Arang and the Magistrate is hilarious, in a zany sort of way. Watching it makes me immediately think back to one of the PD’s prior works, a short little 2-episoder from back in 2007 that I totally loved, The Story of Hyang Dan—and that’s a great thing because I remember wishing that could have been a longer series because I found it so absurd and charming. In fact, the first thing I did after watching yesterday’s premiere was to rewatch Hyang Dan.
(The Story of Hyang Dan, fyi, starred Choi Siwon and Seo Ji-hye and was a spoof of famous Korean folktales, like the one with the filial daughter who throws herself into the sea. And yes, there’s also a gag about the magistrates who keep dying because the ghosts scare them to death. Here are recaps for Episode 1 and Episode 2.)
Arang has the same sensibility, the same comic rhythm, and the same wacky tongue-in-cheek humor of Hyang Dan, but beefs everything up—more effects, more paranormal, more drama, more pathos. And, yay for us, more episodes.
SONG OF THE DAY
Hee-young – “Lonely Like Everyone” [ Download ]
EPISODE 2 RECAP
Eun-oh realizes that Arang is a link to his missing mother and gallops past Death to sweep her up onto his horse. Reaper Mu-young is hot on their heels, and his supernatural powers seem to give him added speed.
Arang winces as she grabs a handful of peach blossoms, since in this world they’re knife-sharp to ghostly skin, and throws them behind her. Mu-young skids to a stop and shields himself, one blossom slashing his face.
When they arrive at a riverbank, he’s still quite agitated and pulls the hairpin out of Arang’s hair. A flashback shows us that he’d given it to his mother, and now he demands to know where Arang picked it up.
She grabs it back and replies that it’s hers—she had it when she awoke as a ghost, so it must have been hers when she was living. Eun-oh thinks this means she met his mother prior to dying, but alas her pesky lost memory isn’t going to provide any clues.
Arang thanks him for his help and heads off. But he calls her back and offers to find her name for her after all—maybe then she’ll remember clues leading to his mother.
Arang perks up and tells him she was right all along, thinking he’s really a nice, sympathetic guy despite his cold exterior: “I’m a great judge of character!” She chatters on, which he endures grudgingly, though he complains about ghosts lingering in the here instead of going on to the after.
She tells him, “If you haven’t died, don’t talk. Everyone’s got their own desperate reason.” Her name-hunt is one such instance: “Do you know how frustrating it is not to know who you are?” He notes that the Reaper called her Arang, but adds, “I won’t call you by name, Amnesia.”
She figures it doesn’t matter, since they won’t know each other long enough to be using names anyway.
Mu-young arrives in heaven to see the king and pauses to gaze out at the fairies tending the garden. Jade Emperor guesses he was thinking of his sister, and tells him that once they come here to afterlife, they must cut the ties of their earthly lives. Aw, so the Reaper has a fairy sister in heaven he still misses? That’s so sad.
Mu-young reports that he hasn’t yet caught the runaway ghost. Hades comes strolling up and asks pointedly how Arang’s red rope got untied in the first place. Jade Emperor says she’ll come of her own will—the seeds of fate have been sown, and now it’s time for the buds to bloom.
To demonstrate, he touches a flower in the garden, and like a light switch, all the blooms turn white. Jade Emperor: “This is what fate is—it goes round and round and round, and at some point everything comes back to its place.” Another touch, and the blooms return to color.
Back in Miryang, Eun-oh surprises Dol-swe by announcing his intent to be the magistrate after all. Dol-swe worries that his master is suffering some kind of injury, and since he’s so hot-tempered and thick-headed (a dangerous? but endearing combination in the devoted lug of a servant), he blames those government idiots and runs off to find them.
Said government idiots, the Bang Trio (Lee-bang, Hyung-bang, Ye-bang), are currently worrying over the new magistrate not dying as expected. Bang No. 1 writes a letter to the king explaining how the new magistrate ran off without a care for his position and therefore shows contempt for the king. He pauses over some fancy wording—did he get it right? Bang No. 2: “I think that’s right. Isn’t that what all the important people say?”
Dol-swe bursts in and grabs them by the shirtfronts, demanding to know what they did to his master. Eun-oh puts a stop to it, but aw, ya big doofus. That’s so cute.
