Reply 1997 (2012), Reply 1994 (2013), Reply 1988 (2015) – K-Drama Review of the Ultimate Trip Down Memory Lane
“Time will always flow. Everything will pass by. Everything will age. That might be why youth is beautiful. It shines, blindingly bright, for just an instant. But, to it, you can never go back. Longing for that time and longing for that street is not because I miss a younger version of myself. It’s the place that holds the youth of everything that I love.”
There are no roads back to our childhood, but these three dramas will get you as close to one as is humanly possible! If you are still on the fence about whether to give K-dramas a go, try out Reply 1997, 1994, or 1988. Or, better yet, all three of them! They are truly some of the best K-dramas and coming of age stories you will ever come across. They are infinitely relatable, realistic, entertaining, and are now even available on Netflix (1994 & 1997).
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The beauty of these dramas is that they are one big flashback to childhood and youth and not just for the characters! Each drama introduces us to the grown-up characters in the present. They then take us back to their youth and path to adulthood. We follow the multitude of characters through their hopes, dreams, and growing pains while being reminded of our own. It’s the ultimate trip down memory lane!
These dramas are about friendship, family, and, of course, love. They have everything and then some. And I am not even exaggerating! So, let’s journey back to a time before smartphones: a time when beepers, Tamagotchi’s, VHS tapes, phone booths, and dance mats were all the rage. Allow me to give you a glimpse into some of the things you can expect to see and feel if you decide to give yourself over to this wonderful experience.
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Ewan McGregor’s character in Moulin Rouge puts it best when he says that it’s
“A story about a time, a story about a place, a story about the people. But above all things, a story about love.”
This is just as true of the Reply Series as it is of Moulin Rouge.
Minor spoilers are ahead, but they will not lessen your own enjoyment of these dramas.
Here are a few of the things you can look forward to!
Watching Reply 1997, 1994, and 1988 is an experience like no other! It brings a healthy dose of realism to each scene and shows us the beauty of simple everyday interactions.
Even if you were nowhere near 18 years old in 1997, you will feel an instant connection to the characters and time. Youth is youth, no matter what decade one stumbles upon it. You will feel as if you’ve lived through what they have and perhaps similar things even happened to you. The Reply Series knows exactly what buttons to push to make viewers blubbering and happy fools.
Being filmed in the present and taking a look back at the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s means that the dramas give us a unique perspective on the technological breakthroughs that swept across the world in massive waves again and again in the last few decades. It’s all seen through the eyes of nostalgia and that is a very powerful feeling indeed.
The Growing Pains
Did you happen to have a make-up disaster or two when you first tried your hand at this tricky beauty business? You are not alone if you have! This is just one of the examples of how infinitely relatable the Reply Series is. It’s funny how the mortification at what we must have looked like during these moments often doesn’t sneak up on us until years late! After all, these dramas are about growing up. And pain and happiness are both constant companions of growing up. This is shown so well in these stories that the emotions will sweep you effortlessly back to your own youth and childhood.
Did your friends ever happen to throw you a surprise birthday party? Then you’ll know exactly how Choi Taek feels in this scene from Reply 1988!
Epic does not even begin to describe how well friendships are portrayed in Reply 1997, 1994, and 1988. The stories start and end with friendship even if some evolve into romance. They will make you weep with heartbreak and joy. The Reply Series will lead you through the entire scale of possible human emotions. And maybe even a few you didn’t know you were capable of experiencing!
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The Amazing Love Stories
The simple act of putting on contact lenses can make somebody see you in a whole new light. Is this what one would call love at millionth sight?
“Bumping into each other on the street; grabbing the same book at the library; someone running under my umbrella. I thought falling in love would be special like that. But it was nothing like I imagined. This is how I fell in love.”
One of my favorite things about the love stories in the Reply Series is how ordinary they are. Some of the best and long-lasting relationships are those that grow over years like they do in When Harry Met Sally. These are love stories where it is hard to pinpoint when romantic feelings began. They creep up on the characters so gradually that it is as though they have been in love for a lifetime already. And maybe they have, they just didn’t know it.
Love is complicated and nowhere more so than in these dramas. How can one distinguish feelings of friendship from feelings of love? What if the person you like is busy looking at someone else and thus oblivious to your feelings? Is the prospect of a romantic relationship worth risking a life-long friendship going sour if things do not work out? What if they turn you down? All these age-old questions are tackled here with finesse!
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The Ultimate Lesson of Reply 1997, 1994, & 1988 – What if fate is all about timing?
“In the end, fate and timing do not just happen out of coincidence. They are products of earnest, simple choices that make up miraculous moments. Being resolute, making decisions without hesitation, that is what makes timing. He wanted her more than I did. And I should have been more courageous. It was not the traffic light’s fault, it was not timing. It was my many hesitations.”
