would be special. I couldn’t imagine… that I’d fall because of something like this. Spring of 1996. My first love began that suddenly."
---


Yoon Jae: "This life that might leap anywhere — there’s no use avoiding or ignoring it. There’s just facing it and getting beaten to a bloody pulp. But at times life can surprise us with gifts that make our hearts flutter. And if we endure sadness, we are rewarded with happiness."
---
Tae Woong: "You have to be content with a dream that’s close. If you chase after one that’s far away, your heart will hurt and your insides will burn. A futile passion only leaves heartache. That’s why life’s stupidest thing is a one-sided love. But the reason that stupid one-sided love is worth trying is… that passion can sometimes make miracles happen… sometimes go the long way around to help you fulfill a dream… and even if it doesn’t allow you to realize that dream, it allows you to linger near it and find happiness."
---
Yoon Jae: "They say that people are born with a red string that they can’t see, tied to their pinky fingers, and the end is tied to the one you’re fated to be with. But the thread is twisted this way and that, making it hard to find the other end."
---
Joon Hee: "The reason I like you? Because you’re that person. Because you’re you. Is there another reason besides that one? I’d rather know the reason if there was one. Then I could find a way to not like you. If I can’t avoid it, then there’s only one thing I want: to remain by your side, unchanged, for long time. Here’s to heartache. To love."
---


Shi Won: "There are relationships of differing levels of difficulty. To me, Yoon-jae was the easiest of them, to explain or to maintain: that of childhood playmates. But on this day, contrary to everything I knew, I discovered… that there might be the possibility that we’d be the most difficult kind of relationship in the world. The relationship with the highest level of difficulty: that of a man and a woman."
---
Yoon Jae: "Each expecting different things, each looking at different places, each dreaming different dreams… everything that happens between one man and one woman, is just continuous love and war. You sulk, you pacify, you fight, you make up, you hurt, you embrace. A relationship like a manic-depressive patient who can’t make up his mind. But the hardest thing about the relationship between a man and a woman is the timing — if the love doesn’t begin at the same time, it’s unlikely to ever begin at all."
---
Hak Chan: "The one benefit to that top-degree-of-difficulty relationship between a man and a woman is… one word can overturn its mood at any time."
---


Shi Won: "My body remembered my ’90s. The moment I saw the person I had once been crazy about, I immediately returned to that ’90s fangirl, and my ’90s, which I thought were over, began all over again…"
---
Yoon Jae: "A person’s heart can’t be turned on and off like a switch. Once it’s turned on… it won’t turn off."
---
Yoon Jae: "First love is reckless. Without calculating, it throws everything in with pure passion, and inevitably fails. But that’s why it’s dramatic — the reckless tales wrapped up in experiences or feelings that you can never have again."
---
Yoon Jae: "Succeeding at first love is nice too. There’s comfort that’s even better than your favorite sweater, but also an excitement that you can find when you’re tired of that comfort. As childhood playmates, as first loves, as lovers, and as husband and wife, we live through the same times, share the same memories, and grow old together. A familiar excitement. It’s nice."
---
Yoon Jae: "It was fiery and pure, the time I long for. Do you hear me? If you hear me, answer, my ’90s Me."

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20 comments

  1. I-totally-agree-with-you!!!!! <3 Btw. What's OTP? :<

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    1. OTP means One True Pairing. It's basically the main couple who ends up together in the end, in this case it's Shi Won and Yoon Jae. But people often say OTP when they mean the couple who should end up together in their opinion, for example second male lead + the female lead.

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    2. Thank you so much for the explanation. Been wondering what OTP really means in the past. :))

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  2. Lovely recap! This show also ran away with my heart! We really should find a way to get them back! ^^

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    Replies
    1. Well, there are rumours that the show will have second season. Though, I'm not sure whether the production team will be able to pull it off for the second time.

