Answer Me 1988: Episode 4
This episode is all about the people you can’t help loving, be it ungrateful husbands, nagging wives, unresponsive kids, embarrassing parents, or your oldest friends who call you out on your dumbest mistakes. And we find that there’s pretty much only one way to mend rifts in any of these relationships: one sincere gesture, no matter how small, that comes straight from the heart.
SONG OF THE DAY
Lee Moon-se – “빗속에서” (In the Rain) [ Download ]
EPISODE 4: “Can’t help ~ing”
It’s November 1988, and we begin with another mad dash to school. Deok-sun pulls on her stirrup pants (why did we wear these, really?), Sun-woo eats his mother’s terrible breakfast, and Dong-ryong says goodbye to an empty house since no one’s ever there. Jung-hwan turns down an offer from Dad to give him a ride in the car, saying that he has a ride of his own—his precious Air Jordans, he means.
The bus is so crammed full of students that latecomer Dong-ryong has to crawl through the window to get onboard. Deok-sun is left out on the street, so she hangs out of the open doorway as the bus takes off, which seems crazy. Aaand two seconds later, she’s left sitting in the street.
One day, Deok-sun announces to her family that she’s going to college. They all look at her like she’s crazy, and when she asks for a tutor, Dad tells her to learn from her sister. Deok-sun looks over at Unni Bora with a look of horror, and flashes back to three years ago when Bora tried to teach her algebra and ended up berating her for being so stupid.
Deok-sun says she’d rather die than be tutored by Unni, so then Dad says he heard that this “thing” is great for boosting your concentration. Next thing we know, Deok-sun is sitting across from an incredulous-faced Taek on either side of a baduk board.
Taek asks if she even knows how to play, and Deok-sun nods. He prompts her to make the first move… and she puts a stone down in the middle of a square instead of on an intersecting point. He pretty much gives up right then and there, and suggests eating ramyun instead.
Deok-sun’s parents get invited to eat upstairs with Jung-hwan’s parents, who wanted to share the fish they bought. Deok-sun’s mom marvels at the whole fishes piled high on the table, but it looks like what she’s more envious of is the way Jung-hwan’s dad dotes on his wife and peels the fish for her. In contrast, her own husband chomps down on his fish without even giving her a taste, and steals her rice so that he can eat twice as much.
Jung-hwan’s dad asks how the baduk lessons are going for Deok-sun, and Dad says she quit after the first day. But he heard that this other thing is great for concentration… and we cut to Deok-sun having a staring contest with a Rubik’s Cube.
She tries and tries but can’t seem to get it, and then peers over at Taek, who’s struggling to open a carton of yogurt. It cracks me up, this running thing with the genius who can’t do normal things like feed himself. She offers a trade, and no joke—Taek solves the Rubik’s Cube in the amount of time it takes her to peel open the yogurt and take a bite.
She messes it up and tells him to solve it again, and again, and every time he does it with machine-like precision. Over at Jung-hwan’s house, Hyung is trying to do the exact same thing, with Jung-hwan on a stopwatch to time him.
Deok-sun’s mom gets up early to start her day, and runs into Jung-hwan’s dad out in the yard. He’s carrying a giant sheet of seaweed to cook for his wife because it’s her birthday, and even stops to check on the laundry and pick up shoes on his way in.
Mom watches all that with a little sigh and returns to her own house, where Dad is sleeping the day away. She pinches him in the belly in retaliation, and he hits his son sleeping next to him, thinking it was him.
Jung-hwan’s dad stops him on his way out again, this time to remind him about their dinner plans tonight. Jung-hwan lies that he has night class, but Dad easily catches him in the lie because it’s Saturday and tells him to show up.
Jung-hwan and Deok-sun both stop in their tracks when they reach the yard at the same time, but the awkward moment passes as they revert to their usual bickering. She calls him a moron and says he’ll get caught for wearing those shoes to school, and he calls her the moron and points out the rice still stuck on her face.
She peels it off her face and eats it, ha, while he walks away with the tiniest grin on his face. I love the sneak-grins.
This time Deok-sun manages to get on the bus, but it’s crammed full as usual, and every time the standing passengers are jostled, most of them complain, but there are a fair number of boys who hoot and holler as girls get pressed up against them. Jung-hwan is clearly fixated on Deok-sun, who’s surrounded by a few other boys nearby.
