[Revisiting Dramas] Does Answer Me 1997 stand the test of time?
I chose to rewatch Answer Me 1997 for this month’s theme post because, like the characters in the drama, I think of when I first watched it as a much more innocent time for me in terms of drama-watching. It aired just months before I started watching Korean dramas regularly, and in the process of marathoning this drama that I’d heard was so good, I discovered the site that would soon be responsible for changing my life — Dramabeans. Answer Me 1997 was the first drama that I watched while following the recaps closely, because I was new enough to Korean dramas that I wasn’t familiar with the music and historical events that shaped the lives of its characters.
But it still sparked a nostalgia for my own youth, a time when the future lay ahead of me full of potential and promise. I bonded with Shi-won and her friends as I recognized them as kindred spirits, regardless of my very different culture and upbringing. Although I wasn’t familiar with the bands and music that Shi-won loved, and although 1997 was a tiny bit past my own teen years, I remember feeling that passionate about the entertainers of my own time and place (Madonna! Michael Jackson! Nirvana! Prince!).
But now, after having been practically marinated in Korean music, television, and language for the past four years, many of the cultural jokes and pop culture nod-and-wink moments actually make sense to me, and in that sense this rewatch has been tons of fun. Yes, Dramabeans told me why the jokes were funny when I first saw the show, but now I really get it. In particular, the rivalry between the fans of H.O.T. and the Sechskies was hilarious this time around, because not only do I know those groups now, but I also understand the deep and intense love and loyalty a good fangirl has for her oppas. Shi-won’s full-body temper tantrums make more sense, such as when her father ruins her Club H.O.T. raincoat, because now I know how hard it is to get your favorite boy band merchandise!
My shameful secret is that I have a terrible memory for details, so once a drama is over and I’ve moved on to the next one, all but the most broad plot points and dramatic scenes fade away. I can remember the general shape of a show, and the big scenes that had the most impact, but mostly what I’m left with is the emotions that a drama made me feel. In that sense, Answer Me 1997 has remained one of my favorite shows because it made me feel so much, both for the characters and their growing pains, but also for what it made me remember about my own experience as I matured from child to adult. In 1997 I was buying my first home, apprenticing under a master pastry chef, and planning a wedding — it was a very busy and emotional time for me. Answer Me 1997 made me remember how it felt to be on my own, making grown-up decisions as all the while, that voice in the back of my head kept asking, “Who decided it was a good idea to let me be an adult?” (A question I still ask myself often!)
The main, and most obvious, difference between my original watch of Answer Me 1997 and seeing it again now is that when I first watched the drama, all of the actors were new to me. It was early enough in my drama-watching that I wasn’t even peripherally familiar with them, and I went in completely blind. They were mostly rookies then, but in the years since I’ve followed their careers and have become very familiar with them, and have recapped shows with them multiple times. But they made such an impression as the kids from Busan that to this day, this drama is the first thing I think of when any of their names comes up.
There are things about watching a drama for the second time around that will always make the experience very different. The first time I watched, a year after the drama aired, I somehow managed to stay unspoiled in regards to the husband-hunting mystery that would become such an iconic fixture of the franchise. Of course the rewatch loses a bit of its nail-biting quality when you know how the love triangle will turn out, but I still found myself pining right along with Yoon-jae every time the love of his life went out with his big brother. I’d forgotten how frustratingly stoic he is, how he just grows more and more distanced and grumpy with Shi-won, and how she’s so bright and cheerful that at first, she barely even notices.
Speaking of love triangles, Joon-hee’s impossible, unrequited love for Yoon-jae will always be one of my favorite cases of second lead syndrome. Coming so early in my drama-watching career, I had no idea how rare it is to see a same-sex loveline in a drama. Watching Joon-hee pining for Yoon-jae, loving him desperately despite knowing that Yoon-jae could never love him back for so many reasons, was almost harder to watch this time around. I think we all know how much it hurts to love someone that you know will never return your feelings, and Joon-hee’s story just tugged at my heart in such a perfectly painful way that hasn’t softened at all since watching it for the first time.
Answer Me 1997 remains timeless, in a way that feels sweet and innocent, particularly when I think about its spin-offs. While I related more closely with the coming-of-age struggles in Answer Me 1994 and the theme of how family is what you make it in Answer Me 1988, there’s something about the first in the franchise that will always remain my favorite. The way it portrays youth, optimism, and innocence are special in a way that became expected in the subsequent spin-offs, and though they were still executed beautifully, and even had arguably more painful love triangles (never have I been more torn than I was between Garbage Oppa and Chilbongie, and the twist in 1988 still kills me), they didn’t have that same sort of puppy-breath newness to them.
I think that the main thing I learned with this rewatch challenge is that what’s changed isn’t the show or its themes, which definitely hold up even against the changing drama scene in the last five years. The biggest thing that’s changed is me — the way I watch dramas, the way I process and analyze the relationships, the way the themes resonate with me now that I’m a more experienced drama-watcher. A large part of that is the result of recapping dramas for the last few years, and I’ve noticed that it’s even altered the way I watch and enjoy American television. But the question that I went into this challenge asking myself was simple: “Will it be just as good the second time around?” And despite all of the over-analyzation, the answer is no. It’s even better.
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- [Theme of the Month] Challenge! Revisit an old drama
- Theme of the Month: How have your K-drama tastes changed over time?
- Answer Me 1997: Episodes 1-2