The missus and I must be the only Korean drama aficionados that have not seen this massive hit drama. Let’s put it in context for you – Goblin currently lies at #239 on IMDb’s list of Top Rated TV Shows. I checked, it is the ONLY Korean drama series on the illustrious list. Yes, Crash Landing On You isn’t there, I am sorry 😬
Since the series exploded on the small screen, we have heard so many positive things about it from friends, but none was more persuasive than my niece who went to most of the filming locations during her exchange program in Korea. She even saw the cast and crew filming episode 12-13 at the BBQ restaurant. The series also heralded a cultural phenomenon with fans picking up the fashion trend portrayed in the series and Korea’s tourism numbers rocketed up. While the world went Goblin nuts, we remained oblivious to it, but we finally check it out, all thanks to this lockdown.
Kim Shin (Gong Yoo) a decorated military general from the Goryeo Dynasty is framed as a traitor and killed by his master, the young King. Years after his death, he is cursed by the almighty to stay immortal forever and endure the pain of seeing his loved ones die as a punishment to the beastly kills he committed in the wars to protect his country. He becomes an immortal goblin, helping people with his powers and being a kind man in spite of his grievous past. The only way to put an end to his immortality is the Goblin’s bride, whose aid in pulling out the sword embedded in his chest will culminate his painful immortality. Ji Eun-Tak (Kim Go-Eun) is a bubbly high school student who remains cheerful and hopeful despite her tragic life. She summons the goblin by chance and their fates begin to entwine. Goblin’s nephew Yoo Deok-Hwa (Yook Sung-Jae) leases the Goblin’s house to a grim reaper (Lee Dong-Wook) and the two end up living under the same roof. In the fray is also Sunny (Yoo In-Na), a charismatic young lady who runs a chicken shop in which Ji Eun-Tak works as a part-timer. As the lives of Kim Shin, the grim reaper, Ji Eun-Tak and Sunny interweave, a deeper story unfolds as they are not just strangers who met by chance but people with deep-rooted relations.
I plucked the synopsis from Wikipedia. It’s for the 1% in the world who have never heard of Goblin 😊 Here comes my take…
The Koreans are so good with these epic fantasy romance dramas. They know the inherent conceit is to create an impossible romance. By that I mean the man and woman will find it impossible to be together, but yet every atom in their body will drive them towards each other. I have been schooled in this mantra of Korean romance having seen so many of the great ones. In Hotel Del Luna and Crash Landing On You, both man and woman have everything to lose if they wish to be together, likewise in Goblin. If Eun-Tak pulls the sword out, Kim Shin ceases to exist. If she doesn’t do it, she will be in constant danger.
The impossible romance only works if the couple is painted so believably, their chemistry so palpable, their love so powerful that we will hope with our entire being that they find their happiness. Initially, I had some trouble believing the stuff thrown at me. Kim Shin is more than 900 years old trapped in a 30+(?) body, while Eun-Tak is a 19-year-old high schooler. The height discrepancy is the gap of the wealth divide of any country. Thankfully, they are on the same maturity level but Eun-Tak does have to teach him a few things about love. The whole thing spelt illicit to me. Maybe it’s because I am a teacher so this looked to me like a sleazy romance between a teacher and his junior college student. But dammit… with every episode and every ethereal moment I bought into it, hook, line and sinker.
Eun-Tak’s Cinderella-esque underpinnings aside, what eventually endeared me towards her is her spunkiness. Being born into poverty doesn’t limit her. She grabs life by its horns and forge something for herself, staying steadfast to her beliefs. She plays a 19-year-old girl with aplomb. The world through her eyes is a wondrous one. She isn’t awestruck (at least to me) by the wealthy Kim Shin and will get pissed at him and is not afraid to speak her mind. I don’t find her stunningly pretty like the dime in a dozen actresses in Kdramas, but her confidence and feistiness is a breath of fresh air.
In any healthy relationship, each person will see the world through the other’s eyes and evolve to become a better person. Eun-Tak’s presence changes a quiet and regal Kim Shin to someone who is able to see the beauty and funny in life. Oh man… if I live to be more than 900 in a forever young 30+ body I will surely gain some smarts and enjoy my time on earth. I am not going to be an angry Wolverine staying pissed at the world all the time.
The first 8 episodes had me scratching my head a fair bit. It just wasn’t compelling stuff and the dialogue is frivolous. As much as I find it a little underwhelming, I was still engaged because of the fascinating back stories, gorgeous cinematography and the chemistry of the characters. I particularly enjoyed the bromance between goblin and the nameless grim reaper. The writers really milked the possibilities and drew out the juxtapositions between two supernatural beings. Oh… gorgeously beautiful people demand the most beautiful shots. The photography is amazing. You just need to freeze-frame any shot with your eyes closed and then open your eyes and see a poster shot. The bokeh shots, the slo-mo, the scenery… beautiful. In goblin’s mansion, the furniture and home decor are things of wonder. My eyes will constantly wander to the wardrobe, kitchen ware and shelves. Nothing, not even a light fixture, is out of place and the whole mansion and all its amazing rooms is like one of the man-made wonders of planet earth, I kid you not.
From episode 9 onwards, Goblin goes on a different route, things are more urgent, the frivolity disappears like wisps of smoke and in comes an urgency that builds and builds to a crescendo. Suddenly, you will realise the first 8 episodes are some clever expositional passages disguised as hilarity and absurd situations. Suddenly, you will realise all the characters are linked in grandiose ways and they have been placed on a chessboard by God to see how it all plays out. Think Job in the bible and you get what I mean. What’s also clever about it is Goblin doesn’t rely on a negative force to retard the principals’ arcs in the first half of the series. From episode 9 onwards, villainy arrives in all its evil and I was all in. I could map out the ending but that ending in my head came in episode 13 and I had no idea what they were going to do with the last 3 episodes. The last 3 episodes have some of the best falling action ever that culminates in a prolonged bittersweet moment that brought on a heartache like no other. The last 2 episodes can practically be a movie about having amnesia and learning to fall in love again.
Goblin has inspired moments of writing and every element coalesced into an organic whole that is effective and affective. I think it’s not far-fetched to say it’s art. It’s definitely great television, period. Sure, I can tell you a few things that are off but taken as a whole, this feels like a phenomenon where all the stars aligned and something transcendent happened. This one definitely laid down a marker for the rest of Kdrama-dom to pull up their socks. I can safely tell you with all my heart that Hotel Del Luna and Crash Landing On You won’t have happened if it isn’t for Goblin.
Rating 4.5 / 5