Editor warning: this contains spoilers on all 3 Reply Drama.
I think Reply 1988 hit that better than either of its predecessors. Not to excuse imperfections, but if the point is to mimic real life as well as a drama can, then characters will make bad decisions and outcomes may not be the most logical. That is something you have to be ready for when you watch the Reply dramas. It makes for better analysis, because you can really get in character’s head, and I know I would much prefer a complex character than the picture perfect leads some other dramas offer.
Maybe my opinion is skewed because I was really into the Taek( played by Park Bo Gum )/Duk Seon (played by Hyeri) Since this drama wasn’t super romance heavy until the end, I will try and refrain from talking about Taek until the end of my review.
As with the other reply dramas, 1988 was far more character driven than plot driven. In my opinion, it worked better than it did for Reply 1994 and Reply 1997. I felt that everyone in the cast had a lot of depth to their characters. I was also able to deal with the slice of life nature of the show. I think where 1988 succeeded is that even though its conflicts, you understood why everyone did the things that they did. The flip side of that is that conflict was hard to watch because everyone was right in their own way.
The characterization absolutely made this show for me. In the beginning, I was really vocal about how much I disliked Bo Ra (played by Ryu Hye Yeong), but by the end I loved her as much as I loved any other character. Maybe it was that I connected (and envied) the relationship with her father too much, but she grew on me more than any other character.
I know a lot of people complained about Hyeri, and to an extent, I get it. She isn’t a very experienced actress, especially compared to some of her costars. But this show would not have been the same without her portrayal of Duk Seon. And I really did love Duk Seon every step of the way. Especially when Jung Hwan and Sun Woo were toying around with her. I tried really hard not to compare her to the leading ladies in 1997 and 1994, but it was hard because she was so different, yet better in my opinion. Sure, on the surface they’re all outspoken, at times selfish women. But I think Duk Seon had a lot more depth than the other two. I’m not saying that I disliked Na Jung or Shi Won, but we got to know Duk Seon so much better, and as a result, what I disliked about others, I learned to love about her.
I really enjoyed all of the neighborhood kids, and the friendships appealed to me more than the romance (at first). I really liked that it didn’t devolve into everyone in Ssangmun-dong falling for Duk Seon. It really easily could have turned into a reverse harem, but it didn’t. Dong Ryong, especially became a favorite because he was simply a friend to everyone and refused to take sides when he knew who liked Duk Seon. And he never turned his back on Duk Seon when he found out Jung Hwan and Taek liked her. That was really important to me, because while Sun Woo was busy with Bo Ra and Jung Hwan and Taek were distancing themselves, Duk Seon still had one friend she could lean on.
Aside from the friendship, this show did family better than any show I’ve ever seen. It’s really easy to have children alienated by their parents, and to alienate the audience along with them. But no one was simplified to an obnoxious sibling or overbearing mother. The Kim family were the real show stoppers for me, because Mi Ran and Sung Kyun, had the most realistic marriage in the show. The Kim family was full of problems, fights, and unconditional love. As much as I love Il Hwa, Ra Mi Ran was my favorite mother in the entire reply series.
Now is time for the romance!
I will admit that in the beginning, I was firmly on Team Jung Hwan. In retrospect, I think it was because I was really certain he was the husband. I hadn’t watched 1994 when I started 1988, but the fears that Taek was the new Chil Bong still got to me, and it made me make a snap decision.
I did legitimately like Jung Hwan (for the most part), but I slowly made my way over to Team Taek a little before Duk Seon did. I saw a lot of complaints about the way the romance was dealt with, and I understood some of the arguments. Jung Hwan definitely did get cast aside for the last two episodes. I’m not even going to touch on the rumor that he was supposed to die, but giving him so little screen time after his “confession” was a mistake. The argument I didn’t get was how Duk Seon feelings came on suddenly. Because if you rewatch, you can see her affection growing from the very first episode. Just because Jung Hwan was more obvious in loving her, doesn’t mean that Duk Seon didn’t love Taek just as much in her own way.There were signs early on that Duk Seon had a special affection for Taek.
I think what really put me off on Jung Hwan was how he dealt with his feelings compared to Taek. Jung Hwan loved her, but he never told anyone. I see the argument that he was scared of rejection, but more than anything, I think he was afraid of how the others would react. You saw how they reacted to Taek’s confession. Jung Hwan, at least on some level, was ashamed of his feelings for Duk Seon, and that is what killed him. Taek, on the other hand, was always proud of her. He never made fun of her the way that the others boys did, and he was never afraid to love her.
Jung Hwan said it best himself, he lost because he hesitated, and as sad as that is, I don’t feel too bad for a guy who had literally over 6 years to confess his feelings and just… didn’t. And don’t even get me started on the fake confession. At the end of the day, Taek won Duk Seon’s heart because he knew what he wanted, and he went after it.
And it was really important to me that Taek wasn’t Duk Seon’s first, or even her second, love. The Reply Series has an emphasis on first love, and as sweet as that can be, I liked that they made this choice with Duk Seon. I like that Duk Seon was able to move on from her first (and second) loves and be happy with Taek. I loved that even though he wasn’t her first love, her love for Taek was just as meaningful as her love for Sun Woo and Jung Hwan. The thing I hate about second leads is that they get a partner as a consolation prize since they didn’t get the person they wanted. But Duk Seon loved Taek just as much as she loved anyone else, even though he wasn’t her first love.
If you can’t tell, I really loved this series. A lot. But there were some problems. I hate to say it, but I really didn’t like Sun Woo. I don’t believe he was dense enough to not notice Duk Seon’s feelings, and I didn’t like how his initial relationship with Bo Ra was dealt with. I thought he was cruel, and he never really got redeemed for me. And I didn’t like how he reacted to his mom’s relationship with Mr. Choi. I tried to cut him some slack, but he was literally advocating for his mom’s unhappiness because of his dead father. It might be unfair of me, but something about Sun Woo just rubbed me the wrong way, and I never got over it.
The formatting of the episodes also bugged me. Some episodes were almost 2 hours, which is just too much for a series with not a lot actually happening. I found myself getting bored in the beginning. One of my “who's the husband theories” was absolutely wrong because of something from episode 1 I didn’t remember just because I watched like 30 more hours of content. I forgot basic details of the series from week to week just because of how much there was. I’m really glad I watched this week to week, because it was not a show that was meant to be binge watched.
I knew the PD promised not the do “who's the husband”, and they really didn’t, not really. There wasn’t an emphasis in who Duk Seon ended up with until the end. Which was kind of a double edged sword. It wasn’t teased every 30 second like in 1994, and it didn’t become painfully obvious like in 1997, but I still thought about it. It was a lowkey husband hunt, which I liked, but we also got cheated on a lot of Duk Seon and Taek’s relationship to keep the mystery alive. I liked that I wasn’t sure until the end, but I would trade the suspense for fluff any day.
I think the beauty of the Reply dramas is that they suck you into their world really thoroughly, and I think 1988 did that really well. There was a lot of emotion packed into these 20 episodes, and every little thing from ep 16 onwards got to me. There’s something really special about a drama that you makes you cry in all the best ways, and after I finished this show, I just took a step back from dramaland and reflected on it for a few days, which was something I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I know 1988 had its problems, but I loved it and I think it might be awhile before a drama has thing impact on me again. Goodbye, Reply 1988, you will be missed.
Which Reply drama did you like most?