This was highly recommended by Straits’ Times Life! journalist Foong Woei Wan, whom I found share similar taste with me. It was though her that I watched City Hall which I thoroughly enjoyed and now this drama.
Reply 1994 is a journey you partake with the cast back to 1994, and the enjoyment you get of being reminded of your youth in the nineties. The little suspense the show tries to inject, is for the audience to guess who the main character ends up with.
The story spans from 1993 to 2013. A couple from the outskirt move to Seoul and set up a boarding house for students from the same village who have moved to Seoul to attend university. Back in the early nineties, stars from Hong Kong were apparently very popular in Korea and a boy, Sham Chun Pyo, whose mother thinks he resembles Hong Kong superstar (late) Lesley Cheung joins the boarding house and meets the hosts and their daughter, fellow classmate from Computer Science Na Jung, god son and medical student, Trash, another classmate and roommate Hae Tae, medical student Ki Tae and reclusive computer science student Yoon Jin, all of whom originates from the same village. The only outisder is Chibong, a talented baseball player from Seoul who bunks in regularly with his cousin Ki Tae.
Although with so many in the house, each character possesses such a strong personality that the audience do not get confused by them like some other dramas. Na Jung and Yoon Jin, like most teenage girls, spend their free time trailing their respective idols, a basketball player and a pop star respectively. Na Jung has a love-hate relationship with her ‘god brother’ Trash, who was her late brother’s best friend. The drama flip-flops between the past, 2002 and 2013, where the friends are gathered in 40 year old Na Jung‘s house to watch her wedding video from 2002. As the drama proceeds, we see a love triangle between Na Jung, Trash and Chibong. But who she marries eventually remains a mystery until the last episode.
As the months passed, we watch their friendship grow. The passage of time in the nineties are marked by changes in electronic gadgets – pagers, phone cards, and public telephones were the norm in those days and it’s a wonder how people used to stand in line to answer pagers. Then in 1997, CT phones were invented that allows only calls out when you are next to a phone booth but that was soon replaced by bulky flip phones. We trace the history of Korea though the nineties, with stars that were popular then, workers strikes, and the financial crisis in 1998 that resulted in Korea asking for a bail out from IMF. The students graduate then but jobs are hard to come by for the new graduates. Then it is December 1999 and everyone awaits with bated breadths for the end of the world but the new millennium comes and go without fanfare.
Although the cast were slightly younger than I was in the nineties, the show nevertheless brought back many memories of that era for me. The chemistry of the cast and the mundane dialogues on everyday life are what made the show so popular that it garnered more than 10% viewership on cable. An example was how they were treated to steamed crabs and Hae Tae declined not because he doesn’t like crabs, but that he doesn’t like food which requires hard work to eat. Don’t we all know someone like that in our life?
Like all good dramas, the show left a void when it ended. One wishes the show could go on and on and let us continue to grow with them, much like how American sitcom Friends did with us for so many years.