What a lovely way to start a story. I almost never get this invested in backstory, because it’s really hard to be patient when you know that what you’re watching is the opening act and not the headliner. But our hero’s origin story is as sweeping and romantic and narratively rich as any main event, which makes it fun, and heartbreaking, and completely engrossing. It’s a pair of episodes that could very well be its own drama, and Show already had me at 1, but by 2 I’m a goner.
Gu Family Book moved from last place to first between Episodes 1 and 2, which is a good sign. It led with 12.2%, with God of the Workplace coming in close at 12.1%, and Jang Ok-jung falling behind at 9.1%.
EPISODE 2 RECAP
The narrator brings us back deep into the mountains, where the one who guards this forest has just crossed paths with a woman on the run. “Their sad legend begins now…”
In the Moonlight Garden, the monk warns our mountain guardian gumiho Wol-ryung against involving himself with the lives of humans, let alone wanting to become one. He adds with a tremor in his voice that it’s no mere minion on his trail either—the famed Dam Pyung-joon is after them, and he’ll stop at nothing until he’s found his target.
But Wol-ryung is smitten through and through, and when Seo-hwa tells him that she can’t in good conscience remain here for him to be tried as a traitor along with her, he just smiles at her silly concern and assures her that no one can harm her while he’s at her side.
He holds up a giant sack to say that she must eat to gather her strength, and holds up a rabbit in one hand and a tortoise in the other for her to choose. Ha. She tries her best not to seem ungratefully horrified, and quickly grabs the peach.
Knowing her preference now, he runs back up to the peach tree and returns with an entire sack filled with peaches, wondering if maybe that won’t be enough to fill her up. When she stops him by grabbing his hand, he melts at the touch.
When he sees her enjoying a particular flower, he shows up with a giant bundle of them, and when he sees that she likes the butterflies, he opens up his sack and out fly hundreds of them, to her delight. How adorable. He’s like a little puppy, just with a magical santa sack.
When he sees her lost in thought and sad, he takes her up to the top of the mountain to show her the amazing view, and beams when she starts smiling again. He’s killing me with the you-smile-I-smile thing. It’s too cute.
At night they light a fire in the cave and she asks if he has any family and how long he’s lived here. He says it’s been too long to keep count (way to be evasive) and that he’s all alone.
She tells him about her brother and the servant who’s like a sister to her, and seeing her distress, Wol-ryung asks if knowing where they are and how they’re doing will make her smile again. With tears in her eyes, she asks why he’s so good to her, and he just says very plainly, “Because I want to do everything for you. Because that’s my heart right now.”
But when he goes to the village, he finds her brother still hanging on the gallows. Gibang madam Soo-ryun goes to see our baddie Jo Gwan-woong to ask him to take the boy’s body down, but he says it’ll remain there as a warning to all the townspeople not to cross him.
Suddenly a servant interrupts to announce haltingly that the corpse… the corpse… has up and disappeared.
Wol-ryung returns to the Moonlight Garden where Seo-hwa is shaking in anticipation. She asks for word of her brother and Dam, and he looks back at her searching eyes. Flashback to moments ago—when he buried her brother’s body in the woods.
He can’t bring himself to tell her the truth, and says that they’re both doing well. She hugs him in relief, tears streaming down her face as she says she can finally breathe now. His face crumbles and he can’t bring himself to hug her back.
She pulls away and apologizes for her rash behavior, and he raises his hand to her face, to wipe away a tear. He turns to walk away…
…but then turns right back and swoops in for a kiss. Is that where that move comes from? Because if I didn’t know any better, I’d say this gumiho watches dramas.
They kiss as little green lights circle them, and as he pulls away he asks, “Will you marry me?” Seo-hwa: “I’m the daughter of a traitor.”
Again, he asks, “Will you marry me?” She says that she’s a runaway gisaeng. But he just repeats, as if to say I don’t care… “Will you marry me?” She hugs him in a wave of tears, and he kisses her again. Awwwww.
Next thing we know, the monk’s got whatchoo-talkin’-’bout-Willis face as Wol-ryung asks for the Gu Family Book so he can be human and get hitched. He can’t understand why someone would want to give up all his power just to do something so common and annoying as marry a human woman.
Wol-ryung argues that he doesn’t know what it’s like to live a thousand long years all alone, and would like nothing more than to live a full normal life. The monk asks if he’s told Seo-hwa that he’s a gumiho, but Wol-ryung says she’ll never have to know if he can become human first. Why am I seeing a gaping hole in your theory there, buddy?
