So good. Arang and the Magistrate has got to be one of the most creative shows I’ve seen in recent memory. The central conceit isn’t itself new — we’ve had ghosts and heaven/hell stories since the beginning of ever — but this drama’s interpretation and visualization of these ideas are so innovative. It’s colorful and refreshing. And simply gorgeous as well, which isn’t always an automatic given despite improved CG and cinematographic techniques these days. This is one drama where the technical aspects really enhance the storytelling; it’s the whole package.
SONG OF THE DAY
아침 (Achime / Morning) – “파도색 신발” (Wave-colored shoes) [ Download ]
EPISODE 4 RECAP
Eun-oh looks for Arang and can’t find her that night, worrying about what’s happened. He sees Bang-wool running madly through the woods; she arrives home and immediately prays to the gods, crying that she did nothing wrong.
Eun-oh scares her half to death with his sudden appearance and asks after Amnesia. She tells him Arang went to the hereafter — for real this time, replete with a goodbye to the shaman. She wonders if Arang went loopy in the head, daring to threaten the grim reaper and demanding an audience with the Jade Emperor: “She probably won’t be safe in the afterlife, either.”
Mu-young leads Arang through the forest. I love that while he’s as grim as his job description, Arang goes from walking behind him to sidling up to his side, asking whether he can really die. He answers, “Nothing in the world is infinite.” If he dies, though, he just disappears — the same fate Bang-wool warned would befall Arang if their portal-trick went awry.
Again Arang sees no big deal in disappearing, which I suppose is what happens when you have no memory and therefore no pathos about not having ever existed. She asks if he has a human past too, but he doesn’t answer.
They arrive at a clearing, and the reaper’s lantern drops to the ground, absorbing into the earth — and night turns to day, just like that.
They’re at the bank of the river to the afterlife — once they cross, she cannot return. He asks whether she feels no lingering attachment to this life, and she notes, “I didn’t say goodbye.” To Eun-oh, she means.
Still, she’s ready to face what comes next and just reminds him to keep his promise. A boat floats down the river toward them, and he boards it. Arang joins him and takes a seat.
As the boat travels on carrying the two of them, Arang looks back toward the shore. It’s eerily beautiful imagery, traveling on water that’s littered with greenery, almost like they’re floating atop the world.
Soon all the color drains away, leaving just black and white and coldness. The water turns choppy, and Arang looks on in horror as they approach an enormous waterfall. All around, there are other passengers in other boats, all falling over the edge. Arang falls, too, bracing herself.
The camera pulls back to give us a look from a distance, showing us that the waterfall is actually in the shape of a huge circle, leading to a white, watery abyss in the center. That’s so cool.
She falls into the water, sinking deeper and deeper… and then somehow the medium around her changes and now she’s floating in air, toward…
“Look here, Amnesia!” Where’d that voice come from?
Arang opens her eyes and finds herself standing with Mu-young in a large cave. A huddled figure in white suddenly leaps to its feet, vaguely human in shape but with strangely long, withery appendages.
The evil-looking scarecrow flies at her, face to face, looking at her with fiery eyes. It hisses at her…
Cut to Eun-oh, who asks, “Hell?”
Bang-wool is explaining the process of punishment and passage into the hereafter, determined by the life you led as a human. Most people have a little leeway, she explains — you spend some time in an ethereal prison as punishment and then go on your way to what’s next. But Arang? The thing she committed against that reaper? Instant hell for her, with no wiggle room.
Eun-oh argues that she can’t know that, since she doesn’t even have full shaman powers. Way to insult the only one who can help you, dude. Bang-wool huffily points to her shaman’s guide, all, How dare you disrespect The Book?, and outlines the description of hell: there are ten of them in all, each with its own punishments. Boiling vats, flying knives, and other horrors.
After all this, I’m going to die laughing if Arang shows up amidst literal daisies and rainbows. But it’s dire news for Eun-oh, who asks if there’s anything he can do. But what can you do when the opponent is Death?
Late that night, the Bang Trio lead a group of Lord Choi’s men into the magistrate’s yard, here to take agasshi’s body. Dol-swe has been put on guard duty and although Lord Choi’s name has him quaking in fear, he stands his ground. Commence fight!
Dol-swe’s outnumbered and unarmed, but he’s like a huge roaring bear and keeps fighting. One man goes after him with a knife, just as a shoe flies into his back, knocking him off-balance.
It’s Eun-oh, and Dol-swe cries out in relief.
Eun-oh has expected something of this kind, figuring that Joo-wal and Lord Choi wouldn’t let go of the matter easily. He drops his father’s name and warns that should anything befall him, these henchmen are digging their own graves.
