02 January 2021

K Drama Review: Reply 1997 / Answer Me 1997 (2012)

We put off watching Reply 1997 because we did not want to put an end to our Reply journey. We loved Reply 1988 and Reply 1994 so much that we kept on avoiding getting our "closure." But all good things must come to an end. And we thought it would be perfect to end 2020 with a great show. 

Plot


Reply 1997 is the very first show in the Reply series. It focuses mainly on the lead stars, Sung Shi Won (Jung Eun Ji) and Yoon Yoon Jae (Seo In Guk), who practically grew up together in Busan. They were neighbors, schoolmates, and very good friends. When Yoon Jae's parents passed away, he became sort of the adopted son of Shi Won's family - he had his meals in their house and he hang out there a lot. The show starts in 1997 when the two are high school seniors. The drama takes us through the characters' first loves, heartbreaks, friendships, and growth over the years until the show's culmination in 2012 during their high school reunion. 

The Good

Let's get some things out of the way first. I admit that the show did not win me over immediately, unlike the other two Reply dramas. The pilot episode was quite funny but it was not that funny. I might have even slept through some scenes. I also found the back and forth between the past and the present scenes quite confusing. Yes, it took time for me to warm up to the show but it just suddenly stole my heart like a thief in the night. I believe it was during the episode when Sung Dong Il, Shi Won's dad, was diagnosed with cancer. There was just no turning back for me at that point. 

Reply 1997 is probably best viewed before you watch the other Reply shows to avoid spoilers and probably some disappointment. But I'll go into that in a separate post. 

Seo In Guk as Yoon Yoon Jae

I've been quite curious about Seo In Guk ever since I saw his cameo in Reply 1994. He is probably not as appealing as my other oppas but there was something about him. My curiosity intensified after I caught some episodes of his 2018 drama, A Hundred Million Stars from the Sky/The Smile Has Left Your Eyes, opposite Jung So Min, who's one of Oppa's favorites. That probably pushed me to finally watch Reply 1997. And I would have to say that my curiosity has been satisfied and I'm seriously contemplating if he should make it to my list of oppas. :) 

Yoon Jae is your staple smart guy in the Reply series. He exuded this mysterious vibe and appeal. He's usually smart and sure of himself, except when he's around Shi Won. He tries to mask his awkwardness around Shi Won by mocking her but you can definitely see that there is something there. 

Yoon Jae is a good younger brother to Tae Woong (Song Jong Ho). I guess no one can question that after he chose to give up his greatest love for him. He is also a good adopted son to Dong Il and Lee Il Hwa (Shi Won's mom). He bought them a car even if he was still using his brother's beat-up old car. 

He's a great friend too. I especially loved how cool he was when he found out that his best friend and roommate, Joon Hee (Hoya), liked him. He did not mock his friend and he was never awkward around him.  

But what makes Yoon Jae special is his love for Shi Won. Oh the things he did for her. I loved how he tirelessly looked for a dog that resembled him so he can give it to Shi Won. 

Or how he ran without slippers to rescue Shi Won who was being followed by a scary man. There was no doubt that he loved Shi Won. 

I loved Seo In Guk because his acting moved me. That love was sealed when he made that heartbreaking confession to Shi Won in the karaoke room and he told her that when a guy confesses his feelings to a girl who does not like him, it means that he does not want to see her ever again. Then he gave her a ring and told her to throw it away. That was so painful. It was reminiscent of Chil Bong's goodbye to Na Jung on the baseball field or Jung Hwan's fake but actually real confession to Duk Seon in the restaurant. Seo In Guk did it really, really well. And he was credible as a smart, confident guy who was totally lovesick and clueless when it came to Shi Won. I should probably explore other Seo In Guk dramas. :)  

Jung Eun Ji as Sung Shi Won

Initially, I had mixed feelings about Shi Won. I felt that among the Reply girls, she was the brattiest and most immature. And I could not see any redeeming character in her. She was mostly funny but she also had the tendency to annoy me. I felt that she was old enough and after her elder sister passed away, she should have at least learned how to act more appropriately. 

As the show progressed, I was happy that Shi Won did mature. I felt that university life in Seoul coupled with Yoon Jae's heartbreaking confession finally knocked some sense into her head. That was sort of the turning point in her life when she gradually learned how to be sensitive towards the feelings of others. She realized that she cannot lead Tae Woong on and still expect Yoon Jae to be with her at the same time. 

I loved how Shi Won, similar to Na Jung in Reply 1994, was decisive in love. Once she realized how Yoon Jae felt and how she felt towards him, there was just no turning back for her. She could not be swayed by Tae Woong the way Na Jung never gave Chilbong a chance. 

