Hwayugi (A Korean Odyssey): Episode 1
Seung-gi’s back, rejoice! More to the point, Seung-gi’s back with perhaps the most perfectly cast role, which is a promising way to kick off one of the big buzz projects of the year.
This hasn’t been the most thrilling drama season (or seasons), so it’s a bit of an understatement to say I was pinning a lot of hope on Hwayugi (or the faintly generic-sounding A Korean Odyssey) to lift me out of my doldrums, while also trying to keep my expectations to a minimum.
It’s rather early to draw conclusions, but if you asked me which Hong sisters we’re getting with this drama, I’d say it’s much more of the Master’s Sun Hong sisters vibe, and not as much the Big/Warm and Cozy vibe. The source material is rich and plentiful, and I think the Hongs do much better when there’s a lot to riff off of and reinvent, rather than starting from scratch. And the casting really is spot-on.
(The drama does, it must be noted, follow in tvN’s infuriating pattern of shows coming in at ungodly lengths—you want me to watch TWO 90-minute episodes a week? I can barely watch one 90-minute movie a month! As a result, I started drinking to help me get through the exhausting length, which on one hand sped up the watching process but on the other hand vastly slowed down the writing process. You win some, you lose some.)
In anticipation of Hwayugi’s run, I’ve been reading the (English-translated, unabridged) Journey to the West for the past several months, because knowing the Hong sisters’ style, I knew they’d be throwing references left and right and I wanted to be able to catch them. Moreover, Journey to the West is a story that I’ve seen referenced a lot in pop culture, but is not really explained—it seems one of those things that is so generally well-known that it’s assumed one is already familiar with the broad strokes of the story. I felt it was knowledge worth having, and so I dove in.
I’m only 700 pages into the book (…it has a LOT of pages), but I feel pretty confident in understanding the setup and characters and feel of the world. Journey to the West is, in an overarching sense, a story that starts Taoist and ends Buddhist, and can be seen in some ways as a religious masterwork, although it’s not really “religious” in a straight sense. It’s more folkloric with rich fantasy elements. I wondered whether a 500-year-old classic, seminal literary work might be rather stodgy through a modern lens, but was happily surprised to find Journey to the West funny and irreverent—it really does feel like a rollicking adventure romp.
At the core of the story is our Monkey King, who was born a troublemaker. Carved out of stone and given life by spiritual beings, he learns ancient Taoist magic and grows into a being that’s too powerful for his own good—he isn’t overtly evil or malicious, but he is hot-tempered and supremely selfish, so anytime he has an impulse he acts on it. Anytime someone tries to reason with him, he just fights them and wins and does what he wants anyway. After running amok in the heavens for centuries and defeating anyone who tried to challenge him, the Monkey is finally subdued, his powers bound, and his body trapped for hundreds of years.
When he is finally released from his prison, he is given a chance at redemption by accompanying a virtuous human monk on a spiritual journey to collect scriptures in the West. Since Monkey is inherently impish and flighty, he is made to wear a golden circlet that brings him immense pain when the monk recites a sutra, which keeps him in check whenever he’s tempted to go off the rails (which is often). Even as a reborn spiritual disciple, Monkey is frequently mischievous, proving that you can’t change who you are, just what you do! Along the way, he picks up companions—monsters who have all gone astray in their prior lives, have been punished, and are given the same second chance at redemption.
Sohn Oh-gong: The Koreanized name of Sun Wukong, our Monkey King. At one point before he was imprisoned, Monkey styled himself “the Great Sage, Equal to Heaven,” and is sometimes called this by other characters.
Woo Mawang: Woo Hwi is the name he’s been given, but “Woo Mawang” is the direct translation of Bull Demon King, and the writers are being punny here by making Woo his surname and Mawang his nickname, aka Devil. The supernatural characters mostly call him Mawang, while the humans know him as CEO Woo. As far as I can tell, the Bull Demon King is a pretty minor character in the original novel, so I’m expecting particular liberties with this character.
Jin Sun-mi: Descended from Monk Sam-jang (aka Xuanzang), Jin Sun-mi is a name that basically means beauty. (For instance, jin, sun, and mi are the designations for first-, second-, and third-place winners of beauty pageants.) In the novel, the monk is known for his virtuous nature, but rather wimpy in the face of the dangers of the journey, necessitating the cadre of protectors.