The Three Bangs sigh to themselves that their ungoverned existence is at an end. So they must have enjoyed not having officials lording their power over them and preferred their Wild West ways of self-rule.
They wonder if there’s anything they can do. Eun-oh’s the son of a nobleman, so they can’t do anything to him. Leader Bang takes the glass-half-full approach; maybe this is a good thing. They’ll have to fill the spot anyhow, and maybe they can get this magistrate on their side, or manipulate him.
That means they’ll want to observe Eun-oh for a bit, to size up his personality. And also, someone should go visit the nobleman’s family, the Chois. The three look askance at each other in a round of Not It.
Leader Lee-bang ends up cowering before Lord Choi, berated for picking an official so willy-nilly. Eun-oh’s father is a concern, since Lord Kim is powerful (though currently absent), even more so than Lord Choi.
Asked what Eun-oh has been up to, Lee-bang sputters, “A w-w-woman…”
Cut to: Arang sitting for her portrait, sort of. Eun-oh gets to work drawing her face, to be used to ask around about her identity. Trouble is, he’s a terrible artist, although hilariously he’s pleased with the first drawing until Arang reacts in horror: “I look like THAT?” Back to the drawing board.
Eun-oh keeps at it, crumpling up drawing after drawing, which the snooping Bangs pick up and inspect. Finally he resorts to bringing in an artist to draw for him, though the artist finds this all very weird—he can’t see the ghost, so Eun-oh looks a bit loony gazing off into thin air.
Lee-bang explains to Lord Choi that all Eun-oh does is shut himself up drawing pictures of women’s faces. Ha. Lord Choi orders him to find out what he’s after.
The headshots are a bust, so Eun-oh tries a different tack: Where did Arang die? They can look for clues.
Trouble is, she doesn’t know. She woke up literally in transit, following the Reaper. Arang offers up two clues about herself, though: (1) she’s an amnesiac ghost wandering the earth for the past three years (he’s all, DUH), and (2) she occasionally feels a sharp pain in her left side, like she was stabbed there.
Eun-oh: “Why are you only saying that NOW?!” They huff back and forth in annoyance, which is so cute. Thankfully their bickering is of the adorable sort, rather than grating.
First order of business as the magistrate: He instructs the Bangs to bring him records of unsolved murder cases in the past three years. Eun-oh flips through the logs, and the deaths read like a sly reading of Dramaland Cliches 101: fight with a mother-in-law, adultery. “Why are they all crimes of passion?” Because you’re Korean?
Nothing turns up. Arang wonders if that means it wasn’t murder, or maybe her corpse was undiscovered. She takes offense to the way he chuckles at the idea (“You must be rotting alone somewhere”—admittedly not a sensitive response) and accuses him of not taking this seriously.
She storms out of the office and fumes. Alone? Rotting? She complains that she was wrong about him after all.
Eun-oh wonders what to do next as his nighttime stroll takes him past a house that catches his eye. The gate is locked, so he launches himself over the wall. Yes, newly appointed authority, go ahead and trespass.
The lights are on in the home, and he slowly, cautiously opens the door. Eep! Why so eerie? He assess the contents of the room: book still open on the desk, women’s accessories and cosmetics still laid out.
Then, a ghostly murmur sounds. Looking around, his eyes widen to see a panel of embroidery, with butterflies stitched on it. What, are they magical time-traveling butterflies?
Walking down the same road, Arang stops outside house and wonders, “What are they doing over there?”
A small crowd of ghosts hovers around the front gate, busily hatching a plan. She asks what’s going on and is told a memorial service is being held inside. (It’s the rite held on the anniversary of a person’s death by their descendants.)
That spins Arang into a flashback, to a time when she’d been huddled over in hunger. A ghost had offered her a “mostly-unspoiled” rice ball, which she’d practically inhaled.
The elderly ghost had asked for her name, recoiling when she’d replied that she didn’t know. Telling her that young virgin ghosts are called Arang, he told her to use it for her name. He’d warned her that she had a hungry life ahead, advising her that the only thing for them to eat is the rice people scatter to appease the ghosts.
Now Arang perks up at the promise of appeasement rice.
Eun-oh continues his inspection, but a servant woman appears at the door and scolds him for entering without permission, telling him to return everything where he found it.
