17 January 2021

K Drama Review: Reply Series

Now that we've watched all of the Reply shows, I need some sort of debriefing to help me move on from this wonderful series. And I thought it might be a good idea to make some sort of comparative review of how I felt about the three shows. I was supposed to do this for my Reply 1997 review but Oppa said I should do a separate one. So here goes...


I might have said this in my Reply 1994 review but I'll say it again. The Reply series is best watched in the order that they were released (1997, 1994, 1988). Do not make the same mistake we did - we watched them chronologically based on the year the story was set in. We basically watched them in the reverse order of release. Hence, we spoiled Reply 1997 for ourselves. We already knew who would end up with each other and that might have slightly affected our appreciation of the show. 

Apart from the spoilers, it's also wise to watch them in the order they were released because the Reply series really got better and improved through its 3-show run. The stories and relationships became more heartwarming and endearing. Although having said that, watching the series in that order might make it so much more difficult to let go. Expect major separation anxiety. 

The only probable advantage of what we did (watching it in reverse) was that we had an easier time letting go because we were not as invested in Reply 1997 compared to the other two shows. So I guess it depends on what you value as a viewer. If you often have a hard time letting go of your dramas, watch the series in reverse. But if you absolutely hate spoilers, then watch them in the order they were released. Or if you don't really care, then when you watch them should not really matter. After all, they are all good shows and still way, way better than a lot of dramas out there. :)

Funny


The trademark of all the Reply shows is that they were all funny in a witty and smart sort of way. They were never slapstick. All of the female leads were funny with Hyeri (Deok Sun in Reply 1988) as the funniest, followed by Go Ara (Na Jung in '94) and Jung Eun Ji (Shi Won in '97). 


Sung Dong Il, the female lead's father in all the shows, was very hilarious too. He would always threaten to shave off his daughters' hairs whenever they acted wildly like when they were fangirling excessively. 


For Reply 1988, the funniest ones for me were Mi Ran and her husband Sung Kyun. I still can't stop laughing whenever I remember Mi Ran's singing audition where her tape was replaced with the vendor's recording. And Sung Kyun's silly greetings with Deok Sun. 


In Reply 1994, Sung Kyun as Samcheonpo was probably the funniest. I especially loved that scene where he and Haitai (Son Ho Jun) ordered a lot of biscuits from KFC to impress the Seoul girls they were dating. Or how it took him the entire day to travel from the Seoul station to his boarding house and he even got arrested along the way. 


I can't pick a really funny character in '97 apart from Dong Il and Shi Won but Sung Jae (Lee Si Eon) would probably come closest to them. 

Family


The best thing about the Reply series would probably be the focus on families - biological families and families borne out of close friendships. 


When it comes to this category, my favorite would be '88. There were five families living in one community and it felt like they all belonged to one big happy family. They shared everything - their joys and pains (and even their food, briquette, and cupboard). They worried whenever one was sick. And they lent money to help one whose house was being foreclosed, without expecting to be paid. 


'94 was also quite special. Although we only had one family here, I loved how Dong Il and Il Hwa treated all of their tenants as their own kids. They were the kids' family away from home. 

The families in the Reply series were not perfect. They were all flawed. But they all strived to do better. And they proved time and again that they can overcome anything as long as they stick with each other. 

There were also some similar family storylines among the shows. Dong Il was a baseball coach both in '94 and '97. And he would always have love-hate relationships with his daughters that involved a lot of screaming.


Il Hwa cooked a lot in all the shows. I still can't get over her gimbap tower in '97. 

Both '97 and '94 also involved dead children who were somehow related to the male lead’s family. In '94, it was Na Jung's older brother who was also Trash's (Jung Woo) bestfriend. In '97 it was Shi Won's elder sister who was also the ex-girlfriend of Tae Woong (Song Jong Ho). I liked how these storylines were handled - the families were nostalgic about them without being overdramatic. 

Sports and National Treasure Athletes

One reason why we loved the Reply series was because sports played a big role in most of them. 


In '88, we have Taek (Park Bo Gum) as our national treasure for being a champion go gamer. The Seoul Olympics was also discussed prominently in the earlier episodes of the show. 


In '94, we have Chilbong (Yoo Yeon Seok) as the star pitcher who played in the US. Na Jung was also crazy about basketball here. 