His worry starts to build, and then there’s a really big lurch that sends everyone sliding… and in her haste to keep from falling, Deok-sun reaches out to grab onto Jung-hwan’s shirt. The buttons come popping right off and the shirt just hangs open. LOL. They just freeze like that, too embarrassed to say or do anything.
That night Jung-hwan’s family gets ready to go out for Mom’s birthday, and Dad is the only one excited about it. Jung-hwan is non-responsive, as usual, and Hyung can barely be convinced to leave his room because he’s so obsessed with solving the Rubik’s Cube.
When Mom finally comes out dressed up in her finest, they all gasp in horror and Jung-hwan asks if he can stay home. Still, Dad’s good mood won’t be killed, and he piles the family into the backseat of his dinky company car and drives them to dinner.
At Deok-sun’s house, the dinner table looks especially sparse today, and Dad complains that his favorite dish isn’t on the table. It launches them into a massive fight, with Mom calling him inconsiderate and Dad calling her dumb for not graduating high school. Yikes.
Meanwhile, Jung-hwan’s family arrives at the restaurant and no one really listens to Dad, all insisting on eating different things. When the waiter comes by to take a picture, Dad’s the only one who’s excited.
It’s like pulling teeth to get anyone else in his family to participate in anything, and the waiter stands there awkwardly as he has to convince them to take one damn picture.
He urges them all to smile, and the Polaroid gets left on their table. As the picture starts to form, all we see is Dad’s face with his giant smile.
Sun-woo heads to the library to study, and finds a cassette tape with a piece of candy in his locker. The note says, “All I can give you is this candy [satang],” and the song highlighted on the Byun Jin-sub tape is, “All I Can Give You Is Love [sarang].” It isn’t signed, but we see Deok-sun walking down the street with a bag of candies in her pocket and a smile on her face.
Jung-hwan’s dad comes home with ice cream for his family, only to be met with silence from Jung-hwan (who’s got his headphones on), and a dismissive wave from Hyung (who’s still in his Rubik’s cave). Aw, Dad looks so disappointed at the rejection.
It turns out that Jung-hwan is listening intently to the news report on Taek’s latest match, where he was uncharacteristically bested by a newbie. He showed weakness, and people are speculating on a slump.
Sun-woo is listening to the same broadcast in the library, and turns to tell Dong-ryong about it, only to find him passed out on the floor. When Sun-woo gets home, Mom is on the way out with kimchi pancakes for Taek and his father. She tells Sun-woo not to say anything about Taek’s loss in case he feels bad about it.
Jung-hwan’s dad leaps to his feet in excitement when Jung-hwan steps out of his room, but of course Dad’s silly gags get absolutely zero reaction out of him. I love this kid, but seriously it would suck to be his parents.
Jung-hwan is outside feeding the dog as Deok-sun comes home, and when he hears that she was at the library, he scoffs like it’s not possible. He teases her for the popsicle stains around her mouth, and when Sun-woo comes by to ask her for pencil lead, Deok-sun hides her stained lips. It seems to bug Jung-hwan to see Sun-woo and Deok-sun going downstairs without him.
Taek’s house feels even more quiet than usual today, and Taek sits in front of his baduk board looking a little lifeless. Man, I hope he’s not reliving his losing game. Eek.
Sun-woo’s mom comes by with kimchi pancakes and whispers to Dad that they should just act normal, and Dad agrees, though he’s worried because Taek seems more affected by this loss. Dad sighs to see Taek taking medicine—I don’t know what for, but it appears to be headache medicine.
Jung-hwan’s dad comes to the kitchen for some water in the middle of the night, and discovers the carton of ice cream he brought home earlier, still sitting on the table where he left it. It’s all melted now, because no one bothered to come out.
When Taek’s dad wakes up in the morning, he finds Taek still sitting in the exact same spot, having practiced all night long. Ack, I hope our Taekie isn’t broken!
Deok-sun’s parents tell her to get tutored by Unni, who’s being paid to tutor Jung-hwan. Deok-sun would get to sit in for free, but she refuses to be subjected to it… that is, until she hears that Sun-woo will also be there.
In preparation for tutoring, Deok-sun squeezes into her tightest jeans and plucks her eyebrows, Jung-hwan madly brushes his teeth and scrubs his face until his nose bleeds, and Sun-woo insists on pulling on a wet shirt from the clothesline because it has to be that one. Is there going to be any learning in this tutoring group?
