Reply 1988 (응답하라 1988) – Wikipedia

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is by far the best of the 3 Reply series i.e. Reply 1997, Reply 1994 and Reply 1988. If you have not already known, the Reply series typically set the drama in a certain year in the past and then progressing to the following years. The bulk of the story is in that particular year. The visuals are quite nostalgic. The drama sets for Reply 1997 and Reply 1994 were filled with old items that were popular in that year (e.g. pager, walkman, radio, floppy disk) that surely brings back old memories for people in my generation. The year 1988, however, was too way back for me I had no nostalgic memory whatsoever. Despite that, they story sits well with me, better than the other 2 Reply series.

There is also another trademark of the Reply series i.e. there is only 1 female lead with about 4 male leads and the viewers are guided to guess which one of the male leads end up with the female lead in the current time. There are snippets of scenes with all leads in the current time which provide the hints. I find it really fun to pick up hints along the way and keep guessing which male lead is ‘the one’.

Unlike the previous Reply series, Reply 1988 focuses less on this romance aspect and more on the family aspect. I found this to be a good balance. It produces a more heartwarming story. As the leads have different family backgrounds, the drama touches on many family issues e.g. the single parent, the low income family, the typically neglected middle child, the lonely child whose parents are both working, and the gossipy but dependable fellow housewives in the neighborhood.

I have never heard about the 4 lead actors before watching this drama, which is not surprising given the track record of director Shin Won Ho who is known to be able to make an underdog actor skyrocket after starring in his Reply series. He has the ability to see a hidden talent. Almost all the main leads in his Reply series, some are even singers in Kpop idol groups, get famous and offered many drama roles subsequently. This Reply 1988 is no exception. The main leads delivered their acting superbly and their synergy was perfect. Furthermore, the female lead being all dorky and not pretty is something that more viewers can relate to.

The supporting casts are also top notch in acting. Sung Dong Il and Lee Il Hwa are always the parents of the main female lead in all Reply series and I think they hard-carry the drama. I’m always looking forward to their scene of funny banter as husband and wife. Kim Sung Gyun from Reply 1994 is also back in Reply 1988 with entirely different charisma. His partnering with Ra Mi Ran as husband and wife cannot be more perfect. They characters complement each other well, producing many witty moments.

The drama has at least 1 episode dedicated for each character, telling more about their background story. This is something that the drama does well, making me feel like I know the entire cast of the drama and understand how their stories intertwine. Sometimes the drama also presented the viewers with the same scene but from different characters’ point of view, making the plot more wholesome.

The pace of the drama is also great, unlike Reply 1997 which got draggy in the middle.

Similar to the US series – Desperate Housewives, there is a heartwarming message in almost all episodes of this drama, narrated at the beginning or the end of the episode.

[WARNING: spoilers in the next paragraph]

One of the memorable family message for me was the one about Jung Hwan’s family. His mom went for an out-of-town overnight trip, leaving the 3 ‘boys’ (him, his elder brother and his dad) in the house. Before leaving, she nagged at them to keep the house clean and was skeptic that they would be able to do so. But when she returned to the spot-clean house the day after, the boys were confused as to why she was unhappy. They eventually understood that a mom has to feel needed in the family. The house being clean and in-order without her was like telling her that she was redundant. This is something that me, as a young mother, can definitely relate to. As heartwarming as it was, the director never fails to inject some witty moments e.g. Jung Hwan purposefully pressing the elder brother’s hands against a burning pot just so that the mother could save the day with the ointment and bandage, and some nagging about how a grown up man cannot cook a simple ramyeon. 

I have been all praises about this drama. The only thing I would like to complain is the fact that the love story of the second male lead was more touching and heartbreaking than the first male lead. It made me really cry at his last ‘confession’ scene. That being said, the ending couple was fortunately still believable and definitely not as blindsiding/ absurd/ forced as that in Reply 1994.

I would want to give this drama more than 5 stars if possible. It was that good. It broke the record as the all time highest rated drama for tvN, a Korean cable tv channel. It even beat the ratings of some mainstream channel’s (SBS or KBS) drama. It is definitely not a typical rom-com drama. Sadly, I heard that this would be the last Reply series that the director creates. Boy, I will surely miss those funny scenes with the trademark ‘sheep sound’. Now I feel like re-watching the drama again *lol

 

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Signal (시그널) – Wikipedia

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I don’t really watched many thriller Kdramas so far because they tend to evoke too much adrenaline and some have bad ending/ too many plot holes. But I must say that I didn’t regret watching this thriller drama.

The plot is original and unique. It plays with time frame, but not the typical time travelling kind. It reminds me of the old goodies, Il Mare, where the 2 leads in different time frame communicated using a mailbox. In Signal, the magic tool is an old and broken walkie talkie. Although it remains unexplained how the walkie talkie conversation could start (leave it to the fantasy aspect of this drama), it’s still an interesting concept.

The drama is well paced. The ending of every episodes making me wanting to watch more and more. It’s unusual for a Kdrama to have 3 main leads with no cliched love triangle involved, but that’s what makes this drama feel like a breath of fresh air after watching so many romance ones.

I’ve never watched any of the 3 main leads’ dramas somehow. But wow their acting surely deliver and making me interested to check out their previous dramas. Kim Hye Soo, the female lead, was able to show a great difference in her character’s younger self and older self with just her face expressions. From being a shy and inexperienced rookie detective in the past, to a high-flyer one in the current time. Lee Je Hoon and Cho Jin Wong were both engaging in every scene, as well.

