Reply 1994 Review: Perfect Blend of Nostalgia, Romance & Comedy

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Poster of Reply 1994
Poster of Reply 1994

Reply 1994 is a South Korean television drama aired in 2013, featuring a star-studded cast including Jung Woo, Go, Ara, Yoo Yeon-Seok, Son Ho-jun, Kim Sung-Kyun, Baro, Min Do-hee, Sung Dong-il, and Lee Il-Hwa. Written by Lee Woo-Jung and directed by Shin Won-ho, this series is the second installment of the Reply series.

The show aired from October 18 to December 28, 2013, on the Korean cable network tvN and spanned 21 episodes. The series is set in 1994 and revolves around the life of a group of university students from various regions of South Korea who live together in a boarding house in Seoul. It highlights the cultural differences and similarities among the characters and provides a glimpse of the lifestyle, music, and trends of the 90s.

The show’s popularity skyrocketed due to its relatable storyline and charming characters. The final episode of Reply 1994 was a hit among viewers, garnering an average viewership rating of 11.509%, which made it one of the highest-rated Korean dramas in cable television history.

Reply 1994 Storyline

In the television series “Reply 1994”, viewers are taken back in time to 1994 and introduced to a group of six university students from different parts of South Korea. These students reside together in a boarding house located in the Sinchon area of Seoul, which is owned and managed by a couple who have a daughter named Sung Na-jung.

Poster of Reply 1994
Poster of Reply 1994

The show follows a nonlinear storytelling approach, similar to its predecessor, “Reply 1997”. It jumps between 1994 and the present day of 2013, keeping the viewers on their toes as they try to predict who will become Na-jung’s husband from among the male characters.

The series delves into significant events that occurred in the country during 1994 and the following years. These events include the emergence of the influential K-pop band Seo Taiji and Boys, the catastrophic collapse of the Sampoong Department Store, and the establishment of the Korean Basketball League.

The series expertly weaves these events into the plot, offering insight into the cultural and historical backdrop of the era. The male characters are initially only referred to by nicknames, and their true identities are revealed later in the show. This was done intentionally to avoid spoiling the storyline for viewers and to add suspense.

Reply 1994 Review

The show “Reply 1994” was loved for its clever handling of the mystery surrounding Na Jung’s husband, who was revealed only in the finale. The show kept viewers guessing by showing only glimpses of the groom’s body, feet, back, or blurred face and providing confusing clues about his identity. Although the husband’s name was revealed early on, the show’s use of nicknames for the male characters added to the mystery.

A still from Reply 1994
A still from Reply 1994

The show also effectively depicted the passage of time and the reality that people inevitably go their separate ways. The adult versions of all characters were featured, which provided closure for viewers. The confusing previews at the end of each episode added to the show’s intrigue. The show also included historical events and fun facts about the Korean entertainment industry. “Reply 1994” was well-executed and exciting for its viewers.

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The cast of Reply 1994 was praised for their exceptional performances, much like their predecessors in Reply 1988. Na Jung, the daughter of the boarding house proprietors, had a quirky and fiery personality. She had a passion for basketball and idolized Lee Sang Min. Despite growing up together like siblings, she is deeply in love with trash. She was fiercely loyal to the trash and infatuated with him, often cleaning up after him.

Na Jung was a dependable friend, always there for Yoon Jin when she was down due to Seo Taiji’s retirement. Additionally, she handled the delicate situation of rejecting a boy’s advances with honesty and sensitivity. Na Jung’s determination to establish her identity was admirable, choosing to work overseas and become self-sufficient.

Go Ara gave an outstanding performance as Na Jung, showcasing her comedic talent and delivering punchlines flawlessly. Na Jung’s family highly valued trash. He established meaningful relationships with each member. He was brilliant and likable, excelling in medical school, and loved by his patients, even children.

Chilbong, a famous baseball player, was in love with Na Jung and found a family in Sinchon where he was treated equally with the other kids, except for Dong Il, who wanted him to join the Seoul Twins. Chilbong was competitive but kind, always there for his friends, and selfless. Actor Yoo Yeon Sook portrayed Chilbong well, especially in delivering dramatic and comedic lines.

Haitai is a loyal and reliable friend to Na Jung and the rest of the guys, despite his role not being as prominent as the other characters. He was flashy, yet his soft and romantic interior shone through, as he could not forget his first love.

Binngeure appeared fragile after leaving medical school early but displayed resilience and became a more robust person after his experiences in Seoul. He worked hard to become independent of his parents and sacrificed his aspirations to satisfy their desires.

Yoon Jin was an intriguing character who initially kept to herself and remained distant, but her observant nature was evident. Despite her aloofness, Yoon Jin was a caring friend, as exemplified by her actions of stopping the bus for Haitai, who was still eating at a rest stop. Yoon Jin’s character became more endearing due to her mute mother, which was a secret she kept until Samcheonpo discovered it.

Additionally, her unwavering loyalty to Samcheonpo was remarkable. Samcheonpo’s portrayal by Kim Sung Kyun was entertaining, particularly in comedic scenes. However, the actor’s ability to perform dramatic scenes was also evident. Samcheonpo’s character is surprisingly kind-hearted despite his physical imperfections, uptightness, and inflexibility.

Familiar faces from Reply 1988, Dong Il and Il Hwa, were part of the main cast in Reply 1994. They were the only main parents in the show and remained lovable. Dong Il’s humor and Il Hwa’s charm were evident, as always. They treated their boarders like their own children, showing love and scolding them when needed, and became their family away from home.

