Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Drama Review: Reply 1988


After 35 hours (!), Reply 1988 is finally finished. And what a run it has been. Being the third installment of the Reply series, one might have doubts about the quality of this particular reason. But, having finished it, it was a great series still. Just a warning, this review is going to be long. Just like the series.

One of the biggest difference about this season is its emphasis on family. While the previous seasons focused more about the experience of youth and later the husband hunt, Reply 1988 didn't obsess over the eventual husband of leading lady Sung Duk-seon (Hyeri). Instead, it focused on the lives of the lively neighborhood of Ssangmun-dong. Initally there were 5 families, whose similar aged children grew up together and became best friends: Duk-seon, Jung-hwan (Ryu Jun-yeol), Sun-woo (Go Kyung-pyo), Dong-ryong (Lee Dong-hwi) and Taek (Park Bo-gum). Through out the series we became witness to their everyday lives which to the naked eye seemed simple but were filled with many heartwarming moments.

I do have to say that Reply 1988 is my ideal Reply series in terms of subject matter. I complained, especially on the previous Reply 1994, that they were too caught up in the husband mystery that every other character were swept to the sidelines. Oddly enough, it was kind of the opposite with 1988, which has its ups and downsides. I'll discuss that later on. But first. Family. This is the biggest source of stories for the series. We were introduced to not only the main group of friends, but also their families. We get to meet their parents, brothers, sisters, and the occasional extended family members, invited or not. By meeting them, we were able to get more diverse forms of relationships. From overtly caring brothers, to nagging but responsible sisters. Parents who fight over how to spend their money. Sons who cared for their mothers in their unique ways. Mothers who were spoiled by their daughters and "daughters". Dads who get misunderstood. The love is shared throughout the family and is shown in a variety of ways. It was nice we get to finally see loving families in dramas who aren't fighting over petty things.


Another form of relationship that gets more spotlight over romantic love is friendship love. Not just between the young Ssangmun-dong gang, but also from the elders. The friendship of the youngsters are obviously going to be told, as it's a running theme over the series. But another perk of introducing the family, and parents especially, is that we get to see other sets of friends. The older friends. 1997 sort of had it, but one was dead. 1994 didn't have it since the kids lived away from home. So 1988 was able to fully show the complex relationship of adult friendships. The friends in this neighborhood actually have the best of intentions for each other. There were no petty relationships in this, which is nice. They were as caring as can be but were no where cartoonish. They were human and real, but just has the biggest hearts.

But really, I think the biggest achievement this series had was its ability to let their characters grow in their unique ways. I probably would've been pissed if they didn't, especially since the running time in this series is borderline ridiculous. But going down the list of the gang's family who lives in the neighborhood (so not counting Dong-ryong's brother), everyone gets their own time to shine. Some more than others, of course, but everyone was allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. I was especially surprised with Dong-ryong's mom, who was absent for much of the series since she was a workaholic who didn't have time to make his son a birthday breakfast. But towards the end of the series, we get to see a new light to her and subsequently Dong-ryong's dad and I thought that was nice.


Of course, the more leading characters had more time, air time at least, to learn and grow. This is true of the kids, but that's pretty obvious. So it was nice to learn more about the aging parents. One beautiful statement in the series' closing narration was that not only was 1988 the high school gang's youth, it was also the parents' youth. The kids will make mistakes because that's what kids do. But the parents are first time parents in their own rights and can't help but make mistakes either. And since we get to see their flaws in the series, we later witness the kids' realization that their parents aren't perfect. Your mom who accidentally washes your jacket or your dad who bought the wrong type of ice cream is, in the end, just another human being.

Since a lot of the main characters were kids, parents were a big part of their lives and got much of the spotlight as well. I was especially curious to what iteration the Sung Dong-il-Lee Il-hwa marriage will be like this time. In 1997, they were constantly bickering to a point you forget whether they even love each other or not. In 1994, they were the loveliest couple full of love who set a good example for all their kids (biological or not). But in 1988, they felt... normal. At times they look like the 1997 couple who can't be in the same room with each other, but at times like in 1994 where they're in perpetual honeymoon phase. Their relationship reflects the mood of each series to me actually. 1994 was more dramatic and full of high highs and low lows. 1994 was rose tinted much of the time and focused more on romantic love. 1988 showed the bitter truth with heavy emphasis on family love. That would be my brief comparison of the three seasons.