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    2. I heard they want to set it in 1994 but I'm also iffy about a sequel! I feel like Reply 1997 was a one time sort of thing. It was a unique drama with the whole baby-daddy mystery, flashbacks and flashforwards, a simple and heartwarming tale of romance, friendship and family and managed to bring out a sort of nostalgia in us all but if they do make a sequel I would most definitely tune in to see what Shin PD and his team of talented writers have up their sleeves. Hopefully the cast will be as great as that of 1997's and that they also utilize mostly unknowns!
      -autumn93

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    3. I also felt like it was a one time thing, it came at the right time and did the right things, a lucky shot.
      I'm pretty sceptical about sequels, Dream High 2, for instance turned out to be one of the worst dramas I've finished this year. But if they decide to do it then they have to really commit to it by finding a great cast and using a story that gets people the same way the first season's did.

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    4. Yeah, sequels tend to disappoint especially if you come in with high expectations as a sequel to such a wonderful series like Reply 1997 is likely to generate! We will just have to believe in the director when he says: "But this doesn’t mean we will go at it without any plans. I believe just making a sequel based on the popularity of the first season and creating a shoddy remake-like production would only negatively affect the critically-acclaimed first season. This is not something we believe the fans or viewers would want either.”
      -autumn93

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    5. It's great that the director acknowledges the fact that they can't mess this up. But I'm trying not to get my hopes up because it would be quite impossible to top the first season. It's the feeling that they really need to get right, among other things like the cast and the writing. So for now, I'll just wait and see how things will turn out.

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    6. Fingers crossed! I really want the crew to succeed and bring us another drama as good (or close) as Reply 1997! It's been a long while since k-dramaland has produced a drama that was of that quality (I have high hopes for School 2013 but am waiting 'til all of it is realeased before I start my marathon ;D )!
      -autumn93

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  3. I feel the same way. If it wasn't for dramabeans I wouldn't have watched it...and I also waited for every single recap to make the episode fully apreciated (as I'm from Argentina)
    and I also believe THIS IS THE BEST of all times. Seo In Guk and Eunji, pure talent

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, Dramabeans really helped us all appreciate the show better. There were so many little things I wouldn't have picked up if I hadn't read the recaps.

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  4. I want Reply 1997 season 2. :)

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  5. Where can I watch or download Answer Me 1997? I've read Dramabeans and Girlfriday's recaps and I totallyyyy enjoyed reading the recaps.. BTW, thanks for the review. It made me want to watch the drama all the more. :) I'm from the Philippines, and it's not available at dramafever in our country. Pft!!

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    Replies
    1. You can watch it online at Dramacrazy.net or download it at Asiatorrents.me :)

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    2. Thanks for your suggestions Indigo..:) I've tried Dramacrazy and mysoju before still not available in our country.. booo!! I'll check it Asiatorrents..:) Thank you so much!

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    3. Yey!!! Chajatda! Jeongmal Kamsahamnida...^_^

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  6. You know about the fandom thing, it is interesting to see how girls fight LITERALLY with each other to protect their oppas in the past (can't forget the epic scene of HOT and SK fans fighting with each other under the rain), but these days, there are only FANWARS ONLINE or PETITIONS. It is truly reflective of the reality that everything seems to be so complicated nowadays. In the past they can forgive each other so easily about the whole 'oppa' conflict (like between the 2 friends), but now, fanwars can be just downright childish and immature, and sometimes even IDOLS have to stand up.....

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    Replies
    1. Well, that's Internet for you. Everybody gets to stay anonymous and they never have to take responsibility for the things they say or post online. Fans are probably way more aggressive and hateful online than they would be in real life. Plus, everything that you write on the internet stays there for everyone to read and those things are never deleted, so the same issue between different fandoms or the same rumour about an idol gets picked up again and again.

      Yet, even though everything happens online, they still cause quite noticable problems for the stars in real life. Netizens are usually much easier on actors and actresses, but they have so much power over idols that it quite honestly just scares the crap out of me.

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