Answer Me 1988: Episode 5
This one’s a heart-twister, but then again, aren’t they all? This season’s focus on family was a pretty spectacular move, because instead of yanking our chains about guessing at people’s future husbands, we’re instead completely engrossed in our characters’ present lives, and everyone and their mother—literally—gets a fully formed character with a backstory and a chance to shine.
SONG OF THE DAY
Oh Hyuk – “소녀” (Girl) for the Answer Me 1988 OST [ Download ]
I don’t normally pause to introduce background history on the Answer Me series, since most of the historical and cultural context is tangential. But the political landscape is an important part of this episode, so I thought a swift intro would help, in case you begin the episode wondering what in the hell is going on.
The 1980s were an extremely volatile time in Korean politics, marked by the rule of a military dictator, Chun Doo-hwan, who named himself president and was in office from 1979 to 1988. His militant rise to power sparked mass democratization movements across the country, and he was responsible for one of the nation’s great tragedies—the Gwangju Massacre—in 1980, in which hundreds of student protestors were killed using military force.
The democratization movement continued throughout the decade, led in most part by university students. It was extremely dangerous activity that had to be carried out in secret via book clubs and student organizations, because protestors were regularly met with military force, detained without cause, and tortured.
The torture and death of a Seoul University student in 1987 helped to spur a mass demonstration in June of that year, which succeeded in forcing the government to hold democratic elections. It was in 1988 that Chun Doo-hwan stepped down and Roh Tae-woo took office, though it wasn’t exactly a change in the tide (he was one of the key figures in Chun Doo-hwan’s administration and was a military general during the Gwangju Massacre), and student protests continued throughout his term as well.
In November of 1988 (where this episode begins) ex-president Chun Doo-hwan apologized publicly to the nation and slinked off to live in a temple, and students were outraged yet again that he wasn’t held responsible for his crimes. (It wasn’t until 1995 that both Chun and Roh were indicted in a public trial for their involvement in Gwangju.)
Needless to say, it was a dangerous time to be a student protester, but they were also on the front lines of a decades-long battle against corrupt governments, and enacted real change. But it was a frightening time for their families as well, because anyone caught protesting was regularly tear-gassed, beaten, or arrested, or worse.
EPISODE 5: “Preparation for winter”
As Jung-hwan’s mom puts out a used coal briquette on a chilly day, the front page of the newspaper catches wind and sticks on the wall, showing a picture of ex-president Chun Doo-hwan in his public apology to the nation.
At Deok-sun’s house, the kids look at the TV and guess that Dad might be a little late today. The news shows protesters running through streets filled with tear-gas, and troops advancing on them to quell the demonstration.
Dad is, in fact, hurrying down that very street with a handkerchief over his mouth, trying to stay out of the way as he makes his way home. As he turns a corner, a young man with scrapes on his face suddenly walks up beside him and links arms with Dad. He’s got his head down and he looks nervous, and two officers are right behind him.
Dad tries not to show his nerves and just keeps walking ahead with the young man, though they’re clearly both sweating in fear. The officers are practically on top of them and they’re inches away from being yanked off the street…
At the last second, Dad throws his arm around the young man and scolds him like his son, warning him to stick to his studies and not join in protests like those other students. The officers stop and turn around at that, and phew, the coast is clear.
The student bows in gratitude, and Dad takes out the last bill in his pocket and gives it to the young man to go buy something to eat. Ugh, don’t make me cry already, Dad! He tells the kid to clean up before going home too, probably thinking of his parents’ worry.
When Dad gets home, Mom asks if he can’t take a different subway station to and from work to avoid the demonstrations, but he points out that they’re surrounded by universities on all sides. Unni Bora isn’t home yet, and Dad just assumes she’s out studying late as always.
But when Bora walks in, they all start wheezing—the smell of tear-gas is unmistakable on her. Dad is livid, and asks if she’s been out protesting. He asks if she’s lost her mind and wants to see him dead, but Bora is stone-faced and argues, “I’ve done nothing wrong!”
The others have to hold Dad back as he screams at the top of his lungs, but Bora shouts back that Dad doesn’t know anything, and slams her door shut. Mom tries to mediate, but Dad is inconsolable and shouts to his deceased parents that their granddaughter has lost her mind and is going to piss away her future as a student protester.