Eun-oh introduces himself as the magistrate and asks who the room belonged to. The servant woman says it was the previous magistrate’s daughter’s. It hasn’t been cleared out because the young lady disappeared, and her room ought to be exactly as she left it when she returns: “That room was everything to her.”
The wheels are turning in Eun-oh’s head, and he asks when it was. Three years ago. Could our mystery be solved so soon? I’m certain this can’t be all there is, but Eun-oh says, “I’ve found you, Amnesia.”
The hungry ghosts jostle each other like impatient runners waiting for the starting gun. They all claim dibs, but Arang elbows her way into their midst and calls finders-keepers.
The gate opens. A servant emerges with a bowl of food, and sets it down on the stoop. The ghosts start the race, grabbing each other and flying around in circles to claim the bowl, which goes flying in the air. The elderly ghost’s advice rings in Arang’s ear as she leaps for it: That she must do everything she can to claim that food, a ghost’s best source of sustenance.
Arang loses out to another ghost, who flees. The remaining ghosts turn on her, griping that it’s her fault they lost it. They leave cursing her, and she complains that ghosts aren’t supposed to gang up like that, but roam independently: “Don’t you have any pride?”
By the time she arrives at Eun-oh’s, he’s pacing in annoyance, wondering where she went. He’s impatient and grabs her arm to take her back to that room, telling her he’s found her. Lee Seo-rim was her name.
Arang takes in the room’s contents like a stranger, looking at the various belongings without recognition. She asks, “Are you positive?” He answers yes, pointing to the embroidery. It’s the same design that’s on the clothing she wears.
Yet there’s no flash of memory, no jolt of connection. He sighs in disappointment.
Eun-oh asks the Bang Trio about this, and they tsk-tsk that disappearance is a mischaracterization: the girl fell for a man and ran off. Such a genteel lady, who would’ve ever thought she’d run away for a lowly county official?
Eun-oh scoffs at that description. Arang, listening nearby, glares.
The Bangs say that nobody around knows what she looks like, since she was always shut in that room—which makes it more curious that she had the chance to catch the eye of any man at all. Her beloved father searched everywhere for her, giving up his own office to do so, but eventually died. She has no other family.
But, Lee-bang says, there was another party hurt by the ensuing rumors: the young lady had been betrothed.
Eun-oh gives Arang a pep talk, telling her to buck up. Arang huddles in a corner of the yard, glumly poking the ground with a stick. He’s only interested in whether her memory has returned, but she’s just as blank as she was the day she died.
She decides she has to meet that fiancé to ask what kind of person she was. But she can’t exactly talk to him, so…. could the magistrate?
He balks—he’s not about to go around announcing that he can see ghosts. She sighs that he has a point and thanks him for his help, saying goodbye. Since they have no reason to see each other anymore and all.
Eun-oh can’t have that, his eye landing on the pin in her hair. With reluctance he calls her back, agreeing to meet the fiancé.
She beams with gratitude, and Eun-oh’s face crumples in comical dismay. Heh.
The next day, Eun-oh arrives at the gate of said fiancé’s home… who should happen to be no other than Joo-wal, son of Lord Choi. He tsk-tsks to Arang—how could she choose some other lowly man over this rich, privileged nobleman?
From over the wall, Eun-oh catches a glimpse of Joo-wal drawing in the courtyard. Arang eagerly takes a peek… and her breath catches. She holds her chest and wonders at her reaction. Is it excitement? Pain?
She tells Eun-oh she can’t go inside after all. Patting her heart, she says, “This is racing and I can’t breathe.” Haha, because he’s pretty? Or is there something more significant at play?
Eun-oh exclaims in disbelief that ghosts don’t have hearts to palpitate, and she thumps her chest insisting she’s telling the truth. Unthinkingly he raises his hand to thump her chest right back, but remembers himself before making that particular faux pas. HA.
He grabs her arm to drag her along anyway, but she digs in her heels and says she’ll go next time. She’s too embarrassed to go today. He tries to shove her along but she refuses, so he gives up and just starts to shout out to attract Joo-wal’s attention, then.
Arang claps a hand over his mouth and drags him away. Which, of course, looks like craziness to the regular non-ghost-seeing public.