I learned to love Shi Won, thanks to Jung Eun Ji's effective acting. She was naturally funny. I loved the naughty face she makes when she's planning to do something silly or when she's teasing Yoon Jae. Like that face she made when she was asking Yoon Jae if he had a girlfriend and she called Joon Hee to confirm. But apart from being funny, I loved the spunk that Jung Eun Ji gave Shi Won. Dong Il was right when he said towards the end of the show that he need not worry about her because she can survive anything. She was fearless.  

I read that Reply 1997 was the main acting debut for both Jung Eun Ji and Seo In Guk. They really delivered very impressive performances for newcomers. 

Yoon Jae and Shi Won

Similar to Reply 1994, Shi Won and Yoon Jae had a sibling-like relationship. Their families were so close. Yoon Jae practically lived in Shi Won's house. I was initially confused about their relationship because I thought they actually lived together. 

Unlike Reply 1994, however, it was the guy who had unrequited love for the girl here. Yoon Jae had been sure of his feelings for Shi Won since the first day of high school. Shi Won, on the other hand, was clueless until Yoon Jae's confession. And when she belatedly realized that she felt the same way for Yoon Jae, Shi Won respected that he needed space and time away from her. She didn't pester him until they accidentally met in a coffee shop in 2005. 

I loved how seamless their reunion was. Shi Won did not waste time. She immediately confronted Yoon Jae if he still liked her. Yes, Yoon Jae hesitated a bit. But I loved how Joon Hee pushed him to admit his feelings when he told Yoon Jae that it was not Shi Won's fault that she did not know Yoon Jae liked her. As Shi Won said, she's simple-minded, so she needed to have that spelled out for her. 

And when Yoon Jae finally admitted his feelings, he just never backed down. I loved that cute kiss they shared on the stairs. And how Yoon Jae's aura totally changed after his confession. He looked so relaxed and happy. 

I was totally giddy when Yoon Jae introduced himself as Shi Won's boyfriend in front of her colleagues and how he casually grabbed her coffee and drank from it. And then he tried wiping off the marker on Shi Won's face with his saliva. Ewww but awww at the same time. :D

Although it was mostly funny, I admit that I felt quite uncomfortable with how Shi Won continued to treat Yoon Jae violently even after they were officially together. He was definitely a battered husband/boyfriend. Yes, he did not seem to mind it but I felt that he enabled Shi Won to be more bratty. Though I also recognize that Shi Won was also submissive to Yoon Jae sometimes like when he tried to control her alcohol intake during her dinner with her colleagues and when she was pregnant, she was really mostly a thug as her parents called her. 

I found the story of their marriage really funny. Dong Il described it as them not marrying the "ordinary" way because Shi Won was already pregnant when they got married and they had to "steal" away the wedding that was supposed to be for Tae Woong. I wished they showed us how the two revealed the pregnancy to their parents and to Tae Woong. That would have been really hilarious. 

The Surprise Love Triangle 

This one was totally unexpected. Initially, the story between Tae Woong and Shi Won's sister felt a bit off. It came out of the blue and it was not immediately revealed that the girl was Shi Won's sister. I thought she was just some girl that Tae Woong tutored. Then things slowly made sense. They used to be in a relationship until the girl died in a bus accident. Then we hear Tae Woong telling Yoon Jae that he liked Shi Won, on the night Yoon Jae was supposed to confess his feelings to Shi Won. That was quite crazy. I can just imagine the burden that Yoon Jae had to carry. His brother practically gave up his life to take care of him so how can he possibly betray him. He had no choice but to give way. 

I would admit that from the beginning, I felt quite uncomfortable with Tae Woong's relationship with Shi Won. Sure, she was no longer a minor at that time. But he was still her teacher although he did resign before he confessed. And there was just too much history between the two of them. Did he not just miss his ex-girlfriend and he probably just saw her in Shi Won? And did he really think Yoon Jae and Shi Won's relationship was purely platonic? Things just felt so wrong for me. And that's totally not because of the age gap or the close family relations because I did not feel that way towards Trash and Na Jung in '94. 

Among all the love triangles in the Reply series, this was probably the only time that I was not confused. I was sure that I did not like Tae Woong for Shi Won. 

I loved how Yoon Jae refused to give way to his brother the second time around. I liked his spiel about his feelings not being a switch that can be turned on and off as he pleased. But I loved how he remained respectful despite all the anger and pain he probably felt at that time. 