PK: Full name Jeo Pal-ke (Zhu Bajie). To be cheeky, they’ve restyled the idol as PK, rather than Pal-ke. The surname means Pig, and the character is ruled by lust, gluttony, and laziness. The rest of his name means Eight Precepts, which refer to the temptations he ought to resist (greed, lust, etc.). In the novel, Monkey often calls him Idiot as a name.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
In an ornate mansion, an eccentrically dressed man watches a news report of a mountain fire in the Gangwon region. Then we hop over to Gangwon Province, where the arrival of a young girl at school spurs classmate taunts of her being a ghost.
She’s JIN SUN-MI (Kal So-won), and she quietly takes a seat at her desk, which has been defaced with slurs telling her this is a school for people, not ghosts. She ignores them and looks up as the teacher enters and asks the kids brightly to stand up. Sun-mi stands… and then realizes that none of the other kids have seen the teacher. Ack, shivers!
The teacher-ghost grins widely to see that one child can see her, and zooms up to Sun-mi’s face (ack! Stop that!) to taunt her. As her classmates eye her in confusion, Sun-mi unfurls her umbrella at the ghost, and a talisman flashes on its surface to repel it.
The real teacher walks in and wonders what Sun-mi is doing with her umbrella out in the empty classroom, while Sun-mi whispers for the ghost to leave her alone.
After school, the teacher-ghost haunts Sun-mi’s walk home and gets angry at Sun-mi’s repeated rebuffs. The ghost grabs Sun-mi’s umbrella and looms menacingly, just as a man shows up wielding an umbrella with a black bull’s head for a handle. One slam of the shaft onto the ground sends the ghost flying, then bursting into a cloud of black smoke.
Sun-mi looks up at the man—the eccentric from our opening, WOO MAWANG (Cha Seung-won)—and he smiles at her. She asks how he chased the ghost away, and he slams his umbrella down, causing leaves to blow away. She tries the same with her own umbrella, and is disappointed when it doesn’t work.
She guesses that he’s not human, and Mawang replies, “So you won’t get scared, let’s call me a fairy.” LOL.
Sun-mi tells Mawang that she doesn’t find him scary, unlike when she sees evil ghosts. He deduces that she can see things that aren’t human, saying that he’s been searching for a special human like her to do him a favor. She agrees to help if he’ll swap umbrellas, and they shake on the deal.
Mawang leads Sun-mi through the forest toward a house, where he needs her to retrieve a special fan for him. A fire has been raging in the mountains, and he needs the fan in order to stop the fire. Once she gives him the fan, he’ll give her his umbrella.
Sun-mi cheerfully agrees and starts to head off. Mawang issues her a serious warning to grab the fan and leave immediately, and to not acknowledge anything else, no matter what she sees or hears.
The forest grows increasingly gnarled and ominous, until finally Sun-mi comes to a house perched precariously on stilts overhanging a cliff. As she approaches the house, we hear her earlier question to Mawang, regarding why he needed her to do this task. He’d answered that the house was invisible to humans, yet only allowed entry to humans.
Inside is a house worthy of Escher’s dimension-warping designs. Sun-mi follows Mawang’s instructions to the fan, grabbing it out of midair.
As she looks around, suddenly a gold rod slams onto the table, held by a stone-faced man/being/spirit (Lee Seung-gi). He asks Sun-mi how she came to be here, and Sun-mi recalls Mawang’s warning and pretends not to hear him.
The man, SOHN OH-GONG, picks Sun-mi up by her backpack and sighs to himself that there’s no way a human child could hear him, wishing he could drink when he has such a tasty snack in front of him.
He lets her go, and Sun-mi continues on her way out. But Oh-gong calls out to her again, noticing when she flinches in response. He asks again why she took the fan, and this time, knowing she can’t fake not hearing him, Sun-mi replies that the fairy ajusshi asked her to do it.
Oh-gong guesses that he was tall and had a mustache, and Sun-mi explains that they made a deal. Oh-gong asks if she signed a contract, tsking that she’s in trouble now.
Oh-gong says that she could get attacked the second she steps outside, and offers her his escort. He asks her to blow out the five rainbow-colored candles on the centerpiece while he changes his clothes, then watches—rather too eagerly—as she moves to do it.
Sun-mi’s a sharp cookie, though, and guesses that he can’t do it himself. He admits that he can’t leave until the candles are put out, showing her the tattooed shackles on his wrists, ankles, and neck, which bind him here. “If you extinguish the candles and release me,” he promises, “I can leave and protect you, understand?”
Sun-mi asks for a contract. HA! Oh-gong agrees, and asks what her stipulations are. Sun-mi requests, “Please protect me. I see very frightening monsters.”