It’s enough to get the men to back down and leave with hateful glares. Dol-swe cries and embraces his master like a huge lumbering puppy, and Eun-oh thumps him on the back for doing a good job. I love these two.
Eun-oh asks the corpse what she would have him do, at a loss. In the morning, he informs the Bangs to begin preparations for Seo-rim’s funeral. The villagers will be informed to pay their respects, and apologize for gossiping and maligning her name.
He sighs to himself, “Amnesia, this is the only thing I can do for you. At least your body may lie in rest. After your funeral, I will leave.”
Lord Choi is displeased to have his plans thwarted, although he is mollified to hear of the funeral. He’d thought Eun-oh was going to make a big deal of the murder, but now it appears he’s letting the matter drop. So did you kill her?
A notice is posted in the village announcing Seo-rim’s funeral and asking for apologies for besmirching her name. They wonder how it can be that the corpse hasn’t rotted, finding it creepy.
Eun-oh sits at the memorial altar, sighing that nobody has showed up in the past two days. He says it’s a good thing Arang didn’t meet Joo-wal after all, considering how he was so dismissive of her death. He asks, “Hell… Is that really where you’ve gone?”
The next day, Eun-oh receives the bows of Seo-rim’s servant woman, both dressed in mourning whites. Aw, has he taken up the position of her next of kin? That’s so sad and sweet. Today’s the burial day, and Eun-oh plans to take off afterward.
Dol-swe vents his outrage over Seo-rim’s lack of mourners as he packs their things. Though he concedes that it’s not just the people’s fault; it’s because they find it so hard to scrape by, thanks to Lord Choi’s harsh rule.
But when Eun-oh steps outside, he comes face to face with… Arang?
He stares in shock, while she leans in and teases him for his speechlessness. Cheerily, she says, “Good to see you again.”
Dol-swe joins him outside — and curiously, he looks right at Arang and asks if she’s here to pay her respects. What, he can see her? Omg. Is she alive?
Dol-swe leaves wondering who she could be to have the master in such agitation. Then he stops in his tracks, indignant: “He got himself a sweetheart without me knowing?!”
Arang’s incredibly touched that he went looking for her, which is just adorable. But he’s dying to know what happened to her (and so am I, frankly), and he impatiently demands her explanation.
Arang says, “I’ve become a person.”
Yesssss! I dunno how, but I’m ALL FOR IT.
Stunned, he touches her face, then grabs her shoulders as though to test it out. Which would be a better indicator if, you know, he couldn’t do that back when she was a ghost.
So she gives him her story, as we flash back to the last time we saw her, confronting that hellish scarecrow being:
The scarecrow flies backward and in its place grows a bright white light. Mu-young leads Arang toward it… and together they fly upward into the clouds…
Arang lands on a floating stone disk in front of heaven’s gate. The Jade Emperor’s voice asks, “Why did you ask to see me, Arang?” And there they are, the rulers of heaven and hell, standing tall to meet her.
Hilariously, the King of the Underworld leans in suspiciously and asks what Jade Emperor sprayed. Jade replies, “A heavenly scent to welcome a woman.” Pwahaha.
Arang defiantly harrumphs and says, “So we finally meet, old fogey Jade Emperor.” Which she directs at Hades. HA. Jade Emperor’s all, Yo, I’m over here, and she gapes: “You’re the Jade Emperor… old fogey?”
She gets to the crux of the matter: Why was she left dead in the ground? Jade Emperor replies, “Oh, were you?” Feigning ignorance, he says he can’t know everything — do you know how many people he has to keep watch over? But you know, if she’s that desperate, he’ll confer with Hades.
Hades grumpily refuses to play along with his charade of “consultation” and retorts that they already decided what to do. Ha.
Hades: “Arang! Looking at your sins, you should be heading for hell immediately. But because of the Emperor’s desperate plea—”
Jade Emperor: “Hey, that’s not right. I’m not one to desperately request anything of you—”
Hades: “—DESPERATE! PLEA! I have decided to give you another chance.”
This is the first time they are permitting anything of this kind, but they are returning her to earthly life — to find the answer to her question herself. If she can’t find the answer, Hades will take her to the deepest hell. Will she accept?
Arang’s reply: “Sure, why not?”
They stand under a huge orb, a heavenly yin and yang. There’s Hades and Jade Emperor, with Arang smack dab between them.
Jade Emperor gathers his heavenly power in his hands as he explains that before there was an earth and sky, there was one yin-yang. From that, all things were born, and the universe was created.
Hades draws upon his own dark force, and both of them shoot their energies at Arang. The forces swirl around her, sending her in a whirlpool of wind and power, light and dark, black and white.
