Dangnabbit, this show is so silly, and so outrageous, but so my kind of thing. I mean, you have to go in knowing it’s balls-out insane. There are ghosts and reapers and kings of heaven and hell. But if you can buy into the mythology (or actively love worlds with dense mythologies like I do) then you’re in for a lot of fun.
It’s a comedy first and foremost, because despite the fantasy-fusion sageuk monikers, tonally this is a broad comedy. The subject matter might be ghostly, but the telling is comedic—everything’s told with a wink and nod, in broad humorous strokes. It’s not subtle, but damn if it isn’t laugh-out-loud funny.
Arang and the Magistrate premiered to 13.3% ratings against juggernaut Gaksital at 19.4%, and To the Beautiful You brought in the rear at 7.3%.
SONG OF THE DAY
Arang and the Magistrate OST – “환상” (Fantasy) by Jang Jae-in [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
We open with a crawl that explains that the walls that divide this life and the next have broken down, allowing ghosts to walk among us. Ghosts can see people; people cannot see ghosts.
But there is one man who can see them, and he is headed to Miryang, in search of his mother who disappeared three years ago.
That’d be EUN-OH (Lee Jun-ki), falling asleep in model-pose on a mossy rock, while his servant DOL-SWE stops for a potty break. He complains that his master was supposed to be a lookout for ghosts, but fell asleep on the job.
He sighs that he can’t get mad at master for things he doesn’t know how to do, like say “I’m sorry,” “Thank you,” or “I love you.” Eun-oh scoffs that those are things that serve no useful purpose in life. He looks up at the sky and predicts a storm…
Elsewhere in the woods, ARANG (Shin Mina) chases after someone or something, annoyed that they’ve been living and eating all this time thanks to her, and now they’ve run off.
She ties her hair back, hikes up her skirt, and leaps over giant boulders as she races through the woods.
A caravan passes through on the road, and suddenly ghosts appear out of thin air, behind the trees. Ah, it’s a gang of ghost-bandits, eyeing the caravan. One of the ghost minions worries that they can’t pull this off without Arang, but the leader tells them they’re going without her.
They sneak attack, which is easy considering they’re invisible—they do that creepy ghost thing of jumping onto people’s backs, *shudder* and suddenly people are choking and going down.
The rest of the gang gets ready to join in, when Arang jumps right in their path, fuming. They cower in fear, which is kind of awesome. The leader tries to pretend like they were waiting for her, only to get a fistful of Arang in his jaw.
She’s about to teach them all a lesson in manners, when something catches her ghostly attention. She looks up…
A giant net falls from the sky and the ghosts all scramble in terror. It traps three of the ghosts, who freeze on the spot. And then four grim reapers alight from the sky, on a hunting spree.
Okay, these guys are badass. They hunt with mystical ropes and canes, all of which do the same thing—suck in the ghosts, making them disappear. One in particular—MU YOUNG (Han Jung-soo)—zeroes in on Arang and she flees for her life. Er, un-life. Yunno.
Eun-oh and Dol-swe make their way through the increasingly creepy woods, and Dol-swe whines that they say this mountain is particularly crawling with ghosties. Eun-oh sighs, “There’s no such thing as ghosts!”
He whimpers: is master sure about Miryang being the last place that his mother was seen? Because there are rumors about that town, and about how every magistrate who goes there ends up dead…
Eun-oh hears a rustle behind him and stops. Dol-swe tenses up, and Eun-oh points to his shoulder, “A ghost…behind you!” Dol-swe freaks out and Eun-oh laughs at his own joke. Only, when he looks up, there’s Arang running full speed, straight for him.
He can see her and the reaper, and it’s clearly not the first time he’s seen otherworldly creatures. His hand tenses up and he looks straight ahead as she runs past him. The reaper’s cane comes flying past his face next, knocking Arang down.
Eun-oh braces himself and walks past them, not letting on that he can see.
Mu-young towers over Arang, and she asks what the head grim reaper is doing chasing after one measly ghost—or perhaps he shouldn’t have lost her in the Hades River in the first place.
He calls her by name and sighs, more like a parent with a wayward child than anything, and explains that he’ll have to pay for his mistakes too. But she must follow the laws of death. I do enjoy how calm and stately he is.
She scoffs that the thirsty dig wells—that is the law too, and takes a step back in defiance. He takes out his red rope…
She reaches under her clothes and asks, “You like peach flowers, don’t you?” and throws a handful of flower petals at him. He winces and covers his face, and the petals cut his hand.
When he looks back up, she’s gone. He screams, “ARANG!” It’s no Gaksitaaaal, but maybe we’ll get a few more As in there as he gets angrier.
