I didn’t watch its predecessor Answer Me, 1997, until much later after it was aired. Cos firstly, that (and this) series didn’t do much in terms of publicity (unlike Heirs), and there are no BIG names in both shows. But trust me, if you are a 70s-80s Gen X-Y baby, you will LOVE the Answer Me franchise.
1994 in many ways follow the successful formula of 1997. There is the same string of nostalgic references to names, items, activities that a Gen X viewer will identify with, but may be totally lost on late Gen Y/Z audience. Such as the pager, for instance. You can no longer find one now, cos most telcos would have stopped providing paging services. But owning a pager in the early 90s is a MUST-have. Much like you HAVE to have an iPhone or a Galaxy today.
Besides the nostalgia, much of the Answer Me success lies with the fuzzy warm feel you get from the plot. There is nothing DRAMAtic in the Answer Me plot, but that is also it’s strong point. The stories (for both) center around a family, or friends that are as close as family members, and the interactions/ connections between them. And of course, there is the same love story where the couple know each other since young, and there is the conflict between telling — and changing the platonic relationship to romantic — or not telling — so that you don’t rock the boat.
** Most of the guys’ names are nicks…cos there is this guessing game between the show and viewers to see who is Na-jung’s husband (a Kim Jae-Joon) in 2013**
- Go A-ra as Sung Na-jung. The central figure in 1994. Brash, loudspoken (and loudmouth), an over-the-top basketball fan (like 1997′s over-the-top HOT fan)…but she is sensitive too, and is the first to realise she likes her “brother” in a non-platonic way.
- Jung Woo as Trash. Na-jung’s oppa and love interest. So far, we hadn’t got his REAL name. But we do know Na Jung married one of the guys in the boarding house. As at ep 4, he hasn’t shown any romantic interest to his “sister”.
- Yoo Yun-suk as Chilbongie. The only Seoulite who boards/ visits Sincheon Guest House. I think he may be the second possible love interest to Na-jung, and perhaps the catalyst to wake up Trash’s feelings towards Na-jung.
- Kim Sung-kyun as Shamchunpo. The so-called “Leslie Cheung” (as deemed by his mama). Basically a true geek, totally a country bumpkin and pretty straitlaced. Ironically, his bestie is the bohemian Haetae.
- Son Ho-joon as Haetae. Laid back as compared to Shamchunpo, and tries his best to fit in to the hip culture scene (read: dating and clubbing) of Seoul. But failing miserably probably due to Shamchunpo tagging along.
- Baro as Bingguere. Chilbongie’s cousin who is also in the medical faculty with Trash, but apparantly hates medicine. He is kinda quiet though, what we know now is he is a TV addict.
- Min Do-hee as Jo Yoon-jin, Another quiet girl, whose trademark is her long centre parted fringe covering three quarters of her face.
- Sung Dong-il as himself. A baseball coach, owner of Sincheon Boarding House and father to Na-jung. Juz as loudmouth and temperamental as his daughter, but loves his wife to bits. Also appeared as the father figure in 1997.
- Lee Il-hwa as herself. Wife to Sung Dong-il and mother of Na-jung. Like her previous characterisation in 1997, she is patient, no-nonsense and overly motherly — her trademark is to cook excessively for the kids in the house.
The plot centers around the boarders and owner of Sincheon Boarding House, in the suburbs of metropolitan Seoul. The owners, Sung Dong-il and his wife and daughter, hail from Masan (a city south of the Korean peninsula…near Busan). Their boarders likewise are mostly “country” folk. 1997 had introduced us to Busanites and their way of life, 1994 broadens the scope by introducing us to ALL of S. Korea’s so-called “rural cities”. Sincheon Boarding House then becomes a melting pot and also a beacon to the characters who have moved “up north” for studies. Running through the everyday-life storyline is also the romance between the main leading actress and the mystery guy whom she married in present day.
As of ep 4, Na-jung has boldly declared her feelings for oppa…but it happened on 1 April — April’s Fool Day. So Trash juz wrote it off as a trick. Granted, at this juncture, he doesn’t view Na-jung as anything other than a (perpetual) kid sister. His bestie (Na-jung’s real brother) died many years ago, and he has stepped in to play the role of big brother. So much so, that the audience (and the Boarding House’s tenants) all assumed he IS her sibling. After all, which “friend” will allow you to strip him nekkid in retailiation for decorating your stuffed toy with your panties. Thus, it is doubly wrenching to see Na-jung silently fume when Oppa has a love interest or confused but uplifted when Oppa does things for Na-jung that are so sweet.
Some have complained that the plot of 1994 is slower than 1997, but I have no issues with that. I do like the slow build up in each episode to bring up a main theme/point. For example, we spend the better part of ep3 to deal with Chilbongie and his relationship with his mum, then ep4 talks about Haetae and his naggy mum. But what these eps have in common is draw out the importance of maternal bonds. And then throws out the contrast between the Seoulite’s quick and easy relationships (divorces, re-marriages), versus the traditional, solid bonds the “country bumpkins” have — where your mama is my mama too, and divorces only happen on TVs.
I am not sure if Answer Me will continue its franchise and bring us back further in time for their next series (if any), but right now, I am happy with staying stuck in 1994.
5/5 stars (yeah, love this show THAT much)