In her room, Bora quietly takes off her jacket and rolls up her sleeve to dab at the bloody scrapes down her arm. She takes out her books, and tucked inside is a note detailing when and where the next demonstration will be. Clearly this is not just a passing fancy for her.
Mom tells the other ajummas about it, and Sun-woo’s mom is shocked and worried. Jung-hwan’s mom says that all college students protest these days, but it’s fine as long as she’s not the one standing out in front. Mom sighs over the fight between Bora and Dad, and the other ajummas wonder why that daddy-daughter pair isn’t on good terms.
Their attention is diverted when Lee Jong-won is on TV in a commercial, and Deok-sun’s mom guesses that everyone’s going to be copying his big chair-fall move and breaking a lot of furniture in the process.
Sure enough, the boys’ classroom is gathered in a circle around Sun-woo, as he reenacts the commercial perfectly. They’re so geeky. Jung-hwan is up next, but chickens out and asks Sun-woo to show him again. But this time Sun-woo comes crashing down in a big fall, and Jung-hwan piggybacks him out of class as they run to the nurse.
Next thing we know, Sun-woo is lying in bed with a sprained ankle. His mom is sick with worry, and runs to the store to go buy groceries. She gazes at the bananas wistfully (geez, one friggin’ overripe brown banana costs 2000 won, while her entire bag of veggies costs 700 won), and then comes home with her best compromise—banana milk.
Deok-sun feeds Sun-woo his banana milk, and he tries to get her to go home because she’s hovering. Deok-sun tells Jung-hwan to leave instead, and that gets him all jealous and riled up: “What’re the two of you going to do when I’m gone?” Ha. Sun-woo tells them to stop fighting and kicks them both out instead.
Sun-woo’s mom sighs to see her stores thinning out: She’s out of rice, out of money, and down to her last coal briquette. In contrast, Jung-hwan’s parents sit at home waiting for their order of coal to arrive—all one thousand briquettes. Good grief.
The two moms meet in the street as Sun-woo’s mom is carrying home the two briquettes she just bought, and Jung-hwan’s mom tells her not to cook tonight because she made abalone for Sun-woo.
Sun-woo’s mom says that she’s preparing for her mother-in-law’s arrival, and Jung-hwan’s mom gets livid on her behalf as she remembers how that woman treated her in the past, blaming her for her son’s death and acting like she was the only one who lost him. Sun-woo’s mom laughs at her being more upset than she is, but happily borrows her vest when Jung-hwan’s mom offers to lend it to her.
That night Grandma comes to visit and comes out after talking with Sun-woo in his room. Honestly, I thought Jung-hwan’s mom was exaggerating a little, but yeeesh, this lady is awful. She does nothing but criticize Mom for every little thing, accusing her of starving her grandchildren, not heating the house enough to let them catch cold, not having enough class to wear anything better. She still laments the fact that her son married “a thing like you,” and asks if she’s purposely looking pathetic to prove some kind of point to her.
Finally, after years of just taking this kind of abuse from her, Mom says with tears in her eyes that she’s a precious daughter to her mother too, and she’s not going to take this anymore. She says that she’s going to raise her children well and put them through college if she has to cut off her own hair to do it, and tells Grandma that she’s no longer welcome in their house.
Grandma is huffy all the way out the door, and shoves an envelope of money for the grandkids at her. But Mom chases her down the street to give it back to her, insisting that she can raise them on her own. She cries as she pours herself a drink that night, and when she remembers the abalone porridge that Jung-hwan’s mom made for Sun-woo, she sighs that strangers are better than family.
In the morning, Jung-hwan’s mom learns that Taek is home and calls him over to pick up their portion of the abalone porridge that she made. She starts rattling off instructions for how to warm it up, then realizes that she lost him halfway through the conversation and just sends him on his way, heh.
He runs in Jung-hwan on his way out, and when Taek asks why he isn’t at school, Jung-hwan points out that it’s Sunday and then sighs jealously at Taek’s life. They head outside together, where they run into Deok-sun getting the morning paper in her PJs.
She doesn’t care what she looks like in front of them, but then Sun-woo comes by and she turns around to make sure she’s clear of eye boogers and drool marks, just in case. He’s here to borrow a dictionary, and Jung-hwan and Taek seem to find it a little odd.