Jung-hwan runs into Dad in the kitchen, and is surprised when Dad responds with barely any energy. Aw, is he mad? Dad refuses to leave the house with Mom, who leaves the house so that she doesn’t bother the tutoring session. The ajummas gather for an afternoon beer out in the street, with the usual chitchat complaining about their husbands.
When Taek’s dad comes out to return a plate to Sun-woo’s mom, the others whisper at her to make a go of it with Taek’s dad. Sun-woo’s mom says he doesn’t say more than two words ever, and argues that she couldn’t marry a man that quiet.
Unni Bora’s tutoring session begins, and they all wonder what Dong-ryong is doing there. They ask if his father the teacher wouldn’t report them if he knew (because private tutoring is illegal), only to find out that his father tutors other kids on Sundays.
Bora checks to see what level everyone is at, and it’s clear right away that Jung-hwan and Sun-woo are the smart kids and Deok-sun and Dong-ryong have little interest in studying. Jung-hwan’s hyung comes out to bring Bora juice and cookies, and heads out to ask Taek about how to solve the last corner of his Rubik’s Cube.
The others tell him that Taek has gone back to the dorms and it’s been hard for them to see him lately too. Taek is playing baduk at the pro training center, and one by one his sunbaes file in with words of consolation. But it only seems to weigh on Taek more when they give him the canned you-can’t-always-win speech.
Back at Bora Academy, Unni gives up on math altogether and asks Deok-sun and Dong-ryong if they know any English. They recite a string of pronouns that they learned, and then chime in with all the other foreign languages they know, via song lyrics. They perform with gusto, and Sun-woo claps and cheers, much to Deok-sun’s joy.
Deok-sun’s parents run into Taek on his way home and Mom makes sure to shush Dad about anything baduk related. They invite him and his father over for dinner, but Taek declines. He runs into Jung-hwan’s mom too, who asks how he’s doing and offers a conciliatory, “Be strong.”
Jung-hwan’s dad is still in his funk and refuses to come to dinner, and Jung-hwan runs out to go see Taek. Mom warns him to be careful about Taek’s feelings.
Deok-sun’s family watches Kim Hye-soo on TV and Dad marvels at how pretty she is. Mom says she was that pretty at nineteen too, and Dad reminds her that they met at eighteen, and they have another fight over who looked worse back in the day.
Deok-sun heads out and her parents yell at her not to bug Taek either, and that they’ve all been taking great care not to make him feel bad. Sun-woo gets the same warning from his mom too.
Taek’s dad cleans up Taek’s room and sighs to find a sea of empty medicine packets near his baduk board. Dad cleans up the shop when the kids start arriving one by one, and he tries to tell all of them that Taek’s not in the best condition right now, but the kids all ignore him like they ignored their own parents and saunter right in.
Taek is near tears sitting in front of his baduk board by himself, and Jung-hwan opens the door. At first he has the same look of pity that everyone else has been wearing around Taek lately… but then he greets him with: “I heard you totally blew it! Good job, bastard. How can I go anywhere when I’m ashamed of my own neighborhood?”
They all come in with similar greetings pointing out his massive loss, not the tiniest bit sensitive or careful. Taek defends himself: “It was a mistake.” Dong-ryong says genius baduk players aren’t allowed to make mistakes, and Taek fights back: “Do I have to win all the time?!”
Dong-ryong: “Yes. You’re not allowed to lose, or be jinxed, or fall into a slump, or poop. Okay, you can poop, but it can’t smell.” They all laugh at that, and Taek does too. Aw.
Jung-hwan tells him this is no time to be laughing, and suggests swearing instead. He demonstrates, eliciting a groan from Deok-sun. Of course, when he prompts Sun-woo to say the same thing, she finds it cool.
They egg Taek on to hurry up and say it, so he finally does and they all burst out laughing. They even make fun of the way Taek swears, and prod him to do better until they’re all shouting curses at the top of their lungs.
Deok-sun turns on the TV and starts a dance party, and they pull Taek up to his feet to dance, their laughter floating all the way out into the street. This is the cutest thing ever. I luff these kids.
Deok-sun’s parents go to a parent-teacher conference at her school, where her teacher is full of praises about her outgoing personality. But then she shares Deok-sun’s grades, and Dad slumps down in utter defeat.
