Answer Me: 1994 (I miscalculated!!)

title cardSo I thought Answer Me: 1994 was ending this week. Wrong! It’s got at least a week (maybe two?) to go. Which means I’m moving it from my “marathon-watch” list to the “live-watch” list, grumbling all the way. Though, part of my grumbling has to do with what’s been happening in-show. The magic is dying, unfortunately. Let me explain — with a lot of text and also some ranting…

Spoilers through episode 17 below (also of Answer Me: 1997 eventually — I’ll warn when we get there)…

There are three big schticks attached to the Answer Me franchise. (Do two series make a franchise? *ponders*) Or at least… I thought there were three. As it turns out, there are actually two and anyone who thought there was a third got a big pie-in-the-face by episode 17. But I’ll get to that.

The first schtick is a massive heap of nostalgia as songs, tv-shows, fashion trends, technology — all the pop-culture heavy hitters — are incorporated throughout the show. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s an anvil over the head. Regardless, I miss almost all of it because the culture is not mine, but I can (and do) appreciate the flavor it gives the show. (And it makes me triply times grateful for the Dramabeans recapping. who the husband?They explain the jokes and I feel like I learn things just from drama-watching, which is awesome.)

The second is a game of “who’s the husband?” that, because the show doesn’t hide the ball, I enjoy. (Both series begin at a present-day reunion of sorts with our leading lady looking at all the male characters and musing, “One of these men is my husband.”) It makes for some silly jokes with elaborate bait-n-switch tactics — but it’s part of the flavor so, I’m on board.

Spoilers for Answer Me: 1994 in the next paragraph!! I totally give away the ending!

Thing is though — in Answer Me:1997, the love-triangle was a lot, lot softer. By the end, the “whose the husband” game became an almost wink-wink, nudge-nudge thing between the show and the viewers because it was so obvious who the husband was. We’d watched Yoon-jae pine after Shi-won for the entire span. It was obvious his brother cared deeply for Shi-won but it wasn’t the same level of love. And it was definitely obvious that Shi-won liked Tae-woong but didn’t actually love him (and that she did love Yoon-jae — though she wasn’t mature enough to realize it at first). So the mystery wasn’t in the who, it was more in the how. (How will Yoon-jae ever pursue his happiness at the cost of his brother’s?)

Spoilers for ’97 done. (’94 still has spoilers galore to go.)

With Answer Me: 1994 though… it’s all different.

The triangle, in its earlier stages, was much more intense. The two guys involved didn’t (and don’t) have a personal relationship. So there wasn’t any question that one would hang back out of love for the other. It’d be a full on, may the best man win, fight.

And that’s where things got weird. Because for a long time, only one of the guys was fighting. obvious crush is obviousChilbongie liked Na-jung, realized his feelings, and confessed. Na-jung, meanwhile, liked Trash, realized her feelings, confessed and… Trash totally dithered. For a bizarrely long amount of time. Even after he realized Chilbongie liked her and was wooing her.

Which made me wonder why he was dithering. He didn’t get any voice-overs explaining himself so… I made a huge, huge, huge cultural mistake.

I really did think, for faaar too many episodes, that Trash was gay. Even after they kissed. He constantly looked at Na-jung with these sad, melancholic eyes — like he knew they weren’t meant to be — even though she chased him and kept on chasing him. It was so far outside his general personality unreadable man sleepeth(he’s usually really laid-back and confident) that it felt weird. That there was this big shoe just waiting to drop that only he knew about.

Meanwhile, in service of the “who’s the husband?” gimmick, the present date party shows us that this intense love-triangle somehow ended with the two men (who in the past were, at best, polite-friendly to each other) so comfortable with each other it’s hard to tell who’s the host and who’s the guest. Two men who, for several episodes (and therefore — years), haven’t seen or talked to each other. Two men who, when one sees the other on TV turns into a nervous — “he’s going to steal my woman!” — nelly.

Figuring that one was gay and out and thereby completely out of the romantic running was one, and to my totally different cultural background — quite plausible, theory.

Because there was Bingguere. And there was the third schtick. The one that really made the franchise for me — raising it to a place apart from all the usual k-drama rom-coms: bingguereThe acceptance of, and graceful handling of, homosexuality. Including an actual, fully fleshed out gay character in the main cast.