Jung-hwan thought Sun-woo had that book already, but rationalizes that it’d be cheaper to borrow Deok-sun’s copy, since it would be like new. Sun-woo insists on going downstairs with her to get the book, and the other boys watch them intently.
At Jung-hwan’s house, Mom’s day is filled with a flurry of activity. The three men in the house can’t lift a finger without calling out to her for every little thing—cooking, unclogging the toilet, crying over a paper cut, asking for the newspaper. It’s like a house with three grown babies.
Deok-sun shovels her breakfast in and hurries off to the library to study, and Dad marvels at the change in her. Little Bro No-eul points out that it’s her first day going to the library, but Deok-sun says it’s the start that matters. She basically spends her whole morning starting—cleaning, setting up her desk and her study schedule—and then lies down for a nap.
Bora left early to study as well, and Dad worries that she’s off at another protest or something. Mom insists that she has a big test coming up and went to the library. On TV, Lee Mi-yeon’s famous chocolate commercial comes on, and No-eul sighs, “Wouldn’t it be nice if Lee Mi-yeon were my sister?” She will be in 27 years! Adorably, Dad scoffs that Deok-sun is way prettier than that girl.
Deok-sun dreams that she’s the star of that commercial, with Sun-woo as her trench coat boyfriend smiling back at her. She drools happily while sleeping on the floor of the library. At the same time, Jung-hwan smiles while dreaming the same thing, only this time he’s the the trench coat boyfriend and Deok-sun buries her face in his chest.
Jung-hwan, Hyung, and Dad are lying around in front of the TV as Mom continues to work around the house, and they don’t even get up to answer the damn phone when it’s right there.
Mom finds out that Grandma injured her ankle and has to head down to the country for two days, and begins this hilarious tutorial on how to survive, taking the three boys around the house to show them where their underwear is, how to change the coal briquettes, and what to feed themselves so that they don’t starve.
She has the hardest time actually leaving, and Dad has to shoo her out of there for her to finally go. They act somber as she walks away, but then the minute she’s out of sight, they run inside and pants start coming off. LOL.
They’re all stripped down to their boxers in a matter of seconds, and Dad parks it in front of the TV with Jung-hwan, while Hyung eats the most disgusting concoction of rice, mayonnaise, margarine, and sugar.
Deok-sun sleeps the whole day away in the library then heads home for dinner, where Dad sings her praises for working hard and says he’d be delighted if she just studied half as much as Unni. On TV, the news is reporting on another student protest, and uh-oh… it’s taking place where Bora’s note instructed her to be.
Sure enough, No-eul’s eyes widen when he notices Bora on TV, and he quietly nudges Deok-sun to look. They try to distract Dad, but Mom sees it—Bora on front lines of the protest. Eek. Dad sees it too, and there’s no explaining away this one. She’s one of the students with her fist in the air and chanting, out in front of everyone.
Mom and Dad get up immediately and start putting their coats on, and panic settles over the whole family. Are they going to try and find her in that crowd? But just as they’re about to run out the door, Bora trudges in, bloodied up and bruised, but she doesn’t look too badly injured. Oh thank goodness.
Mom just hugs her fiercely in relief, and checks to make sure Bora isn’t hurt. But Dad is beside himself and grabs her by the collar and asks if she’s totally lost her mind. He says that if she gets arrested, that’ll follow her for the rest of her life, and she’s not just ruining her whole life—she’s putting their entire family in danger.
He asks what she’s going to do about her mother, who’s lived her entire life for her children, and asks how Bora could go to demonstrations knowing that she’s putting her mother in harm’s way. Dad screams that he’s going to cut off all her hair, and Mom tries to get her to say that she’s sorry and won’t do it again.
But Bora is as stubborn as ever, and screams, “Why? What did I do wrong?!” Dad declares that she’s not leaving her room until she apologizes and swears that she’ll never protest again, and he tells Mom not to give her a drop of food or water until she complies. Mom cries and pleads with Bora to say that she’s sorry, but Bora repeats that she’s done nothing wrong and stomps off to her room.
Bora buries herself under the covers as Dad’s voice comes through the walls, lamenting how much they starved and sacrificed so that she could have a bright future and not be lacking for anything in this world. His voice breaks as he asks how she could drive a nail into her parents’ hearts when she knows this.