Eun-oh hears the cry and shakes it off, as it starts to pour rain. They run inside an abandoned house to stay for the night.
Meanwhile Arang runs away, getting rained on too. She opens her hand, scarred by the peachtree petals, and the wounds heal over. She shouts up into the sky at the King of Heaven: You think you’re all that?!
And then up in the bridge between heaven and hell, the Great Jade Emperor (Yoo Seung-ho) scratches his ear, “Someone must be cursing my name.” HA.
He sits playing badook with his twin brother, King of the Underworld (Park Joon-kyu), who is single-mindedly obsessed with winning the game. The King of Heaven is much more interested in the angel? fairy? who brings him his tea and peaches. He smiles and compliments her new hairdo.
The fairy deadpans that she’s had the same hair yesterday, the day before, and for about a thousand years. Ha, King of Heaven got no game?
Hades snaps that it’s his turn, posturing that it won’t matter because he’s already won. Jade takes one look at the board and plops his piece down (I love that the badook board is water) and Hades gasps in horror.
Jade: “Oh. Oh, no, no… I’m sorry. I wasn’t really planning on winning this round!” Hahahaha. The king of heaven is a playboy AND an ass? I love it.
Hades fumes impotently and Jade quickly changes the subject, wondering if Mu-young caught “that child” by now. He saunters into heaven, leaving his brother screaming in rage on the bridge.
Heaven is predictably a garden of paradise, and the Jade Emperor talks to his goat, sighing that he really didn’t mean to win, it’s just that Hades tends to calculate every little thing, “And there are so many things in this world that do not go according to calculations, aren’t there?”
He waters the flowers growing from the goat’s back, as we cut to Earth, and the forest being doused in rain (nice touch). Arang runs under a tree and plucks a leaf to use as an umbrella, which makes me miss Gumiho.
As Dol-swe sleeps, Eun-ho tends to the fire and stays up thinking about his mother. We flashback to their last parting, when he argued that he wanted to live with her. She yelled at him not to be foolish—if he lives with her, he’s the son of a slave, and if he lives with his father, he’s a nobleman’s son.
He counters that it’s all meaningless and he’s neither one nor the other, so he’ll just live the way he wants, and be with Mom. She says it’s all “that person’s” fault, and when Eun-oh pleads and cries, she slaps him and tells him to go.
He leaves in a fit of anger, and when he returns the next day, she’s gone.
Back in the present, his brooding session gets cut short when Arang ducks into the house to get out of the rain. She passes through the wall and sits down by the fire, complaining that being a ghost doesn’t even stop her from getting rained on.
She sighs that other than not getting cold, there’s pretty much nothing different from being alive. Eun-oh tells himself not to let her see that he can see her, which doesn’t even occur to her as a possibility until she starts undressing by the fire.
His eyes grow wide and his mouth hangs open. Their gazes lock for a split second, and she quickly covers back up, “Can you… see me?” He answers her in his head: “I can’t see you!”
She waves her hand back and forth and then gets thisclose to his face, as he tenses up and tries desperately not to move. “Can you see me?”
Close-up on his eyes, with Arang’s face looming in his pupils. Heh. I like this director.
He doesn’t move so she raises her finger, and pokes him in the face, and the ghost-to-human contact gives off a blue glow. He tells himself in his head to hold it together because this could get really annoying if she finds out…
She gets nothing so this time she purses her lips, and starts blowing on his face… uh-oh he looks like he’s going to cave…
But Dol-swe snores loudly, breaking the moment, and Eun-oh internally sighs in relief. Annoyed, Arang sits on top of Dol-swe to shut him up. She sighs that there’s no way he’d be able to see her anyway, and wonders what his story is.
She sighs that it can’t be anything compared to hers, and then perks up, “Do you want to hear my story?” Eun-oh (in his head): “Damnit. Don’t tell me! I can’t hear you!”
This cracks me up. She has no one to talk to so she’s just talking aloud to herself and pretending he can hear her, while he’s desperate not to hear her sob story, but can’t let on that he hears her.
She tells him how she just woke up one day and she was being led by a grim reaper. Flashback to the moment she first woke up as a ghost, as the reaper walks her through the woods toward the river, tied up with his red rope.
But suddenly the rope comes undone, and she bolts in the other direction, the reaper none the wiser.
Back in the present, she sighs that it’s all so weird—she doesn’t remember who she was, or how she died. She looks up toward the sky and says that it’s all that Jade Emperor’s fault; she knows it. She grumbles, calling him an old fogey.
