*BIG SPOILERS if you haven't seen Reply 1997 or Reply 1994!*
Two high school boys are sitting near a basketball court on a summer night somewhere in Busan, South Korea, in 1997.
By this point, anyone watching Reply 1997 has fallen for Junhee’s charms, and is also aware that Junhee is not like the rest of the boys. He is not going to betray his friendship by falling in love with his best friend’s crush Shi Won. On the contrary, he’s going to fall in love with his best friend.
Kang Junhee’s character is one of the most important characters of modern Korean dramas.
I. Infinite Influence
Hoya, of the idol group Infinite was a perfect choice for Kang Junhee.
To be honest, he was the reason I payed attention to this drama in the first place.
Infinite is one of the manlier boy bands in Korea
He is one of K-pop’s golden boys.
If Hoya says something is acceptable, there is a large group of people that will undoubtably agree.
II. The Perfection of Kang Junhee
the ideal man.
How could Junhee, with all of his manly talents, possibly be a gay man?
He has one fatal flaw
His sexuality isn’t the most important thing about him
Their relationship is purely that of friends
Eventually, Junhee moves on, separating himself from his one-sided love.
because we all know that the nice guy never wins in a Korean drama.
This is why Bingrae, or Kim Dongjun, of Reply 1994 is so important.
III. Bingrae: The Letdown?
In Reply 1994,
Bingrae is a young boy from a farming family who has come to the big city to pursue a career as a doctor. He is enrolled in one of the best medical schools in the country, and has an instant group of friends in his boarding house.
He is nowhere near being an ideal man like Kang Junhee.
the love octagon
During these four years at the boarding house, Bingrae struggles to understand his feelings for the older boy.
Drinking games lead to a kiss between Trash and Bingrae
This unlikely couple had lots of fans,
is nothing like the confident Junhee of Reply 1997.
IV. Why Bingrae Couldn’t Be Gay
they never finished the drama because they were so upset.
they would have destroyed everything they had built with Junhee in Reply 1997.
Bingrae is confused and unsure
Junhee is confident and comfortable
The ending that upset many fans of the Bingrae and Trash couple was very well thought out.
After the reunion party as Junhee and the original gang of characters start to head home, Yunjae’s wife and Junhee’s childhood friend Shi Won offers him a ride home. Junhee smiles and declines, explaining that someone is coming for him.
There was never any confirmation of whether Junhee ends up with a man or woman.
The audience finds itself blinded by headlights again in Reply 1994 as Bingrae stares down the street waiting for his special someone. Suddenly, the red sports car appears. The audience remembers where they have seen this scene before.
As the sports car zooms past him, we are given an explanation of not only his sexuality, but of Junhee’s as well.
V. The Key is in the Car
Although Reply 1997 fans had to wait until the end of Reply 1994 for an answer, I loved the way the writers subtly tell the audience that Junhee was in fact, gay.
and that is what makes it so important.
If Bingrae did not end up in a heterosexual relationship at the end of Reply 1994, the writers would not have been able to give this insight into Junhee’s life.
a completely normal way of life
Being gay is as natural as the cars passing you on the street and is not something that needs to be made into a big deal.
That car, or that sexual orientation, simply was not for Bingrae, and saying this in such a natural, subtle way is incredibly important for the gay community.
VI. Korean Attitude
The gay community is still very much underground in Korea. In an Ipsos poll, 79% of South Korean participants said that they do not have a family member, friend, or coworker that is gay, bisexual, or transgender.
Reply 1997 had an incredible following,
Just before the airing of Reply 1994, Korea experienced its first same-sex marriage.
The marriage opened up country-wide discussions about gay rights in Korea
The good news is, from 2007 to 2013, South Korea is the nation with the most significant change in opinion on the matter of gay rights.
With the open discussions and diverse viewership of dramas such as Reply 1997 and Reply 1994, I have faith that South Korea will continue in a positive direction towards equality for all sexual orientations.
the Korean audience is being exposed to gay men not as forbidden lovers, but as friends, sons, and students.
They are portrayed as human beings.
Kang Junhee and Kim Bingrae are indispensable to Korea’s fight for gay rights.