The criminal cases in the drama were presented in just the right amount. Nothing too serious, scary or gory. It focused on the facts of the crimes and how they were linked to the 3 main leads

The romance aspect was also sufficiently brought out. Touching, but without anything cliche or corny.

I particularly love the open ending, although many questions might arise on how it could happen. I wouldn’t complain if they decide to branch it out to another sequel in the future.

Overall, this is another highly recommended tvN drama. I’ve long realized that this cable tv channel has so many great dramas that didn’t get as much recognition as their other main channel counterparts (e.g. SBS and KBS). Cue: Goblin and Reply 1988. If you are looking beyond a typical rom-com cliche, this might be a Signal from above.

Goblin – The Lonely and Great God (쓸쓸하고 찬란하神 – 도깨비)

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

It is a master piece from the famous writer Kim Eun Sook. Actually, compared to her other previous dramas that I’ve watched (i.e The Heirs, Secret Garden, A Gentleman’s Dignity), I would say this is the best drama written by her thus far. The fantasy story line is original and captivating. It also has a balance between emotional scenes and funny scenes, without being too cliched or over the top. It’s further supported by the great CGI and other effects, which are on par with blockbuster movies. It manages to hit a high viewers rating despite being aired in a non-mainstream broadcasting channel (it’s the second highest rated tvN drama after Reply 1988, which happens to by my fave)

The actors are top rated and ridiculously good looking as well. I was first captivated by Gong Yoo’s great acting in The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince. And now, he is in a whole new level in Goblin. His emotional scenes are so moving, making me cry along with him everytime I re-play it. I was rather unsettled with the 11 year age gap between him and Kim Go Eun at first, but they work it out well. I’ve never watched any of Kim Go Eun’s drama yet, but I’m making a mental note to do so after I see her performance in Goblin. Some of her scenes were so heart wrenching it makes my heart ache. Lee Dong Wook doesn’t disappoint as well. He portrays his grim reaper character wonderfully, hitting a balance between being serious and witty. Yoo In Na’s portrayal of her character, however, doesn’t sit well with me. She comes across being too seductive, in my opinion.

Beware, major spoilers ahead!

After the captivating introduction of the characters in the first 2 episodes, the story gets a little draggy with the two main leads pulling and pushing their relationship. I was wondering how predictable it would end up to be i.e. the bride pulls out the goblin’s sword and the goblin vanishes into ashes. But I’m glad I was wrong. There are unexpected twists and turns. I was first perplexed when the goblin was ready to get the sword pulled out so early in episode 6, only to be pleasantly surprised by the unexpected outcome i.e. the bride is not yet qualified to do such task. I was further surprised when the supposed ‘ending’ of the goblin turning into ashes happened so early i.e. in episode 13. But the writer twists the story well from then on. I was so sure that this drama was going to have either a typical sad ending (i.e. the goblin has to choose death in order to preserve the bride’s life) or a forced happy ending (e.g. the goblin somehow becomes mortal after the sword is pulled out and lives happily ever after with the bride), but thankfully that isn’t the case. The ending is fitting in the sense that it’s a closure and an open-ended one at the same time. It’s a happy reunion, with a sad future looming as they would be separated by death again because she is a mortal and he is an immortal.

Overall, it’s a highly recommended drama. If you only have time for 1 Kdrama, go choose between Reply 1988 or Goblin.

 

 

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Uncontrollably Fond (함부로 애틋하게) – Wikipedia

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It’s not a typical romance drama. Despite having almost all the makjang points (e.g. birth secret, terminal illness, rich chaebol likes poor girl) in its plot, they were laid off in an oddly refreshing way. For example, the terminal illness was told right at the beginning of first episode. Unlike the typical Kdrama where it is served as a, not so surprising, bomb towards the end of the series. I shall not divulge further on the plot so as not to risk a spoiler.

In terms of acting, Kim Woo Bin was captivating as usual. It was my first time watching him acting as the lead actor and it was definitely up to my expectation. There was something deep in his facial expression, even watching his part in mute version without the dramatic background music would still get your emotion in the correct places. However, Suzy’s acting was much paler in comparison. Granted that she had improved since the last time I saw her in Dream High or Architecture 101, but it was rather jarring to see her put up with the caliber of Woo Bin.

What hindered me from giving 5 stars was the fact that there were few loopholes in the story and it also felt draggy towards the end. Could be a bad script, but, for example, I didn’t get why would Ji Tae kiss his fiance out of nowhere while liking another woman. I also didn’t understand many of Eul’s decisions or actions from mid series onwards.

Beware, spoilers ahead!

 

The scene that particularly touched me was the one whereby senator Choi found out from the video recording that Joon Young loved him so much and regarded him so highly as a prosecutor at one point till he decided to stop his girlfriend from defaming his dad, almost killing her in the process. Senator Choi must have then realized that he ruined his son’s life and trust, so he decided to turn the table around.

However, a few things that didn’t sit well with me:

  • I don’t understand the distant relationship that Young Ok had with her son. Which mother would still hesitate to see her son knowing his days are numbered? Was there something deeper that I missed?
  • The death scene was handled too beautifully in my opinion. Brain cancer patients don’t end with that peaceful death most of the times in real life. That scene failed to touch my emotion at all.

 

Somewhere in the middle of the series towards the end, I wished the script could have been written better. But overall, it is still a Kdrama worth checking out if you’ve finished watching all the 5 stars ones in my list.

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