응답하라 1988 (Reply 1988)

It’s my first drama for 2016 and I binge-watched all the Reply 1988 episodes that run at almost two-hour long each.

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I didn’t think I would be able to enjoy this series since I was literally a baby in 1988. On top of that, the whole Chilbong friendzoning was quite traumatic. However, the writers prove that although here goes the husband hunting again, Reply 1988 offers so much more than fakeouts and shipping war. Since I am teaching Korean students, I also find this drama quite informative as it gives me some relevant topics that I can actually use in my class discussions such as the Olympics, the Gwangju Uprising, Hangul, university exams, and more.

Just like the typical Reply series, 1988’s narrative is a nostalgia-filled, slowly paced, with past and present timelines. Deok Sun (Lee Mi Yeon) narrates her teenage years, played by her younger counterpart, Hyeri. Unlike the overly drawn-out future husband guessing game with the previous Reply leads, 1988 focuses not only on Deok Sun’s love interest but as well as her family. Her middle child syndrome comes out in several, highly understandable occasions, which make her a relatable character and Hyeri, a better actress than she was in Hyde,Jekylle,Me.


Hyeri is a member of the female idol group, Girl’s Day and choosing an idol for a lead is quite a huge risk but just like in the case of  Eun ji and Go Ara, the gamble paid off. Her role as Deok Sun propelled Hyeri’s popularity, in and out of South Korea, with a million Instagram followers to prove it. 

The parents are once again played by Sung Dong Il and Lee Il Hwa bringing along their undeniable chemistry. For a change, Sung Dong Il’s character isn’t well-off or famous and their different financial background makes their family dynamics and daily struggles more touching. Deok Sun’s sister Bora was initially annoying. I just couldn’t stand her attitude and it makes me feel thankful that I don’t have an older sister in real life. I would’ve probably pulled all her hair out! But Bora’s character, as well as the actress Ryoo Hye Young, is someone who’d grow on you. I think this is the advantage of having a slowly paced narrative. Reply 1988 has enough time to flesh out the characters and eventually make me care about them more than I expected.
Rounding up the members of Deok Sun’s family youngest brother No Eul, a shy kid who didn’t seem to be good at anything but turned out to have a special talent. He’s a teenager played by an old actor, Choi Sung Won, just like Samcheonpo. 

In the pre-internet and smartphone era, the main characters are especially lucky that they grew up in their small community where secrets are impossible to keep but strong bonds of friendship were formed. Deok Sun’s childhood friends include: the manly but quite reticent, Jung Hwan; the mature, all around-good boy, school president, Sun Woo;  the Baduk genius but socially awkward baby of the group, Choi Taek; and the funny, attention craving son of the Dean, Dong Ryong. One of them will eventually grow old and will be played by Kim Joo Hyuk, the current-day husband.

Personally, I am not too invested in the mysterious husband’s identity anymore since the writer made this series a little more episodic, wherein each episode highlights a special theme on love, friendship and family. I like that there are more characters to focus on and the subplots are quite nicely wrapped up. 

Jung Hwan’s family lives more comfortably than the rest. His father, who previously played Samcheonpo in Reply 1994 has totally transformed into quite an eccentric dad who loves old school gags; and his tough mom is played by Ra Mi Ran. The parents get to use their real names in the series. He has an older brother, Jung Boong, who is good at everything else except studying.  

I haven’t seen Ryu Joon Yeol in anything before so I have no idea how he is as an actor but I am quite satisfied with how he plays Jung Hwan with an air of mystery and ‘bad boy’ vibes but actually dorky and good-natured. He’s no match against Park Bo Gum in the looks department but he has his own charm and this character made him look more attractive than he is. One of my Korean students actually went to the same school as him, and she was deeply surprised by Ryu Joon Yeol’s popularity. She thought he was just ordinary. Well, I guess not anymore.

Sun Woo is the most normal kid on the block. His sunny personality makes up for his father-less family. He has an open and sweet relationship with his mom and he takes care of young Jin Joo like the best oppa in the world.

My student was surprised when I told her I know who Ko Gyung Pyo was because she didn’t. And apparently, a lot of Koreans were really unfamiliar with him until this drama came out. Prior to this, I already watched him in Flower Boy Next DoorNaeil Cantabile, and Coin Locker Girl. He was always the funny guy. I’m glad that he got a more “normal” and actually swoon-worthy role and he pulled it off big time, I actually find myself in love with Sun Woo’s character at times.

Choi Taek who is considered a god in China thanks to his world class Baduk accomplishments is actually just a clumsy little kid for the rest of his friends. While Sun Woo is without a dad, Taek grew up without a mom. His character is similar to Park Bo Gum’s real life shy and baby-like personality. Even the behind-the-scenes clips prove that’s oozing with aegyo, and yes he’s awkward when cursing out loud. From the first time I saw him in that very small role in Gaksital, it’s amazing how Park Bo Gum has come a long way and gets more and more recognition these days. Among all the characters in the drama, Choi Taek has become a household name. Even other celebrities call him Choi Taek these days. I loved him in I Remember You where he played Seo In Guk’s messed up little brother but I think I love him more now as Taekkie.

Dong Ryong has both parents but it feels like he has none. They are constantly working and he’s left alone at home, ordering food delivery for himself. What makes it worse is that instead of meeting dad at home, he gets to see him in school!

Lee Dong Hwi proves his comic chops in this series. He’s appeared in several movies before but his Reply 1988 character made him a supporting star to watch out for.

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Their different family backgrounds make the characters’ lives a little more intertwined with each other and are the source of heart-tugging story arcs.

It’s all the more fun to see the bromance since it’s not just the cute things that make their friendship fun to watch but the small sacrifices they make for each other.

So when the romantic storyline came in and the emotions get revealed but held back, things became complicated. I am still waiting for the subtitles for Episode 17 and 18. While Deok Sun feels hurt by the thought that nobody wants her, I am hurting here seeing my baby Taek and Jung Hwan both loving her and protecting the friendship at the same time.


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