Goblin started its run on tvN this weekend and although it’s quite early, I’m impressed and optimistic about it. Unlike Kim Eun Sook’s previous dramas, this one is a fantasy drama. Sure, Secret Garden had fantasy elements but both of the main characters were human. Unlike this drama, where there are gods mixing with humans who have superpowers. The first two episodes clock in at an hour and a half each and I’m not sure if the subsequent episodes will follow suit but there was a lot of backstory that’s covered in the first two episodes.
The story begins with Kim Shin (Gong Yoo), a 935 year old goblin who has been cursed with eternal life. During the Goryeo Dynasty, he was a mighty warrior who was popular with the common people.
However, due to the fear and jealousy, the king betrays him and tries to eliminate him. He is taken out with his own sword which was used in battle to kill many enemies. Even though Shin is left out to die, he miraculously comes back to life.
The only witnesses who see him coming back to life are his servants, an old man and his young grandson. Although he seeks revenge on the people who betrayed him, he is unable to move on from this mortal plane.
Centuries later, Shin comes across a young boy and mysteriously saves the boy from abuse from his adoptive father but not before warning him from running away.
Years later, that boy eventually becomes the old man, a reincarnated being of the servant who once served him during the Goryeo Dynasty. His young grandson, Yoo Duk Hwa (Yook Sung Jae), is also there but unlike his former self, Duk Hwa is impish and outspoken. Even in the present day, Duk Hwa is more concerned with the finer things in life such as nice cars and pretty women.
Shin has tried to figure out how to die many times but the sword stuck in his torso prevents him from doing so. Legend foretells that the only way he’s able to die is if he finds a mortal bride that can end his life.
A woman hears this legend from an old lady (Lee El) on the street. She doesn’t quite believe the tale but is amused by the story. She wishes the woman well and goes on her way. However, she gets hit by a car and is lying alone, dying on the street.
Shin happens to be nearby and hears the woman’s call for help. He saves her life and saves the life of her unborn child.
Chanyeol, Punch – Stay With Me
A mysterious figure visits the scene, only to discover that he is too late. That figure is Wang Yeo (Lee Dong Wook), a grim reaper. He doesn’t remember who he is but only knows that he has a job to do to ferry the dead off to the afterlife. Before he sends them away, he gives the dead a special tea that takes away any negative memories so that they could live a more peaceful existence in the afterlife. It makes me wonder if Yeo has had a sip of this special tea.
Nine years after the car accident, Ji Eun Tak (Kim Go Eun) is a young, precocious girl. She returns home to see that her mother has a birthday cake for her birthday and tells her to make a wish. However, Eun Tak soon discovers that her mother isn’t really there. Although Eun Tak’s mother did not lose her life in the car accident ten years ago, death has finally caught up to her. From that moment on, Eun Tak vows to never make any wishes for her birthday and leaves the house to go to the hospital.
Outside, she finds Yeo waiting for her. He may not been able to ferry her off to the afterlife ten years ago but now he’s come to collect. Before he can take the little girl, the old lady stops him. She insists that Yeo can’t take her because the spirit he was meant to take had no name because Eun Tak hadn’t been born yet. He knows that this is the spirit he’s meant to take but a grim reaper must also follow the rules and only take the lives with the names on his assignment cards. He concedes but promises to come back for her. The old lady tells Eun Tak that now that the grim reaper knows where she lives, she’s got 3 days to run away to a different home so Eun Tak goes to live with her aunt.
Another ten years passes, Eun Tak is 19 years old. She endures hardships living with her aunt’s family. Her aunt insists that Eun Tak is hiding life insurance money that her mother left for her when she died while Eun Tak says that her aunt had spent all of that money. Eun Tak still has the ability to see ghosts and although, she’s an outcast at school, she doesn’t let that bother her.
On one fateful day, she passes Shin on the street and although they have a connection, they just keep walking along.