As mentioned above, Dong Il was a baseball coach in both '94 and '97. Football was also prominent in both shows. The World Cup was featured in '94, with Na Jung's wedding coinciding with one of Korea's matches. Shi Won and her friends also watched a World Cup qualifier between Korea and Japan in '97.

Fangirling

There were fangirling storylines in most of the shows. Although Deok Sun was not really crazy about a particular artist, she and her friends also went to concerts of their favorite singers. 


In '94, we have Na Jung who was crazy about basketball and Yoon Jin (Min Do Hee) who was crazy about Seo Taiji and the Boys. I will never forget how Samcheonpo brought home Seo Taiji's toilet bowl to console Yoon Jin who was depressed when the group disbanded. 


And of course we have the crazy fan wars between the H.O.T. and Sechs Kies fans in '97. Who can forget how Shi Won climbed the fence to see Tony of H.O.T. or how she wrote a note for Tony using her own blood to get a spot in the fan's club's board of directors?

Gay Love and Other Socially Relevant Stuff


In '94, we were left wondering if Binggeure (Baro) had feelings for Trash. He was always so formal and awkward around him. 


In '97, the show gives us an outright admission when Joon Hee (Hoya) tells Shi Won that he likes Yoon Jae (Seo In Guk). Yoon Jae finds out eventually but his treatment of Joon Hee never changed. He was still his friend and he never felt awkward towards him. 

I loved how the Reply series were both entertaining and socially relevant. I loved the treatment of the gay love storylines. The series never presented them in a slapstick or mocking manner, the way they're often presented in other K dramas. They were very natural and respectful.


I also loved the other socially relevant topics that the series tried to inject in the shows. We had Bo Ra's (Ryu Hye Young) protests in ‘88. Menopause was also discussed quite extensively in both '94 and '88. Then cancer was also touched on in '88 and '97. It's always refreshing to see responsible shows like these that do not only aim to entertain but also exert effort to educate their viewers. 

The Love Story (and Triangle)

All shows in the Reply series had love triangles. And throughout the show, we're left to guess who the female lead will end up with. The show would then gradually narrow down the choices and eliminate the other contenders until we're down to two. The one who'll get the girl would only be revealed in the finale. If you're impatient like me though, these are all searchable on the Internet (like what I did with '94). But it would also be nice to keep this as a surprise so you have an additional thing to look forward to in the end. 

I loved how all three shows maintained healthy competitions between the guys who are after the female leads. They never allowed their competitions to affect their friendships. 

The male leads were all smart and geniuses - Taek the go gamer, Trash the messy but smart doctor, and intelligent Yoon Jae who ended up as a judge. 

The female leads were all strong, bratty, immature, and had the penchant for physical and verbal abuse. But they all had redeeming factors and they all matured eventually. Deok Sun was a caring person. Na Jung was a good daughter. Shi Won cared about how Tae Woong and Joon Hee felt, given her feelings for Yoon Jae. 

I loved how Shi Won and Na Jung were very decisive in love. They were sure and they never allowed Tae Woong (temporarily, yes, before she found out how Yoon Jae felt) and Chilbong to sway them. Now I'm wondering if Deok Sun would have been as decisive if she found out how Jung Hwan truly felt for her. 

All of the relationships in the Reply series started out with friendships that turned into almost close family relationships - with guys who end up practically living in the girls’ houses. They were like siblings and the show did quite a good job in confusing me during the earlier episodes as to the real relationships of the leads especially in '94 and '97. 


In '88, the show makes us think that Deok Sun might end up with Sun Woo (Go Kyung Pyo), who was her crush. But he was eliminated when it's revealed that he actually liked Bo Ra. Then we find out that Jung Hwan (Ryu Jun Yeol) might actually be the one because he likes Deok Sun and she seems to like him too. Until we find out that a dark horse has emerged when Taek finally takes the girl. Who can forget that heartbreaking pretend-but-actually-real confession of Jung Hwan to Deok Sun in the restaurant or how he broke down when he saw Taek beat him to Deok Sun during that concert? I loved how Taek tried to clear things with Jung Hwan first before he pursued Deok Sun and how Jung Hwan told him that it didn't matter. 


In '94, we started with a lot of contenders for Na Jung's heart. Basically all the boys in the boarding house were in the race. Then Samcheonpo ends up with Yoon Jin. And Binggeure and Haitai find their own love interests. So we're left with Chilbong and Trash. Although Chilbong and Trash were not really friends, I loved how they still respected each other enough and they maintained their friendship even after Trash got the girl. I loved Chilbong's tearful goodbye to Na Jung on the baseball field. Chilbong was a good sport about it, even letting Trash and Na Jung rent his apartment at a discounted rate. 


