So I just finished watching Reply 1988 and I must say what a whirlwind journey it has been for both myself and the characters of this drama. It’s like I had the privilege of seeing these wonderful people grow as parents and children, as lovers and friends, as students and workers. This is such a heartfelt drama and I’m glad I didn’t ignore to watch this even though I’m five years late to all these laughter and ugly cries and of course–the controversial ending.
This is the third installment of the Answer Me series helmed by the same PD-writer duo. Though each series offers different plot, the formula of the Answer Me series was not just about the Guess-the-husband fiasco, it’s a story of normal people on a certain generation. It’s about a nostalgia of young love, growing up, childhood friends, as a students and a rebel teen (no matter how nonsensical the issue we rebelled on to our elders), pop culture in which becomes a part of our memory as we grow up, and simply just about our youth. I haven’t really watched Answer Me, 1994 and I remember trying to watch the 1997 but college life happened and so I haven’t finished the series. So as to speak, this is my first taste of the Answer Me universe and I’m glad I finished until the end.
Short Synopsis: It’s a story of five friends and their families who grew up in the same neighborhood–Ssangmundong. Hilarity and troubles about families, siblings and friends ensue.
There are so many wonderful aspects of why this drama truly worked for me especially as I watch each episode. I have to be honest that during the first four episodes, it was hard for me to watch it not because of the storyline (I was literally crying every episode especially the first few) but maybe because each episode is just too long, there’s no extravagant conflict that makes me want to hit that next episode button, or I’m just really in a severe drama slump. It’s not you Show, it’s me. However, after I gave it a try again and realized that what makes it endearing are actually the reasons I’ve mentioned above (except the last one, of course). There are episodes where I felt like it was really long unlike the standard length drama which is an hour, but it gives the advantage of fleshing out all the characters in Ssangmundong and having us shown each of their dillemma and growth throughout the series. There are episodes where I didn’t even noticed that 1 hour and 40 minutes have gone by simply because episodes extracted such fine storytelling that makes it really enjoyable to watch. I’ve also mention there’s no crazy conflict in this show. The plot is just to show the normal lives of the characters and the simplicity of life during 1988. How can a writer and director create a show with no makjang-level-plot, no out-of-the-top antagonist or a surprising twist like amnesia or someone unexpectedly dying yet managed to make us laugh so much, cry the next scenes and mostly—laugh and cry at the same time. This is a show about the normal lives of people—struggling on their own, finding support in each other and just trying to live a life not just for themselves but for their own family. This is a youth and family drama all at one.
I guess my most unforgettable scene of this show is the montage of the Ssangmundong squad after they took the entrance examination for college. It’s a montage that signifies transition to the characters. How heartbreaking yet impactful that scene as we witness them blossoming into their adulthood. It’s a scene that shows us that no matter how beautiful and wonderful a season is, people won’t stay there forever. Change is constant. And you will really have to say goodbye to the closests of your friends at some point, deal life on your own, meet new people; to witness that there are so many wonders to unravel, so many potentials that will be unlock and understand that growth and pain are part of life. The montage scene from youth to adulthood is so impactful and very emotional for me.
As much as I love Jung Hwan, I actually am satisfied with his trajectory. Jung Hwan’s story is a lesson about missed chances and creating opportunity if you can’t see one. He is a lovable character and we have witness so many endearing scenes from him. We can learn in Jung Hwan’s story that hesitation and doubt will be the death of opportunity and open doors. Yes, he stepped back for the sake of friendship, but so is Taek. And we have seen in their adult years how both of them react differently on the opportunity and what kind of stake they had given up in order to pass through that open door. I believe that it’s a lesson Jung Hwan needs in order for him to grow and be free.
Reply 1988 hits all the right note it wants to convey—the beauty of youth, the benefits of transition, the camaraderie, a family that goes beyond the bloodline, the impact of pop culture and its way to spark nostalgia, young love, letting go and growing up.
So many thrills and cries for a series that shows us what a blissful time it is to be young.