The result? One perfect little glowing sphere, containing Arang. One side shows the swirl representing the yin and yang as we know it. On the other side is the seal that had almost sent Mu-young and Arang into the great unknown.
Jade Emperor tells Arang to uncover the truth about herself, and throws the ball into the sky, where it absorbs into the big yin-yang in the sky, which I swear is not a euphemism for anything.
On the earthly side of things, that ball of energy falls out of the sky and lands in the sea with a huge splash. In the water, the ball unfurls and Arang emerges from the fetal position, a literal rebirthing. It’s part Aphrodite emerging from the sea, part Little Mermaid.
Arang swims to the surface and yells up at the sky, “Are you crazy?!” Now she’s addressing both old fogeys, pointing out that they could’ve given her clothing. Haha. These grand entrances are high in visual splendor, low on practicality.
Arang darts through the grass, dripping and naked, and stealthily swipes the clothing hanging from a clothesline. What’s one more sin to add to the list?
Interestingly, Arang can still see ghosts. To test whether she’s really a human, she asks a child if he can see her, and asks how she looks. She giggles when he says she’s pretty, and goes off skipping, greeting every person in her path.
Spying the funeral notice in the village, she’s touched that Eun-oh would give her such a send-off. Off she goes to meet him… and that brings us current.
Eun-oh half-scoffs at the incredible story — why does only she get this treatment? She shrugs; the gods probably felt sorry for her. She eagerly proposes that now they can start delving into her murder case together.
Dol-swe’s voice cuts in from outside, calling him to the burial. He’s adorably pissy at his young master, assuming he’s romancing the lady, while Eun-oh tries in vain to get rid of him. Eun-oh orders Arang to stay put here and not move a muscle, then heads off to the burial.
She complies for all of about two seconds before exploring the house, heading next door to Seo-rim’s old room, and she announces that she’s returned.
Arang makes faces in the mirror to confirm it’s really her, marveling at her humanness. “I’m really a person!”
But it doesn’t come without its conditions: the gods had given her three full moons to solve her murder. Only after she finds the truth will the bell be rung. Hades warned that he’ll have hell prepared for her, cackling that she’ll never figure it out.
She’d challenged, “And if I do it? Then will you negate everything and let me live in heaven?” Jade had told her they’ed think about it when the time came.
Now Arang grumps that she’ll show the old fogeys — and what’s more, she doesn’t even need three whole months! “I’m different from that weak Lee Seo-rim. I’m not going to be ignorant and do nothing but scream!” Which is why we love you.
Up in heaven, Hades points out that the truth of the girl’s death isn’t really that important: “Do you really think your strategy will succeed?” He smirks that he’d thought Jade had a better plan up his sleeve, clearly believing it’ll fail. And when it does, he’d better be ready to honor his promise.
Jade Emperor assures him he will, and asks what Hades wants if he wins the bet. Hades: “Your body.”
HAHAHAHA. There is not one thing he could have said to make me laugh more, but it’s so perfectly in character. Petty-minded, calculating, aging Hades wants the heavenly king’s youthful hottie looks? Of course he does.
That actually shocks Jade Emperor into stutters, but he agrees. He doesn’t specify what he wants out of the deal if he wins, saying merely that he’ll let him know later.
Hades wins this round of badook and cackles in glee. Jade Emperor asks what earthly lives will end now, since each game results in life or death consequences on earth. Oh wow, so it’s a direct connection to the fates of mankind, is it?
Hades replies philosophically that things have to die for new life to spring up in its place.
The funeral procession makes its way through the village. At home, Joo-wal suddenly looks up at the sky — sensing something ominous?
Elsewhere in a small, isolated cottage, a woman sits in a room. She’s behind a veil, wearing the hairstyle of a gisaeng.
Joo-wal turns the lock in the gate — shutting something out? Or himself in? Who are you, creepy possible non-human?
Lord Choi’s steward leads villagers to a warehouse containing sacks of barley, potatoes, and corn. It’s an act of charity to starving citizens, and they thank him for the generosity. It’s rotten food, but they carry it off nonetheless. The steward tells Lord Choi that the food was unsellable and unconsumable, so they’ve earned a debt of gratitude from the people without losing anything themselves.
Joo-wal walks through the gate, and Lord Choi pointedly asks his man when the next full moon is. Isn’t it tomorrow? Father and son exchange loaded looks.
Lord Choi points out that this is particularly ominous, being the full moon of a leap month. He asks Joo-wal, “If you cannot find that girl by tomorrow, what will that person do? Surely he wouldn’t cast you away because of one mistake. Don’t worry too much.”