He tells her his name, adding, “If you call my name when you’re in trouble, in danger, or scared, I’ll appear and protect you.” He holds out his hand, and they touch palms to seal the deal, whereupon a ball of light rises from his palm.
With each candle that Sun-mi puts out, one of Oh-gong’s tattoo shackles disappears. Finally freed, Oh-gong gasps in relief, and immediately the house vanishes around them, leaving them standing in a field outdoors.
Thrilled, Oh-gong thanks Sun-mi and declares that the first thing he’ll do is drink liquor and tries to hurry away. But she grabs his hand and reminds him of his promise to protect her, and asks her to deliver her home to her grandma.
Oh-gong starts to think of a way around the deal, and tells her that like the bad men locked up in prison, he’s a bad man. But he concedes that he’s unfortunately unable to renege on a contract with a human, so anytime she calls his name, he has to protect her.
But when he asks if she recalls his name, Oh-gong snaps his fingers, and a tiny ball of light leaves her memory and floats in the air. He sends it flying away into the sky, while an indignant Sun-mi watches it helplessly.
Oh-gong delivers more bad news: For helping him escape, Sun-mi will face punishment of her own. He takes the fan, ignoring Sun-mi’s pleas not to leave her, and flies off into the clouds.
In tears, Sun-mi tries to remember Oh-gong’s name but fails.
Twenty-five years later.
An employee of a real estate company, LEE HAN-JOO (Kim Sung-oh), views an empty office space and chats with the landlord couple. He brags of his boss’s skills in this field—she’s young, but has an incredible sixth sense about properties—just as said boss enters.
It’s Jin Sun-mi (Oh Yeon-seo), now an adult, and she ignores the pleasantries and opens her umbrella in the landlords’ faces, sending them reeling back.
Sun-mi asks Han-joo to confirm how many people are in the room, and when she counts an extra set of feet, she tells the couple she knows why they charge cheap rent and guesses that many businesses have gone to ruin here.
The couple swears that there’s nothing wrong with the building, and Sun-mi agrees to contract with them. As paperwork is signed, Sun-mi looks around the office and is particularly interested in a file cabinet. After the others leave, she sees wispy smoke emanating from the cabinet as a ghost emerges, Ring-like, clawing its way toward her.
Sun-mi throws a handful of red beans (known for ghost-warding properties) at the ghost, who yelps in pain and retreats.
A short while later, the subdued ghost sits with Sun-mi, who ties her hair out of her face and calmly listens to her grievance. The girl starved to death after dropping 30 kilograms to audition as a singer, and Sun-mi sympathetically offers her a granola bar to eat. (Ghost lore commonly has it that ghosts can only eat offerings left by humans.) As the ghost eats, employee Han-joo pokes his head through the doorway and shudders at the odd sight of his boss talking to nothing. He decides he’ll have to quit as soon as he can afford to.
Sun-mi asks the ghost if she knows any fairies, explaining that she made a bad deal with a bad fairy once. Her memory of his face is growing hazy, and she wonders if it wasn’t all a dream. But the ghost doesn’t know that fairy.
Meanwhile, a taping of an audition show is underway. One judge is Kim Hyung-seok (a songwriter and entertainment CEO), another is singer-songwriter Kim Yeon-woo, and the third is Woo Hwi (Mawang), CEO of Lucifer Entertainment. When the other two judges fail the contestant, Mawang very dramatically plays up the moment, prods the contestant to show her sincerity, and passes her.
His dramatics get the crowd hyped up, and afterward he’s praised for being a “ratings fairy.” Mawang’s face turns dark, and he says sternly, “I am not a fairy. I am a devil.” Then he turns jokey and plays it off as something he read in the netizen comments.
The contestant he spared from elimination drops by to thank him for giving her a second chance. He tells her to leave the body now—and the girl’s body falls over as the ghost (who was just with Sun-mi) exits. With a nod of thanks, she disappears into the ghostly hereafter.
At his office at Lucifer Entertainment, Mawang’s competent SECRETARY MA (Lee El) congratulates him on a job well done, satisfying both a ghost’s lingering wish and a human’s aspirations. I love how Mawang insists he can handle criticism but is obviously miffed to hear that his co-judges think he’s overdoing the showmanship.
Secretary Ma offers to kill them so he can eat them, heh, but Mawang reminds her that killing is prohibited if he wants to become a Taoist immortal. “Then shall I beat them?” she offers. Ha, I like her. Mawang declines, though, determined to avoid trouble to achieve his immortal aims.
