Watching Reply 1997 and having a frenzy flood of flashbacks! Everything about the short is just so telling and heartfelt. So true to life, that everyone must have had once before. I don’t think it’s particularly WOWOW engaging or interesting, I find some of the time-sequences a bit too confusing and repetitive, and the camera-work all over the place at times. But it definitely has a tinge of breezy sentiment and nostalgia, a very earthy grounded tone capable of making one reflect on good old years left behind. It’s not going to hit huge waves, but I’m content with few here and there ripples brought about.
Oh how time flies.
The year was 1997, when Backstreet Boys (yes, I know I know!) came into my life, if not, every single teen’s out there. The Korean wave or Korean pop hadn’t invaded our country yet back then, and we literally knew nothing about the country or it’s culture until Autumn Tale came around. H.O.T WHO?!! But it’s all the same for everyone, Shi Won’s infatuation and adoration for H.O.T is so very understandable and relatable in the same sense – the exact same fashion of addiction and craziness I had for BSB! The posters, the screams and yells whenever they came on TV, the small lil group discussions with friends… we knew nothing else as BSB ruled our universe. One of the very first MVs I’d seen on TV and LOVED with utter devotion, an MV that defined my youth:
Then came the internet! The NET that trapped us all in a virtual world and changed us all. That part in the drama which hit me memory button the hardest! Internet came into my life around year 1999/2000, it was the era of the millennium bug crisis. I remember vividly having been mesmerised and addicted to this wonderweb like a zombie. My mom would scold me up down left and right for hogging on the phone-line for hours (I spent so much time on Soompi!) as the phone and internet couldn’t co-exist at that time. Then the internet connecting sounds – the zzzzzzzzz sounds which I couldn’t live without knowing that I’d have no internet or Soompi to log on to if it didn’t sound right. 13 years, and it still amazes me how things have changed and evolved – and yet those moments still feel like yesterday to me.
A/S/L came next. HOW cheesy is that?! LOL ICQ, AOL, mRIC….etc all those chat rooms, what Shi Won did and how she reacted on her replies, SO TRUE!~ So what if I hailed from a country or state not known to the world, but we really did not live on trees OK?! With branches capable of connecting to the internet! It’s hilarious and silly, but it’s really quite a moment filled banter when we talk about it now.
Reply 1997’s obviously done some extensive research into that era, either writer’s from the particular time or a huge amount of time’s been devoted to make the stuff on TV look so real and connected (to our lives). What’s even more dear and precious is that everything’s shot using Busan dialect with actors who spout lines more than effortlessly. I get that drama’s set in Busan, but it still feels surreal to see a whole drama being done in a wholesome of non-Seoulish dialect. You somehow feel home and close when you see these characters interact with each other.
High school may not have been as exciting as the drama, but it does bring back lovely memories of the past. The characters aren’t terribly unique or new, none that we haven’t seen before, but they somehow represent a point in time of our lives, you could have been either a Shi Won, Yoon Jae, Yoo Jung…etc. Or you could have been a mix of all. Ultimately it didn’t matter, in spite of our naivete and innocence, we couldn’t have cared less if the world crumbled or if we dropped dead all of a sudden, we were the cream of crop of that “era”, the time when everything stalled to give way to fun and youth.
But growing up is never easy, just like Shi Won and Yoon Jae, friendships forged are always not so clear cut and simple. I like that drama doesn’t dramatize or stretch the complexity of Shi Won and Yoon Jae’s relationship too far (I know it will get there soon) but I think the tone/mood so far has been quite mild, and doesn’t call for over-reaction from us viewers. And it’s also good that random scenes of friendship and family are interspersed in between scenes. They make the drama more relatable and real. Nothing’s stretched to disbelief, nothing more nothing less.
Drama also deals with stuff that hits close to home. Some sequences may catch you by surprise because you would never see such stuff on your normal KBS, SBS or MBC dramas. The realism in some of the characters’ actions and thoughts will surprise you, and you might find yourself laughing in agreement. Some of the premises may be familiar, but the execution strays a bit from the cliched formula, which makes watching all the more refreshing. There is never a dull moment altho nothing terribly emotionally evocative happens.
Like SUFBB’s, 1997’s cast are not exactly what you would call actor actors. We have Shi Won and Jun Hee played by singers from idol groups, Yoon Jae played by a rookie singer, and Ha Chan played by singer-MC Eun Shi Won. Save for Seo In Guk who plays Yoon Jae, I’ve never seen anyone of them act before. And it’s even more jawdroppingly surprising that they’re doing such a believable job in their respective roles. I think whoever’d cast the actors in their roles hit the nail right thru the plank, they’re all spot on perfection. Eun Ji is wonderfully played, with or without OTT she’s never annoying, her spunk and attitude come from within. Hoya does acting even better than his Infinite counterpart L in SUFBB tho it doesn’t call for overwhelming praise. Eun Shi Won, he’s adorkable I cannot NOT like him. And Lee Shi Un, how many times does he need to play a high schooler – and with so much ease? But nothing beats seeing Seo In Guk do his endearing supportive best friend character so adorably! I love love love his take on Yoon Jae, in that he’s not pretentious or pretend-cool, and maintains a purish naivete when he’s around Shi Won. He’d impressed me well enough in Love Rain, but here he’s just awwwwwesomely Yoon Jae, and I cannot ask for more can I?
The only credible actor from 1997 is Song Joong Ho, whom I believe who will be having a heavier focus from Ep 5 onwards (I’m only 4 eps in)? The gut feeling is that he will develop some feelings for Shi Won, and may well end up being the surprise guy in the end (drama’s told in a narrative approach with both Shi Won and Yoon Jae reflecting back on their HS days – back in 1997 – 15 years back). But the shippy heart in me is firm – the friendship turned love element never fails to hook me and it shall be no different this time around. A genuine shipper of YJ-SW 100%!
Overall, drama is en-route to become a keeper if it continues to maintain its level-headedness. I’m not giving it my full stamp of love yet, but it has good potential to be a hit if it doesn’t stray away too far from the direction it’s going for right now. Not too glossy or showy and with a touch of sentimentality. You can’t go wrong with nostalgia done right.
Sharing with you here another 1997 classic, from my first ever Korean actor crush Ahn Jae Wook (Star In My Heart):
The Ahn Jae Wook fever, those who’d watched Star In My Heart – it will definitely bring back fond memories. ❤