The Reply Series gives us a beautiful look at the idea of fate. Maybe fate isn’t a matter of whether two people are destined to be, but about two people coming together at the right time and when they are both feeling the same way. Getting all those things to align and to be brave enough to act on those feelings on top of everything is what makes all love stories so impressive. The probability of all these things coming together at the same time and place is next to none. And yet, these ordinary miracles happen every day to people around us. Maybe they even already happened to you?
The Romantic Mysteries – Who is the husband?
As our characters grow, feelings become tangled and friendships start moving into the dangerous romantic territory. This is all culminated in the great mystery of which of the childhood friends the female leads end up marrying in each of these dramas. The writers keep us guessing and tease us by sprinkling clues as to the identity of the future husband throughout the run of the dramas.
If you are a fan of mysteries, this will be an added bonus which will allow you to stretch your Sherlock-ian muscles. Only the hints are usually terribly frustrating so I would keep sharp and throw-able objects far away so as to avoid the impulse to fling them at the screen. I guarantee that you will become invested in these characters! They are also famous for giving the viewers the opportunity to experience that paralyzing Second Lead Syndrome. Because it’s really hard to tell who the male lead will end up being!
These complicated love-lines are all the more enjoyable and heartbreaking because the dramas pit extremely close friends against each other. They say that all is fair in love and war, but what if your love for your friend is just as great as your love for a woman? Fans of The Infernal Devices trilogy will definitely enjoy this aspect of these dramas.
But there can only be one victor in the end. These are dramas filled with immeasurable happiness, but oh the tears shed at all the misunderstandings, close calls, and missed opportunities. No matter how happy you will be when the husband is revealed, you will shed buckets of tears for the one that didn’t get the girl in the end. Even though it’s not the end of the world and there will no doubt be another great love ahead for them, you can’t help but feel their monumental pain in that moment.
The Secondary Couples
“Let’s meet in front of the department store at two. We can do whatever you want. Not a basketball game or a NEXT concert. Let’s do what you like.”
Swoon! The love stories between the secondary couples are at times even better than the stories between the leads. At least that was the case with Reply 1994 for me. They do not drive us crazy with who the final choice will be because the choice is clear straight away. There is beauty in seeing these relationships develop with less drama than in the love triangles.
The Dreams & Aspirations
“Foolish, unrequited love can have potential. That passion sometimes causes miracles. And sometimes, dreams come true from a distance. While you may not achieve the dream, getting close gives you the chance to be happy. Of course, that’s very rare. Unrequited love usually ends in failure. But it’s also sad if you’re afraid and you give up before you even try it out. First, do what you want instead of what you can. You only live once.”
Some of the best episodes in the Reply Series center around dreams and how they can take on surprising forms. Someone could wish to make the dream of the person they love, to marry a man in uniform, come true by aiming for a career that allows one to wear a uniform and literally become the man of her dreams. Some have a clear idea of who they want to become, while others despair over the fact that they seem to be the only ones without a dream, and others still want to take on the profession their parents wish for them to pursue. After all, not everyone wants to rebel against their parents.
Ultimately, no matter how young or old we are, we all have dreams. As time goes by, however, these dreams can change and when one becomes a parent, they often change from dreams of a perfect career to dreams centered around the happiness of their children. It’s the natural cycle of life.
The Parents & Family
“Men and women expect different things, face different sides, and dream different dreams. The relationship between a man and a woman is one of everlasting love and fighting. They get upset and console; they fight and make up; they hurt and they embrace. It’s a relationship as complicated as manic-depressive disorder. But the hardest part is that it can’t start if the timing is wrong. A relationship that is too complicated and too sensitive. There is one relationship that’s as difficult, yet unavoidable; a relationship that’s tedious, but inevitable; a relationship that lasts your entire life. That’s family.”
As children, we often rebel, but as we grow older we get a whole new appreciation for our parents. We love them dearly even when we think we hate them. It’s a joy to watch the loving relationships between parents and children that are prevalent in these dramas. We also get a glimpse into the time when the parents had their own epic love stories in Reply 1997 and that glimpse is perfection. We often forget about it, but behind each parent hides another great love story! Our own stories are always epic to us.
The same actors play the parents of the female lead in each drama. In Reply 1997 and 1994 they were wonderful supporting characters but Reply 1988 decided to give us a more detailed glimpse into the lives of the parents. It’s one of the things that makes it tug at your heartstrings even more than the previous two dramas. These dramas show the importance of parents even if some of the characters are separated from theirs at a very early age. The friendships between the parents and children will make you want to sit your own parents down to re-watch these dramas with you!
