Is Answer Me 1988 the Best Kdrama of 2015?
I can’t think of a single 2015 Korean drama that’s better than Reply 1988, also called “Answer Me 1988.”
I can’t think of a single Korean series other than I’m Sorry, I Love You that made me sob like this at the end. Not just sob, it was flat out ugly-face crying.
And the last Korean drama that had me waiting episode by episode like this was Answer Me 1994, a review I started and then kept stalling on, now for over a year. At the time, I felt so fervently about that series that the review got longer and longer, but then I got sidetracked. I’ll publish it soon.
(Heretofore, I’ll refer to this series as Answer Me 1988 or Reply 1988, as it was called both. I don’t know why they don’t make up their minds! Both are correct though “Reply” is more accurate for the Korean title.)
Brought you by the same folks who made Reply 1997, then Reply 1994, Reply 1988 is in a very similar format. Hilariously funny with lots of references to period details from 1988-1994 (did you know that 1988 is 28 YEARS AGO? Does that make any sense at all? And why do I remember 1988 so well!?!), Reply 1988 also focuses on the family.
Based on the poster, I would never, ever watch this Korean drama series. If you haven’t, it’s probably for the same reason….it doesn’t look good, it doesn’t look cool and it doesn’t seem like a poster from today’s modern-day Korean drama, right?
That’s sort of the point.
I knew I would watch this series because I absolutely loved Reply 1994. After 1994, I watched its predecessor, Reply 1997 — just because 1994 was so good. While I personally did not like 1997 MORE than 1994, it was still amazingly funny and well-made. But knowing how good Reply 1994 was, I did not expect Reply 1988 to be as good — and it wasn’t.
It was BETTER.
Reply 1988 vs Reply 1994
Across all of the Answer Me series, the main parents have been played by Sung Dong Il and Lee Il Hwa, pictured above. I’ve watched these two folks so much that I find that I am actually attached to them. When I see either one of them on another show, I can’t help but become a little wistful and a little happy, like I’m seeing my parents. Both phenomenal actors, their emotions and acting will draw you in like suckers and keep you glued to the television. Their performance in the Answer Me 1988 series was just as good as ever, and in some ways, Sung Dong Il’s character had a more challenging role on this Korean drama than its predecessors.
In all of the series, there’s a main female character and the big question is: who of her friends is it that she marries? Ever since 1997, the series has teased audiences along making them suspect it’s this guy, or that guy….no, wait — him? And so forth. Essentially, what they do is make you give a damn. Because you study the characters and the dynamics so intently, you begin to fervently root for the guy you want. Teams split up even in the same household; friends will spend hours arguing over who is right.
In the series thus far, I found 1997 the least compelling in terms of who becomes the husband. In Answer Me 1994, I was screaming at the television and nearly threw things, wanting it to be “my guy!”
And unlike other typical Korean dramas, the makers of Reply 1988 do something amazing in all three Korean drama series: they take girls who are truly pretty in their own right, not altogether famous for their acting (as of yet, and maybe with the exception of Go Ara of Reply 1994), strip them of most of their makeup and present them just for who they are–cute, and adorable girl characters.
Each female, in their own way, endear themselves to you that no matter who you’re rotting for as “the husband,” you fall in love with the girl anyway, even if she makes the wrong choice. (For the record, up to this point, my choices has been the winning husband for all three series! Yay!) While they’re all very pretty, they’re kept looking plain enough that the average audience viewer can relate to them and because they all are immature and foolish in some ways, just like all of us were when younger, by the middle of the series, it’s almost like it’s happening to us.
I think this is how and why the Answer Me series has been so popular, because without intending to, you begin to relate and you begin to feel what they feel. You hurt when they hurt. You cry when they cry.
But a big difference between the other two series and Reply 1988 was that because you go so far back into history (seriously, 1988 is now “history!”), the 1988 part of the storyline (and up to 1995) is played by a completely different set of actors vs. the current-day actors who portray the adult versions. In the past Reply series, the current day actors, believable or not, were played by the original cast. This makes it possible to use really young actors for the original storyline, and in this case, the main character (middle, above) Duk Seon, was only 20 years old.
Unlike the previous series, Answer Me 1988 shares the spotlight with the parents. Had someone asked me, I’d have said this wasn’t a good idea–focus on either the kids OR the parents, but the way these folks did it, it worked beautifully.
Many of the laughs you will experience are actually because of the ajummas above. If ever you’ve wondered what a classic “ajumma” is — well, there ya go. Typical and classical “ajummas” have let themselves go, permed their hair (so as not to have to style it anymore), wears loose clothes usually of the polyester or slinky-esque variety purchased for cheap at the market, and they sit around gabbing all day long about nothing really important.
These ajummas, in real life, are all in their 30s to 40s and none walk around looking anything similar to this. The transformation is amazing, but because of their age, it was a little hard to believe that they had high school age children. By episode two — you believe.
Lee Il Hwa, the actress who has been on all three series, is always excellent.
But a special mention would go to Ra Mi Ran, who played…well, Ra Mi Ran on the series. (Incidentally, all adults used their own names. How funny and creative is that?) With nary a wrinkle on her face (she’s 40, going on 41 this year), she pulls off the ajumma routine like a master. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her before in other dramas, but this role was made for her. She’s intense. And every scene she was in, I thoroughly enjoyed. She’s a tough mom but an always kind mom; she’s aloof but wants to be warm; she’s smart but uneducated–and she’s a joy to watch.
