Many people have been asking me for my opinion on who I believed to be Na-jeong’s husband in Answer Me 1994, and particularly, what made me so confident that the husband was this specific candidate and not the other. For the longest time, I was hesitant to share my opinion in fear that it will only add fuel to the ongoing shipping war between Team Trash and Team Chilbong (and the small group of Team Haitai and Team Binggrae).
What finally prompted this post was reading opinion after opinion by other drama viewers that the writer/director team may change their final decision based on fans’ reaction. That’s when I realized that when the time comes for the husband to be finally revealed, some of those people who cheered for the other candidate will continue to insist that they’ve been cheated.
I am here to say that despite all the trolling done by the writer & director team to the contrary, and even their threat to do so, it is apparent from the get-go that they have always intended one specific candidate to be Na-jeong’s husband and that person is none other than… Trash Oppa.
Now, my analysis is not based on who has better chemistry with Na-jeong, who “deserves” her, who loves her more or vice versa, who would be “better” for her or for each other, who I would have personally preferred to be the husband (for Na-jeong or for myself), or any other such things determined by individual taste or biases. The fact that both ships have such loyal and dedicated fans indicate that both Trash and Chilbong (because let’s be real, they are the only two serious contenders here) are worthy to be our heroine’s husband. And frankly, for this exact reason, I wouldn’t have given a damn whichever one got chosen.
That said, I do have one thing at stake. You see, Korean dramas have always been a part of my life. One of my earliest childhood memories involves sitting around in the living room with the rest of my family as we watched Korean dramas together. And perhaps because of this influence, I have long harbored a secret wish to be a Korean drama scriptwriter myself, however unrealistic or slight my chance may be. Thus, it is important for me to see that the Korean drama industry continue to flourish, and that despite the commercialism, that it can serve as a creative outlet for many scriptwriters. And this means that however good or bad the result may be, I would like to see writer’s original story as intended get told without being swayed by the opinion of the viewers, and that this is what gets judged on its own merits.
As I watched Answer Me 1994, I too wondered about that one aspect of writer Lee Woo Jung’s storytelling that puzzled most people – the identity of the heroine’s husband. I don’t mean to dismiss the other many wonderful aspects of Answer Me 1994′s story, but it is also true that that one aspect unfortunately overshadowed all others for so many people. So then, what is writer Lee and director Shin’s intended story in the “guess the husband” game? Do they even have one? Or did they truly intend to tell their story at the direction of the viewers?
What better place to look for this answer than the drama itself!
Until Episode 6, I was pretty conflicted myself. And then, this scene happened.
In that momentous scene when the potential OTP got a chance to have their first kiss, the director didn’t give the viewers the pleasure to simply relish in what was happening. Instead, the camera did a sweep across the room and finally landed on Trash’s face. The dramatic “thump” sound, not part of the original background music, accompanied it to add to the full effect. And this is when I came to truly realize that the love story here was never about a love triangle. Instead, it was the writer’s intention to tell the love story between Trash and Na-jeong, and how these two childhood friends came to break the familial relationship that once bound them and grew to be lovers.
If this was the only evidence in my conclusion that Trash and Na-jeong would eventually become a married couple, I admit it wouldn’t be a very convincing one.
So, I looked to the 2002 and 2013 scenes. And this is where I became certain that my theory was indeed correct. As many people suspected, these scenes are indeed very telling. But not for the reason people believe.
Many people look to small hints and clues in the present scenes, almost turning this drama into a detective mystery. But by focusing on these small details, they fail to look at the big picture revealed by these two scenes.
Reading through forums and fansites, I often come across “clues” that people repeatedly point out. The plain white milk in the refrigerator means that the husband is surely Trash. The medical books and baseball books on the shelves indicate that the husband has to be Chilbong, the baseball player who perhaps had a change of career to physical therapist. Remember how Chilbong knew that Ssuk-Ssuk was always coming in late? For sure, he would have to live there to know this! And the list goes on…
But is this the only explanation for all this? I realized early on that if the writer/director chooses to, all these clues can be simply explained away in just the last 5 minutes of Episode 21. That got me thinking about what would be the best way for the writer to go about this without being too contrived. And then it suddenly hit me like a pile of bricks.