And while I was not really fond of him, Tae Woong got some points from me when he switched dates with Yoon Jae, as a sign that he was letting Shi Won go so she can be with his brother. That was very selfless of him. I felt Yoon Jae's guilt as he sobbed when all Tae Woong said  after Yoon Jae's long angry speech was sorry. This was nicely presented parallel to the story of Dong Il's dad and uncle who had misunderstandings as kids but when they grew up, the elder one was very forgiving. He was humble enough to apologize even if the younger one wronged him. 

Although I did not really like this love triangle, I was genuinely happy that they resolved things in the end without any awkwardness. Tae Woong could openly ask Shi Won why she chose Yoon Jae over him who was taller, smarter, richer, etc. And Shi Won candidly replied that Yoon Jae made her heart flutter unlike Tae Woong and she even went on to say that she did not feel anything when they kissed. And the two can freely tell Yoon Jae about what they were talking about, without any one of them getting offended. The grand reveal of who Shi Won ended up with during the final episode was also thrilling with both guys arriving at the hospital where Shi Won was about to give birth and the nurse asks who the husband was. I was also happy that Tae Woong married someone nice and crazy too. 

The Gang and their Stories

Initially, Oppa and I felt that the gang here was not as tight as our other Reply gangs. When they were still in school, they had limited scenes together as a group. It was mostly Shi Won with Yoon Jae or Joon Hee then Mo Yoo Jung (Shin So Yul as Shi Won's best friend) with her boyfriend Do Hak Chan (Eun Ji Won). The boys would be together and the girls would have their thing too but they rarely did things collectively. This was probably one of the reasons why I did not warm up to the show right away. The bond was not that strong and the focus was mainly on Shi Won and Yoon Jae. 

Despite the limited screen time of the other characters, the show still managed to give us bits of stories for them too. I liked the show's treatment of the love storyline between Joon Hee and Yoon Jae. There was an outright admission here and we were not merely left guessing. And although Joon Hee did not directly confess his feelings to Yoon Jae, the latter knew about it and he did not make a big fuss out of it. Yoon Jae still treated Joon Hee the same way. And I found it really sad that Joon Hee held on to Yoon Jae for so long, only finding the courage to finally let go when Shi Won came back into his life. I also liked how Shi Won and Joon Hee were mature enough not to allow their feelings for Yoon Jae affect their friendship. In the end, I was just glad that Joon Hee found love too, that will hopefully help him move on. And let me just say that Hoya's a great dancer. :D

I also liked how the show narrowed down the contenders for Shi Won's husband by putting Hak Chan and Yoo Jung in a relationship. I loved how the awkward Hak Chan ended up with the fickle and cute Yoo Jung. Their relationship was riddled with problems mostly due to Hak Chan's inability to communicate - he avoided Yoo Jung's friends, he friendzoned her in front of his mom, and he could not tell her right away that he was going to study overseas. Yoo Jung had her flaws too with her crazy demands when they were just starting out - about his clothes, the way he holds crabs, etc.  

But when they finally reconnected, they were totally inseparable. I loved that seamless reunion during the funeral of Yoo Jung's dad. Hak Chan just sat beside the sobbing Yoo Jung and he placed her head on his shoulders. No words were said but you felt the love radiating between the two of them. And I loved Hak Chan's very honest admission that it took time for him to graduate because he was not smart and he needed a degree before he could go back to Yoo Jung. 

These two actors were perfect for their roles. Shin So Yul played the cutesy character really well and you wouldn't know that Eun Ji Won was older than the other guys because he blended in so well with them. 

Although they were rarely together in the initial episodes, it was still easy to fall in love with this group of friends. Oppa said it perfectly - the nice thing about the Reply series is they are so good in making it appear that the characters are really close friends, even if sometimes there's a huge age difference among the actors. It's so easy to believe that they are friends in real life. 

And while I doubted the strength of their friendship in the beginning, they proved me wrong when Yoo Jung's dad passed away. Joon Hee, Yoon Jae, and Shi Won all went back home to Busan from Seoul late at night to comfort her. And when they get there, they find Bang Sung Jae (Lee Si Eon), the gang's resident talkative and funny guy, cleaning up the place and feeding Yoo Jung was was inconsolable. They were proof that real friends will always rush to you in times of need even if you have not been in touch with them for a long time. 

I liked that the years skipped in the show were those times when they were in college. That allowed us to spend a little bit more time with the more mature versions of our characters. And because of that, I found myself loving their older versions more than the younger ones (unlike the other Reply series where I was probably more fond of the young ones). I loved how the show walked us through the gang's breakups and realizations that they still liked each other until they finally got back together again. I liked how they forged stronger friendships as they grew older. I find this Reply most satisfying in terms of how the love and friendship storylines progressed. 

