We can barely relate to modern-day Koreans, having an entirely different culture + more advanced economy and all, and yet how are we still so deeply connected to this 80s Korean drama?
Scrolling through my feed one morning, a shared article caught my attention. It was a listicle of five places where our little Ssangmundong gang gathered in Reply 1988. More than the article itself, what piqued my interest was the top comment which, addressing the publication, declared “You’re not making it easier for us to get over this drama.”
That one comment really got me thinking; Why is it so much harder to get over Reply 1988 than any other drama, possibly ever?
The fan page for Filipino fans of this drama has garnered over 100k likes and followers. The self-proclaimed official Facebook group on the other hand, with the strictest entry test and household rules, has over 43k members and counting.
I and some other artist friends who have never made fan art before have probably made at least one for Reply 1988. Those artists who do make fan art, have made dozens for this drama.
Looking through other publications, blogs, and vlogs, everyone’s made at least one reference to Reply 1988, and the abundance of reactions and shares just solidified my belief that Reply 1988 is the most-loved Korean drama at least for Filipinos. Even just the opening notes of “Ssangmun-dong” by Park Boram, the official theme of the show, can make any fan’s eyes well up with tears.
Reply 1988 proudly holds the title for having the highest ratings for a TV show of all time, although there’s no question that the success of this drama runs deeper than just high viewership ratings. Five years after its release, it still reigns supreme as a crowd-favorite and the most sentimental piece of Korean entertainment anyone might ever get the pleasure of experiencing.
Why do we love Reply 1988 so much?
Diving deep into this topic had me going over some of my favorite scenes in this third installment in the “Reply” Kdrama franchise. One thing led to another and I ended up going over all of the episodes and finishing it until episode 20 for the fifth time.
Armed with the experience of watching over 70 Kdramas in my young 22-year life, in this fifth pass through Reply 1988, I was hyper-aware of the ways in which it was the most effective in getting the audience hooked.
1.It’s closer to the Filipino heart than we realize.
I don’t know about other races, but the Filipino is quite familiar with the 80s residential setting as most of us in working-class families still live in those houses at least until our childhood. This is mostly attributed to the Philippines being a little behind in development, so the 80s of Korea, just getting by with loose change and warm hearts in rattan-furnished cement houses was most prominent in the late 90s-early 2000s for the Philippines.
— 응답하라1988 (@reply_tvN) January 16, 2016
The establishing shots of creaking cheap metal gates of houses lined with cement brick fences littered with service ad posters and topped with broken glass bottles as the first line of defense–truly a glimpse of our own Philippine homes.
2.It spoke to all kinds of working-class families.
Reply 1988 is a bunch of different stories strewn together by family. Single parents with just enough, a housewife and corporate father scrimping to get by, financially secure but detached mom and dads. We all belong to some form of these three family archetypes we bear witness to in Reply 1988.
3.It doesn’t draw you in with grand scenes; it’s the little things.
No grandiose shot in slow motion from every angle possible. Reply 1988 offers static, usually one-dimensional scenes that sneak into your heart to tug at your heartstrings ever so slightly. Halfway through the series, you’ll just find yourself subconsciously living your everyday life as if you were part of the drama itself. It’s just that normal and close to reality.
If you weren’t taken by the familial aspect of this series, you’ll get sucked in any way, slithering its way to the innermost human in you so subtly, you won’t even notice it.
4.The music is transcendent.
Even to a foreigner, the score still exudes nostalgia effectively making it transcend the boundaries of language and culture. Though this is not only true for Reply 1988, as many other dramas are able to score their pieces well, I applaud the scoring of Reply 1988 because it’s that much harder as a retro piece.
Last Night by Sobangcha was unheard of in the Philippines during the 80s even until this drama aired. But somehow we were able to feel the importance of this particular song and choreography as the highlight of that era when the Ssangmundong boys watched the stiff Deoksun sacrilegiously perform the simple choreography badly.
It was as if we had lived long enough to have gone through that era to, now, recall how iconic those songs were during a time when most of us fans hadn’t even been born yet.
5. Its comedy is simply rooted in everyday comic relief.
Like in many Korean dramas, Reply 1988 utilizes daily comic relief as the main backbone of humor in the series. Tying up with the strong concept of family, the aspect of comic relief more prominent in this drama than any other is among family members. This also applies to the familial kinship of the 5 friends.
6.The lived-in experience of tying-in real-world events.
Another thing which this retro series does differently is that it doesn’t exist inside a bubble. The 1988 Olympics held in Seoul made for most of the jump-off points in the story. Like how they established Sung Deoksun and her older sister Sung Bora’s differences in priority. Sung Deoksun was just happy to be part of the Olympics because she would be seen on TV. In this case, it makes her seem more shallow than the brains of the family, Sung Bora, whose active participation in anti-Olympics rallies shows her deeper perspective in patriotism.
7. The actors were tailor-fit for their roles
One aspect that Reply 1988 seems to have done perfectly is cast the absolutely, almost borderline impossibly, perfect people. This is something that just makes sense when you watch the show so go watch it if you haven’t. If you haven’t gotten into Kdramas yet, good, hook yourself up with this show and watch yourself get addicted.
8. Humanity in the mundane.
If there’s one thing that I can get from watching Reply 1988 five times now, it’s that compared to other dramas, Reply 1988 is undeniably the most mundane. Unlike the unbelievable timing of love in many romance dramas, the over-the-top wealth some characters have in Korean rom-coms, the fantastical approach of period or folklore dramas, Reply 1988 simply takes the utterly ordinary working-class lives of a tight-knit residential block and bares their souls to tug at the world’s heartstrings.
— 응답하라1988 (@reply_tvN) December 25, 2015
There’s nothing particularly extraordinary about their story, the actors’ looks, and even down to the setting, so it’s incredibly effective in communicating intimacy because it’s already that much closer to home than any Kdrama or any series for the matter.
The Reply 1988 Effect: The drama we can’t move-on from
The Reply 1988 Effect is an indescribable feeling of profound affection for the Korean drama of the same name. I’ve listed eight aspects in which I’ve observed its success is based upon but I know that once I watch it again, there will be a ninth and a tenth, and so on. So I have decided to call the entirety of this experience: the Reply 1988 Effect. That which you will inevitably be struck with, once you’ve watched it or realize the absence of if you haven’t.
The Reply 1988 Effect can be attributed to Director Shin Won-Ho, Writer Lee Woo-Jeong, and all the cast and crew. Thank you for your priceless gift to mankind. I hope this drama has made you feel fulfilled.
I’ve watched it five times and have plans to continue rewatching it until I can pass it down to my kids and grandchildren. To call it special is an understatement. The Reply 1988 Effect is a force to be reckoned with but it is a force that makes you feel empowered being ordinary.
Reply 1988 is available on Netflix. Watch. It.
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