Deok-sun seeks out Dong-ryong’s advice over the matter, scared that her sister will be arrested just like all of her sunbaes. Dong-ryong says it’s okay—they let you go as long as you sign a document saying that you were in the wrong, but that makes Deok-sun feel worse because she knows Bora will never admit that.
Jung-hwan arrives at Taek’s and immediately gets jealous when he sees Dong-ryong and Deok-sun there alone, and asks what they’re doing. They think he’s the weirdo for asking, and Dong-ryong throws an arm around Deok-sun, which only makes it worse.
Deok-sun gets up to go to the library, and I love Jung-hwan’s dumbfounded reaction at that. The boys worry that it’s dangerous to be out this late by herself, but Deok-sun says she’ll be home before midnight.
The phone rings in Taek’s room and Dong-ryong passes the message along to Jung-hwan that his dad is hungry and wants him to make dinner. Dinner is pretty much a disaster at Jung-hwan’s house, and in the end the boys just throw everything in to a giant bowl and mix it until it’s vaguely edible. The soundtrack tells us that it’s basically dog food, but they don’t seem to mind.
Mom and No-eul get ready for bed and peer over at Dad, who’s parked himself in front of Bora’s door. Pfft, gee Dad, where do you think she gets her stubborn streak from? He refuses to budge in case Bora tries to escape, and plans to spend the night sitting up like that.
It’s getting late but Deok-sun still isn’t home (because she fell asleep again, naturally), and Jung-hwan forces himself to stay awake at his desk, even while he’s nodding off. It isn’t until he hears Deok-sun’s footsteps and her announcing herself to her parents that his bedroom light goes out. Awwww.
Sun-woo’s mom gets a call from her brother about him hurting his ankle on the job, but then she hears that her mother is coming up to visit them in Seoul, and Mom goes into a full-on panic.
At Deok-sun’s house, Dad’s dark circles are halfway down his face after a night of guarding Bora’s door. He’s even taken the day off of work to stay vigilant in his watchdog duties, and Mom sighs when he refuses to let Bora eat breakfast.
Jung-hwan’s house is a disaster zone, and by morning the heat has gone out and the toilet is stopped up again. Thankfully Hyung is good for some things, and manages to fix what’s broken.
Sun-woo’s mom runs around like a headless chicken all morning, getting her house ready for Mom-level inspection. She’s out of rice, so she runs over to Jung-hwan’s house in her socks and carries out a bag of rice to borrow for the day.
She does it again to fill her empty fridge, and then again to fill her vanity counter, each time running out of Jung-hwan’s house with another armful of things. She starts enlisting Hyung’s help as well, and when they’re done, her shed is full of coal briquettes too.
Mom visits and is only there for all of ten minutes before she runs off again. But she notices the shed full of coal and smiles to see that her daughter is living well. She knows that her mother was here to make sure that she’s doing okay on her own, and laughs at everything she went through this morning to prepare for her visit.
Deok-sun’s dad is still guarding Bora’s door, and when he complains about the meager lunch that Mom gives him and asks for an egg, Mom says they’re all out. She can’t eat with her child locked up and starving, and goes outside to pace in the yard.
When she runs into Jung-hwan’s dad taking out a jar of liquor, she suggests that he drink with her husband since he took the day off. The dads share a drink and sigh over their eldest children, and Jung-hwan’s dad sighs that they were too easy on Hyung.
Mom uses the opportunity to sneak food into Bora’s room, though Bora is in no mood to eat. She buries herself in bed and refuses to eat, so Mom finally just leaves the bowl of food by her pillow and tells her to eat it later. We see that it’s topped with the last egg that she withheld from Dad.
Sun-woo’s mom discovers an envelope of money in her bathroom with a note from her mother, calling her “my pretty daughter” and apologizing for not being able to give her much. She tells her to buy herself something pretty to wear, and Mom sniffles back tears.
She goes outside to look at the laundry she put on the clothesline in her haste to prep for her mother’s visit, and now notices that her underwear and socks are full of holes. She wipes her tears and wonders how her mother caught that. Dude, moms notice EVERYTHING.
Deok-sun’s mom comes back home to find Dad passed out in bed. She goes in to check on Bora too, but she’s gone. Oh noes. Mom goes door to door in the neighborhood looking for her in the rain, to no avail.
