In the summer of 2012 I was but a tiny inkling on this planet, preparing for my sophomore year of high school, completely unaware of the magic of the K-Drama world. As I ate cold cut sandwiches for lunch and tried to decide if my frenemy at the time would yield to my next move, I wasn’t even aware that something bigger, something beyond me was taking place.
The Reply Series took the world by storm in the summer of 2012, starting with Reply 1997, soon being followed by Reply 1994, and Reply 1988 after its success. I watched each season in order of its release, naturally beginning with 1997 during my Freshman year of college in 2015. They lived up to the hype, so much so making me wonder how I even lived in a Reply-free-world before my discovery upon this gold mine of dramas.
I’m here to get deep into what I couldn’t get enough of, what made me cringe, what made my heart jump, and yes, the issues I had with each individual season, because even Picasso was once criticized.
Disclaimer: Spoilers lie ahead. Tread at your own risk.
The Fan Girls
Like all Reply seasons, I loved how this one showed exactly what was going on during 1997, my birth year. The fangirl craze over popular boy groups such as H.O.T completely amused me and I was astounded at how consistent they were at being super fans. Today’s BTS A.R.M.Y fandom has nothing on them.
A Strong Female Lead
Not a big surprise when it comes to the Reply Series which is known to have feisty female leads, I loved how straightforward, strong and amusing the main female character Shi Won was. Her back and forth banter with her best friend and love interest Yoon Je never failed to leave me smiling and wanting more with every interaction.
Shi Won’s Selfish Sentiments
Though I was a huge fan of Shi Won’s personality, there was one thing about her character that ticked me off that I can go on about for days and submit a formal complaint in writing on if it were ever necessary.
I don’t know about you guys, but I felt like she led Yoon Je on, only to ask if they could just “be friends” and go back to the way things were after everything? Anyone who’s been through a shitty breakup or has dealt with rejection at any point in their life could relate to Yoon Je’s incredulous reaction as the at the time very selfish Shi Won completely glossed over his feelings, did nothing to tackle them, and instead bought him a one way ticket to Friendship Island that he never asked for.
I mean, she dated his older brother Tae Woong who literally stole her from Yoon Je, and I’m convinced throughout the drama pretended to not notice her friends affections and advances towards her. Only to decide that she wanted to be with him years later? I don’t know man, it seems just a little self-serving to me.
Update: It has been brought to my attention after some discussion with a friend of mine that Shi Won did not actually date Yoon Je’s older brother Tae Woong, rather Tae Woong showed an interest in her and she went along with it and accepted all his gifts without protest, but didn’t realize he liked her in that way. From what I remember watching, it would have been a little ridiculous for her to not notice that he liked her with how obvious he was being.
A Refreshing Side Romance
Aside from my issues with Shi Won’s personal decisions, her love story was adorable in its own right. A love story I found even more adorable though, and one can debate me on this, was that of her female best friend Yoo Jung, and Hak Chan, the new guy in town. I loved that though he was assumed to have this tough exterior, his biggest flaw was that time and time again he was completely clueless when it came to love. His non-stop efforts to please his sometimes demanding girlfriend while being a nervous wreck made my heart flutter more than once.
Bring me the Smut
My biggest quibble with Reply 1997 was that though it had amazing, fresh characters, the story-line was not particularly of great interest to me and not one I would re-watch as much as I would the other two seasons.
Between Shi Won “dating” (I use this term loosely) the selfish Tae Woong who had stolen her from his younger brother Yoon Je (apparently unknowingly), while likely knowing (or not) the only reason he was so in love with her was the fact that she reminded him of her older deceased sister who he had once dated, accompanied with her playing dumb through all of it, I couldn’t really completely connect.
I find this season hard to re-watch for anything other than scenes like this:
But then again it has been a while since I watched this particular season of the series, and perhaps have forgotten all the things that I was fond of apart from Seo In Guk’s amazing kissing skills and charm.
This is hands down my favorite out of all the reply series. It is the one that made me laugh the most, cry the most, reminisce about life the most. The infamous father was somehow the most hilarious to me in Reply 1994, and there were so many more things that amused me when it came to the cast, their personalities, and endless antics.
An Unprecedented Love Story
Now let’s talk about the first thing that draws me to this season so much, the love story. Like anyone else, when I heard Na Jung say that as a child she wanted to marry her older brother while they were cuddled in the hospital bed, I cringed and began to question what exactly I was watching. But when she explained, it clicked, and when it clicked, I knew I was in for one hell of a show.
The chemistry between Na Jung and her older “brother” nicknamed Trash (Sseureki) was undeniable from the beginning. I was elated to find that he was a love interest. As I got deeper into the show, I could not picture either of them with anyone else.