I do enjoy the bits where Eun-oh forgets himself and reacts to Arang in the sight of other people, like he does at the establishment they stop at for drinks. Arang chugs down all his makgulli and grabs for the new bottle, and Eun-oh tries to intercept, telling her she’s had enough. Well, if you’ve ordered three bottles at least the bystander ajumma can chalk it up to drunkenness. This time.
Arang is in the throes of… well, it appears to be a one-sided crush, only just the heart-crushing, despair-inducing parts, without any of the happy. Eun-oh asks what the reason is for her reaction, and she says, “I must have really liked him a lot.”
Eun-oh sarcastically wonders why the girl who loved her betrothed would betray him to run off with someone else. She doesn’t get it either, but refuses to go meet Joo-wal. She must’ve truly cared for him, and therefore she can’t go to him like this, all miserable and disheveled.
Eun-oh’s all, Uh, you’re DEAD. “He can’t see you!” Arang replies, “Still, I can’t! A woman’s heart doesn’t work that way.” Even if she can’t be seen, she wants to face him without shame.
Eun-oh gives her the most exasperated look ever. Arang buries her head in her arms, moaning that it’s not like anybody would give clothes to a ghost like her. “I guess I have to go to the hereafter then.”
Is she doing this on purpose? She IS drunk so maybe she’s just wailing her woes, but I do love her ability to manipulate Eun-oh. Because he can’t exactly have her vanishing on him when there are still clues to be remembered. He grimaces terrifically at what he’s about to do, which cracks me up.
Off to the clothing shop it is. Omo, is he piggybacking a ghost? Hi-la-ri-ous. And the fact that she’s actually heavy is doubly funny; I guess being a ghost doesn’t preclude you from the laws of gravity? He notes that she was feather-light when he pulled her up on horseback: “There’s no middle ground with this one!”
Her face ends up riiiiight next to his, and he freezes for a moment. Feeling something? But that’s until her cheek actually brushes his, making him rear up at the cold touch, and he drops her. Whoopsie.
Eun-oh reminds himself he doesn’t have to scramble to pick her up quickly ’cause nobody can see her (and therefore judge him for being a terrible piggybacker/caretaker). He urges himself to take it slow: “Because my back is precious!” Ha, you shooting a CF here?
He picks her up again, doubled over from the weight, then sees a pedestrian eyeing him strangely. Thump! He drops Arang immediately. Thankfully she remains asleep the whole time.
Joo-wal makes an unexpected appearance at the gisaeng house, which has all the gisaengs aflutter in excitement. It’s his first time at a place like this, as his servant points out curiously, though it’s not like ice-cold Joo-wal is about to explain his reasoning to anybody.
He sits alone at the head of a long table, while every single one of the gisaengs gather at the other end, hoping to be picked to serve him. He’s actually rented out the whole place for the night, but it’s not for the usual revelries. He eyes the lineup and looks down at his strange black ring, fiddling with it.
It seems he’s looking for something (or someone) in particular, but he doesn’t find it. He gets up in discontent, choosing nobody. As he exits, we see our first glimpse of emotion from Joo-wal, who asks himself, “What am I doing here? Are you crazy, thinking you could find [it] in a place like this?”
He regains his composure. A gisaeng follows him out to pout and flirt, but he pushes her away disinterestedly. Yet something about her strikes him, and with sudden alarm, he shoves her against a tree and holds a dagger to her throat. She whimpers in fear, and he loses the crazy look in his eye. Warning her to cut it out, he leaves.
Interesting. What was he expecting? That she was a ghost?
Eun-oh pants and grumbles and staggers along with Arang on her back. Upon arriving, she asks, “Am I not heavy?” Turns out she was awake “waaaay back there,” which earns one frustrated neck-grab (the universal gesture for “Oy, my blood pressure”) from Eun-oh.
They’ve come to see Bang-wool, who is NOT thrilled to hear Arang’s voice again. Especially when Arang requests her shaman buddy to outfit her in the finest new clothes, since we saw how well that turned out last time.
But Eun-oh tosses money at her, which turns her right around.
That requires taking measurements, and since Bang-wool can’t see the client, it’s up to Eun-oh. First up? Bust size.