Bora is out at a payphone talking to someone, and then when she heads back out into the rain, she sees two officers tailing her out of the corner of her eye. She darts around a corner and tries to hide, but she can’t fold her umbrella fast enough and they catch her. They already know her name—they’ve arrested everyone else from the last protest and they’ve come for her.
She denies that she was at the demonstration, which they obviously don’t believe because her face was plastered all over the news. They’re about to take her away when Mom’s voice rings down the street, and she comes running to them while getting soaked in the rain.
She stands in front of Bora and says her daughter didn’t do anything, swearing that her daughter isn’t that kind of student. She rambles on and on about what a bright, hardworking student Bora is, and how proud everyone is, in their family and in their whole neighborhood.
The whole time Bora looks angry, but then she notices Mom’s toe soaked in blood, from where she stubbed it the other day. She’s run herself ragged trying to find her, and is pleading with the officers that her child wouldn’t do such things. Bora stifles back tears and finally blurts, “I was wrong! I was wrong! I was wrong! I’ll go to the police station.”
Mom screams and wails and tries to stop them, but they push her aside and take Bora away. Adult Bora narrates that sometimes she was ashamed of her mother and often got mad at her for not having any pride: “I just didn’t know it then, that it was because she had something more precious than herself to protect—me.”
She says that people are strongest when they’ve tossed aside their pride: “Mom is strong.” Sun-woo’s mom nags her brother over the phone for getting hurt, and asks to speak to Mom. But as soon as she hears her mother’s voice, she can’t stop the tears from coming, and cries to her mother in loud wailing sobs. Sun-woo sees his mother breaking down.
Bora’s narration continues, “They say that God couldn’t be in all places at once and so created mothers. Even when I become a mother, my mother is my guardian angel, and calling her by the name Mother makes my heart choke up. Mom is strong.”
Bora paces in a holding cell at the police station, as Mom and Dad sit across from the officers. Dad goes outside for a smoke and Jung-hwan and Taek’s dads arrive to check on them. Dad says that they’re letting Bora out, and Jung-hwan’s dad advises him to really be stern this time so that she knows she’s in trouble.
But Dad sighs, “What should I yell at her for when she didn’t do anything wrong?” The other dads remind him that he quit smoking, and Dad says he did. And then he smokes his cigarette anyway.
Mom stands outside of the holding cell, refusing to take her eyes off of Bora for one second. She just stands there spilling tears and holding a banana to give her when she’s out.
Sun-woo’s family gathers around a banana at their house too, and Sun-woo divides it in half and gives the big piece to his baby sister, and then splits the other in half for him and Mom. When she refuses, he won’t eat his piece until she eats hers.
Jung-hwan’s house is still a pigsty when he comes home from school, and everyone freezes when Hyung answers the phone and announces, “Mom is at the terminal.” Suddenly everyone’s racing around trying to clean and remove all traces of their momless bender.
I’m nervous for them as Mom comes home and looks around, but to her surprise, everything looks exactly as it should be. She finds all the side dishes eaten, the laundry put away, and the heat working as it should be. The boys are all proud of themselves, but Mom goes to her room in a sour mood.
Jung-hwan asks Dong-ryong about it, and when he returns home, he heads straight to the kitchen and burns Hyung’s hands on the stove and calls out, “Moooom, Hyung burned his hands!” Then he goes outside to where Dad is changing the coal briquettes and knocks them over on purpose, and calls out, “Mooooom, Dad broke the briquettes again!” Omg, why are you SO ADORABLE?
Then he goes to his room and digs through all of his drawers and calls out, “Mooooom, have you seen my shorts?” She’s right there every time to fix the problem, complaining the whole time that they couldn’t live without her. And just like that, her mood is lifted and she joins Dad for a snack, and Jung-hwan smiles.
Flashback to Dong-ryong’s answer to Jung-hwan: “Do you know why your mom is in a bad mood? Because you guys were doing so well. Because you were doing so well, even without Mom.” The wise one has spoken.
As Jung-hwan’s family laughs together over a late-night snack, Bora narrates that often, by the time you realize that you want to tell your mother that you’re sorry or grateful, too much time has passed. She says that the best thing to make a mother is simply to say, “Mom I need you,” and that one thing is enough.
