Bride of the Water God 2017: Episode 1
Bride of the Water God 2017 is here, and I have to say it pretty readily dispelled my concerns about modernizing the concept to be set in the present world. Perhaps that’s because I haven’t read the original manhwa so have very little preconceived ideas of what this drama should be, or perhaps it’s because the drama does a pretty solid job of establishing the fantasy world and its rules right off the bat, giving me a strong sense of concept and identity from the get-go.
It’s got a gorgeous look (those colors!) and hints of some fish-out-of-water humor, so I’d say I’m heading into this feeling a general sense of relief. It looks like interest was fairly robust, with the first episode netting a promising 3.7% viewership rating.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A monk and a little girl walk along the shore, and the girl asks where the birds have flown to. The monk explains that there is a land beyond this one.
The girl can’t see that world, but the monk (cameo by Yang Dong-geun) explains that there is a world on the other side where the gods live, which is divided into a Water Kingdom, a Sky Kingdom, and a Land Kingdom. Gods are sent from that world into the human realm to watch over nature.
The monk explains that the kings of the Three Kingdoms are born to their fates as rulers, and that the king of the Water Kingdom in particular holds absolute power as the emperor of the divine realm.
In order to claim his throne, a new emperor must create a royal seal with three stones that have been engraved with oracles. Those three stones can only be found in the human realm, as they have been divided among the godly protectors.
“What if the protector gods don’t give it to him?” the girl asks. The monk tells her that only humans would do that. The girl wonders why the stones are in the human world, finding that an odd quirk of the system.
And then, we’re in 2018, Seoul. A woman looks over the railing of a bridge holding a white rose, which she tosses down to the water below. Her body follows, hitting the water and sinking down into its depths.
We jump back one year, this time to the Water Kingdom. A high priest dips his hand into the reddish water held in a basin of an altar, and says, “It is time for the red water to come”—and for the divine realm to get a new emperor. He asks for Ha-baek.
HA-BAEK (Nam Joo-hyuk) is that new king-to-be, and he reclines as an artist paints a huge portrait of him with a paintbrush the size of a person. It’s nearly done except for the blank eyes, and the artist asks Ha-baek to open his eyes so he can paint them. Ha-baek’s servant shakes her head no—Ha-baek is resting.
A messenger calls for Ha-baek to see the high priest, but Ha-baek dismisses the summons—at least, until she adds that the waters of the Water Kingdom have turned red and that he must prepare. Ha-baek finally opens his eyes and rises.
The high priest informs Ha-baek that the current king is pleased at the news, and Ha-baek supposes that he has grown tired of the throne after such a long time. The high priest shows him a map marking the location of three gods who are keeping the stones needed for his seal.
He rolls the map and places it on Ha-baek’s palm—and the map dissolves into watery nothingness, absorbing into his hand. Ha-baek confirms that Mu-ra is the protector god sent to the human realm from the Water Kingdom, and scoffs to hear that Bi-ryum is the god from the Sky Kingdom.
The priest informs Ha-baek that he must ascend to the throne after the red waters come seven times. He must collect the three stones and return before the last water, although there is some time before that happens. Ha-baek declares that he will return immediately, but the priest informs him that the human realm is quite interesting and that he should enjoy himself.
Ha-baek says flatly that he’s not interested. He asks why such a meaningless ritual is still in practice, but the priest merely chuckles, saying, “Is there anything that is truly meaningless in the world?” Ha-baek declares his intention to rid the kingdom of pointless customs once he’s king.
The priest tells him to go ahead once he’s king, and Ha-baek asks peevishly why the stones are kept in the human world when it has nothing to do with the godly one.
The priest reminds him of the king’s servant—the humans who have promised to serve the god for generations. He advises Ha-baek to find the descendant of that lineage and hands him a metal badge with a trinity knot in the center. Once given to that servant, they will recognize Ha-baek as their master.
Ha-baek refuses it, saying that he won’t be seeking out that servant. The priest gives it anyway, adding that it’s a woman.