As they stop for dinner, Mom complains that if they had more money, they could’ve gotten Deok-sun a tutor right away, while Dad complains that other moms tutor their own kids. Mom finds fault with everything today, from the way Dad orders without asking what she wants to the way he picks his teeth with his chopsticks at the restaurant. She sighs to see another couple at the next table with the husband feeding his wife tenderly, which only makes her own husband seem even less uncaring.
As they head back out in the rain, Dad grabs his own umbrella and walks out, and Mom finds that someone else has taken her umbrella. She wonders if maybe this is a chance for her to upgrade: “I can’t swap husbands but I can swap umbrellas.” And she grabs a pretty flower umbrella and quietly asks if it belongs to anyone. Satisfied that no one answered, she walks out with it.
Except when she gets outside, she finds that the umbrella has a gaping hole in it and she sighs that this is just her lot in life. But Dad comes back for her and tosses the other umbrella aside so they can share his. He offers his arm and chides, “No matter how much someone else’s things seem better, it’s all in vain.” She takes her husband’s arm with a tiny smile.
Jung-hwan’s mom calls everyone out for kimchi pancakes, but when the boys come out, Dad shuffles into his room and ignores Jung-hwan’s attempt to talk to him. Jung-hwan hangs out with the boys in Taek’s room and slides over to Dong-ryong to ask how to get his father to stop being mad at him.
Dong-ryong says that Jung-hwan’s dad is the world’s easiest person to smooth things out with: “All you have to do is respond.” Ha, you mean to his terrible gags, don’t you?
Jung-hwan’s dad eats ramyun by himself and won’t even eat the kimchi that Mom puts in front of him. The only thing that gets him up is when the door opens, and Mom asks if it’s Deok-sun. Dad does his usual over-the-top gag greeting… only to turn around and find Jung-hwan standing in the doorway.
The most awkward silence passes as Dad stands there with his arm raised in the air, knowing he’ll get nothing in response. But then Jung-hwan does exactly as advised and raises his arm up in the air to mimic Dad.
You can see the look of confusion and shock on Dad’s face as he tentatively reaches his hand out to do the rest of the routine, and though Jung-hwan is awkward as hell, he does every step along with Dad. It ends just as awkwardly as it began, and Jung-hwan just kind of walks away.
Dad stands there blinking, still a little shell-shocked… but then a smile creeps up and he’s back to his old self. Mom notices that he eats her kimchi now, and smiles gratefully.
Deok-sun’s parents are a little less contentious today, and Dad notes happily that Mom made his favorite dish again. Jung-hwan’s dad accidentally sends a toenail clipping flying into his wife’s open mouth and expects to get hit for it, but instead she just picks it out and asks if he wants to have some soju.
As they walk out, we see the family Polaroid taken at Mom’s birthday dinner. Everyone’s smiling broadly along with Dad. Aw.
The radio DJ’s message about the value of familiar, comfortable love fades into Jung-hwan reciting the same passage in his textbook, about how you can’t help loving those who’ve been around you for a long time.
Deok-sun thinks Jung-hwan’s fancy English skills are annoying, and turns to Sun-woo to say, “I am raining.” He corrects her without calling her stupid, which says a lot of his character.
They eat ramyun and Sun-woo asks how the studying is going, and Jung-hwan points out that it can’t possibly be going well when it’s the first time she’s studying in eighteen years. She and Dong-ryong have given up on math altogether, but they think they have a shot with languages and demonstrate with their mastery of the English “can’t help ~ing” phrases like, “I can’t help laughing.”
Dong-ryong says even Taek doesn’t know that. Taek hands Jung-hwan the completed Rubik’s Cube that Hyung was so desperate to solve, and Jung-hwan says that even if Taek started studying for the first time today, he’d still be better than Deok-sun or Dong-ryong.
Taek’s dad calls out for the boys to help carry something in, and Jung-hwan gets left to clean up the table. (They all earn points for not leaving Deok-sun to do it, in my book.) When Jung-hwan picks up the table, his leg cramps up and he shouts, “Cramp [jwi]!”
He tells her to do something, so she goes, “Meow!” because jwi also means “mouse.” She does it again and again until he laughs, and then he’s rolling on the floor cramping and laughing at the same time.
Deok-sun heads out to school on a rainy morning and finds Jung-hwan waiting outside their front gate. She asks if he’s waiting for her, and he scoffs like that’s absurd, when he’s clearly doing that very thing. He says he’s waiting for Sun-woo so she joins him, which gives him a chance to steal little glances at her. But then Sun-woo’s mom tells them he left eons ago, and Deok-sun leaves for the bus.