I also love the other parents' relationships, of course. I love the sassy Ms. Cheetah Ra Mi-ran who controlled the room with such effortlessness, compared to her goofy younger husband Kim Sung-kyun who attempts to be the mood maker of the household, but ultimately failing. I love Sun-woo's mom Kim Sun-young who tries her hardest raising two children on her own who later marries her hometown oppa Choi Moo-sung, single dad to the successful baduk-player Taek. These two were my ultimate OTP for much of the series, since the younger OTP wasn't making progress. I can talk on and on about them, but I won't since that will take forever.

As for the Ssangmun-dong 5, their relationship was similar to the other series. They were very good friends, and perhaps even better since they grew up together as all 5. Their relationship reflected the vibe of the neighborhood as a whole. This is a neighborhood where families share food on a regular basis or meet just for the heck of it. It was also cool that they never left out anyone out the group, even when one of them is a famous baduk player. His room is actually their hangout place, oddly enough. And when one of them ran away, they chased after him without second thought. Now that is friendship.


When it gets down to it though, the series is much like its predecessor in that it's all about young love. At first there were news that there wasn't going to be a husband hunt but here we are trying to guess Duk-seon's husband. Depending on your stance on previous husband hunts, you may love or hate this aspect. But for me who despised it, especially with what they did with Chilbong (bless him), I was over it. Thankfully, this series didn't dwell on it too much. But oddly enough that might be a bad thing too.

Since I talked about love in my pre-finale post, I'm going to bounce off that. Let's start from Jung-bong (Ahn Jae-hong) and Mi-ok (Lee Min-ji). Their relationship is exactly how I thought it'll be. Mi-ok has been Jung-bong's biggest source of motivation in his life. When they first broke up, her absence made him pull himself up by his bootstraps and finally pass his college exam on his seventh try. And when they got back together, she was the one that motivated him to go after what he truly does best in life: making food. In the future (or rather present) scenes, we know that Jung-bong got even more famous than Taek, which says a lot. Side note, it was really nice to finally find out who Mi-ok's scary dad is. Turns out he's a self-made man doing business in textiles with operations in traditional markets. It was nice that her situation somewhat mirrors Jung-bong's and we later see that they are both similar in being proud of their family's humble background.


Next up, Bo-ra (Ryu Hye-young) and Sun-woo. Out of all the young relationships, their's received the most development. It makes sense since their relationship spanned six years and without the burden of unnecessary husband mystery, they were able to fully bloom. So much so that the wedding of the series was not Duk-seon's but rather Bo-ra and Sun-woo's. I still wished there was something with Duk-seon's wedding, which they forgot altogether (boo), but it was nice that we got a happy ending with the relationship we get to see from the very beginning. Although to be quite honest, the wedding wasn't to see Bo-ra and Sun-woo finally getting married but more like Bo-ra's tearful farewell to her father. It was the biggest tearjerker of the finale for sure.

And finally, the biggest question of them all. Who did Duk-seon marry? It was... Park Bo-gum! I mean Taek. Taek got Duk-seon in the end. It did make sense in the end. Duk-seon isn't Na-jung, who knew who she loved from the beginning. And between the two boys, Taek was the one who did something about his feelings. While Taek is bad at following through initially, Jung-hwan failed at initial execution. If Jung-hwan made a move, he'll probably be her husband. Actually, if Dong-ryong made a move, I think she would've accepted too. Not saying she's an easy girl. But looking at this girl's history, she has a lot of love to give and a lot of them are for her friends. So more than any leading girl in the Reply series, Duk-seon's love is up in the air more than anyone else. And since I wasn't rooting for any particular coupling (aside from Taek's dad and Sun-woo's mom), I wasn't pissed about the final choice as much as other people.


