The latest offering from tvN is an extraordinary K-drama. Literally. “History of the nine tails”Tells a story from a century old gumiho (nine-tailed fox) looking for (and longing for) his lost love. We also have a lively human and a mischievous half-brother in the mix, along with loads of other mythical creatures peppered all over the place. It’s a rich story with lots of beautiful pictures and great acting, and together they make for quite a cinematic viewing experience!
Warning: spoilers ahead for the first two episodes.
The drama begins in 1999 with a car driving down a street when the street lights are turned off one by one. It’s Dumbledore with his deluminator. Oops, fake fantasy story! Back to the story, the car with a little girl and her parents turns around and crashes. Without giving too much away, the little girl whose name is Nam Ji Ah (Jo Bo Ah), loses both her parents and her first encounter with the supernatural (and Lee Yeon) that day. Lee Yeon (Lee Dong Wook) appears that night looking for someone named Ah Eum, but realizing that he is not the same person, he makes Ji Ah forget about everything that happened.
21 years later we see Lee Yeon again and learn more about him. He’s a keen lover of mint chocolate ice cream (a #teammintchoc win!). And he’s a nine-tailed fox. Lee Yeon was once the mountain spirit of Baekdudaegan but gave up his status after falling in love with a human girl named Ah Eum. After her death, he was so broken that he signed a contract with the immigration service for the afterlife. He would work for them as a mercenary when they were born again. He’s been working for her for 600 years now and although he’s come across a few Ah Eum lookalikes over the years, none of them hold the fox pearl he’d previously given Ah Eum.
The current Ah Eum look is none other than Ji Ah, the young girl Lee Yeon saved 21 years ago. Although he intended her to forget the events of that night, she never forgot and clearly remembered his face. So if the two meet again and Lee Yeon continues to be surrounded by mysterious events, Ji Ah is determined to get to the bottom of things. She eventually learns of Lee Yeon’s true nature and asks his help in finding out what really happened to her parents that fateful night. After some digging, Lee Yeon informs Ji Ah that her parents aren’t actually dead, leading to a deepening mystery.
Ji Ah’s face gives Lee Yeon some trouble.
There are some supernatural incidents in the first few episodes, and at the center of the chaos is none other than Lee Rang (Kim Bum), Lee Yeon’s half-brother. Angry that Lee Yeon chose a person and left him, he makes it his life’s work to make Lee Yeon suffer. Apparently, he also likes to leave the chaos behind and not worry much about the damage and grief he inflicts on people, and even goes so far as to twist their words and desires like an evil spirit.
We also see various supernatural creatures including a bulgasari, a mythical creature that plants and feeds on nightmares. This creature happens to be a colleague of Ji Ah, so she’s also struck by a nightmare – a nightmare in which her mother rolls the head of her head. This skull is fished by some fishermen the next day, so she and Lee Yeon head to the island where the victim and his daughter live. On the island, Lee Yeon notices that all the ghosts have left because of a dangerous presence, but a little girl – a guardian of a tree – remains behind because her feet are tied.
Ji Ah cuts her loose and out of gratitude, Guardian leads Ji Ah to what she is looking for in relation to her parents. Ji Ah finds a cliff that happens to be the background on a photo of her parents, but before she can uncover anything else, she is attacked by one of the fishermen who has gone a little crazy. (In fact, the other fishermen get angry one by one and even die by suicide).
Lee Yeon arrives in time to stop the mad fisherman from inflicting fatal damage on Ji Ah and applies an herbal remedy to her injured shoulder. But the remedy starts to burn and shows some belt patterns on her shoulder that startle Lee Yeon. Suddenly, as if possessed, she grabs Lee Yeon and confronts him with the words, “Why did you kill me?”
There’s so much to enjoy about this premiere, especially how it builds a rich mythology. All of the prominent gumihos in Korean dramas have been female, so it’s exciting that we’re getting a male version of what is usually considered a (seductive) female character. With the premise that Lee Yeon is headhuntering for the afterlife immigration service, we will no doubt encounter many other mythical creatures so this area is sure to be exciting.
The very grandiose immigration office for the afterlife.
