This is such a sweet, addicting, grin-inducing little drama. There’e something about its mix of warm-hearted nostalgia and romance that’s totally unique, and it’s very unabashed and strong at setting up the 90’s world it goes for.
Absolutely peppered with timely references, billboards, and pop culture references, even the production values somehow add to the feel, since this is far from a pretty drama – it’s kind of washed out color-wise, and flat in its filming and color palette – yet somehow the gray, sometimes grainy feel just contributes to this delightful throwback drama. It really plunges you into the sense of being in a time when life was simpler, the quality of it perhaps more pure, when cell phones didn’t exit (or barely did), and a high school students’ biggest concern was making it to the live concert of the boy band she’s obsessed with.
Jung Eun Ji is a powerhouse in this drama, even if she’s given a role I personally, ultimately didn’t find very likable. Her extraordinary bubbly warmth and charisma shine through here, but she’s much, much more lovable in Sassy Go Go (review). Despite the rave reviews when this came out, I don’t watch very many high school dramas, so just got around to watching this now after realizing it starred my honeys Jung Eun Ji and Seo In Gook (*squishes both of them*). Sung Shi-Won (Jung Eun Ji) is obsessed with the boyband H.O.T., and throws all of her considerable enthusiasm and energy into life as a fangirl. Meanwhile, Yoon Yoon-Jae (Seo In Guk), the boy next door, grows up with her treating her as a sister – until one day, in high school, he starts seeing her as something more. Their rambunctious friends and Shi-Won’s squabbling parents, who view Yoon-Jae entirely as their own son, round out a beautifully done slice of life drama that’s pure joy in its first half.
There IS too much time spent on the parents, who, while endearing, are not nearly as interesting as the young’uns. This isn’t quite so much a romance about two people as it is a slice-of-life about a group of people, some of whom are more interesting than others, so utilize the fast-forward button wisely and often, friends. Shi-Won and Yoon-Jae’s friend group, however, is well-sketched and cute, and a lot of time is spent to develop their various love-lines and personalities.
I love love love the first half of this, and if you watch it on Viki, you’ll see it absolutely lit up with people whose clear affection for it shines through, and who are rewatching it for the third time. It’s easy to see why – there’s something immensely reassuring and comforting and magical about the drama, it’s basically comfort food, but very very well-done comfort food, like ramen noodles with sweet chili sauce and onions and chicken. Jung Eun Ji doesn’t have as much chemistry with Seo In Guk as she has with Lee Won Keun in Sassy Go Go, but that’s partly because she’s given little opportunity to – it takes a long time for her character to see Yoon Jae as anything but an annoying brother. Seo In Gook kills it as his character however, and you will ship them, you will ship them hard. There’s also some well-written time jumps back and forth – the episodes are framed by scenes set in 2005 at a class reunion between all of them, after they’re all adults with jobs, and we’re teased with the fact that one couple has just announced their engagement – but we don’t know what couple.
My biggest frustration with the drama, and what kept me from adding it to my 10 out of 10 list, is that I didn’t like the grown-up portrayals of their relationship nearly as much as I expected to. I really really hate couples who treat each other badly – I don’t find it funny or cute when couples snap and nag at each other- and I thought that aspect was far, far overdone, to the point where Shi-Won in particular was nearly unlikable – as though that was the dominant aspect of her character, instead of her bubbliness and loyalty. There’s also the completely pointless triangle that springs up about a third of the way in, and is just never convincing even in the slightest and milked for useless angst and to pass the time. UGH. Without that, this drama would’ve been near-perfect.
Having said that, I definitely recommend this drama overall. The first half is pure, pure magic, and you’ll watch with a huge, foolish grin on your face. I stayed up until 5am watching this, and regret nothing. Jung Eun Ji and Seo In Gook rock their roles, and the writing is strong and unusual and heartfelt. Sweet but never saccharine, surprising, and a lovely tale of very, very old friends falling for each other. This was a big hit, and launhed not just the rest of the Reply series, but also Seo In Gook’s career, well-deserved and to my eternal delight.