It actually makes more sense that Taek's wife is Duk-seon more than Duk-seon's husband is Taek. While Duk-seon is a girl anyone would love, Taek not so much. He didn't grow up a regular guy. His public image is profoundly different from his actual personality. No one can easily accept him unless they knew him from before he got his fame, and so the potential wife can only come from the neighborhood he grew up in. Sadly there are only two ladies, and since he's afraid of one of them (which I find adorable), the only other person is Duk-seon. As I've mentioned before, Duk-seon's love for her husband would come naturally after they started dating. She didn't have a romantic crush on Taek, even after he kissed her in her sleep. She only romantically loved him later on. But turns out, Taek's love for Duk-seon also came naturally. There was never a single moment when he realized he loved her. He just gradually did, throughout the years they knew each other.

Since Taek got Duk-seon, what happened to the other guy Jung-hwan? Nothing. Literally nothing. This is one of the things I'm very disappointed with the show. Since the finale episodes focused on anything else other than Duk-seon's potential husband, poor Jungpal didn't get anything. I'd like to think his fate is worse than Chilbong, mostly because he didn't have closure. Chilbong's journey is worse because he's in the worst unrequited love ever, but Jung-hwan technically wasn't and just blew it on his own fault. But I wish there was something, anything for this guy. At around the last third of the series, Jung-hwan just disappeared. Him and poor Dong-ryong, who always gets cornered when it comes to anything about love (at least we know he's business savvy). Even No-eul (Choi Seung-won) got more action than either of them. I wish there was a montage, a call, a picture, a narration, anything, to ease our hearts. We went through hell and high water with this guy and you give him and us nothing. It's just cruel. At least Chilbong gets Jung Yu-mi. What about Jungpal? How do we know he's not dead or in jail? For the sake of our collective hearts I'd like to say at least Taek loves Jung-hwan from the bottom of his heart. I still hate that he has no closure though.


That's something I'm most disappointed about with the show, actually. The ending felt... odd. Like a disservice to the characters. I suppose it did its job in being the ultimate ode to nostalgia. But as viewers we also want to know about the current future. The last 10 minutes or so of the series didn't try to tell us where everyone is now, like the previous seasons, but actually went back to the past to relive the stories we just experienced.

I think our collective disappointment was even more painful since both Ryu Jun-yeol and Lee Dong-hwi were utterly fantastic in their roles. Actually, everyone is great. There isn't really anyone whom I'd replace. They were played with distinctive colors and intensity throughout the series. If there was one thing the Reply series know how to do is cast great actors who breathe life into their characters. (I'm starting to think Director Shin Won-ho has magic powers since many of the cast fail to light a spark as bright as they were in his series.) So it became even more unfair when we're so invested in the characters and they get nothing in the end. Bring justice to Jungpal and Dong-ryong.


Back to Ryu Jun-yeol, he was probably the show's biggest revelation. When he was cast, people were wondering who this guy is, especially since he wasn't your typical flower boy. He's also the greenest of the bunch in terms of screen debut. While many of the cast were relatively unknown since they were mostly doing supporting characters, his actual debut is only in 2015 in indie movie Socialphobia. He's definitely this cast's biggest rising star, especially considering what little past work he has. And his performance as the aloof Jung-hwan makes it even harder to let him go. Jung-hwan was described as a dog, since he wasn't fully human (perhaps due to his rude and often unsavory demeanor), but Ryu Jun-yeol made Jung-hwan the most charming, confused, and ultimately wholly human boy there ever was. It was actually odd how much screen time he had initially but was sharply downsized in the later half. Everyone thought he was the main guy. Everyone though he was this series' Yoon Yoon-je. Everyone thought he deserved a better ending at least.

Although really my heart goes to Park Bo-gum. How can it not? The kid is adorable. Park Bo-gum as Taek is the best. Kind of like how Yoo Yeon-seok as Chilbong is the best. They're just so sweet. Taek especially since he's kind of a dimwit (but so is Chilbong. Is this the nice guy's revenge?). One thing I do like about Taek being the one is that we get a lot of giggly scenes of him. Because him being giggly makes me giggly.