I loved that their relationship began as one in which they were completely open with each other and never held back their whole lives, and then we got to see the tender transition take place of when a man begins to see a girl as a woman and vice versa. It was amazing to me how they were able to keep the same real banter that I loved so much and still managed to be so sweet without being cliche or overbearing.
A Juxtaposed Love
A relationship that comes as a close second contender is the relationship between Yoon-Jin, the girl who seemed to be but a mouse until she opened her mouth, and Samcheonpo, the socially unaware guy who seemed to have OCD throughout the drama, but was really misunderstood.
Let me start by saying that I loved the dynamic of their relationship so much. How both of them were misunderstood for different reasons, yet came together and fit each other so perfectly like a quirky, abstract jigsaw puzzle. I liked how the badass, relentless Yoon-Jin only became soft when it came to Samcheonpo, and only he seemed to have the power to make that happen. Even more, I loved how he was the only one able to properly scold her and put her in her place, and how they would both shamelessly defend one another whenever a situation called for it. Can you say #relationshipgoals?
For me, the overall feel of 1994 was perfect. It had my second favorite soundtrack after 1988 and being a fashion enthusiast I couldn’t help but take note of the amazing wardrobe of the cast. I liked how the stark difference between people from the countryside and people who had only known Seoul their entire lives was brought to the forefront through great humor. Even more, I love the iconic sheep sound that we all know so well that accompanied every awkward or downright uncalled for situation.
Reply 1988 falls in the middle of my hierarchy, and I pretty much have a love and hate relationship with this one. Let’s say, I never officially finished it. I mean I made it to the end and had about three to four more episodes to go before I called it quits, and only got coerced to go back and watch the “important” scenes by a friend of mine after months of avoiding it. This is the only Reply series season that literally took me months to watch, as I flew through 1997 and more so 1994. I don’t know what it was, but I just couldn’t get into this one like the others.
Now I’m a big fan of some good old family, heart-wrenching, life lesson inducing moments. But anyone that knows me will tell you that I live for the romance. I believe this season lacked it in the form that I wanted it, and maybe that was the intention in the first place. The purpose of this season may have been to highlight the power of friendship and family more than anything, which I will without a doubt give it five stars for. But after a while I felt like I was watching the ahjummas, as amusing as they were, gossip about their lives for what to me who just wanted some Deuk Sun and Jung Hwan action felt like an eternity.
A Lackluster Reason to Not Love
Don’t even let me get into my beef with the whole love triangle they had going on. I was an avid Jung Hwan supporter from the beginning, though Taek became a strong contender towards the end, it still broke my heart to go back and see who she ended up marrying just for it to be Taek with Jung Hwan’s sorry excuse of “timing“. After all the times Deuk Sun had shamelessly thrown herself at him?
In the drama he states, and I quote:
“Fate doesn’t come around at any time. At the very least, to use the term fate, it has to be a dramatic moment brought by coincidence. That’s what makes it fate. That’s why, another term for fate, is timing. If I had not been caught at any of those damn traffic lights, if any of those red lights had helped me just once, I might be standing in front of her, as if it were fate. My first love was always held back by that damn thing called timing. That damned timing.”
–Kim Jung Hwan (Reply 1988)
Taek & Deuk Son: An Ideal Pairing
I will say though, that while I was upset at Jung Hwan, I couldn’t help but notice how much Deuk Sun and Taek seemed to fit each other. I mean they were both Pabo’s in love, naive, and both laughed at the same dumb things and complemented each other well. Now that I think of it, they had a very Go Bok Shil and Louis type relationship from the hit drama Shopping King Louis.
I liked Jung Hwan’s character so much though that I wouldn’t mind seeing an alternate ending in which he gets the girl, as throughout the drama I felt I never got a real glimpse of who Jung Hwan was and just what exactly he was capable of in the love department.
Dancing in Style
I will say that this season of the series was filled with the most outbreaks of silly unfiltered dancing, and I mean, who doesn’t love a good old 80s dance break with friends?
And if I thought the fashion in Reply 1994 was a force to be reckoned with, the fashion here was to die for.
A Bond to Remember
Now, if we want to discuss heart-wrenching moments, can we just talk about how touching Bora and her father’s story was? Especially in the scene where Bora was getting married and she’d gotten her father a pair of shoes in the wrong size but he still wore them to her wedding because she got them for him? If nothing else, the dynamic, story and acting of these two was just impeccable.
Each individual season of the Reply Series has found a way to win my heart and remain some of my favorite Korean dramas to date. I’m patiently waiting with great anticipation to see what the writers of this series will spring on me next.
Which of the Reply seasons is your favorite, least favorite? Agree or disagree with anything I’ve said? Let me know down in the comments section below!
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