Arang decides she can do that one on her own, but is too embarrassed to call out the number. She whispers in Bang-wool’s ear, who promptly shouts it out loud anyway. HAHA.
On to the rest, and measuring her neck brings them in close proximity. They flick glances back and forth, and away, and that awareness just grows as he touches shoulder, arm, hand. It’s a lovely loaded moment, all self-consciousness and nervous touches.
Bang-wool declares the session over, noting that based on the numbers, Arang has an attractive willowy figure—too bad her temper’s so bad.
With the air still awkward between them, Arang bails first. Bang-wool holds Eun-oh back to ask how he can see ghosts. Does he have a secret method? Aw, the shaman wants the talent the magistrate dearly wishes he didn’t have. The world just isn’t fair, is it?
He just warns her not to tell a soul he can see ghosts, if she doesn’t want to become one. He leaves thumping his own heart, wondering, “What’s with me? Are you crazy? I must be.”
He doesn’t see that Arang’s watching him from her rooftop perch, smiling. She was impressed with his generosity about her clothes, and now she congratulates herself for being a good judge of character after all.
As Eun-oh crosses the bridge back to town, he encounters Joo-wal, coming the opposite way. They pass silently, but Eun-oh wonders what Arang ever saw in that guy.
Lord Choi receives the report that Joo-wal just returned from the gisaeng house. He finds it out of character, but figures that Joo-wal won’t be feeling like himself inside. I’m thinking he means that figuratively (maybe with the fiancée gone and all), but then he asks how long till the half-month. Er, did you mean that literally? Is he a werewolf?
Joo-wal stands outside looking up at the full moon. Okay, so not a werewolf, exactly—but a something, right?
Something wakes Eun-oh in the middle of the night. He opens his eyes to find Arang lying next to him, staring at him. She tells him everyone has their own laments, and asks if he knows hers. “Wearing one set of clothes for three years?” he guesses.
She shakes her head. “No. It’s becoming a virgin ghost without ever having had one kiss.”
His eyes widen. She leans in. The episode ends. Argh!
The humor is what drew me into the show immediately—as I mentioned, it’s like a longer and more detailed Story of Hyang Dan, although I don’t mean in story. More in terms of sensibility. But I expect Arang and the Magistrate to delve into more weighty emotions than the fluffery of a 2-episode show like Hyang Dan, and there’s more intrigue and mystery built in to the premise anyway.
I think it’s the mystery(ies) that’ll keep the plot moving as we start to delve deeper; there’s the main one, of course, regarding Arang’s death, but also Eun-oh’s mom-hunt and Joo-wal’s… supernatural werewolf half? Secret demon identity? Ghost slayer? I have no idea what direction that’s going to take, but there are definite sinister shades there, so I’m eager to find out the crux of his deal. I’d love it to be as dark and poignant as the stuff we explored in Joseon X-Files, because otherwise we may run the risk of campy. But there’s plenty of time for them to deal with it accordingly so I’m keeping my mind open.
Most of all, though, I respond to the characters and love the leads both individually and together. Not always easy to find—I can rattle off a litany of shows where you love one and put up with the other, but it’s hard to find one where both characters are pulling their weight in the charisma department.
I’ve always preferred Lee Jun-ki in comedy (although I think he can emote well when he doesn’t overdo it), and I’m loving all the exceedingly exasperated, incredulous, and confused faces he pulls. And I love that Arang brings that out in him.
I don’t love the lost-mom storyline, and therefore I’m not really invested in Eun-oh’s search for her. But inasmuch as it dovetails with Arang’s mysteries, I’m okay with going with it, because it’s a necessity to keep ’em together. Maybe the show could have done more with the disappearance setup to really make us feel for Eun-oh’s loss, but right now it’s a plot point I just have to accept and move on from.
That’s not so hard to do in the scheme of things, since the chemistry is so energetic—they’ve got the sexual tension thing (and what greater angst than the whole he’s-alive-and-she’s-dead dichotomy?), and also the quippy bantering, so best of both worlds. I’m a bit wary that the show will flip the switch at some point from the rollickin’ comedy to loaded angst and intrigue, because already I can see that built in to the premise. Let’s just hope that no matter what direction it takes, it doesn’t slow down the pace. ‘Cause I like it right where we are, zippy and super entertaining.
- Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 1
- 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