The monk doesn’t have the book—only a book about The Book—and it says that no one has ever seen the Gu Family Book, but if he doesn’t take a life for a hundred days, helps any human being who asks for his help, and never shows his gumiho face to anyone during that time, the book will appear before him.
But there’s also a catch, of course, if he fails to complete the trial. He’ll lose any chance of ever becoming human, and he could also become a demon for the next thousand years. Whoa.
The monk begs him, as a friend, to reconsider it one more time. “You’re the one who might end up hurt in the end.” But Wol-ryung says it’s the first time in a thousand years that his heart is racing, and he doesn’t want to wait a thousand more.
So in the Moonlight Garden, Wol-ryung and Seo-hwa marry each other, and spend their honeymoon in a cave… which I swear is nicer than it sounds.
Meanwhile, Jo Gwan-woong and his men find Seo-hwa’s brother’s grave, and he realizes belatedly that she’s still alive. It still doesn’t explain how she would’ve carried his body all the way into the woods, and a thought occurs to him…
Months pass in wedded bliss, and Wol-ryung still gushes every time Seo-hwa calls him her husband or kisses him on the cheek. Today she insists on going out alone to gather some plants, and gives him his packed lunch with a kiss.
The monk comes by to check on Wol-ryung, who has eleven days left on his vegetarian diet. He says other than the delicious rabbit that passes by to taunt him every so often, it hasn’t been too unbearable.
The monk takes a bite of the lunch that Seo-hwa packed and immediately spits it out in horror. Wol-ryung says sheepishly that she’s still a little off with the cooking skills, and the monk just sighs that love must really be grand. Ha.
He came to give Wol-ryung a dagger carved from a hundred-year old tree, as an insurance policy against becoming a demon for a thousand years. Why do I not like the look of that thing?
Of course the one day that Seo-hwa heads out into the woods alone is the day that someone spots her. Damnit.
Dam Pyung-joon is ready to give up on the search for the gumiho, and tells Jo Gwan-woong that he’ll no longer waste government resources on his personal errands (oooh, he’s the first person we’ve seen stand up to this guy). But just then, a minion runs in to say that they’ve found Seo-hwa alive.
Wol-ryung returns home and calls out to Seo-hwa, but she’s not there. She finally senses someone watching her, and starts running.
The signal flares, and Dam Pyung-joon charges toward them with more men, while Wol-ryung races through the woods from the other side. Seo-hwa gasps as she runs, “Help me.”
Seo-hwa barely manages to evade the man following her, only to run right into another group headed straight for her. She runs again, and Wol-ryung grabs her out of sight just in time.
He tells her it’s okay, and holding her close, he makes the ivy grow around them like a shield, masking them in broad daylight. That is so cool.
The men all run past, and when they’ve gone, he raises the ivy and they step out. Only… they haven’t all gone, and Dam Pyung-joon is sitting on his horse, staring right at them. Oh crap.
“That’s an amazing skill you have there.” He asks what Wol-ryung is that he can control the elements that way, and Wol-ryung counters that he and his wife have nothing to do with them. Dam Pyung-joon replies civilly that if she isn’t Seo-hwa then he’ll apologize, and asks if they’d like to come along without a fight.
Wol-ryung searches for some way out, and makes eye contact with Dam Pyung-joon’s horse. Whatever signal he zaps sends the horse into a frenzy, and they take off running in the other direction.
But it’s not long before they run right into a trap, waiting for them. The men hurl chains around Wol-ryung’s limbs and surround them in no time. They bring him to his knees and start beating him to a bloody pulp, as they drag Seo-hwa away.
She screams for him and he looks up at her, the monk’s words ringing in his ears—he can’t take a life, or show his gumiho face…
But he can’t just sit there and watch them drag his beloved away to her death, and the rage takes over. Suddenly blue lights rise up from the ground and surround the men holding his chains.
Claws come jutting out from his hands, now covered in white fur. With a roaring growl he sends the men to the ground, and the rest of the people, including Seo-hwa, turn back in shock.
All they can see is a figure holding one of the men up in the air like a little ragdoll… and then he’s dropped, and Seo-hwa gasps to see Wol-ryung’s true beast face.
His hand drips with blood, and then she watches in horror as the rage takes over and he yaaaanks the beating heart out of one man and chomps down on the pumping artery of another. Holy massacre, batman.
He lets out this roooooaaaar that sends everyone to the ground, and Seo-hwa stands there, frozen, as the leaves swirl around her and the man she loves becomes a monster before her eyes.