Jung-hwan sits up late as always, waiting for Deok-sun. But on this rainy night, she’s especially late and still not home past two in the morning. Deok-sun finally wakes up at her desk and gasps to see the time, and runs out with her backpack overhead to shield herself from the rain.
She turns the corner from the library and stops in her tracks. There’s Jung-hwan, standing on the corner with an umbrella. You slay me, kid.
He holds the umbrella over her and puts it in her hand. He simply says, “Come home earlier,” and walks away. Kyaaaaaaaaaa.
In the morning, Jung-hwan steps out and sees Sun-woo hobbling up from Deok-sun’s house. This time he’s there to borrow a sewing kit, and when Jung-hwan says he’s heading out to buy batteries, Sun-woo says he has some at his house.
Jung-hwan heads inside alone while Sun-woo goes to the bathroom, and mocks him for alphabetizing his books. He digs around and finds batteries in the drawer, and laughs to see that Deok-sun’s dictionary was brand new, just as he suspected.
But then he sees something that gives him pause. It’s the exact same dictionary, and it’s Sun-woo’s. Eep.
Sun-woo comes in to find Jung-hwan standing there holding both dictionaries, and Jung-hwan looks down at the sewing kit in Sun-woo’s hand, and out to the living room where his mother is currently using her big sewing kit to mend a blanket. They look at each other, and no words are spoken, but I’d say that a lot of things are said.
That was a nerve-racking episode. I was seriously worried about Bora, though honestly I don’t think she’s in the clear yet, because she seems headstrong enough to keep going out there even after her arrest. I’m still waiting for the show to reveal more of Bora’s perspective and her inner thoughts, because she’s an interesting mix of contradictions and I still feel like we’re on the outside with her. It was nice to have today’s voiceover coming from her, which is a good place to start since the episode focused very much on how her actions affect her family. It was especially heart-wrenching to see Dad go through such different emotions throughout the episode, because he was so sympathetic to the young man he helped on the street, then so angry and overprotective of Bora, only to reveal in the end that he’s entirely sympathetic to her cause—he’s just also her father, and would rather die than see her get hurt.
I thought it was brilliant to have Dad basically hold a one-man protest in order to convince his daughter not to protest, and fail to see the irony in it. It’s obvious that they don’t get along because they’re exactly alike, and she’s stubborn as a mule because he’s stubborn as a mule, and she’ll never back down because he’d never back down. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dad did similar things in his youth and drove his parents crazy too. But it only went on to prove that Mom was the glue that held them together, because with Dad and Bora constantly at each other’s throats and refusing to give in, Mom was the only one who could get through to her, even when Bora probably vowed not to let family guilt stand in the way of her principles. What really sold the impact of Bora’s storyline was the way Mom and Dad played their fear—in very different ways, but both violent, ferocious reactions to protect their daughter at all costs.
Sun-woo’s mom had a great moment in the spotlight in this episode as well, illustrating how a daughter remains a daughter, even when she’s a mother herself. Running around to clean up and prepare for her mother’s visit just felt so true to life, and it struck me how much of what went on in today’s episode was all about people trying not to worry their mothers. Which, go figure, is often not what makes mothers feel better. As we saw with Jung-hwan’s mom, all mothers ever want is to feel needed. I really hope that there are better days ahead for Sun-woo’s family, because it’s hard to see Mom worrying over rice and coal with a brave face. But the neighbors and the way they’re always taking care of each other make me think that they’ll always be safe and sound, because they’re part of a bigger family. And until better days, it’s the little things—the joy of a banana that they can’t afford—that keeps them going.
I love that Jung-hwan’s moment of growth with Dad was mirrored with Mom in today’s episode. It was unexpected because their storyline was mostly a comical thread (a welcome one in today’s heavy episode), and I was expecting Mom to yell at the boys for being lazy bums and never lifting a finger to help her around the house. They weren’t even a pleasant, carefree kind of messy—they were totally disgusting, and Mom’s absence me ME miss her because they were so gross. What’s adorable is that Jung-hwan is sensitive enough to know when his parents are mad but doesn’t ever know why, but he always finds a way to make it right. I can’t get over how cute his crush is either, with his growing jealousy any time Deok-sun is alone with one of the other boys, or the way he secretly waits up for her every night. Gah. When he showed up with that umbrella, tossed out the one line and just walked away? I was a goner. Oh who am I kidding, you had me at the bus last week.