By Jae-Ha Kim
March 8, 2017
Kim Shin (played by Gong Yoo)
Ji Eun-Tak (played by Kim Go-Eun)
Grim Reaper (played by Lee Dong-Wook)
There are few things in life that would be more difficult than to watch generations of loved ones grow old and die, while you live on for centuries without them.
Such is the case with Kim Shin, a dokkaebi (goblin). For more than 900 years, he has been cursed to live a life of loneliness as atonement for all the enemies he killed during his days as an unbeatable general. Yes, his victims would’ve slain him if they had the opportunity. But, as God says in the narration, they were all precious creations, as well.
The only way for Kim Shin to rest in eternal peace is for the chosen one (aka the Goblin’s Bride) to pull a sword (that mere mortals can’t see) from his chest, which will kill him and release him from this world.
A high school student named Eun-Tak appears to be the Goblin’s Bride. Kim Shin actually is responsible for her being born. Eun-Tak’s pregnant mother was left to die after a a hit-and-run accident. When she prayed for mercy, Kim Shin saved her from death and ensured that Eun-Tak would be born. The problem is that since she was never supposed to be born, she is a marked being, so to speak. She was supposed to die and didn’t, which leaves plenty of paperwork for the Grim Reaper.
As a young girl, it’s obvious that Eun-Tak is different from her classmates. She can see and hear ghosts, who tell her that she is the Goblin’s Bride. She has no idea what they’re talking about until she meets Kim Shin and things falls into place. Whenever she blows out a flame, Kim Shin magically appears before her to help.
And she needs plenty of aid. After her mother died on her 8th birthday, she has to go live with a cruel, abusive aunt who makes her cook, clean and care for her cousins. That aunt has no love for her niece. She only wants to gain custody of her sister’s life insurance money, which will transfer to Eun-Tak when she reaches adulthood. And speaking of adulthood …
As handsome as actor Gong Yoo is, he looks very much like the 30something man that he is. At 25, Kim Go-Eun looks youthful enough to portray the 18-year-old high school student. But like “Cinderella and the Four Knights,” this is the latest in a series of dramas where a high school girl becomes the love interest of a grown-ass man. Maybe because Kim Shin is supposed to be almost 1,000 years old and because Eun-Tak is 18, this difference in age isn’t supposed to matter. But it’s still cringe-worthy.
Usually when I finish a K-Drama, I write up my review within the next day or so. With this series, I took a couple weeks to digest everything that had happened. The series, which offers some fine performances by the leads, is tinged with sadness. There is an element of doom from the beginning. As God tells Kim Shin (in Episode 8), if he lives, Eun-Tak will have to die, because the purpose of her life was to be born to be his Bride. Her role is to pull the sword out of his chest. He has to die at the hands of the young woman he has fallen in love with.
I was watching the series finale around the same time that I watched a pivotal episode of the NBC series “This Is Us,” where a beloved character died. And I’m not going to lie: it took an emotional toll. One of the things I loved about both these series is how they handled the afterlife, where they showed the deceased being reunited with loved ones who had already passed. In “Goblin,” the Grim Reaper offers the newly dead a cup of tea, which will erase any painful memories they have prior to ascending to heaven. Those who have lived corrupt lives are not given that option.
The romantic elements between Kim Shin and Eun-Tak are supposed to be the driving force of the series. But the bromance between Kim Shin and his sad sack frenemy, the Grim Reaper, were much more engaging to me. Check out this scene where the two strut like runway models to save Eun-Tak after she has been kidnapped:
Now check out the scene below. After Eun-Tak tells them how cool they looked coming to her rescue in their long overcoats, they (comically) recreate the scene after buying some groceries:
Kim Shin takes Eun-Tak on a date to the movies. He warns her that it’s very scary and that she might get scared. The movie they go to is the immensely popular “Train to Busan,” which was a starring vehicle for Gong Yoo. Eun-Tak, who speaks to ghosts on a daily basis and is in love with a goblin, takes it all in stride. But Kim Shin freaks the eff out, screaming, throwing his popcorn and clutching her for safety. 😂
The Korean cable network tvN ran the 16-episode series from December 2, 2016 until January 21, 2017. Its final episode was the second highest rated series in Korean cable TV history. (The first was the immensely popular “Answer Me 1988.”)
In the first episode, a young Korean boy who has been beaten by his adoptive father attempts to run away from his Parisian home. He runs into Kim Shin, who tells him that if he leaves, his life will be worse than if he had stayed and that he most likely will never see him mother again. He tells the child to go back, look his father in the eyes and tell him that he needs to be raised like his real son. He also needs to tell his mother that she has to help him and intervene.
The boy tearfully asks Kim Shin if he will take responsibility when the cruel father beats and kills him. The Goblin promises that the boy’s dad will suffer from broken ribs and won’t be able to hurt him — he’ll only be able to listen. Just then, the white father comes barreling after him — but he trips and falls over a potted plant that Kim Shin moved into his path.
This is a wonderful vignette for the series — showing how Kim Shin knows what will happen in the future — but I find it incredulous that a pig who beats an adopted child will show mercy, just because that child asked for love. It’s likely that he also beats his wife.
Much later in the series, we see the boy — who is now an elderly man — heading to heaven.
In episode 7, Kim Shin takes Eun-Tak to Canada for a meal. While there, he sees what her future will be like in 10 years. She is at the same restaurant, waiting for a man to join her for lunch. I guessed that she was waiting for him … and I was correct.
The two go through a lot before they are reunited when she is 28. But she sacrifices her life to save a bus-load of kindergarteners. The series ends years later, when a high school girl shows up at the gravesite where Kim Shin is mourning. She is the reincarnation of Eun-Tak. It’s sweet — but, again — why does she come back as another school girl?
Those who become Grim Reapers are said to have committed the biggest sin. We learn that the sin is suicide. The Grim Reaper was once a naive and insecure king, who listened to a manipulative and evil eunuch. Convinced that Kim Shin was a threat to his throne, the young king ordered the deaths of his wife (Kim Shin’s sister) and Kim Shin. Besotted with grief, he knowingly drank medicine that had been poisoned, thereby committing suicide.
@2017 Jae-Ha Kim | All Rights Reserved
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