So in the beginning, with Bingguere nursing his really obvious crush and with Trash being extra sweet and attentive to Bingguere (and mysteriously distant with Na-jung), I thought we’d actually see a gay couple fall in love within a rom-com construct.

Of course, as the episodes progressed, I began to realize I was making some basic cultural mistakes regarding Trash. (He really was that nervous about their families’ acceptance of them.) Especially when it became more and more obvious that he and Na-jung were the end game. At that point I thought it’d be fun if Bingguere ended up with Joon-hee. Not quite as groundbreaking — but still a nice, warm twist. mentoring(And if Bingguere came out to Trash first and Trash was cool about it? It’d make a lovely addendum to their mentor/mentee relationship.)

And the show deliberately played with that expectation and then ended with this twist: Bingguere wasn’t gay after all. He was just immature and needing to make a choice. (Seriously — it was like Bingguere “grew up” and “became a man” and chose to no longer have gay crushes on men anymore. Because that’s totally how these things work.) Aaaand, so much for acceptance and graceful handling of homosexuality as the third schtick. “Disappointed” is not a strong enough word.

The drama played a game. The red car was a bait-n-switch and I might have tipped my hat at their successful surprise except… fakeoutI’m getting a bit tired of characters in k-dramas suddenly deciding they’re not gay. In a vacuum — yes, people can go through periods where they question their sexuality. And Bingguere is a character I can see going through a bi-curious phase, especially with his issues with his father.

But, so many other dramas have done that. Having someone be gay — not confused about it — was what I respected so much about Answer Me: 1997. They depicted gayness so well and I know S. Korea is going through some serious growing pains regarding that issue. I thought — I expected — that’d they continue to show their support. (It’s part of the reason I thought they might turn it up a notch and have a gay character in an actual, on-screen relationship). Instead they took a giant step backwards. While giggling.

So now I’m deeply unhappy. And it’s seriously tainted the show for me. I have no earthly idea how Chilbongie and Trash went from rivals to best buddies and I’m curious so I’ll keep watching. I expect it’ll be stupid and trite, but maybe the show will surprise me. In a good way this time. (If Chilbongie turns out to be gay I will so laugh. And tip my hat. And take this rant all back. Mostly. But I’m not holding my breath.)

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6 thoughts on “Answer Me: 1994 (I miscalculated!!)

  1. As I’m not all that interested in the love triangle, the ‘who’s the hubby’ thing doesn’t bother me much either. It blows to be a shipper with AM94 as shipping wars are tiresome. The main draw for me has been the group as a whole and their friendship and I am a bit miffed that it had to bow to the episodes long love triangle set up. I agree with what ‘girlfriday’ wrote in her end of the year post; the writer got too clever with the guessing game and turning just about everything into a mystery. It also took ages for them to get the romance going with Trash waffling for episodes and episodes with no forward movement from anyone.

    I never thought for a minute that Trash might be gay. I always saw him as bit of a procrastinator and rather clueless about some things. He’d probably been having feelings for Na Jung for a while but I doubt he ever really processed them nor thought Na Jung would see him as anything more than just an older brother, a sort of replacement oppa. He was totally floored when she suddenly confessed. It sent him out for a loop, he didn’t really know what to do about it so he just decided to ignore the whole thing. That sorta worked until Chilbongie started putting his moves on and Trash had to react, do something.

    I think they kind dropped the ball with Bingguere. I was pretty sure he was not gay either, even though they were purposefully playing it very ambivalent, which I didn’t like. I always thought it was more of a guy crush and hero worship than anything else. For some reason I thought it wouldn’t make sense to copy AM97 to the extent of having yet another gay or even bi character. Though I would have actually welcomed another gay character over the whole who’s the hubby hoolabloo.

    I’m rather wondering about Trash’s and Chilbongie’s buddy trajectory too. When and how did that happen and are we going to see it?

    • Oh my gosh — the shipping wars! 😀 Ain’t no one coming out clean with that kind of dirty-fighing going on — but it does make for entertaining reading. (In the way car wrecks can be entertaining. … I’m a horrible person.)