And Kim Sun Young (pictured above, far right with the ridiculous permed hair/wig), is so talented. With her serious dialect and passioned acting, your get drawn into caring for her well-being and want things to work out for her.
Reply 1988 Storyline – No Spoilers!
I liked this drama so much that I am trying to be really careful to not ruin the storyline. So there are tidbits here and there that you will learn while watching the series, but the general plot of the Korean drama series will not be divulged here.
Meet Duk Seon, above, played by Hyeri.
Originally debuted as a singer of a girl band, Lee Hyeri was not considered an actress and in fact, Korean netizens went crazy when they found out she was cast as the female lead. But what they didn’t know, and couldn’t know, was the folks who bring you the Reply series are geniuses; they see capabilities where others don’t, and every single actor they have cast simply shine.
The same applies to Hyeri.
In the series, I was just mediocre during the first 2-3 episodes regarding the storyline. It did not seem better than Reply 1994, but still, I could see this girl’s acting was truly convincing. She’s just a high school student who doesn’t get good grades and is good friend with 4 neighborhood boys who all have lived on the same street for most of their childhood.
But as the teens progress into their last years of high school, emotions develop between them. To the boys, Duk Seon is just a tomboy and is “one of the boys.” But things begin changing one by one, and that’s what Reply 1988 is about.
As mentioned, exactly like the previous series, Reply 1988 keeps you guessing from episode 1 as to who ends up married to Duk Seon. The adult version of Duk Seon is played by Lee Mi Yeon, and the mystery adult husband is foreshadowed by Kim Joo Hyuk. It’s Kim Joo Hyuk which gets the audience guessing from episode 1 to the nearly the last episode. Who he looks like, which child in the 1988 portion of the cast does he act like, what are the dynamics between the two adults?
WHO IS HE?
It’s enough to drive you crazy as you watch. Between my friends and I, most of us were on Team 2. I call it Team 2 because this was the second person we suspected. I know some folks were fervently on Team 1, but for typical reasons relationships don’t work out during your adolescence, Team 1 seemed a bit hopeless.
But the story is driven by how beautiful young love is, and furthermore, how deep and great love between friends can be.
Beyond the friendship of the Five Musketeers, there are other powerful storylines in Reply 1988.
Ryu Hye Young plays Duk Seon’s older sister, Bo Ra — a brilliant, twisted and complex girl who the entire neighborhood fears. Out of nothing, she managed to get to Seoul National University (the Harvard of Korea), but her personality leaves a lot to be desired. While Duk Seon has the looks of the family and Bora lacks great looks–she more than makes up for her appearance with her brilliance. Furthermore, the casting of Ryu Hye Young is magnificent. I don’t know that anyone else could have pulled off evil and scary contrasted with warm as well as she did; she’s someone who wants to be loving and fiercely cares for her family but just can’t show it. But I don’t know about how you will feel, but personally, I related to her a lot. I think any child who grew up in an Asian family would.
Also a veteran of Reply 1994, Kim Sung Kyyon returns as his own namesake and plays the father role to one of the boys. He was one of the funniest characters who played a teen in Answer Me 1994, and in the Answer Me 1988, they’ve aged him a good 30 years to play the father. He maintains his funny routine–and as awkward as he is, as much as his family thinks he’s weird–he is very endearing.
Most impressive to me was Park Bo Gum who plays Choi Taek, a gifted Baduk player who is brilliant beyond imagination when it comes to the game, but quite literally can’t tie his own shoelaces. For the first episode, you just wonder what’s wrong with him. But a couple of episodes in, Park Bo Gum brings Choi Taek to life, and straight into the hearts of every female in the world with his bowl haircut and amazing smile. Frankly, I wasn’t that big of a fan of his prior to Reply 1988–but now, I love him!!
You just want to reach out and protect him! And that’s how all of his friends feel, too. He’s the prized friend who everybody feels the need to protect, and in a way, life in the Ssangmun-dong alley where they live revolves around him more than Duk Seon who is actually the main character.
But in the end, Reply 1988 is about Duk Seon and growing up, and Lee Hye Ri deserves every accolade for her performance. As cute and pretty as she normally looks, she stripped off all of her makeup to play an innocent girl who really can’t tell up from down (and you know we were all that young and stupid once….), who is so likable and genuine, but has her own faults and own shortcomings that she has to learn to overcome in life. The dynamics between her and her family, her and her friends, her and the neighborhood people are what Reply 1988 is about, and I truly cannot imagine any other actress doing as fine of a job as Lee Hye Ri.
I cannot recommend this drama enough. The first 2-3 episodes are required to really get you into the show, but once you watch those, you will be hooked. It’s not about glamour, it isn’t about rich vs, poor and all the bad things happening to the poor people. There’s no revenge, and there’s no serious drama or plot twists. Reply 1988 is merely about people, family, life and growing up–and those, unlike avenging your father’s death or plotting a hostile takeover, are all things we can relate to in our own lives.
That’s why it’ll make you laugh.
That’s why it will make you cry like a baby.
And that’s why you just have to watch Reply 1988!