In '97, Joon Hee started out as a contender but he was quickly eliminated when he revealed to Shi Won that he liked Yoon Jae. So we were left with Yoon Jae and his brother, Tae Woong. Tae Woong had the girl for a short time until Shi Won realized that it was really Yoon Jae that she loved. I loved how the three characters confronted their issues head on. Shi Won demanded an answer from Yoon Jae if he still liked her. Tae Woong told Yoon Jae when he found out that he had feelings for Shi Won that he was not going to back down and they should let Shi Won decide. And Yoon Jae pushed back this time, not giving way to his brother a second time around. And when everything was cleared up, they all went back to normal. There was no awkwardness whatsoever. They were so cool with it that they can even tease each other about it. 

As I mentioned in my '97 review, the Reply series often confused me when it came to the love triangles. I loved both Taek and Jung Hwan. I had fondness for both Chilbong and Trash. Although I recall picking Jung Hwan and Chilbong in the end, I was generally fine with how the stories ended because I loved all of them. It would have broken my heart either way. But in '97, I was never confused. I was sure of Yoon Jae and I really didn't like Tae Woong for Shi Won. 

Friendships

I know this is the recurring theme among all three shows - friendships forged in school and/or the neighborhood. Some were friends since childhood. They form very strong ties that survive even after they go their separate ways. They always go home to those friends who provided them comfort during some of the most turbulent times of their lives. 


The Sangmundong gang in '88 will always be my favorite. They go way back and they shared so many memories together. Their families are all linked to each other forming  one big family. They cheer each other on like when Taek gets depressed when he loses a match. They look out for each other like when Dong Ryong (Lee Dong Hwi) ran away from home. They help each other achieve their dreams even if it means doing embarrassing stuff like how the boys participated in a dance contest in Deok Sun's school to help her win that walkman. And they give each other advice like how Dong Ryong told Jung Hwan that Mi Ran was moping around because she felt that her family no longer needed her. Their friendship was so deep that not even a love triangle can break them apart. 


The '94 Sinchon boarding house gang is my next favorite. Although they were not childhood friends, I loved how they bonded over their shared experience of coming from the provinces and living independently in a big and an unfamiliar city. They helped each other survive the concrete jungle and although they had their differences like how Yoon Jin was quiet but brutally frank when she spoke (especially when drunk) and how Samcheonpo was weird, they clicked. I especially loved how Trash took Binggeure under his wings that finally pushed the latter to finish med school. And how Haitai and Samcheonpo's love-hate relationship evolved that in the end, Samcheonpo even left his most treasured blanket with Haitai. 


Although I was not as fond of the '97 Busan gang, that was more due to the fact that they shared fewer screentime together compared to the other gangs. It didn’t help that the ‘97 episodes were much shorter too so we did not really have enough time to get to know everyone.  I refuse to pass judgment on how deep their friendship was because I also felt how much they loved and cared for each other. This was especially true during the time Yoo Jung's (Shin So Yul) dad passed away. They all dropped everything that they were doing and went back to Busan to console her. 

As I mentioned in my '97 review, the great thing about the Reply series is its ability to put together actors who genuinely look like friends in real life, even if there are some age differences. They all looked like friends who truly cared for each other and that made all of these gangs very endearing to the viewers. 

Music

I loved how music was well used in all three shows. I especially loved the use of English songs that were so apt for the scenes where they were played. My most favorite though would still be a Korean song, Hyehwadong from ‘88. The intro notes alone are enough to transport me back to Sangmundong. 

There's no doubt that I loved the Reply series. I won't be writing this and I won't have a hard time moving on if I didn't love the shows. And while I've been vocal about loving '88 the most and I was not as fond with '97, I still loved all three shows. It was nice and nostalgic to see how far the Reply series has gone. From the quite dizzying pilot episode in '97 with the constant back and forth between the past and present scenes, the show improved tremendously, culminating with the best show in the series in Reply 1988. 

The Reply series will always have a special place in our hearts and we will always look forward to shows from this PD-writer team because of their heartwarming stories that never fail to make our hearts flutter. We will always remember Sangmundong, Sinchon, and Busan with fondness, thanks to the Reply series. :)


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