Ha-baek comments to his servant, NAMSURI (Park Kyu-sun), that he expects sky god Bi-ryum to be doing a subpar job. Namsuri points out that they were childhood friends and asks why he hates him so much now. Ha-baek answers haughtily that Bi-ryum has no dignity and is untrustworthy.
Namsuri suggests that Ha-baek study the human world before diving in, but Ha-baek says he’s taking him along to serve that purpose. Oh, he’s going in blind, is he? This should be fun.
Namsuri asks if he’s seen his servant yet, wondering if she’s pretty. We hop over to the human realm to meet her: YOON SO-AH (Shin Se-kyung), the woman who’d thrown herself off the bridge (or will in a year’s time).
She’s a psychiatrist who’s currently in a session with a delusional patient who talks about hearing messages from aliens. The man flips out when she calls him a patient and accuses her of not believing him.
The patient begs her to believe him and has to be dragged away by a nurse, YOO SANG-YOO (Shin Jae-hoon), who calms him down by speaking in his gibberish language. So-ah is ready to admit defeat on this patient, who hasn’t improved in the year she’s seen him. But that’s the least of her worries, with her clinic on the verge of being shut down, because she’s missed loan payments and has been denied any more extensions.
So-ah and nurse Sang-yoo end up drinking together later, and he hands her a piece of mail she’d dropped. So-ah promptly rips up the notice of property tax for a piece of land in Gangwon-do, which she’s been unable to sell because it’s just “a pointless pile of rocks.” So-ah tells Sang-yoo to leave her floundering hospital, but he insists he’s repaying a favor. She cuts him off before he can elaborate—it sounds like he owes her father, but she doesn’t want to talk about it.
So-ah’s goal is to leave the country the second she’s free of all her debts, though Sang-yoo suggests she meet a man and live here. When he jabs that maybe no men are interested, she reminds him that she once received a diamond ring from a second-generation chaebol…
Which she then retrieves later, digging it out of the hole she’d buried it in. She tucks it into the pocket of her doctor’s gown, figuring to pay off some of her debt. Then she pulls out a tiny map of the islands of Vanuatu she carries around, dreaming of the day she can move there.
She envisions herself relaxing on the beach, telling herself, “Now that’s what living is.” Looking up at the night sky now, she tsk-tsks at “this dirty country where you can’t even see a star properly.”
Suddenly, a shooting star flies across the sky… and then makes a U-turn and shoots off in the other direction. So-ah immediately makes a wish to make money, and as she looks upward, something shoots down and hits her square in the forehead, sending her falling backward.
A hand reaches out to catch her head before it strikes the ground. Crouched next to her is a very naked Ha-baek, who calls out to her, “Woman! Hey, woman!”
She’s out cold, though, so he takes a look around and puts on her pink doctor’s gown, telling her in an imperious royal tone that he’ll be borrowing it temporarily. He starts to walk away, but has second thoughts when seeing So-ah lying on the dirt, and tries to rouse her. He slaps her forehead, leaving three finger marks across it, and So-ah awakes in a daze.
She’s alone now, so there’s no sign of Ha-baek. She panics to see her doctor’s robe gone, though, because of the diamond ring she put there, and screams in rage, “You thief!”
Ha-baek hears the scream and bristles at being called a thief. He wonders where Namsuri went, just as the servant comes running up to him, dressed in an overly tight suit. Apparently they got separated in the sky, and Namsuri wore the suit prepared for Ha-baek, which Ha-baek now demands.
Namsuri wonders why things look so different from his last trip, because the land around the divine gate isn’t supposed to change. Ha-baek supposes they landed in the wrong place, but complicating matters is that he’s lost his map of coordinates. He attempts to conjure them using his divine powers, but nothing happens.
They test out the problem in front of a fountain, and Ha-baek waves his hand over the water, drawing on all of his strength… and still nothing.
Ha-baek wants to return to the Water Kingdom for now, only to be told that gods who travel to the human world are unable to return home until they complete their mission. Namsuri advises him to find his human servant—but alas, he doesn’t even have his trinity-knot badge with him.
