30 December 2013

응답하라 1994 (Answer Me 1994) Questions 1

Title: 응답하라 1994 Eungdabhara 1994
English Title:
  • Answer Me 1994
  • Reply 1994
  • Respond 1994

I have too many thoughts and questions running through my head and I just really need to get these out...

칠봉 CHIL BONG (칠봉이 Chilbong-ie)

I never thought that I'll ever be completely invested in a fictional character. This is the very first time it happened and to be quite honest, I am not willing to go through the same experience ever again.
I may be too biased to even think clearly, but it seemed to me that Chil Bong was a main character.
  • Chil Bong did most of the voice overs. I was literally brought inside his head to hear his inner thoughts and feel his emotions.
  • Many of the drama's themes directly apply to him, and a lot of the drama's themes meant for other characters also apply to his situation.
  • His key scenes had the typical concepts for romance: first snow, confession, etc. The directing and cinematography of his key scenes contributed to make the simple situations spectacular and romantic.
  • The parallelism between his key scenes over time seemed intentional and significant. In addition, the parallelism between his key scenes with Na Jung, and the key scenes of other couples seemed to foreshadow a promising outcome.

But there are times when it seemed that the drama production couldn't care less about Chil Bong's existence and characterization.
  • He barely had any scenes in episode 16 and 17. His appearance is like blink-and-you'll-miss-it type of thing. In some episodes, some cameos have longer scenes than he does and if you judge by screen time, his character seems more like an extended guest appearance rather than a main character.
  • He was put in a non-existent love triangle and then was set aside. He came back later on and was put back in that imaginary love triangle. It's really no wonder that some people consider him as a plot device.
  • His characterization is completely different if you compare how he is throughout the drama and in the 2013 scenes. He was the most consistent in terms of characterization throughout most of the drama, there isn't really much to work around with what he was given, so the difference is extraordinarily jarring.
Drama production team, remember when you put Chil Bong's photo in the episode 16 cover in your official drama website? I had assumed it meant the character will have substantial screen time allotted to him for that episode or that a side story about him will be presented in that episode, because that's how you did it with all the other previous episodes. That was the time when he had like two minutes of screen time for the whole episode and those were in the 2013 scenes that, as you have so kindly pointed out, were pure nonsense.
Drama production team, remember when you included Chil Bong and power pitching in the text preview for episode 17? Well, that was the episode where he had around seven seconds of screen time and he never talked about power pitching. Do you remember what the scene was about? I'll be kind enough to remind you: it was about Chil Bong not having a girlfriend but loving a girl that was not his girlfriend.
Yes, I'm still annoyed and I will be forever annoyed at you, drama production team, for being so manipulative particularly in these instances. Next time you even hint at something, make sure you deliver even the barest minimum of what you promise.

Chil Bong does not have a close relationship with his parents because his family situation is obviously complicated, but his mother loves him and cares for him.
  • "Hello, this is Joon's mother... And even though you might not hear it, Joon, my son, who is the most precious person to me in this world, Mom is very sorry and loves you." (Joon's mother's outgoing message for her beeper in episode 03)
  • "Mom, it's your son. I won't be able to go to your wedding. It's really not that I'm missing it on purpose, something funny just came up. I'll tell you about that later. Aw, I wanted to see Professor Park in her dress and make some fun of her. What a waste. Since I'm unable to come to your weddings, both of them, against my will, I will definitely go to the third one no matter what. Mom, the other day what I was angry about, it's because I'm still immature. It's like that. For some reason I now feel like... it seems like you're going to completely disappear. You're my mom but it seems like you're getting taken from me by someone else. Anyway, it's like that. Well, truthfully, I didn't really mean it, so don't worry about me and go on a nice honeymoon. Please don't fight this time. Live while turning down your temper. Ah, mom, these days I really want to eat that. What was it? Kimchi radish cubes, not the ones that are cut into small pieces, the ones that you chop kind of big just once or twice, you know the ones you make for me, with the perfect amount of kimchi liquid. Whenever I get hungry I always want to eat that. I will make sure to not let dad eat any, so after you return from your honeymoon, make some for me. To see how my mother is living, I'll go to the house to pick it up. When I go home, make me some food. I miss you, mom. Mom, your son, after thinking about it well, it seems I love my mom very much. Don't fight with your husband. Go on your honeymoon well and return with good relations. Honestly, though what I'm about to say isn't one hundred percent sincere, congratulations on your wedding. This time, definitely, be happy. I'm going to hang up. The kimchi radish cubes, don't forget about it." (Chil Bong in episode 03) 
Chil Bong found a family with the people at the boardinghouse and that's where he experiences the warmth and closeness that he doesn't have with his real family. This surrogate family is one of the reasons why he keeps going to the boardinghouse (and the other reason is to spend time with Na Jung).
  • "Then goodnight, mother... mother." (Chil Bong in episode 04)
  • "No, there are a few more kids (who live in the boardinghouse). There's a medical student from Goesan, an older guy who's like the owner's real son, and a baseball player who's really popular these days. There's a total of seven of us. " (Hai Tai in episode 10) Chil Bong does not yet officially live at the boardinghouse at this time but Hai Tai and the others already consider him as one of them.
Drama production team, Chil Bong did not get the surrogate family when he supposedly 'let go' of his first love in 2000, he already found them in 1994. Can't you really find any other way to resolve Chil Bong's story other than to focus on him finding a surrogate family? It seems too late to focus on that by the end of the drama considering that it happened around the start of the drama.
In addition, all the characters in the boardinghouse, whatever their real family situation is, found a surrogate family with each other. The surrogate family story is not just Chil Bong's story, this is everyone's story told through him.

