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[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Answer Me 1988" Episode 3

2015/11/13 | 759 views | Permalink

The opening scenes are, rather innocently enough, about how girls like boys, but don't really know anything about them. That's the problem with having a peer group that also consists of teenagers. Everybody is equally clueless, but not everyone knows that they're equally clueless. This also leads to embarassments like Deok-seon's bizarre use of makeup. That's not a process which can or should be hurried. A pity the older So-ra is too busy being aggressive to offer much useful advice to her younger sister.

But for the most part the teen crush drama angle is a smokescreen, as "Answer Me 1988" moves on to, of all things, a critique of mass consumerism. At first I thought I must be misinterpreting the drama, because the Answer Me series is built on nostalgia, and nostalgia in the modern context itself springs almost entirely from commercialism. How can "Answer Me 1988" possibly be criticizing the very foundation of its own appeal?

Well, because the year is 1988. Prior to 1988 South Korea wasn't really wealthy enough to have a consumer culture. And obviously, wealth is a good thing. Citizens of a wealthy country have a much easier time putting food on the table. But at the same time, wealth creates the temptation to buy new gadgets and novelties. For families with limited incomes, these financial decisions are a big deal, and a single boneheaded move can be equivalent to just flushing hundreds of dollars down the toilet.

In other words, having money causes stress, because now you have to worry about wasting it. It's such a small aspect of capitalist culture but watching this episode of "Answer Me 1988" I was surprised to realize just how much of a big deal this must have when families started acting this way in the eighties. There was no precedent. Suddenly the diverse ways with which people could use opportunity costs were such that any possible decision had major reprocussions, if only in the sense that fights came up within the family.

Truthfully the episode isn't really that gloomy overall. There's plenty of goofy eighties dancing, as well as a delightful romp through Kyŏngju. That's Gyeongju today, now that we use a much less stupid romanization system. And there's always the little jokes, like the discovery of how people in the old days were able to ensure that young women maintained their chastity. But even so, consumerism! That whole story point had a lot more depth than I was expecting.

Review by William Schwartz

"Answer Me 1988" is directed by Sin Won-ho, written by Lee Woo-jeong-I and features Sung Dong-il, Lee Il-hwa, Ra Mi-ran, Kim Sung-kyun, Ryu Hye-young, Hyeri, Go Kyung-pyo and Ryu Jun-yeol.

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