Ha, clearly you have not met His Hotness in person. Perhaps if the king of heaven advertised his face a little more widely, there would be fewer ghosts reluctant to cross over. Just sayin’.
She sighs that it’s too bad he can’t hear her, because she’d really like to ask for his help. That’s Eun-oh’s cue to yawn and go to bed. He’s had his fill of talky ghosts and their ridiculous requests. No more of that for him.
She pouts that he’s going to bed already, and then lies down next to him to go to sleep. Eun-oh squirms, wondering what is wrong with this ghost, while she just stares at his pretty face and smiles.
Her hand falls on his shoulder as she falls asleep, and he shivers from the cold. He turns over and then they sleep like that, side by side.
When he wakes up in the morning, she’s gone, and he laughs to himself. They head out in good spirits and arrive at Miryang.
When they get down to the marketplace, a procession literally stops traffic, just for one man—Nobleman Choi, whom Dol-swe describes as Miryang’s king (head honcho, not a literal royal). In the absence of a magistrate in this town, he pretty much is the law around here.
Trailing behind Dad is JOO-WAL (Yeon Woo-jin), who gets all the attention of the girls. Eun-oh watches as a townsperson pleads a grievance before Choi, who has him beaten for his trouble.
Eun-oh: “Dol-swe-ya, you know me, right? When I see injustice…” Dol-swe: “You just endure it.” Hahaha. That’s not heroic at all!
The man goes to Joo-wal to plead with the young master for help, and when the men move to beat him again, Joo-wal stops them. He gives the man a chilling glare and tells him to go, and he flees. Hm. Is he being kind or is he really scary?
Dol-swe says that they’re building a palace annex here, and on top of the river at that. It’s causing a lot of grief for the people working on the project, and citizens are getting ripped off in taxes to pay for it, and Eun-oh just wonders how Dol-swe always knows what’s going on.
Dol-swe suggests that his master should take some interest in the people as well, but Eun-oh argues that it’s not like he can do anything about it if he knows, and Dol-swe just sighs, used to his master’s jaded ways.
Eun-oh suddenly tells him to go on ahead without him, and slips away mysteriously. He heads back, darting through side streets with purpose, and then he suddenly turns, “Why are you following me?”
A group of ghosts jumps back, and an old man in the group says they’ve heard he can see them. He has a request concerning his daughter, and falls to his knees before Eun-oh to ask for his help.
But Eun-oh turns away coldly, “Get lost. It’s none of my concern.”
He walks away and the ghosts vanish. And then we see that Arang has been watching the whole exchange. Nice. She doesn’t seem surprised to get confirmation on her hunch, and scowls, “You’d trick a ghost?”
Eun-oh stops to ask a local innkeeper about his mother, and she remembers her staying the night here, but not where she was headed. He turns to go and suddenly whirls back and grabs a wrist… it’s Arang’s.
Startled, she asks if he can actually touch her too, not just see her. He belatedly recognizes her from last night and asks annoyed, “Are you following me?”
She wonders if he’s searching for someone—is it a woman? His mom? He glares at her, and she beams, “It is! Your face is totally I-lost-my-mom-face.” Haha. He leans in and threatens, “Wanna die?” She shrinks back at his reaction, but then remembers, “I’m already dead.”
He tells her to get lost but she trails behind him, admitting that she gets it—he probably gets a lot of ghosts asking him for favors and it’s probably really annoying. Eun-oh: “If you know, then get lost.”
Arang: “Still, we did sleep together…” That stops him in his tracks.
He blusters that they did no such thing, but she just gets closer, “Didn’t we sleep together, last night? Well, you know, it’s not like you have to erect the Great Wall every time, to say you’ve slept together.” Saucy!
She starts to tell him her story again and he sighs that he heard it the first time. She says it’s simple: she just wants to know who she is.
She clearly won’t listen to his verbal threats, so Eun-oh reaches into his sleeve as a last resort, and produces a handful of red beans. They make Arang shrink back in fear.
He says he doesn’t usually do this, but he reserves them for those especially pesky ghosts, and winds up for the pitch…
She ducks and he throws, missing her on purpose. He laughs, but then threatens that next time he’ll do it for real. She shouts after him angrily what’s the big deal about finding out a few letters—a person’s name.
He tells her to go ask the local government for that, and she says she would, but there’s no magistrate in this town. Eun-oh says that isn’t his concern either—he’s not a magistrate.
Arang: “Then if you do become the magistrate, will you do it?” He scoffs, “If I become the magistrate? Sure. If I become the magistrate, I’ll help you.” He walks away, thinking he’s finally got her off his back. But she smiles devilishly, “You promised…”
Joo-wal goes to see his father, who yells at him for interfering in the marketplace and showing mercy. Joo-wal says he was merely in a hurry to get on his way. Their relationship seems chilly at best.