I would even say that I got to know the characters better through their older selves. Take Sung Jae for instance. Back in 1997, all he did was play Tamagochi, talk non-stop, and crack silly jokes. His poor exam scores stopped him from going to college. Later on, however, we see that he bloomed as a public servant. I loved that scene where he traveled the entire day to help a grandma change her light bulb. Yes, his job was the most exhausting and least glamorous. He was probably underpaid too. But I suppose it was the most fulfilling one because he could see the outcome firsthand. Sung Jae was proof that we'll all grow wherever we're planted and we will be loved and appreciated there. 

In the end, Oppa felt that the short episodes (16 episodes with the initial episodes only running for around 30 minutes) prevented us from getting to know all of the characters on a much deeper level unlike in the other Reply shows where most of them had fully-developed stories. 

Family

No Reply show is complete without the family storyline. As usual, Dong Il and Il Hwa delivered very solid performances as Shi Won's parents. 

Il Hwa still cooked a lot and she still loved her family tremendously. Although she often argued with Dong Il, she was the first one to address any problem that made him uncomfortable. When he had cancer and their favorite TV show had a character with cancer, which made all of the patients in Dong Il's ward depressed, Il Hwa kept on calling the writer to make her change her mind so that she can give hope to cancer patients like Dong Il.

And while she probably hated Shi Won's crazy fangirling too, Il Hwa was always there to protect and defend her against Dong Il. 

And of course we have the staple love-hate relationship between father and daughter. Dong Il and Shi Won were always arguing and yelling at each other. But they actually cared a lot for each other too. Shi Won felt so terrible when Dong Il had cancer. And I loved Dong Il's heartfelt prayer asking God to heal him because he still wanted to walk Shi Won down the aisle. I also loved the tearful send off he had for Shi Won on the bus before she left for college in Seoul. 

I loved how Yoo Jung advised her friends to value their parents, unlike her who was annoyed whenever her parents checked on her that she did not even find out that her father was sick. It was also heartbreaking to hear Yoon Jae lament how his only memory of his parents was missing them and how he wished that he also had memories of arguing and being annoyed with them like his friends. And I appreciated how grateful Yoon Jae was to Shi Won's parents because they treated him like their own - they scolded him and they were not nice to him just out of pity because he was as an orphan. And I especially loved how loyal Tae Woong and Yoon Jae were to Shi Won's parents. 

The Funny Stuff

Reply 1997 is probably not as funny as the other Reply shows that left me gasping for breath from laughing too much. However, it was still funny. I enjoyed seeing the fake stuff like Adidos and Guess with an exclamation point. 

Shi Won's fangirling over boybands was also very hilarious. She was so crazy for trespassing into Tony's (H.O.T. member) house and writing a note for him in her own blood so she can be part of the fan's club's board of directors. The fan war between the H.O.T.  and Sechs Kies fans was crazy too. Funny trivia that Eun Ji Won was actually a Sechs Kies member. 

So yep, Reply 1997 still lived up to the brand of comedy that we love in the Reply series. 

Slight Boo-Boo


Being a big basketball fan, Oppa noticed a little mistake in one of the earlier episodes. Tae Woong's door had the poster of NBA's Shaquille O'Neal on it but he was already wearing a Miami Heat uniform. The scene was supposedly set in 1997 when Shaq was still with the Lakers; he only joined the Heat in 2004. I guess that's really the difficulty when you recreate scenes from the past. 

Music

Probably because the series was quite short, I was not able to pay close attention to the Korean music used. But I greatly appreciated the nice selection of English songs like Ode to my Family when Dong Il was reminiscing about good times with Tae Woong's family, More than Words when Joon Hee was telling Yoon Jae that he was moving out, and The Scientist when Tae Woong confronted Yoon Jae about Shi Won. These songs were just so perfect for the scenes where they were used. 

Finale

Aside from the grand reveal about who Shi Won's husband was, the final episode was mostly used as a wrap up/flashback episode. At some points, it had a dizzying effect on me, the way the pilot episode had with all the back and forth between the past and the present scenes. It would have probably been more exciting for us if we did not know who Shi Won ended up with. 

I loved the finale because it was like a gentle goodbye that would help me move on from the show. It was nice and comforting to know that all was well with everyone, except perhaps for Sung Jae who was still single. 

And as with all Reply shows, I loved the closing spiel here too - about the passion and innocence of youth and first love and that while things can be exhausting due to familiarity, there will always be something comforting about the familiar too, so it it is not necessarily a bad thing. 

While Reply 1997 did not match my love and fondness for Reply 1988, I still loved it just the same. Because indeed, familiarity can be very comforting too. 

Oppa says...4.5.

Noona says...4.5. 


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