Namsuri heads off to find proper clothing, and warns Ha-baek to stay put and not order strangers around. While Ha-baek waits, he tells himself that this is only temporary, and that a similar thing happened the first time he visited the Sky Kingdom. Closing his eyes and concentrating all his energy, he starts chanting to himself, “I am Ha-baek!”
Meanwhile, So-ah tells her friend over the phone about the thief who stole her diamond ring, and happens by just as Ha-baek is drawing on all his energy. Suddenly, water shoots up into the sky, the fountain activated by Ha-baek’s powers. He smiles smugly to himself.
But then, a maintenance worker nearby radios in to the office to turn off the water fountain now, and the spouts turn off. Ha, so it wasn’t Ha-baek after all?
As the water dies down, So-ah and Ha-baek spot each other across the way, and he recognizes her. He walks toward her radiating an air of pomp and circumstance, and tells her in a kingly tone, “Woman, you thought wrong. I was just borrowing it.” He tells her to state her name and address so that Namsuri can send compensation.
But So-ah doesn’t recognize him or have any idea what he’s talking about, and assumes he’s another delusional weirdo. He won’t accept her refusal and demands that she state what she wants, so she tests him out asking for money. He asks what money is, which makes her figure he’s off in the head.
She turns to leave, and he grabs her wrist just as nurse Sang-yoo arrives to push him aside. Not liking their dismissive attitude, Ha-baek thunders, “I am the water god, the next king of the Water Kingdom, the next emperor of the divine realm—Ha-baek!”
Wah-waaaaaah. So-ah notes his delusions of grandeur and heads off shaking her head. Sang-yoo pauses to put a business card in Ha-baek’s hand, assuring him that So-ah will help fix him.
So-ah reports her stolen ring to the police, and gets annoyed at Sang-yoo for not believing her about having it in the first place.
Back at the fountain, Namsuri returns after finding new clothes and a place to stay for the night. Ha-baek declares that his powers have returned, and sets out to demonstrate with rocks… which, nope, remain as rocks.
So off to Namsuri’s shelter they go, which turns out to be a plastic floaty house at the riverbank. Ha-baek hands over Sang-yoo’s business card, saying the human gave it to him—and then actually gets huffy when Namsuri can read it, as Ha-baek can’t read human writing. Hahaha.
So-ah returns home to a huge house and sighs to recall her stack of bills, acknowledging that one diamond ring was never going to solve her problems. Remembering Ha-baek’s bemusement over the word “money,” she supposes he’s better off not knowing about it. Oh, if only you knew.
The next morning, a sharp resort CEO, HU-YE (Im Joo-hwan), kicks off his busy day with morning briefings from his subordinates. He isn’t keen to attend a meeting with a bank that wants his business, but is told it would be good to comply.
So-ah arrives at her clinic for an empty day of not seeing any patients, and Sang-yoo urges her to go to the bank and deal with the loan issue. She does, and the state of her finances is pretty bleak. The banking agent suggests refinancing at a much higher interest rate, which appears to be her only option.
So-ah is kept waiting for her application to be approved for hours, and is sidelined by her banker when CEO Hu-ye walks in. Incensed, So-ah marches over to the room and gets even more angry when she hears the CEO being offered a fraction of the interest rate she has to pay.
Storming in, So-ah snaps at the banker for leaving her waiting for hours, and refuses to wait any longer. Hu-ye doesn’t seem that put out by the interruption, and suggests that the bankers see So-ah first, stating that his team will review the terms before deciding.
Flustered at potentially losing his business, the banker orders So-ah to apologize to Hu-ye, since she upset him by barging in. Hu-ye contradicts her, pointing out that the bank ought to apologize to So-ah for their discriminatory lending. Moreover, he tells So-ah that he’ll ask the bank to approve her for the loan she wants.
So-ah is hardly grateful, asking why he’d do that. Hu-ye notes that she doesn’t accept goodwill as goodwill, and advises her not to harass bankers over interest rates if that’s the case—she ought to work harder and earn money.