The Sinchon Boarding House was an essential part of Reply 1994’s storyline. It provided a warm and comfortable space for the boarders who lived there, and it was witness to all of their joys and sorrows. If it could speak, it would surely have countless stories to tell. The boarding house was a source of comfort for everyone, and its closure, in the end, was truly saddening.

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The early episodes of Reply 1994 were known for their comedic moments. Viewers could expect to laugh out loud at least once per episode, thanks to scenes like Samcheonpo’s ill-fated 10-hour journey to Sinchon, Haitai and Samcheonpo’s attempt to impress their dates with 40 KFC biscuits, and Dong Il’s unfortunate incident with a phone booth.

The drama was also full of memorable moments, such as Yoon Jin’s seating arrangement at a Seo Taiji concert, Il Hwa’s extravagant cooking, and the antics of the Beauty and the Beast duo, among others. Although the drama had its share of dramatic scenes, its humorous moments were a highlight. Reply 1994 has a different focus compared to ’88 as it emphasizes more on friendship rather than family issues.

The Trash-Binggeure bromance is particularly enjoyable, starting with a seemingly superficial bond but gradually deepening as they become more supportive of each other. The show highlights that a family can be formed through friendship, as seen through the Sinchon Boarding House, where the group of friends became each other’s family away from home.

They were always there for each other in times of need, even when they were far apart, staying in touch through letters, phone calls, and emails. Reply 1994, like most K dramas, includes a love story. However, the show also offers additional insights into love. In episode 6, the girls help Haitai decipher if his girlfriend wants him to visit on her birthday or another day. T

hey explain that sometimes when women rant, they are not necessarily seeking solutions. Rather, they want someone to listen to them and show care and concern. The analogy of suffocating air in the house illustrates this point well.

The drama also deviates from the abusive guy character, with the girl characters being abusive. The love stories of Binggeure and Haitai are also liked. Samcheonpo and Yoon Jin’s love story is unexpected but beautiful. They loved each other immensely and showed it in different ways. Samcheonpo even proposed to Yoon Jin with his passbooks.

A still from Reply 1994
A still from Reply 1994

The love triangle in “Reply 1994” left the audience torn between rooting for Trash or Chilbong to end up with Na Jung. Chilbong’s willingness to travel for six hours to spend just three hours with Na Jung on New Year’s eve showcased his dedication toward her. On the other hand, trash only pursued Na Jung after seeing her with Chilbong.

The confusion created by naming both characters Kim Jae Joon and Kim Seon Joon and Binggeure’s actions during the wedding pictorial added to the intrigue of the story. The friendship between the three characters remained intact even after Na Jung and Trash got married, with Chilbong even leasing his apartment to them. Overall, “Reply 1994” presented a compelling love triangle and showcased the strength of friendship.

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The drama Reply ’94 includes references to various sports, such as basketball, baseball, and football, which are enjoyed by the characters in the show. The use of real basketball players from the ’90s is a notable feature, with Na Jung being a fan of Lee Sang Min.

The show also features English songs from the ’90s and subtitles for Korean songs, with lyrics that suit the scenes perfectly. The show provides glimpses of military service and throwback items such as beepers, first-generation mobile phones, etc. Additionally, the show portrays city life from the perspective of country bumpkins and emphasizes the charm of living a simple but happy life in the province.

The show “Reply 1994” had some flaws that were hard to ignore, especially in comparison to its predecessor “Reply 1988.” One of the flaws was the confusing explanation of who trash was in relation to Na Jung’s family. Additionally, there were inconsistencies in some scenes, such as when Haitai offered to share his twin popsicles with Yoon Jin after almost being left behind by the bus, making it unclear when he bought them.

The show also had a problem with the characters’ storylines being dropped and picked up later on. For example, Na Jung’s fangirling of Lee Sang Min was barely mentioned in the succeeding episodes until her wedding. Similarly, Yoon Jin’s love for Seo Taiji was only mentioned sparingly, even after his retirement, and he returned to music.

While the show had some exciting scenes, some episodes were dragging, and it would put in exciting scenes to make up for the drag. The character Sook Sook was also not featured prominently enough, and it was unclear who looked after him when all the grown-ups were outside. Additionally, the cameo of the “Reply 1997” cast felt disjointed from the entire “Reply 1994” plot, and it was overextended and on the slapstick side.

Our Verdict

Reply 1994 featured a talented cast who delivered exceptional performances. Each character had their own unique qualities, making them relatable and endearing to viewers. From Na Jung’s fiery personality to trash’s intelligence and likability to Chilbong’s competitiveness and kindness, each character brought something special to the show.

Similarly, Yoon Jin’s aloofness but caring nature and Samcheonpo’s comedic and kind-hearted persona added depth to the show. The cast’s performances were outstanding, showcasing their comedic and dramatic talents flawlessly. Reply 1994 was a show that captivated audiences and left a lasting impression on viewers.

The show’s ending was impressive as it brought closure to all the storylines, including the boarding house’s closure. The older versions of the characters, especially Dong Il and Il Hwa, were heartwarming to see. Their characters still retained some of their old traits, but they had also grown and matured.

It was a perfect way to end a show that reminisced about their passionate and innocent lives. Although Reply 1994 was better than most K dramas, it did not surpass Reply 1988, which focused on family and gave a warm feeling that Reply 1994 could not match. Nevertheless, Reply 1994 is still worth watching. 

Our Rating: ⭐ (4.1/5).

By Shweta Jaiswal

Shweta is a content writer with a BA(Hons) from Banaras Hindu University and she is currently pursuing MA from IGNOU. She loves to watch movies and she can not stop herself from binge watch TV series and whenever she is not writing, you can find her singing and reading.

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