The cast is pretty good too. There are many familiar faces in the supporting roles, but of course it’s the lead trio of Lee Yeon, Ji Ah, and Lee Rang that are at the fore in these two episodes, and the casting is spot on. As mentioned earlier, the image that comes to mind when we talk about gumihos is traditionally feminine, and Lee Dong Wook has a softer quality of his facial features, especially with the hairstyle in this drama. Lee Yeon embodies both feminine and masculine traits, and this further underlines his otherworldly, mythical status, especially as many mythical beings from different cultures are often androgynous or gender-specific. In fact, he even states that he doesn’t care who Ah Eum is reborn into – man or woman, beautiful or ugly. (As long as she’s not over 60 … but that’s just because he doesn’t want her to die again too quickly.) He’s a hopeless romantic, and though that’s down to the nature of a gumiho (they can only do one Person in their life) it is still pretty passed out. And as powerful and impressive as he is, he does not kneel on both knees to have one last word with Ah Eum before she crosses the Sando (passage to the afterlife).
Nam Ji Ah is also an interesting multi-faceted character. Her childlike encounter with the supernatural leads her to believe in her existence, and she even accepts a position as production manager for an urban legends program so she can dig further into all of mythology. I’m glad she didn’t write that she wasn’t afraid or underestimated these creatures because that would be just naive. Instead, she has a healthy fear of them but relies on their intelligence to guide them. From a young age she was able to find out that her parents weren’t really her parents (shapeshifters?), And although it seems like a stretch for a young child to stab their “mother” with scissors, I give it it’s a passport anyway . She also has a pretty lively side that doesn’t retreat to grubby old men who threaten or molest her.
Of the three main stars, Kim Bum made the biggest impression. This is his first drama after completing his military service, although the last time I probably saw him in “Boys about flowers”(That was a decade ago). In Lee Rang’s first scene, Kim Bum looks so innocent and humble, but the moment he’s “remodeled” his whole look just screams mischief and cunning.
Just the sweetest, brightest smile!
Lee Rang totally agrees with his sinister intentions and it’s fun to have such a full fledged antagonist from the start without hiding in the shadows or pretending he’s one of the good guys. He knows who he is, always has a devilish smile on his face, and if you look closely you can practically see a mischievous glint in his eyes. It’s so fun to watch and a lot has to do with Kim Bum’s performance. That’s not to say that Lee Rang is a one-dimensional antagonist. Much of his actions are based on abandonment issues (and as his half-brother Lee Yeon puts it, a “brother complex”), and his disdain for people may stem from the fact that one of his parents is human. So there are some profound problems here (hey, even mythical creatures have problems!), But either way, he doesn’t have a clear moral compass and will most likely always have a little devil in him, which just adds to the fun of it all.
Another fun part of the drama is the generally darker tone. They don’t portray these mythical creatures as cute and cuddly, but rather give them all a suitably sharp edge. This increases the stakes for people like Ji Ah, because as lively as she is, she is still frail when standing next to these supernatural creatures – creatures that could very easily kill her. The production doesn’t shy away from the creepy factor either, which appropriately deters some scenes. And in between all the darkness, we also have some much-needed brighter moments that are peppered throughout to add some lightness to the process.
The drama also delivers in terms of production. Everything is very beautiful, from the landscape to the color palette to the people. The CGI is seamless and fluid, but the recent K-Dramas have really delivered on that front, so this has become something of a standard (especially with cable stations).
The action is exciting to watch, and with supernatural creatures in the mix, the action scenes are on a whole different level, with creatures climbing the scaffolding in the blink of an eye or zooming past at top speed. It’s all wonderfully done and together, Tale of the Nine-Tailed offers an incredibly epic viewing experience!
Bulgasari versus Gumiho
Check out “Tale of the Nine-Tailed” here:
Did you see the premiere? How much did you like it on a scale from 1 to 10? Let us know in the comments below!
Currently watching: “Alice, “” History of the Nine Tails “
Always favorite: “Kill me heal me, “”defendant, “”Hotel Del Luna”
I’m looking forward to: “The Spies Who Loved Me” with Shinhwa Eric, Yoo In Na, I am Joo Hwan