Outside the bank, Sang-yoo goes from car to car leaving business cards on windshields. He gets upset to see one driver using the card to wipe away bird poop, and protests to the man’s face. Hu-ye comes out to the car—this is his driver—and So-ah joins as well, wondering at the commotion.
Sang-yoo kicks up a huge fuss, refusing Hu-ye’s secretary’s offer of compensation for the offense. He grabs the car’s windshield wiper, insisting that the driver should’ve used it to wipe away the mess—and in the process yanks the wiper clean off the car. Now they’re on the hook for that repair, though frankly I think they should be glad they got off that easy.
Back at the river, Namsuri reports that he was unable to find the map coordinates, which they must have lost in the trip. Namsuri mentions feeling hunger like the humans do; he apparently feels human sensations because he’s a demi-god, whereas Ha-baek is a full god.
Ha-baek sighs that this is all his fault for losing his powers and being unable to provide for his servant, worrying that this means he’s not fit to be king. Namsuri drops to the ground to protest, and Ha-baek finishes, “…is not something you expected I’d say, is it?” Oh, it’s going to be so fun to watch you dropped a few pegs.
Ha-baek decides they’ll go to the divine gate, since the land is supposed to be maintained by the descendants of the human servant. That, at least, gives them some direction as to where to find her. Namsuri is surprised since he was so opposed to meeting that servant, but Ha-baek says that he will do it as his godly duty in a spirit of magnanimity.
At the clinic, Sang-yoo kicks himself for damaging the wiper, afraid at the exorbitant repair cost. So-ah tries to get in touch with the real estate office, and when she can’t, she decides to head over to Gangwon-do to deal with her land. During the drive, her GPS device starts to malfunction, but after a few moments, it comes back.
Meanwhile, Ha-baek and Namsuri hitch a ride with a truck driver, who lets them off on a rural road and points them in the direction of their destination.
So-ah meets with the realtor, asking him to take some care to sell her pile of rocks, even if it requires lowering the price. The realtor suggests halving the price, which makes her exclaim in dismay.
Ha-baek and Namsuri arrive at a bare plot of land with a stone gateway, and apparently the divine gate can only be seen by gods. Ahhhh, now it makes sense why the land can’t be sold, and why it can’t be changed, either.
Namsuri worries that the human servant won’t know anything; they need that lost badge to awaken her knowledge of being the servant. Ha-baek assures him that he has a way, and declares with full authority, “She will fall for my charms.” And if nothing else works, he has a “last resort” in mind, which makes Namsuri gasp in protest.
“That’s tying her to you forever,” Namsuri argues. If they used the badge, they could simply destroy it and erase her memory when they left this world—but not so with the last resort.
Just as Ha-baek spots a particular stone amidst the pile of rocks on the ground, So-ah pulls up in her car to ask what they’re doing on her land. Ha-baek realizes that she’s the servant, whereas So-ah just worries that Mr. Crazy is back.
Ha-baek walks over purposely to pour on his godly charm, running a finger along her face and saying in his gravest voice, “I have searched for you for ages. My servant. Meeting like this is a pleasure. Be moved by what pleases me.”
Eyeing him suspiciously, So-ah slaps his hand away and hurries back to her car. She starts to drive off just as Namsuri jumps in front of her car to stop her, and gets knocked down.
Namsuri assures her that he’s fine, but Ha-baek declares that he isn’t, and Namsuri gets right back on the ground, feigning injury. Which is how she ends up driving the two of them, offering to drop them off at a nearby hospital. Ha-baek declares that they’re going with her, and orders her to “awaken” and understand everything.
So-ah asks if Ha-baek is currently receiving any medical attention, and almost offers her services before catching herself. When she refers to Namsuri as his friend, Ha-baek replies, “He is not a friend. He is my servant.” Ha! Really not giving her any reason to change her misconception of him, is he?