“When I was young I’d listen to the radio, waiting for my favourite songs…”
The right music can feel like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s day. It has the power to bring back forgotten memories and warm one to the bones. There are magical powers in music, which speak to the sentimental and emotional part of us all.
While there are some tracks made specifically for these dramas, as is the norm with K-dramas, the beauty of the Reply Series is that it utilizes a ton of music that was popular several decades ago. Someone who grew up in South Korea will no doubt have a much stronger connection to the music, but South Korea has been greatly influenced by the music we all know and love, so their hits of the 80s and 90s have surprisingly familiar notes to them.
The music they use is seriously top notch and will make you reminisce about the oldies we remember and love from our own childhood even if they were in a different language. You’ll be adding the songs to your own playlists in no time. To top it all, they show the characters enjoying classics like Dirty Dancing and Top Gun in the time that they came out, so there will definitely be familiar music there for everyone!
The Beautiful Narrations for Every Situation in Life
“There is no better time than now. That next time may never come. To talk about a next time that may never come when now is right in front of you… Life is too short for that. If you give up now because you feel too weak or lazy there is no hope for a next time. If you love her, the best time to love is now. Approach her before it’s too late. You must confess now. You never know what will happen in the future. Your next chance may never come.”
Listening to the beautiful voice-overs and important messages they carry is great. We may not always follow their advice, but it’s nice of them to remind us that there are more important things in life than being scared of change and rejection. After all, what tends to come back to haunt us is regret.
Reply 1997 – School Friends
Reply 1997 is snappy, short (16 episodes of varying length), and brilliant. It brought down the house and raised the ratings of tvN through the roof with its unusual and addictive concept. Reply 1997 made it straight to the top of the favorite lists of seasoned and new K-drama watchers alike. It made slice-of-life dramas a hot commodity in Dramaland again.
My favorite kind of trailers are the official music videos for the OST of the dramas. So, check out this trailer for Reply 1997! It only has scenes from the first few episodes, so no spoilers for the ending. The same applies to the other trailers below.
Content Note: Reply 1997, 1994, and 1988 are all rated PG-13 by Viki for some innuendo. They are light on the swearing, without violence and while there are plenty of romantic scenes, the intimacy is only implied. It’s the perfect way to spend quality time with your parents.
Reply 1994 – Housemates
Reply 1994 is the drama tackling college and the life of youths under the roof of the same boarding house, which is, of course, run by the female lead’s parents. It’s a very good drama. But it will forever be compared to Reply 1997 and Reply 1988 and that is its biggest shortcoming. It simply wasn’t as fantastically amazing. Consequently, it will always be overshadowed. This one is 21 episodes long.
You can watch the dramas in any order. However, it’s best to watch them in the order they came out. You see, each of the dramas also has crossovers with cameos from the cast of the previous drama. Watch out for those, as they will make your day! So this drama is worth watching if even just for the visit from the Reply 1997 gang.
Here’s the musical trailer for Reply 1994.
Reply 1988 – Neighbours
Ahh, it’s hard to choose a favorite between Reply 1997 and Reply 1988. They are both modern classics. Reply 1997 is intensely romantic and the one that started it all. But Reply 1988 (20 episodes) has the best parent and child interactions and shows friendships that will bring tears to your eyes. That makes it more appealing to an even wider audience. Since the female lead is not an intense K-pop fan like in Reply 1997, it probably has even more universal appeal.
We’ve seen men tying shoelaces for the female lead many times in K-dramas. It happens so often that it no longer makes my heart tighten quite as much as it used to. But seeing a man tie the shoelaces of another man shows the incredible levels that male friendships can get to. It’ll make you melt into a puddle Amélie-style!
Finally, here’s the best trailer of all! This official music video for Reply 1988 is fantastic!
The number one rule to follow when watching K-dramas
Let me just give you one piece of advice before you delve into these dramas. In fact, this applies to most K-dramas. Make sure you eat before you start watching an episode. I’m not joking! They take eating so seriously in South Korea that you will find your stomach growling at the very first scene with food. And who could blame your stomach for acting so reasonably? They make it look delicious, don’t they!
Bonus – Park Bo Gum, the man who radiates happiness!
Because one can never have enough Park Bo Gum in one’s life. He is so genuinely kind and open that just looking at him brings a smile to one’s face without even realizing it. I dare you not to smile like a fool while watching this adorable Park Bo Gum compilation. He is one of those actors who shine brighter than the sun and make the viewers flock to their positive energy.
Photo credit: tvN
Dialogue translation credit: Dramafever
Have you watched Reply 1997, 1994, or 1988? I would love to know your thoughts on these amazing dramas!
What do you miss most about your own childhood and early youth? What makes you the most nostalgic when you think back to the 80’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s? Sound off below and spread the joy of nostalgic and happy memories!
“You had me at hello.”
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.
I have loved none but you.”