I really have enjoyed how Reply 1994 takes its time telling us this story. It’s not about the destination, it’s the journey. All of the small incidents and big events from 1994 to 2013 show us different facets of the characters and their relationships with each other, about Korea and its pop culture. We are learning that we can only truly understand our hearts after experiencing life’s twists and turns at the hands of Fate.
Who can predict how the economy, our career, illness, and romance will affect us and how we will react to it?
Only after being tested by time and over time can we finally reach moments of clarity about what exactly it is we need. By quieting our fears and uncertainty, we can hear the signals our heartbeat taps out telling us what it wants to be happy. The answer may be new and surprising, or it could be something that was right in front of us the whole time.
Chilbong: “Until the end, don’t lose your focus and continue to stare. Then, all of sudden, something will pop out! Don’t try to see it ahead of time. Until you can see it, you have to wait like crazy.”
Najung: “Aish! I can’t understand anything you’re saying!”
Chilbong: “Why don’t you just give up? Only those who can see, can see Magic Eyes. Those who can’t, can never see it.”
Najung: “I know. I will be able to see it.”
As we reach the end of Reply 1994, Najung is getting better at interpreting her desires and making choices about what kind of future she wants. All along the way, there have been little moments that made me see Chilbongie is the man for her, and I think this fact is slowly but surely dawning on her as well. If I were the writer, THIS is the end I would be going for: Magic Eye book back in her hands, Najung, with one final effort, concentrates enough to make out what Chilbongie has been trying to show her all those years, and by seeing it, accepts his heart as well.
Take a long look back, and follow Chilbongie’s weave in and out of the boardinghouse and the story. Rather than seeing his presence as simply the catalyst pushing Oppa into action, he becomes instead a real example of true devotion and long term commitment. Chilbongie’s “Najungie – no matter what” attitude compares to how Najung’s parents have been to each other over the years. His and Najung’s easy companionship from the beginning will prove their friendship was built to last. His earnest desire for her will win her heart in the end because I think Chilbongie is a man she can admire.
While Chilbongie is NOT smarter than Najung, his character matches up against hers. He is as decisive, and his fearlessness to say what he feels, to go for what he wants, to practice till perfect also makes him a good partner in life. He rebounds from losses quickly and cheerfully, too.
I like that Najungie is a fighter and a survivor. Losing her brother at such a young age, she could have become resentful and angry. Oppa’s presence certainly helped her see that life, despite the pain it can bring, was still magical. Oppa cared for her making her feel precious and loved. She grew up facing each challenge fiercely – large and small – with strength and confidence. Never asking for the easy way to the goal, never expecting to win by luck. Her efforts in most things were rewarded in school and on the job.
With others, she is honest but protective; when she criticizes, it is because she wants her friends or family members to be happy, more successful, smarter. When she wants something, she goes for it, not delaying or hedging. Her confession to Oppa came quickly after realizing her feelings. The extremely painful and difficult decision to take the overseas job offer made me proud, too. How easy would it have been for her to stay, marry Oppa, but then resent him for the rest of life because she never had the chance to prove herself?
Family is extremely important to her. The love and devotion Najungie has for her parents impressed me from the beginning. Her day of cleaning and mourning made me see how deeply she cared for her mom and dad. Bound together by the loss of her brother, but not crushed by it, they loved and healed and comforted each other with every bit of their strength. When the economy tanked and her parents lost everything, it was Najung’s determination to help them that drove her to take the overseas position. She did this despite the real danger to her relationship with Oppa.
Coming from an opposite situation, Chilbongie values family as highly if not more so than Najungie. He has NEVER had this closeness, warmth of parents and siblings. He will be an attentive and involved father and husband. The gifts he showered on Najung and her parents came from a person who wants to show his appreciation as much as be appreciated.
Oppa is equally admirable, ambitious and tireless, too, but as Girlfriday wisely noted when it came to picking Najung or work, work always wins. With all the last minute broken dates, Oppa doesn’t only cancel because the professor wanted him, but because he didn’t want to miss out on what the professor needed him for. The surgeries, the discoveries, the patients – all of it is what motivates him. As his love for Najung battles with his love for his life’s work, we see how aware he is of the conflict. He feels keenly the pain of losing Najung bit by bit, but can’t give up his career for her.
Suddenly it becomes very clear: With Oppa, the love triangle is not with Chilbongie, but with Medicine. He has passed the point of no return. As his renown grows, so will his responsibility, taking even more time away from his relationships outside the hospital. He will have to admit to himself he could never commit his whole being to Najungie the way he wants to, and that would be unfair to her.
In then end, if Najung loves Chilbongie, as the preview hints, she will choose him, just as Chilbongie has chosen Najungie over and over at various times of his life.
Don’t forget, back in the beginning, Najung chose Chilbongie in the “Who would you re-populate the earth with?” game, too. Foreshadowing or just messing with us again?