Ha-baek observes the inner workings of the car closely, mostly ignoring her comments, while So-ah follows the GPS’s increasingly convoluted directions. The roads get rougher and rougher until they end up in a dead end in the mountains, and in frustration, So-ah rests her head on the steering wheel.
Ha-baek offers to drive for her, but she declines and starts to drive back—right as the car runs out of gas. There’s no cell service either, so she decides they’ll have to walk to get help. Ha-baek tells her to rest since she’s tired, offering Namsuri instead.
So-ah points out that he’s injured, and Namsuri plays up the hurt act… until Ha-baek declares that he’s not, and Namsuri is immediately better. Ha, So-ah doesn’t argue too hard, and hands over cash and a gas container, sending poor Namsuri off on his way.
So-ah naps in the car while Ha-baek waits outside, and after some time passes, she wakes and suggests Ha-baek rest inside the car too. He balks at her calling him “Hey There” and informs her that his name is Ha-baek, listing off all his heavenly credentials again. This time he adds, “And also your master.”
So-ah sighs to herself, “I keep forgetting he’s a patient.” In psychiatrist mode, she asks why he thinks he’s the water god, and he retorts, “Then why do you think you are human?” Point taken. She revises her question to ask what a water god is.
“As a human, is it teaching you wish to receive?” he asks. “You appear to wish to converse about the ultimate essence of the world.” He informs her that the water, sky, and land gods are nature, and that he is therefore nature.
Puzzled, So-ah asks if he’s calling himself a natural person. “I am nature,” he repeats. “And among those, the nature of natures.” That does nothing to clarify anything for her.
In the car, she steals glances at him, wondering how he looks so normal when he’s clearly not. She asks if he has family, and he replies that perhaps yes, perhaps no: “In the divine realm, we do not have the family relations that you humans think of.” Then he calls her Servant, and she automatically responds before even thinking about it, hee.
Ha-baek asks if what she really needs most is money and why, and she replies that money allows you to be happy. He tells her he’s asking “because I think I can do that for you.”
For a moment she seems to take him at his word, until he adds that he can’t give her money right now because of his circumstances. So-ah chides herself for believing him.
Ha-baek adds, “But if what you need most is money, because money makes you happy, then what you need most is happiness.” That’s close enough to hit home, though he adds, “But I have no interest in the happiness of a human woman, so I will repay you with money.”
So-ah suggests they go for help, but it’s not long before they realize they don’t know the way down. She suggests heading back, and while he agrees with the sentiment, he balks again to be called Hey There.
Ha-baek tells her sternly, “For the last time, listen up. I am not Hey There, but Ha-baek-nim. God of water, next king of the Water Kingdom, next emperor of the divine realm. Ha-baek.”
So-ah glares, then retorts that her name is Yoon So-ah, not Servant. She insists that he address her properly, and he just notes, “You are quite rude.”
That’s when So-ah spots a wild boar nearby, and she grabs Ha-baek’s wrist and urges him to run. The boar chases them down the road, gaining on them as they run.
Ha-baek looks over at So-ah for an extended slo-mo beat, then pulls her hand from his wrist and grabs her hand properly, taking the lead. They’re very nearly back at the car when So-ah fumbles the keys, dropping them in the road. With the boar gaining on them, she yells for him to head for the open trunk. With seconds to spare, they climb into the trunk and close the door.
The boar slams into the car multiple times, rocking it back and forth. It seems to give up and leave, but when So-ah lifts the lid to check, the boar actually smiles at her and slams itself into the car again.
So-ah screams in fear while Ha-baek cradles her protectively, and with every slam of the car, she grows increasingly panicked. After several long minutes, finally a bang sounds and the car stops shaking. The trunk lid lifts, revealing Namsuri, who explains that he ran into a hunter who chased the boar into the woods.
So-ah is rattled enough that she lets Ha-baek drive them back, and remarks that she thought he didn’t know how to drive. He informs her that this is his first time, and that he finds it quite fun.
So-ah insists that he pull over, but he orders her to rest, saying, “I am extending to you a show of grace, so do not refuse. Doing this for you is naturally a god’s duty and generosity.”