He comes back to his senses and starts to walk toward her with pleading eyes, and as she shrinks back, he can hear her thoughts: “No, don’t come!” She finally lets out a piercing shriek: “Noooooo!” and faints at his feet.
He carries her back to their home and she’s just as frightened when she awakes, but he calls out to her in his soft voice, “It’s me, Wol-ryung,” and she asks tearfully, “Is it really you?”
Wol-ryung: “This is my true face. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” He collapses in bloody exhaustion. But she can’t believe it’s really him and runs away, telling herself that it’s not Wol-ryung.
And then… she walks right into the soldiers’ camp to turn herself in. Oh noes.
The sparkly blue lights heal Wol-ryung’s wounds, but he’s still lying in a heap when the monk runs in to revive him. The first thing he asks is for the monk to check on Seo-hwa, who must be very frightened, and the monk can’t believe he’d think of love even now.
He heads out to find her, and turns back to remind Wol-ryung about that dagger carved from the hundred-year old tree, and tells him to use it at the right moment.
At the camp, Seo-hwa is made to kneel before Jo Gwan-woong, who slaps her across the face and says that her brother and servant died because of her.
She looks up in shock and says that can’t be, but Jo Gwan-woong is only too pleased to tell her that Dam hanged herself and that he personally tied the noose around her brother’s neck. He orders Dam Pyung-joon to use her to lead them to the gumiho, and then kill them both.
Wol-ryung wakes up the next morning and takes a drink from the river. When he raises his head, he’s surrounded by soldiers all over again. He just stares blankly for a moment, not understanding how humans could have found this place, and it’s only when Seo-hwa is dragged out from behind them that it sinks in.
He asks why she’d betray him, and she counters that he lied first, about her family, about his true nature. He swears that it was because he couldn’t stand to see her sad, but she’s already convinced that it was all lies.
“I believed you—that everything you said, everything you did, was sincere.” He calls out her name, but she turns away, and aaaaugh the pain in his eyes…
As a tear falls, we flash back to the monk’s warning: if the woman he loves doesn’t betray him, he doesn’t have to worry about turning into a demon for a thousand years. But if she does, then the only way to stop from turning into a demon is to stab her in the heart with that hundred-year old dagger. Dude. Worst catch ever.
He takes out the dagger and runs to her, calling out her name, but Dam Pyung-joon stabs him right in the gut as he reaches her. He puts a hand on her shoulder and asks, “Why did you do it? I loved you. I loved you so.”
They both cry, and Dam Pyung-joon hesitates. But Jo Gwan-woong shouts at him to strike. As Wol-ryung’s beast face shows itself, his claws pierce Seo-hwa’s shoulder and she screams out in pain.
Dam Pyung-joon charges with his sword, and then delivers the killing blow. Seo-hwa whispers, “Wol-ryung…” as blue lights stream out of his body, suspending him in midair, until he vanishes.
The lights fly away and disappear.
Dam Pyung-joon is left behind to kill Seo-hwa on his own, and the monk arrives screaming for Wol-ryung. He crumbles at the scene, demanding to know what happened to his friend, who never harmed anyone and guarded these mountains with care.
He blames Seo-hwa for all of this, wailing that all this happened because Wol-ryung wanted to become a person. He cries that he would’ve been human in just ten days: “All of this… because he loved you!”
Trembling, she looks down at his blood on her hands. And then the second bout of vomiting in two days sends her running off… which of course in dramaland can only mean that she’s pregnant.
Dam Pyung-joon sends her bloody hairpin to Jo Gwan-woong as proof that he killed her, and the creepy bastard actually seems to have been in love with her, from the way he haunts her old house and sees visions of her smiling and laughing in the past.
The blue lights carry Wol-ryung’s body deep into the woods, and the forest grows around him to lay him to rest.
Seasons change, and the Moonlight Garden remains quiet and undisturbed.
We return to the gisaeng house, where a very pregnant Seo-hwa is screaming and wailing for them to kill her before she gives birth to a monster child. But Soo-ryun has a promise to keep to the person who asked her this favor, and refuses to let her die.
Every kick from the baby scares the life out of her, and she finally decides to sneak out on her own. She treks back through the woods and hears Wol-ryung’s voice calling her name.
She returns to the Moonlight Garden, where she’s flooded with happy memories of her days with Wol-ryung. The labor pains begin and she screams as more memories flash by, and she gives birth to their child. The blue lights return and swirl towards the cave…
The monk sees them too, and looks up in wonder: “Wol-ryung?”
Seo-hwa gathers up her resolve and unwraps the sickle she carried with her. She can’t see the baby’s face in the dark, and thinks to herself: “I’m sorry, Wol-ryung. Forgive me for this is all I can do. I’m truly sorry, Wol-ryung.”