They argue passive-aggressively about needing to find “her” and that time is running out. Hm, everybody’s looking for somebody in this drama.
Next we meet shaman BANG-WOOL, who gets called out for being a quack about two minutes into a reading, and has to refund her customer’s money. So… not so much with the seeing then.
But she does hear, and when Arang pops by for a visit, Bang-wool wails that she promised she wouldn’t come back. Arang says she needs a favor…
In the government office, we meet the Trio Lee-bang, Hyung-bang and Ye-bang. They’re an idiot trio, but also the only ones left to run the government office, in the absence of a magistrate. They wail that they’ll never fill the position in two days’ time.
But as luck would have it (or a devious ghost), Bang-wool comes to see them to say that she had a vision of someone who could be the new magistrate. They immediately perk up.
They find Eun-oh, and… knock him unconscious? Wait, are you seriously kidnapping the man so you can force him to be your magistrate? Hahaha.
They figure it’s just to fulfill the royal mandate since he’s sure to die anyway like all the magistrates before him, and carry him away in a sack as Arang watches from the rooftop, snickering that one shouldn’t make promises so lightly.
What’s been happening is that the magistrates in this town keep dying, on the first night they take office. Interesting. The local legend is that a ghost haunts and kills them.
The idiot trio just figures they’ll have done their jobs if they put a magistrate in office and well, they can’t help it if he dies like all the others. As soon as they put him in the room, they wonder what kind of coffin they ought to buy, and Lee-bang tells them to go with the cheapest. Heh.
Eun-oh wakes up in a nice bed… hog-tied. Lee-bang calls him “Magistrate” and tells him to get his rest and then flees. The candles starts to flicker, and Eun-oh just tells the local magistrate-hauntin’ ghost to get her ass out here, because he doesn’t have time for hide-and-seek.
Arang floats in upside-down, which hardly impresses Eun-oh. He rolls his eyes and tells her to get right-side-up or he’ll yank her by the hair. She rethinks her strategy and stands up.
She puts on her best aegyo voice and reminds him that he’s the one who promised that he’d help her if he became the magistrate. He orders her to untie him and tells her to stop with the voice that makes his skin crawl.
She pulls her hair to one side and says he’s not her style, but she was told to act this way to get what she wants. Eun-oh: “So when that didn’t work, is that when you killed them—all those innocent magistrates?”
She pouts and sighs that she feels really wronged on that account. Flashback shows us that in an attempt to be seen by the magistrates who can’t see ghosts, she took an herb that makes her visible to humans.
She visited the first magistrate, who was so shocked at her ghostly presence that he had a heart attack and dropped dead on the spot. Ha. She wondered if it was her ragged appearance, so for the second magistrate she did her best to appear pretty, except she only had half the herb to take…
…resulting in a top-half-only-Arang that made Number 2 drop dead. Number 3 was a warrior who called her out… but dropped dead as soon as he saw bottom-half-only-Arang.
She sighs that it wasn’t her fault, and she doesn’t know why they keep putting such weak-hearted old men in the position anyway. Eun-oh growls at her to stop with the aegyo voice and tells her that she wasted her time with him. He only listens to the living.
She cries that they’re both alike—he lost his mother, and she lost her parents. She wants to find out who she was so she can say a proper goodbye to her mother and father. She sheds tears, and he turns around…
But he snaps at her to get lost, and she immediately stops the fake tears. Heh. He scoffs that she doesn’t even remember who she was—what would she know about mothers and fathers? She leaves in a huff.
Joo-wal takes a walk in the moonlight, and lurches at the conversation between three girls who pass by. They talk about this moon being a yoon-dal, a rotted moon, and legend has it that it’s a time when heaven loses its grasp on the dead, and the dead (particularly missing girls) roam among them, no one knowing if they are dead or alive.
He’s clearly jumpy about this yoon-dal, and he strokes a giant black ring on his finger as he watches them go.
In the morning, the trio hauls a casket in to pick up the magistrate (ha), only now a little sorry that they picked a man so young with his whole life ahead. Oh, you’re only sorry NOW? Lee-bang carefully unlocks the room…
Eun-oh bursts out and scares the living daylights out of them, and starts beating heads.
Dol-swe races through town at the news and comes bursting in to ask if his master is okay, screaming that the three of them messed with the wrong person. The cowering trio ask who Eun-oh is, and when Dol-swe names his rich and powerful father, they cry, “Forgive us, young master!”
