I started watching K-dramas on the insistence of several friends. I picked Reply 1997 as my first ever K-drama. And I have never been prouder of my choices. Shuttling between the past and their 15th high school reunion, the show follows Sung Shi Won and her friends’ journey into adulthood. One of the highest rated shows in South Korea, this coming-of-age drama follows the lives of six friends from their final year in high school and traces their journey into adulthood.
The story opens with Sung Shi Won going to her high school reunion, where she introduces four men as her best friends and one of them being her husband. She also claims that by the end of this dinner, a couple at the table would declare that they are married. And thus begins the reminiscence. Starting from the first day of their last year at high school, the story captures the dreams, aspirations, struggles, disappointments, heartbreaks and misunderstandings between these six very different individuals who are the closest of friends. The simplicity and the attention that the makers put to every tiny detail about their daily lives add a charm of its own to the show.
Sung Shi Won (Jung Eun-ji) is a happy go-lucky girl from Busan who is obsessed with the boy-band H. O. T. (Highfive of Teenagers, considered to be the first ever K-pop idol group). She fancies that she’ll marry band member Tony Ahn one day. To this end, she performs crazy and sometimes extreme antics (writing a letter in blood, maybe?). Her friend and confidante, Mo Yoo Jung (Shin So-yul). Unlike Shi Won, Yoo Jung is fickle and her crushes, celebrity and otherwise, keep changing rather quickly. Then there is Yoon Yoon Jae (Seo In-guk), brooding, brilliant and dedicated, Shi Won’s childhood friend. Following his parents’ deaths, Shi Won’s parents (Sung Dong-il and Lee Il-hwa, that was their screen names, as well) brought Yoon Jae and his brother Yoon Tae Won (Song Jong-ho), under their wing. Yoon Jae has always loved Shi Won. Their friendship is simple yet complicated. A misunderstanding that costs them several years of communication. There is also Kang Joon Hee (Hoya) who is as brilliant as Yoon Jae and harbours a secret that he shares with Shi Won alone. Then there is Bang Sung Jae (Lee Si-eon), talking nineteen-to-the-dozen. He alone is responsible for running the rumor mill of the group. Last but not the least we have the transfer student Do Hak Chan (Eun Ji-won, yes the one from Sechs Kies). He has a peculiar hobby (I won’t spoil that for you) and that is responsible for his shyness around those from the opposite gender.
The story is simple and if I had to summarize in a line, I’d say it was a “lovely walk down the memory lane”. Emotions are high, and so are loyalties, but the makers ensured that every character had a well-defined arc and through the sixteen episodes they all grew up. The show did not have a stellar starcast. All of them were freshers and it was released with minimum fanfare. However, by the second episode, the popularity of the show spread through word of mouth and the final episode had a 7.55% viewership rating (one of the highest in the country). When I started watching, I only did because I wanted to try something new and the year mentioned coincided with my birth year. I took that as a sign and started watching. Since then, I have always gone back to this one show, every time I have felt sad or simply missed my friends. Their story is one that I felt very dearly and I don’t think I could have had a better show as my first foray into Korean drama.
I highly suggest it for all those nineties kids for the easy nostalgia. The cinematography, attention to all the events that were happening in South Korea during the time, accuracy, a strong plot, and beautiful characters all make up one of my most loved Korean dramas of all time. Interestingly, the makers did not originally have any original sound tracks (it became a defining aspect for the show) and only had songs from the nineties era. The cast as well was made up of, if you are familiar with the K-Pop industry, idol singers who had little to no experience in acting. With such a fresh cast, except for Sechs Kies’ Eun Ji-won, there was little hype. However, as I had mentioned earlier, The popularity of the show rocketed as people, especially those whose youth happened in those years greatly connected with the show. Following this popularity, the leads, Jung Eun-ji (she’s the main vocalist of Apink) and Seo In-guk (also a vocalist), recorded a remade the 1990’s idol group, Cool’s song All For You. I say, just go for it if you are looking for a strong hit of the 90’s induced nostalgia, missing your banter with your friends or just looking for some feel good factor. Also while you are at it, do let me know if you guessed who announced their engagement and who was the husband.
Disclaimer: The above review solely illustrates the views of the writer.