Even though Eun Tak has not made any birthday wishes since her mother died, she decides to make a wish this year to change her fate from all the hardships she’s had to endure. Through her wish, she inadvertently ends up calling Shin. He recognizes Eun Tak as the girl from the street but is confused to how she’s able to call for him.
It becomes comical how Eun Tak is able to call Shin whenever she makes a wish. And she’s come to the conclusion that Shin is a goblin. She tells him that she’s the goblin’s bride but he doesn’t believe her. Shin tries to walk out on her but then the two discover that Eun Tak has the ability to follow Shin through a portal to a different place. Eun Tak discovers that she’s in Canada and relishes the experience but Shin is baffled by how she’s was able to follow him as no human has been able to do that before. And yet, the purpose of this trip was so that Shin could pay respect to the servants that served him in the past. He’s lived many lifetimes and while death comes for the people he’s cared about, he’s lived on. It’s quite a lonely thought.
Meanwhile, Yeo has moved into Shin’s house. Thinking that Shin would leave the country for a length of time and needing money, Duk Hwa had rented out the place to Yeo. Changing his plans, Shin decides to stay in Korea but now he and the grim reaper have become bantering roommates.
In testing out how Eun Tak was able to follow Shin through a portal, he tries an experiment with Yeo. Yeo has no idea what’s going on but is more annoyed that Shin doesn’t tell him what’s going on. The running gag on the way these two bicker is something that I love about their dynamic.
It’s not long before Yeo discovers Shin’s connection to Eun Tak. Yeo insists once more that he has to take Eun Tak to the afterlife but Shin refuses to let him. He warns that if Yeo tries to take Eun Tak especially in front of him, he’ll incur the wrath of a god, namely Shin.
Eun Tak is surprised by this because Shin has denied that he was a goblin. He tells her that he didn’t want instill her with false hope because he knows that she’s not the goblin bride. The goblin bride is able to help the goblin discover something about himself. Plus, if she was the goblin bride, she end up resenting him a lot and that’s something that he doesn’t want to leave her with. As much as Shin pushes Eun Tak away, his feelings had grown to the point where he now had looked forward to her calling for him.
And she does stop calling him, until she has no other choice. The reason why her aunt is so desperate for money is because she’s in debt. She insists that the debt collectors should go after her niece because she’s hiding money somewhere so they kidnap her. Eun Tak knows that her only choice is to call for Shin and surprisingly, he appears to come save the day with none other than his roommate, Yeo.
I didn’t really get a chance to talk about Yoo In Na’s character, Sunny. There’s not much that we know about her just yet other than she’s flighty but seems caring and trusting enough to hire Eun Tak part-time. She does seem to believe in the supernatural but we’ve yet to discover what her role is in the story and what her connection is to Yeo.
Also, the old lady turned sexy, young woman, why does she continue to help Eun Tak. We know that Eun Tak’s mom has asked the old lady to look after her daughter and she lives up to that promises but we don’t know why. Nor do we know what kind of supernatural being this woman is.
As much as the drama does get somber at some points, after all it’s about these people with disparate lives that have some connection to each other. I do like that the tone is balanced with comedy especially between Shin and Yeo. This bromance is something that I’ll be looking forward to week after week. I mean, is there anything cuter than watching these two boys teasing each other?
As for the Shin and Eun Tak, I was originally unsure about how the chemistry would come across between Gong Yoo and Kim Go Eun because of their age difference and their characters also have a big age difference as well. However, the two characters are very similar in their own way (sarcastic, silly and lonely) and the way the actors play them are similar in method as well and that seems to be working well for me.
The pacing of the first two episodes were convoluted but it didn’t detract me away from the drama. As long as the backstory we saw in these episodes are essential to the rest of the plot, it’s fine by me. I’m not sure where this story will lead but I know that it’s a cinematically beautiful drama and that the characters and plot are intriguing. I’ve always been critical of Kim Eun Sook’s writing for being over-the-top but perhaps, fantasy is a good way for her to be over-the-top without disrupting the drama’s logical flow.