She orders him to pull the car over, so naturally, he floors it.
When he finally does pull over, she runs to the sidewalk to dry-heave. She takes her car keys from him, curtly thanks him for his help today, and walks away.
Ha-baek calls after her to inform her of the ancient agreement between her ancestors and the gods to serve them for all future generations. “It does not matter that you did not make the promise,” he says. “If the gods wish it, you, the descendant of servants, must honor your family’s promise and serve me.” With that, he orders her to take him to her home.
So-ah says that she’ll take him to a hospital, and he says that her refusal only makes things harder for her. “Things are plenty hard enough already, so I don’t care,” she says. “You’re right—what I really need may be happiness. Because I truly am exhausted. So please, leave now. I ask this favor.”
As she walks away again, Ha-baek calls her dim for not awakening despite his attempts to teach her. “It can’t be helped,” he tells Namsuri. “As you said, I was trying my best not to use the last resort. But I’ll have to use it.”
As Namsuri sputters something about what that means for his powers, Ha-baek yells after So-ah, who turns back. He walks up to her and says, “This is the grace of the gods, so be awakened.”
And then he kisses her.
In the Water Kingdom, Ha-baek prepares to depart for the human realm. Namsuri asks why he chose to punish someone, and Ha-baek asks, “What punishment?”
Cut to: His portrait artist, frozen in place, wondering when Ha-baek will return to sit for his painting. His brush remains hovering over the face, the eyes still unfilled.
I had absolutely no idea what to expect of this show, so I went in fairly blind and with few expectations, and found myself pleased with the result. I still don’t quite know where it’s going and we haven’t even met a few of our fellow gods, so I’m not ready to be all gung-ho about this show yet—but for now, I can appreciate what it’s doing and feel content to keep going with it.
It doesn’t hurt that the show is visually stunning; the godly realm is particularly beautifully shot and envisioned, with sea creatures swimming in the skies and cool camerawork. It’s tricky to depict such an over-the-top fantasy world without going cheesy, but I think the show pulled it off—the humor is in the deadpan reactions and the contrast between our humorless water god and the ridiculousness of his fish-out-of-water circumstances, but the scenes themselves aren’t hokey or jokey, which I like.
In fact, it’s that contrast between what Ha-baek thinks he is and how he actually comes off that appealed to me most in this episode—none of the characters were being actively funny, but it was hilarious to see him putting on all this grandeur and authoritativeness when really, he seems like a crazy homeless person, shiny good looks notwithstanding.
In the promo teasers, I worried a bit that Nam Joo-hyuk might be channeling too much Gong Yoo from Goblin, because no way can he pull off that level of gravitas without coming off forced. But played this way, as a recurring gag? I love it, and hope for more imperiously delivered comedy down the line. It’s reminiscent of the hauteur with which the crown prince ordered around his minions in Rooftop Prince, despite how lowly and powerless he actually was in the modern world. It didn’t stop him from acting every part the royal, and demanding that respect, to hilarious results.
There are definitely a ton of recognizable elements to this setup, and while I didn’t find any similarities to be so exact to other shows to feel like it was lifted directly, I did have a sense of overall familiarity with the plot. For now, I don’t consider that a negative thing, because at this stage it provides an element of anticipation for enjoyable plot elements and turns to come. It’s sort of like Goblin if the heroine had been Yook Sung-jae’s character instead, and kind of Arang and the Magistrate-type stories where the human is required to aid the non-human in his/her quest. But I think all those setups have tons of room for exploration and haven’t been done to excess, so I look forward to how the fantasy element will continue in the modernness of Seoul. As long as I get my hijinks, I’ll be happy!
- Premiere Watch: Bride of the Water God 2017
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- The Water God battles the bidet (and loses)
- The Water God so powerful and beautiful that he knows it
- The Water God surveys his kingdom in all his divine splendor
- The star-crossed lovers of tvN’s Bride of the Water God 2017
- Floating petals under romantic moonlight in Bride of the Water God teaser
- First script reading for Bride of the Water God