It’s another bumpy ride as passengers get jostled back and forth, and this time Jung-hwan decides to do something about it. He squeezes his way towards the back of the bus where Deok-sun is and positions himself right behind her, and then creates this little space bubble to keep her from getting tossed around.
He does this entirely by brute force, using his arms to keep them both in place with all of his strength. It’s ridiculous and adorable and totally swoony. Deok-sun notices that she’s not being tossed around before she notices Jung-hwan, which seems impossible since he’s basically surrounding her on all sides.
But she finally turns around and sees him there, and he just looks away, pretending not to notice her looking at him. Then she looks over at his arm, which is practically turning purple with all the veins popping out as he strains to hold them in place, and she cracks a tiny smile.
Augh, how can I not love Jung-hwan when he’s being so cute with his crush? He just grows funnier and funnier with each episode too, revealing that he’s actually just as dorky as his friends and just as thoughtful too, no matter how much he tries to hide it underneath that cool-guy, I-don’t-care façade. His storyline with Dad really made me melt, because of all the kids, he seems the most outwardly embarrassed of his parents and not interested in their feelings at all. So when he took it upon himself to go the dumb gag routine with Dad even though it probably made his insides curdle, I loved him just a little more. Of course his feelings for Deok-sun continue to be adorable (the bus thing totally slayed me), and so far his crush on her is outshining her crush on Sun-woo. At this stage I actually like it that Deok-sun has no clue about his feelings and I hope it continues that way for a while, because the secrecy (and his lack of stealth) is what makes it delightful to watch.
His dad’s arc in this episode really tugged at the heartstrings too, because he suddenly seemed like such a sad clown. He requires so little to make him happy—not even outright appreciation or gratitude, mind you—he just wants his family to be present and responsive, and when he had to force family fun time like that, I felt so bad for him. He might be a childish father and a silly husband, but it’s so obvious that he loves his family more than life itself. Deok-sun’s parents had some pretty tough moments in the last two episodes too, and theirs is a relationship that’s almost too true to life—decades of fighting and nagging where now even the fights have turned into a familiar refrain. But just when it seems like it could take a turn for the worse, Dad always manages to remind Mom that they belong together. And in the end, a hundred gentlemanly gestures from rich, well-mannered men can’t compare to one thoughtful gesture from the man she loves.
But the most moving thing in this episode was Taek’s storyline, which revealed some interesting (and some worrisome) things about his character. I don’t think I could handle it if his headaches aren’t just stress-induced, so he’d better not be taking any more medicine after this, ya hear me? Being a child genius sure isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, even with Taek’s successful winning streak and world-championship fame. He seems stunted in every way that isn’t related to baduk, from basic hand-eye coordination to dealing with the emotional stress of losing. I guess it’s not really a coping skill you ever learn if you’ve never lost before, and it was clear that losing once nearly broke him. It was really tough to watch his reaction as everyone tiptoed around him, or offered those well-meaning words of encouragement that only drove him further into self-loathing hole.
What a perfect twist to have all the adults walk on eggshells around him to preserve the precious boy’s feelings, only to have his friends stomp all over him like they would if Deok-sun had failed another test, or if Jung-hwan had lost a game of soccer. They’d rib each other and be brutally honest, and that’s exactly what Taek needed—to be treated just the same, not any differently because he lost. They frankly don’t care whether he wins or loses, because either way he’s just their friend Taek who can’t use chopsticks, rain or shine. I love their refreshing approach—pointing out the big elephant in the room and swearing at it until it disappeared—not only because it made Taek smile again, but because it showed us that he can be carefree and silly and loud too, and that there are other joys in his life besides baduk. Their unconditional friendship actually teaches him about failure—that it’s okay to lose sometimes, because the people that matter in your life will love you all the same.
- Answer Me 1988: Episode 3
- Answer Me 1988: Episode 2
- Answer Me 1988: Episode 1
- Answer Me 1994 meets Answer Me 1988
- Keeping up with ’80s trends in Answer Me 1988
- Growing up in the neighborhood in 1988
- ’80s fashions and perms galore for Answer Me 1988’s first poster
- Retro bobs and mom jeans for Answer Me 1988
- The gang is assembled for Answer Me 1988