Don’t Leave the Maknae Unattended: Answer Me 1994

In fantasy, the most successful books have internal consistency – the rules binding magic and/or magical creatures make sense. There’s no pulling rabbits out of a hat without some kind of payment, whether in skill or in physical capacity.

I’m finding the romance has to be the same way for me. The relationship between the characters HAS to have internal consistency or the story just falls flat. Out of character moves for the sake of drama just don’t cut it.

The Answer Me/Reply series has been internally consistent the entire way through for me. I think a large part of this comes from the world-building. The setting may not be fantasy, but it’s thoroughly built on a certain socioeconomic foundation, with the same people living their lives in the same contained location for a number of years. It’s life under a microscope, and you can’t escape inconsistencies under a microscope.

Unni Amber told me there were huge ship wars for this drama. Doesn’t surprise me. I was torn between the two male leads until the very last episode, and for good reason: They’re both good, loyal, considerate men. Honestly, how is that not any girl’s ideal?

This is where the internal consistency comes in, though. And I’m warning you now, there WILL be spoilers, because I have to address how well laid out the groundwork was for these romances/almost-romances. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

 

SPOILERS BEGIN HERE. I’ll let you know when I’m done.

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All right, first we have Chil Bong. I loved that poor, lonely boy because at the boarding house, he finally found his family. And the writer, Lee Woo Jung, did a fabulous job of giving us his backstory in bits and pieces: famous parents who made their livings and ignored their son. He had no foundation, so when he found a place where he was accepted, he clung to it with all his might. Chil Bong’s center is loneliness, which led him to attach to Na Jeung and her open friendliness, thinking he had found love.

We also have Trash Oppa, the gentle protector, the substitute son, the compassionate and silly doctor. His relationship with Na Jeung, the brotherly way he treated her, convinced me they were siblings at first, but as it was gradually revealed that the silliness was just part of his personality, that made sense too. And when he took the time to comfort Na Jeung when she was in the hospital for her back and she revealed he wasn’t really her brother, I was surprised at how quickly I shipped them together.

Towards the end, when Oppa and Na Jeung had drifted apart and Chil Bong had his chance, I was so excited for him to take it (I also have permanent Second Lead Syndrome, but that’s a story for another day). I was frustrated with Oppa for neglecting Na Jeung, even though it made sense because he was in the busiest part of his residency and she was on a different continent. Writer Lee Woo Jung gradually revealed the basis of Chil Bong’s crush on Na Jeung – his overwhelming loneliness – and again, the lack of chemistry between them made sense. Na Jeung gave him a chance, but I could see that her heart truly belonged to Oppa. Their separation was eating at them. I was sad, because I wanted Chil Bong to find happiness, but I could see how Na Jeung wasn’t right for him.

The struggle made for a beautiful moment at the end when Chil Bong finally called Oppa “hyung”. Honestly, I teared up. Chil Bong finally realized what he had with the boarding house kids: family. It made me so happy. And it was the perfect time for him to run into (literally!) his Cinderella, because he finally had the emotional foundation he needed to move forward.

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END OF SPOILERS

So there’s my lengthy essay on why I thought the main romance worked out exactly the way it should, complete with a roller coaster of emotional catharsis.

I enjoyed almost all the characters in this series: Haitai, with his crazy hair and need to stay on top of trends and listening ear; Sam Cheon Po, with his serious studious ways and his foot almost permanently in his mouth and his kind heart; Yoon Jin, with her abrasive nature and unwavering loyalty; Binggrae, with his quiet solidarity to all his friends and the glue that kept them all together at times.

Casting Lee Il Wa and Sung Dong Il as the parents again was fine, but it felt like they were playing the same characters as before, with the same gags. I ended up fast forwarding through Sung Dong Il’s terrible predictions about future celebrities and events – those jokes got old fast. Thinking about Lee Il Wa in Reply 1988, though – that was her best turn as a Reply mother. She had so much more nuance and depth there.

On the other hand, the intersections with the Reply 1997 series near the end CRACKED ME UP. Oh, they were so much fun, and it was great to revisit characters I loved. I’m so glad I watched the Answer Me/Reply series. I feel like I have a better understanding of Korean culture and recent history, for one thing. And to spend time with these quality characters, watching them grow and change, has been a delight. My story-consuming soul is satisfied.  

Until next time, drama fans!

Karie the Maknae

Dramas with a Side of Kimchi

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2 thoughts on “Don’t Leave the Maknae Unattended: Answer Me 1994

  1. I hv watched 1997 and 1988. This is the only one I hv not watched. Reading your review made me feel like watching it. Thanks 🙂

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