Joo-wal replies coldly that Father need not worry about that and suggests his father go to the funeral. Buying a round of drinks would do a lot more for his image than handing out spoiled food. Hm, so Joo-wal openly disapproves of his father’s corrupt and avaricious ways, but they’re clearly on the same side with regards to this cryptic secret. There’s such an interesting tension between them.
Arang decides to head out to her funeral, and dons the uniform of a guard as her disguise.
While the coffin is lowered into the ground Eun-oh wonders if Arang’s story can be true. If she’s visible to other people, it must be true. All the while Dol-swe glares at him silently, which cracks me up so much. He thinks jealously, “Look at him — his thoughts are somewhere else! What are you thinking about? That woman? Who the hell is she?”
Arang hurries along, belatedly realizing she doesn’t know exactly where the burial is. In her haste she bumps into someone coming from the other direction, who grabs her arm before she falls: Joo-wal. And wouldn’t you know, the black ring on his finger starts to glow a bright red, to his shock.
Arang pulls away and thanks him for his help. Would he happen to be going to Seo-rim’s funeral? Does he know where it is?
Joo-wal stares incredulously as she excuses herself and continues on her way. He runs after her.
Eun-oh decides to believe Arang’s explanation of becoming human to uncover her truth. He tells himself fine, she can do that, and he’ll continue investigating his mother’s mystery.
Just then, Officer Arang joins the party and promptly gets into an argument with one of the Bangs, who orders her to shovel dirt. The Bangs realize they don’t recognize this face and ask if (s)he’s new to town. With no way to gracefully escape, Arang pushes her way free of them and darts off in a run, setting off a chase.
Eun-oh pursues griping that he knew she’s cause trouble, and bringing up the rear is Joo-wal.
The chase-a-thon heads into town. Eun-oh darts off in a different direction, while Joo-wal hops on rooftops. Arang loses the bumbling Bangs, but Joo-wal catches up to her in a dead end.
Eun-oh’s not far behind them, and she panics, knowing he’s going to be upset that she disregarded his instructions. She tries to hop the fence and asks Joo-wal for a lift, promising to repay the favor.
So he lifts her up onto the wall, and she beams at him in gratitude. He doesn’t realize she’s a woman, but the smile strikes something in him, and he asks if she’s really an officer. She insists that yes, she is, absolutely.
Just then Eun-oh spots her and yells out, sending her quickly hopping over to the other side. He gets there too late, and belatedly registers Joo-wal. They eye each other warily, two suspicious alpha males.
If yesterday was Arang’s episode, today gives us more of Eun-oh and his growing attachment to her. While she’s around, he could grumble and pretend he found her irritating, but at the idea that she might be gone forever, he showed a melancholy that I found really lovely. He was so worried for her fate and unable to do a thing about it, and that pathos was palpable.
And then she returns? HUMAN?! What a fantastic twist I didn’t see coming. I guess now it makes sense why Seo-rim was so closeted, if only for the fact that it makes Arang’s return less of a narrative pickle, since there are so few people to recognize her.
On one hand it’s nice and convenient to our romance to make her human again… but no gives come without a cost, and with the ticking clock hanging over her head, I don’t doubt we’ll be getting our share of heart-wrenching conflicts in the days to come. It’s great.
Because: Human falls for ghost? That’s a sad, impossible romance. Human falls for human with a limited life span, governed by powers greater than yourself? Well, that gives them a lot more reason to grow to love aach other, and lament the loss when it comes time for her to make good on her side of the deal.
It’s a nice bit to have her retain her ghost-sight, keeping us firmly anchored in the world of the supernatural. Or is that sentence an oxymoron? In any case, I love the idea of both our hero and heroine sharing this second sight while the rest of the world remains blind to it.
This episode seriously upped the fantasy element, and I loved everything about it. Not just that it looks so beautiful and has great ambiance, but because it brings out some really interesting narrative themes — like Arang being indifferent to the idea of non-existence. I
love the idea of memory being the great loss of death. With her blank memory, she’s got literally nothing left to lose, as she told Mu-young when she was threatening him with the portal — it makes her more desperate, but it also keeps her adrift in her ghost-existence.
Everyone else understands the difference between dying and not existing, but Arang shrugs it off like it’s nothing. I wonder if that’ll tie in with the final conflict — this idea that she may go, but she’ll be remembered. Because at the end of the day, she’s dead. Her great tragedy isn’t dying, but in not existing, twice over: Once because she can’t even recall herself, and again because her death is shrouded in mystery and being covered up, by evil men-werewolves-reapers-or-otherwise-supernatural-beings-maybe. (What is Joo-wal’s deal? I’m so curious.)
- Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 3
- Arang and the Magistrate: Episode 2
- 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