Arang eats with Bang-wool and complains that she did everything the shaman told her—she shed tears and played coy, but nothing. Bang-wool: “That can only mean one thing… you’re a very ugly woman!” HAHAHAHA. Because she can’t see her! Lol.
Bang-wool asks why she didn’t say so in the first place, but Arang says she didn’t know—she can’t see herself either, so there’s no way of knowing. They both sigh. Bang-wool says the only thing to do is to put on makeup and pretty clothes, to at least help her along.
Arang wonders where she’ll get such nice things though—ghosts can only have things that people give them. Then she realizes that Bang-wool could do the giving, only the shaman balks that she has no such money. Arang: “Oh, money? Is that what you’re worried about?”
Commence burglary spree. Bang-wool worries that she’ll end up in jail but Arang assures her that there’s no way to get caught with a ghost as your lookout, and promises her that she’ll stop haunting her if she does this one thing.
They grab the items they need and are almost free and clear… when Bang-wool walks straight into two policemen and drops her stash, as the merchants start screaming that there’s a thief. Uh…
She takes off running, but is quickly cornered. With no other way to save her, Arang starts beating up the people around Bang-wool to give her an exit. Eun-oh and Dol-swe happen upon the scene and Dol-swe laughs, because it looks like people are just falling all over themselves.
Eun-oh just tsk-tsks and goes on his way. But he notes that other ghosts start popping up near the scene in worry—Arang is making too much of a fuss, and they’ll never go undetected now.
Sure enough, the four grim reapers fly down from the sky and land with ominous purpose. They split up to capture ghosts left and right, while Mu-young goes straight for Arang.
She sees him coming and takes off, running past Eun-oh on the street. It’s then that he sees it—the pin in her hair—his mother’s, the one he gave her. It’s his first clue, and she’s about to get zapped by a reaper.
They zoom past him, and he takes a horse. He races into the woods on their trail, and then overtakes the reaper, and races toward Arang.
He reaches down and scoops her up onto the horse, and she looks at him in surprise.
Wow, that was a lot packed into one episode. It was a bit of intro-intro-intro where some characters just zoomed by, but I loved how quickly the hour went. I suppose it helps that everything is written for the funny, so despite cursory introductions to some characters, I’m interested in a good number of them, and already firmly with the leads. Arang is a great heroine, who sure, doesn’t stray too far from gumiho terrirtory, but she seems different enough that I’m not seeing her as Gumiho. Just a brassy ghost who kinda rocks my socks off.
I do like that Eun-oh is a slacker and a bit of a selfish prick, but is driven when things matter to him. The big arc for him will obviously be in getting him to care about other people, dead or alive, and for him to start giving a crap about the plight of those less fortunate than he is. I expected him to just come to town as the new magistrate, so when we meet him as such an I-couldn’t-care-less-about-you nobleman who gets kidnapped into office, I died laughing and already can’t wait for him to get his comeuppance.
The tragic mom backstory mostly made me cringe because the sequence felt shoehorned in and therefore really terribly acted—sudden melodrama dialed up to nine—whereas the everyday comical stuff is great. The comedic tone supports overacting, because the two things match tonally, but if they stay on that same dial when it’s drama, it makes me laugh in the way it’s not intending to. Hopefully those shifts get ironed out, because it makes the actors seem way over-the-top.
This drama’s strengths lie in the funny and in the visuals—it’s a colorful, animated, visually-arresting world, and I love (love, love) that everything is told visually. I think the writing can actually take it down a notch with the over-explainy dialogue because it should rest more on the visual storytelling. Seriously—you could watch this without sound and know exactly what’s going on. I hope they learn to trust that and really lean on the show’s strengths rather than overdoing everything.
I already love the chemistry and the relationship between Arang and Eun-oh, and I could pretty much watch the kings of heaven and hell play badook all day long. The reapers are awesome—badass and sufficiently frightening, but really intriguing too. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into this world that feels lived-in and thought-out, and delivers on the funny. Myths and laughs—my two favorite things. It’s certainly enough to hook me, and I hope that the story follows suit. It’ll be nice to spend some time with these fantastic characters when they’re not expositing their entire life stories at me, and just being their hilarious selves in this rich and interesting world. Fingers crossed!
- Introduction to the mythical world of Arang and the Magistrate
- More promos and character stills from Arang
- Meet the otherworldly beings of Arang and the Magistrate
- Arang and the Magistrate’s poster and behind-the-scenes photos
- Arang and the Magistrate releases teaser, pushes premiere date
- On the set of Arang and the Magistrate
- Interviews with Arang and the Magistrate’s second leads
- Shin Mina becomes ghostly Arang
- Lee Jun-ki gets into character as the magistrate