      I should say, my cultural hiccup (or giant, stumbling fall — however you’d like to look at it 😉 ) wasn’t that I thought Trash was acting “gay.” He wasn’t. I just did not get that he was that terrified and frozen by possible family issues. (I’ll admit — I still see that excuse as weak-sauce. Their families were so close the parents were actually hoping for a marriage connection. How did Trash — who is actually fairly perceptive despite his dorkiness — miss that?) So I saw his terror and freezing and tried to figure out what had him so freaked out. Him being gay and figuring out how to reconcile that with his beloved ‘little sister’ being in love with him was a possible answer.

      Plus, I think the show played with that a little in having Trash choose to hangout with Bingguere rather than Na-jung a few times, while underlining the importance of seemingly small choices. Combine that with their holding Trash back for a ridiculously long time (he actually didn’t react to Chilbongie making his moves — even when he said he needed to act, Trash remained frozen for a couple more episodes) and I was casting about looking for logical reasons.

      However, logic wasn’t the thing. It was all in service to the mystery. Which… sloppy. But once the romance got off the ground, it was adorable so I was fine with it. (That bit where Na-jung broke into tears was a really nice touch. She really went through an emotional wringer there for a while.)

      What actually angers me though, is both the storyline they gave Bingguere and especially how they handled it. It’d be one thing if K-dramas had a healthy amount of gay characters to look to so a character wrestling with their sexuality was, if not a dime a dozen, at least a thing that happens. But they don’t. Not by a long shot. It’s what made Joon-hee stand out in AM:1997 and it’s what made Bingguere stand out (for me) in AM:1994. But to suddenly sling in a female love-interest, have Bingguere fall in deep, everlasting love with her over the course of what… 5 minutes screen time? And tie it to his growing up? Blech. Two giant steps backwards, show. They managed to swing from being supportive of gay-rights to carrying water for those protesting it. Or at least appearing that way.

      It was so sloppily handled that I’m expecting Trash and Chilbongie’s buddy trajectory to be a hot mess as well. Chilbongie will come back married or something with some girl we’ve never met. He and Trash will have 2 minutes screen time with Na-jung deep in the background and they’ll past on some kind of buddy connection we’ve never seen (“You’re the brother I never had” or something trite and empty like that) and the show will call it done. (So different from the careful and rather beautiful way they handled the brother-relationship in AM:1997.)

      Of course… that might be the bitterness speaking. 😉

      • I don’t really get shipping wars. What’s the point? Sometimes I’d like to just ask if they realise that these characters are not real so why get your knickers in a twist over them?

        I’m not happy about how they handled the whole Bingguere thing but as I did not have the sort of expectations as you did, I’m not as miffed as you are. 🙂 I just wish they hadn’t spent so much time on the love triangle, time that could have been spent fleshing out the other storylines.

        • People like competition? It’s kind of like following a sports team, right? I mean sometimes there’s even t-shirts and slogans. 😉 But yeah — when it slides past fun and into anger and attacks, time to start dialing back the emotional investment. It’s all fiction — nothing to see here folks. ;P

          As I gain the calmness of distance I’m realizing I really did have far too high expectations. (It wasn’t helped by my following some recent news reports on stuff going on in S.Korea right now.) I still think they handled his story badly and I do not like the underlining message, but I’ve realized two things: One — just having homosexuality represented at all is a huge step there. And two — Korea’s television media is a lot more circumscribed than I’m used to. They’re not going to be in the vanguard in the way I’m used to — or at least, they’ll have to be a lot more subtle about it. So I think I was asking for much more than the show could possibly give.

          As to the love-triangle itself… My feelings are less that they spent too much time on the triangle and more that they’ve spent too much time on the mystery of the triangle. I feel like we’ve been kept too much in the dark on the three character’s thoughts and feelings just to keep the mystery going. (True of many of the other story lines, too. Like Bingguere’s.)

  2. Yeah, I didn’t like how they handled Bingguere either. They were practically screaming that he was gay, and then a girl comes along and nope, he’s not. As you said, it happened too quickly with the girl. I think if they drew out his relationship with Die-Die over a few episodes, and showed his changing feelings towards Trash and towards Die-Die, it actually would have been easier to take. But it all happened so fast that it was just too jarring, and disappointing.

    • I totally agree with you that if Die-Die had been introduced earlier it would have been better. But they were so committed to the twist — which just upped my disappointment level. It felt… jarring is the right word. I think especially since it wasn’t just a question of what ‘ship viewers preferred.

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