1980’s: a fascinating event for a millennial, having been born in the early 1990s. It’s a time I seem to be aware of, especially because I grew up with teenagers who had been there to experience this decade. From Top Gun, to Wham, Guns N Roses to the growing popularity of denim, the 1980s were, to say the least, iconic in terms of pop culture. Hence, a drama based on this time was obviously going to be as iconic.
The show narrated the lives of five teenagers, neighbourhood friends, Sung Deok Seon (played by Lee Hyeri), Choi Taek (played by Park Bo Gum), Sung Sun Woo (played by Go Kyung Pyo), Kim Jung Hwan (played by Ryu Joon Yeol) and Ryu Dong Ryong (played by Lee Dong Hwi). Essentially a coming-of-age story, the show weaved through the relationships between the four boys and their female friend, while also displaying sibling love and rivalry, and their interactions with their parents. By displaying a variety of familial situations, the show was able to show the uniqueness of all the teenagers as a result of how they had been raised.
Pop culture was used in a super effective way to connect the reality of the time to the kind of films, music and books were being perused by the teenagers of the time. The picture that was painted via the direction, music and acting was able to create the exact atmosphere that I have vague memories of from the early 90s. The character probably most deeply rooted in pop culture was that of Dong Ryong, having learned film dialogues by heart, along with lyrics to each and every song of the time, and the dance steps to every single song, hinting at the gradually globalizing world. Pop culture was also made out to be a kind of safe haven for him, allowing him to escape the reality of having two workaholic parents who had been unable to give their youngest son attention.
Next we have Jung Hwan, who was the most stable in terms of his background, being raised most lovingly by his parents and elder brother. His had the most protected life, living in a house with bedrooms for everyone, a spacious living room and everything that could be needed to spend life comfortably. The family had achieved such a life by sheer luck of winning a huge amount of money in a lottery, moving out of a one bedroom house and turning into the owners of the largest house on the street. The beauty of this family lay in the humility all of them possessed despite their good fortune. The way they took care of, and supported everybody in need around them, simply because they were reminded of how they used to be destitute struck a chord with me throughout the show. Due to this completeness, Jung Hwan’s character was one that felt emotions greatly but lacked ways of expressing himself verbally. His behaviour towards his crush emphasized his inability to tell the person he loved how much he loved her, making his love worthless.
Sun Woo, had a different type of family, where he had lost his father as a teenager, and lived with his mother and baby sister. The class president, responsible and bearing the burdens of being ‘the only male’ of the house, made Sun Woo remarkable in the eyes of any Asian girl. Simply because the need of a patriarch, albeit sexist, has existed in Asian societies since forever. Sun Woo automatically attempting to take that role in his household, appeared to me to be something natural and just the perfect way to impress the society around him. Only when alone, did we ever get to experience how badly even a son needs a father, because a mother cannot fill that spot. This was especially obvious when his mother made such a fuss about how there was nobody to teach her son how to shave: a simple task but not one a son would necessarily ask his mother to help him with. If it still sounds remotely sexist, then I would point out that this is after all 1988, and not 2008, changing how parents and children interacted with each other back in the day.
Another single parent household, mirroring Sun Woo’s was Choi Taek’s. Taek lost his mother as a toddler and did not have any memories of her. His father, having despaired for a few years, affecting his son’s growth, decided to shift to Seoul, where Taek became friends with the rest of the neighbourhood gang. The absence of a mother is sorely felt in this household where despite their personal success, there is no bridge between the two men, smoothing emotional talks, and putting warm food on the table. Taek, while lacking in the number of dialogues throughout the drama, was possibly the most enigmatic personality that we fell in love with as the show progressed. A genius at an East Asian game called baduk (at least in the drama it appeared to be somewhat like chess), Taek is the youngest winner of championships, defeating older, much more experienced men than himself. Due to his massive success at the game, he had dropped out of school and his limited time spent with people his own age also affected his personality. Quiet by nature, Taek also seemed to suffer from depression, and loneliness due to his stardom, and was always seen consuming some medicine or the other for different conditions. I personally, could relate to him best because of a similar kind of household and so my sympathies were with him from the very beginning.
Lastly, is the star of this drama, Sung Deok Seon, who lived with her parents, elder sister, and younger brother in a basement rented out by Jung Hwan’s parents. She had all the woes of the middle child, where her parents favour her sister and brother over her. Even if they didn’t, since almost all the show is scripted from Deok Seon’s perspective, even our opinion becomes skewed into believing that her parents were unfair. She was endearing, warm, and absolutely stubborn, but it served as a great contrast to the brooding ‘masculine’ personalities of Jung Hwan, Sun Woo and Taek. This was why Deok Seon finds a great friend in Dong Ryong, who was as foolish as her, but also has a very in-depth understanding of all of the friends and their relationships, with family, siblings and friends. Deok Seon, served as our lens through which we saw the entire street in different lights, as she guided us through introductions and also the revelations that she experienced as she learned more about how the people around her behaved with each other.
The drama, though heavily influenced by the pop culture of the 1980’s, also had a great emphasis on relationships, a word I have possibly used quite a lot of times so far in this review. There were episodes dealing with how children learn about what their parents feel for their own parents, while other episodes dealt with parents coming to terms with the choices their children decide to make in their lives. Nonetheless, every step of the way, the relationships were as realistic as they could be, especially the types of fathers that we saw. From Sung Dong Il’s obsession with buying things from any poor person selling on the street, to Kim Sung Kyun’s hilarious greetings and annoying puns. The characters felt as real as they could have been. One of my favourite dialogues from the show was towards the end where Kim Sung Kyun and Ra Mi Ran recollect their past as young parents and realize that they haven’t just raised their children, their children raised them, while the both of them raised each other. That is such an honest analysis of life because we are constantly raising our parents, while they raise us…