Did you ever think about why Ssuk-Ssuk is living at Na-jeong’s? What is Dad’s prized victory liquor from 1994 doing there? I understand that Na-jeong is a clean freak, but is it really possible for the apartment to be so clean and “moved-in” looking on their first day there? In fact, why are they even having a housewarming party on their move-in day?!
Do you see where I’m going?
You see, all this would make sense with just one simple explanation…. that Na-jeong’s husband is what Koreans would call a “데릴사위” (a son-in-law who lives with his wife’s family)! In fact, it appears that Na-jeong and her family may not have moved into a new apartment after all, but simply moved into her parents! Perhaps Na-jeong became a working professional and needed her parents to help out with raising the kids.
This would explain away everything. Why Na-jeong has a scrapbook of takeout restaurants to call on their move-in day. Why there are baseball books alongside the medical books on the bookshelf. (It belongs to Coach Sung Dong Il’s.) How it is possible that her husband chose to order things to be delivered to their home on their first move-in day. And if Chilbong remains close to the Sung family and often visits Na-jeong’s parents as we suspect he would even if he didn’t marry her, it would explain how he knew exactly which room at Daddy Sung’s apartment to go for a quick nap. Heck, Chilbong can even be their neighbor living in the same apartment building! That would also explain why he knows that Ssuk-Ssuk has been coming home late these days.
I’m not saying that my theory is the only option and that it’s necessarily the correct one (although I think a very good one). I mean to point out how easy it is to debunk these clues that so many people rely on.
It is noteworthy that these clues don’t necessarily rule out Chilbong or Trash as the husband. It is just as likely for Chilbong to be the 데릴사위 living with Na-jeong’s parents.
So instead of these small “clues” and “hints” which may really end up being nothing, I’d advise you to look at the big picture- the fact that this entire group still remains close friends and are in a good enough relationship to gather like this in the first place. This relationship cannot be explained away in mere minutes.
Now, let’s go a little further back to the wedding taking place in 2002. So many people focus on the stand-in groom for clues (his height, hairstyle, and hair color), and on the appearance of the groom’s parents who may or may not also be stand-in actors.
But take a look at the group shot of the boys proudly on display. Look how friendly and happy this gang looks! Seeing this photo, it’s hard to believe that just several years earlier, Trash and Chilbong were once rivals in love, both battling it out to win the heart of one girl. In fact, Trash had even declared to Chilbong that they were no longer in the relations where they could play a friendly game of catch ball with each other. But in 2002 at Na-jeong’s wedding, all five boys are gathered for a photo like they are the best of friends.
How could this have happened? No, really, I mean it. How could this have happened?
Choose Your (Husband) Adventure
After the end of Episode 6, I created two scenarios to test my theory. One for how the story should proceed in order for Trash to be the husband, and another for how the story should proceed in order for Chilbong to be the eventual husband. Of course, I had to take into account the personality of the two characters within the context of this story taking place in Korea.
The result of what happened is the reason why I once commented here on this blog that “the drama continues to progress just as I would have predicted if Trash was the writer’s intended husband…”
For Trash to be the husband….
From the get-go, Trash is depicted as the stereotypical Korean Gyeongsang-do man. Macho and not very expressive of what he’s thinking or feeling. For such a man to stay true to his character and return to having a friendly relationship with someone who was once his love rival…
1. Ideally, Chilbong’s one-sided love for Na-jeong must remain as just that – unrequited. If Na-jeong does not show hints of ever wavering for Chilbong, all that would have to entail for Trash and Chilbong to return to having that brotherly relationship they once could have had before love rivalry got in the way is for Chilbong to simply confront Trash and admit defeat man-to-man.