First Love
Based on the rules established in the drama, a man's first love is special. It is not explicitly stated that unrequited love does not count as a first love so I'll consider that as such. Considering how enduring Chil Bong's unrequited love has been, it is still love, right?
  • "It was then that I learned for the first time, to every guy there is one girl that you cannot touch. That girl's name is first love." (Sung Na Jung voice over in epiosde 12)
  • "Have you talked to Na Jung?... For some reason, if you go to Japan this time, I think you won't come back again. As for us, well, later we could meet you sometimes and I think that we'll have a glass of soju each, but I think that tonight will be your last night with Na Jung." (Bing Geu Re in episode 14)
  • "Maybe, just if... I don't know when... a few years after... if we should happen to meet again... and if, at that time, you don't have anyone by your side... then, let's date?!" (Chil Bong in episode 14)
  • Chil Bong did not contact Na Jung and Sseu Re Ki for about three years. None at all. (Chil Bong calling the boardinghouse but hanging up before he can talk to Na Jung in episode 15)
  • "Hai Tai calls me once in a while and..." (Chil Bong in episode 18) Chil Bong maintained his friendships with the other characters despite cutting off Na Jung and Sseu Re Ki from his life.
  • "Holding on to a person who is getting married, am I supposed to cry and cling like a stalker? As time passes... as more time passes... I'm sure I'll really be alright."(Chil Bong in episode 18)
  • "That's right. I did it on purpose; on purpose. I was going to see you on that day and if I lose you this time, I thought it would really be the end." (Chil Bong in episode 19)
It is established consistently and repeatedly through characters' dialogues and actions that Chil Bong will not be there in the 2013 scenes if he's not Na Jung's husband. He has kept his unrequited love for Na Jung for about six years (and eighteen episodes).
He already let go of the possibility of a romantic relationship with Na Jung before he went to Japan. He cannot control his feelings and he said he'll be alright as time passes. Do you actually expect me to believe that episode 20 was about him finally letting go?
Do you actually expect me to believe the travesty that happened in episode 21? That he will be fine interacting with Na Jung a few weeks after getting rejected for the second time? That he will actually attend her wedding to someone else in 2002? That he will act as if he's very close to Na Jung in Na Jung's housewarming party in 2013?

Hard Work and Persistence
I really like the sentiment that hard work, persistence, and determination produce results. I mean, of course people who did something to achieve their goals are already closer to achieving said goals compared to people who did nothing.
However, I think life is much more complicated than that. For athletic teams, national teams, and Olympic medalists, there are a set number of slots to fill in. Those who got chosen or who got medals definitely worked hard. But then those who did not make the cut also worked hard.
Can we really say that those who made the cut worked harder than those who did not? Perhaps they did, and perhaps everyone worked equally hard and some just had luck on their side.
Also, I really think hard work is important in a lot of areas of our lives: in school, at work, and maybe in making relationships work (whether it is friendships or romantic relationships, because we do need to make time for the people who are important to us).
But I don't think it applies to love and especially in Chil Bong's case because hard work cannot really control emotions, and who we love and who we will not love.
I have issues with correlating hard work and persistence to love (as in emotions and feelings) although I do think hard work and persistence can be applied to making relationships work.
  • "It ain't over 'til it's over." (Chil Bong in episode 13)
  • What can I do? I'll just have to wait. If now is not the time, I'll have to wait." (Chil Bong in episode 14)
I already know it isn't right to associate hard work and persistence with love and emotions but you went there and did exactly that, drama production team! Only to later point out that it doesn't work. You really focused on this theme to relay this particular message? You set up the whole premise and made the association only to later share the lesson to the viewers that it doesn't work? You really intended to keep people's hopes up only to let them down in the end?

It was established in the drama that how a person calls someone signifies a change in how that person views the other, or essentially a change in their relationship. It was also shown that changing how you call someone else is a conscious choice.
  • Na Jung changed how she calls him from Chil Bong (episode 07), to Bong-ah (episode 09), to Joon-ah (episode 14), and to Joon (episode 14, in the 2013 scene).
  • She didn't have to call him anything else because according to Kim Gi Tae, the whole nation calls him Chil Bong. Everyone. People he has no personal relationship with, like Kim Gi Tae, call him Chil Bong. His close friends and teammates, like catcher Jo In Sung, also call him Chil Bong. His relatives, like his cousin, also call him Chil Bong (and Joon-ah). Na Jung is changing how she calls Chil Bong consciously and with deliberation.
I was intrigued that she calls him Joon in the 2013 scenes because it is, for a lack of a better word, intimate. The honorifics or attachments -ah and -ie already indicate a close relationship such as a close friendship but it still connotes a certain distance. In Korean and Japanese cultures, calling a person just by their given (first) name without any honorifics or attachments indicates a very close relationship to that person and this way of addressing another person is usually reserved for family, particularly when one addresses one's husband or wife. Given the cultural context, it seemed that there's a possibility that he is Na Jung's husband.
Is it really not significant in any way that Na Jung changes how she calls Chil Bong over time? It wasn't explained but I am probably naive for even expecting an explanation because it never mattered, did it?!

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