She raises her arm, ready to strike, when the blue lights appear around her, one by one. She freezes and their energy pushes the clouds away to reveal a full moon. The light shines down into the cave, revealing the face of her child.
She stops cold at the sight, and tears begin to fall. She reaches for the baby. “You’re not… a monster. You weren’t a monster. You weren’t a monster…”
She wails now to know the truth, far too late.
We fade out, and then fade back in a short time later with a new character, PARK MU-SOL (Uhm Hyo-sub), who’s enjoying an afternoon by the river with a few friends.
He hears an infant’s cry in the distance, and finds a basket floating along in the river. He jumps in to retrieve it, and finds a baby inside who opens his little eyes and smiles up at him.
Just then, our monk comes upon the party and tells Mu-sol that the child is a blessing, and that if he raises this child, great fortune will befall him. His friends all eagerly join in naming the child Kang-chi, after “river” (kang) and “thrown away” (chi). They give him the surname of his servant, Choi, who argues that he’s still unmarried.
They all agree that Choi Kang-chi is a great name and the monk asks Lord Park—will he raise this boy?
As we pan up, the narrator tells us that here deep in the mountains, Wol-ryung and Seo-hwa’s sad love came to an end, “But another new legend was beginning…”
Park Mu-sol looks down at the child. “Kang-chi. Choi Kang-chi.” And then he breaks into a warm smile at the boy in his arms.
Aw. Goosebumps. What a great way to bookend the prelude. Such epic feels, with the grand sweeping narration and the sense that we’re just cracking the surface of a legendary tale. I’m really enjoying the director’s whimsical touch on the supernatural elements of this world, and the universe feels like it has rules; we just don’t know them all yet. The execution feels assured, like there’s a full world and a story waiting to be told with an artistic touch, which makes me really excited for what’s to come.
I’m thoroughly surprised at how solid the opening story was, of Kang-chi’s parents and their tragic romance. I was so invested that I could easily watch a separate drama starring those two characters. Despite saying that, of course, I do think it’s the perfect length to cut the intro to two episodes, instead of filling a quarter of your drama with child stars, which is the norm. I’m so much more invested this way with the tragic love story between Kang-chi’s parents and Wol-ryung’s dream unrealized, to then pick up with Kang-chi as a young man who will walk the same path.
It’s a simple idea—to have his parents’ happy human/gumiho love unrealized and to root for Kang-chi to do differently. But execution matters a great deal in that setup because if we’re not heartbroken at Seo-hwa and Wol-ryung’s tragedy then the idea of Kang-chi changing that same inevitable fate doesn’t carry that much weight. But I found their story so sweet and moving that despite knowing that they’d have to end tragically, I still wished for a different outcome. That’s great storytelling, and it makes me not want to leave the enchanted forest and the Moonlight Garden for fear the magic will dissipate.
And while the romance was great, it was really the conflict between Wol-ryung’s human and gumiho nature that really resonated, all the way to the point when Seo-hwa plans to kill their baby thinking it’ll be a monster. The fact that it takes seeing their very human child for her to realize how much she misunderstood Wol-ryung is such a bittersweet tragedy. You can’t blame her for being horrified when she sees him turn into a beast who yanks the still-beating hearts from people’s chests, but it’s still a crushing blow when she shrinks back from him in disgust and horror—I like how dark that is, and the fact that the beast/human nature will be a central theme in the story with both generations.
I’m excited for the introduction of a mythology that will carry us into the hero’s story, that we will in some sense know better than he will. The beast/human dichotomy is a familiar theme explored through all kinds of supernatural lore (vampires, werewolves, anything undead), and is as timeless as it is primal—because it asks the most fundamental questions about what it means to be human. There’s just something undeniably powerful about the idea of someone who’s lived a thousand years and could live a thousand more, wanting nothing more on this earth than human love. It’s so simple, and yet the stuff of epic tragedy or heroic transformation. I can’t think of a more legendary place for a hero’s journey to begin.
- Gu Family Book: Episode 1
- Gu Family Book’s half-gumiho rises
- Teaser poster and stills for Gu Family Book
- Stills galore for upcoming spring dramas
- A look at Gu Family Book’s leading ladies
- The action begins on Gu Family Book
- Seung-gi vs. Yoochun vs. Hair (This post is totally relevant.)
- Sung Joon joins Gu Family Book
- Lee Yubi joins Gu Family Book as Seung-gi’s first love
- A romantic first encounter for Gu Family Book