2. In the scenario where Na-jeong ends up falling for Chilbong and dating him first, their relationship must be short-lived and not serious. In this scenario, it’s a bit difficult for Trash to be very welcoming of Chilbong at the wedding or for Chilbong to show up at his ex-gf’s wedding, though. It would require a more “liberal, Western” mindset from both characters.
3. Even if both men are totally cool with this very “liberal, Western” mindset, Na-jeong’s parents can not have known that Chilbong dated Na-jeong. No Korean parent would just sit and watch as their daughter’s ex-bf becomes part of the “wedding party,” out of respect for the groom. (Note: Korean weddings typically don’t have bridesmaids or groomsmen. But even so, as the photo of the five men were on display at the wedding, I will proceed to call them the wedding party.)
For Chilbong to be the husband…
In contrast to Trash, Chilbong is depicted as the stereotypical Seoul man (as fantasized by those Koreans hailing from the countryside). He’s gentle, romantic, and knows exactly what to say. Raised by divorced parents, he may be more open about certain things, like becoming friendly with his wife’s first love. This is especially true when that first love is a family friend with his wife. Problem here is not Chilbong, but how Trash would react.
1. Ideally, Na-jeong’s one-sided love for Trash must remain just that – unrequited. Trash does not shown hints of ever wavering for Na-jeong. If this happens, once Na-jeong gets over her crush on Trash, he can remain just a brother-like figure to both Na-jeong and now her husband as well, Chilbong.
—> Failed. Trash revealed that he too liked Na-jeong as a woman… and at Chilbong’s face at that.
2. In the scenario where Trash comes to accept Na-jeong’s heart, he has to do it haphazardly without much consideration of what the consequences of this would entail. Then, Trash and Na-jeong can break up, realizing that they were confused about their closeness and have mistaken this as love.
But, if Trash takes much time to consider the sticky situation presented due to the closeness of the two families, it means Trash knows exactly what he’s getting himself into and that as soon as he says yes to dating Na-jeong, he is in it for going through with it all the way to marriage.
—> Failed. Although it frustrated many people and turned them away from Trash, it was this very action that sealed the deal. Even if Trash and Na-jeong do not work out, if Trash was this serious about marriage with Na-jeong at the time they were dating, it would be proper etiquette for him to excuse himself from the wedding as the bride’s ex-bf. This would be hard to do because of the relationship between the two families, but at the very least, a typical Gyeongsang-do man like Trash would not be cool about being part of the wedding party.
3. Even after all this, if Trash turns out to be a much more open person than I ever gave him credit for, Na-jeong’s parents must still be kept in the dark that Trash and Na-jeong ever dated for the same reason as #3 above.
–> Failed. In Episode 15, Trash spoke to Na-jeong’s parents to seek for their approval in dating Na-jeong. Even if Trash was like a son to Na-jeong’s parents, as soon as he admitted to stepping out of bounds by dating their daughter, he has stepped outside of ever returning to being just a son again even if Na-jeong and Trash were to break up. Trash knew that, which explains his great hesitance in deciding to date Na-jeong.
Up until Episode 15, when anyone asked, I used to tell people that I was almost positive that Trash was the husband. After that confession to Na-jeong’s parents, I just can’t fathom how they could ever make sense of having the relationship as depicted in the “wedding party” photo, unless Trash is the husband. I get goose bumps every time I think about how the writer proceeded to go in the exact direction that I had predicted (at the end of Episode 6) would be needed for Trash to be the husband, and vice versa, how the writer took every turn to make it more and more difficult to leave any option for Chilbong to be the husband. I tried so very hard to see if I’m overlooking something, and I just can’t find it.
Come December 28, we’ll find out whether I was right up until the very end or I’m just yet another blogger spewing nonsense. But if I’m right, I think I deserve a call from Lee Woo Jung offering me a position to be her assistant writer!