I'm now curious what would happen if Jung-hwan would end up being the husband. Would we get a more similar vibe as Na-jung and Trash? Is this why Taek is the husband? So we get a different dynamic other than two hot heads always fighting? I still want to see present Jung-hwan though. And present Dong-ryong. And present Sun-woo. And everyone in the present. Why does the present scenes have to be so intimate? Why can't it be a reunion like the others? I'm getting more sad now.

Not to make this review literally as long as the series itself, let's wrap things up. In hindsight, I do think it is by far my favorite Reply series. And despite the (very) long run time, it oftentimes doesn't feel that way. I felt the length when watching the longer finales of the previous seasons, but perhaps this series built up our tolerance. I do think the time flies by because it's filled with so many moments. There were many laughs but the tears were abundant. A bit much, if I do say so myself. I was grabbing tissues left and right. So to 1988, goodbye. I will miss you, sort of, but I highly doubt I'll want to see you again. Mostly because it'll take me more than 3 days of non-stop watching to do again. And I wish you all the best. Bring on future works of Ryu Jun-yeol and Park Bo-gum.


* Edited the director's name. Got mixed up with the writer's name. Sorry!
** Also edited the running time. I'm bad at math if you can't tell.

6 comments:

  1. What a great review! I definitely agree on all your points. no fan war on who the husband is & who it should be, but rather focusing on the drama as a whole. This one was different from the others because it was SO real. I'm happy as how the romance turned out to be (It felt like Chilbongie FINALLY got the girl! LOL), since Jung-hwan himself admitted that he is at fault for not being able to have enough courage in stepping up & getting Deok-sun. The final episode was really a bit disappointing though due to the lack of Jung-hwan & Dong-ryong. They should have at least let us know how they ended up. At least 1997 & 1994 gave us a happy ending for the brother & Chilbong, but 1988 gave us nothing for Junghwan (Boo!). Anyway, it was a great journey watching this gem. I hope they would do a reply Y2k series next, then show us even just a cameo of Jung-hwan & fill that big hole 1988 left behind! =)

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    1. I feel really bad for Dong-ryong especially since he was the one left out of the character development party. The ending was totally rushed/mis-timed and I think we all needed a trip to the present to feel good about everyone's ending, but sadly we didn't. Although I wonder if they lost contact with each other since growing up which is why they didn't mention many other characters?

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  2. I really read your review even though you warned that it was gonna be long. I liked it and appreciated it. I do agree that maybe this is the Reply where Chilbong woud get his happy ending. I was so scared that it would turn out as "Chilbong 2" but luckily did not. I ship taek and duk seon but I guess if Duk seon ends up with Jung Hwan, it would also be fine because of how each character was given enough time to let the viewers understand each. But i just hoped they have given proper endings for the other characters since they have built them up within the series. But I guess, this reply lived up to the uniqueness and nostalgia of all the replies.

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    1. I've always been okay with the girl ending up with whoever, but because 1994 was all about the love, there's going to be someone's heart who's broken. In 1988, it was more about family. For Jung-hwan, he learned how to fully appreciate his family. For Taek, he learned how to lean on other people. For Duk-seon, she learned that loving yourself is the most important. It's a very sweet series if you forget about the whole husband hunt aspect of it.

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  3. I really loved this drama. It didn't dwell too much on love and its clichés but rather focused on actually living their lives. Its a great drama topped with great actors! For me, it was my first time seeing these actors and because of their great acting I was able to understand and at the same time enjoy the drama. Kuddos to them all. xoxo

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  4. OMG THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS REVIEW!!! really though most people are too wrapped up in their disappointment with the ending that i can barely see anyone talking abt those 3 ahjumma's friendship and the entire neighbourhood. aside from that, your gripe is exactly my gripe & you have basically accentuated ALL my thoughts so thank you again!

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