Secretary Ma points out that his roommate keeps stirring up trouble, and hands over a speeding ticket incurred by someone driving a car with the plates “5050”—numbers that, in Korean, read “Oh-gong-oh-gong.” Hee! (He was going 190 kmh in an 80 zone.)
Sohn Oh-gong drives up to a house wearing a priest’s collar, and is escorted inside by a grateful couple just as a window shatters. Ha, are you an exorcist now?
As furniture flies out the window, the parents explain the change in their child. Oh-gong picks up a baseball bat from among the discarded items, and uses it to hit a baseball into the room. It comes flying back out and embeds itself into a tree.
Oh-gong heads into the kid’s room, where a boy is tied to his bed. The demon shows itself and flings curses at Oh-gong, calling him “monkey bastard” and sneering at him for being so high and mighty when he himself was confined for a thousand years. Oh-gong barks back that that’s why he’s “amassing good deed points” by defeating demons now.
Oh-gong looks around to see what item the demon has attached itself to, and spots the ventriloquist’s dummy. He raises the bat to smash it, but the boy-demon begs to be spared.
Desperate to survive, the demon blurts that he saw a human carrying the bloodline of Monk Sam-jang, and that eating Sam-jang’s flesh and blood would make one incredibly powerful. To prove it, the boy-demon bites down on his arm and shows the mark it leaves, which he also left on that human.
As the boy-demon talks, the dummy stirs behind Oh-gong and reaches for a sharp metal compass, raising it to stab him…
Oh-gong whirls and slams the bat into the dummy, defeating the demon.
As Oh-gong leaves the house, the parents are so overjoyed at his success that they don’t even question why another priest has just showed up for an exorcism. Oh-gong tells the father that he packed his own token of gratitude—a bottle of liquor he took from the house. Ha.
Oh-gong drops by an ice cream shop and chats with the proprietor, who knows of his heavenly identity and refers to Oh-gong by his self-styled name “Great Sage, Equal to Heaven.” Oh-gong’s goal is to reinstate himself in the heavens, and he eyes the liquor longingly because he won’t be able to drink till then. He has been collecting thousands of bottles in anticipation of that opportunity.
The ice cream man wishes him well in his quest to re-enter heaven. Oh-gong notes that “Frosty” is doing well in his rehabilitated life as a human—nobody would know he was that troublemaker who turned everything into a wintry wasteland all those years ago.
Oh-gong asks Frosty about this human carrying Monk Sam-jang’s bloodline, and while Frosty has heard of the human “whose blood smells like lotuses,” he’s never seen them. They’re not sure if it’s true that eating that human would make a monster strong, but it certainly would make the human a target by many demons.
Frosty asks if Oh-gong is still living with Mawang, and Oh-gong says that it’s convenient, even if Mawang nags too much.
Mawang likes the living arrangement much less, and is greatly put out when he comes home and is made to carry in a congratulatory wreath for Oh-gong. Moreover, the security guard complains of the douchey sideways parking job of his roomie, which takes up three spaces.
Mawang mutters numerous curses at Oh-gong, and grumbles to see Oh-gong has tossed his coat on his bull statue. Worse, he’s brought in a monkey statue of his own.
Mawang complains to Oh-gong, who’s busy watching TV and points out that Na PD’s Kang’s Kitchen is on track to overtake Mawang’s show. Mawang points out that his ratings are double, but Oh-gong predicts a shake-up.
Turning his attention to his congratulatory wreath, Oh-gong looks forward to his “promotion” back to heaven—it’s not a done deal, but he’s meeting with the Patriarch (Subhuuti) tomorrow. He even offers to exert his influence once he’s back in heaven on Mawang’s behalf, noting that it’s really Mawang’s doing that he was released in the first place.
Mawang denies it up and down, calling it a mistake and accident. He does exult at the idea of Oh-gong leaving his house, while Oh-gong merely thinks Mawang is being sensitive these days because his show is attracting negative comments.
Across town outside a shop selling all sorts of curios, a dummy wearing a bridal gown perks up in interest when a woman tearfully leaves a phone message for her negligent boyfriend. The woman is intrigued by the doll, which starts to twitch as she gets nearer and draws her in a trance. And then, the woman’s face takes on the doll’s manic look.
The next day, Oh-gong has his meeting with the Patriarch (Sung Ji-ru), who is essentially his middle manager to heaven. Patriarch looks over Oh-gong’s recent reports of exorcised demons and points out that the dummy he defeated was a bridegroom—one of a pair, meaning the bride counterpart is still at large. Oh-gong offers to capture her as his last job on earth.
But Patriarch informs him that there has been no decision to reinstate him in heaven—his results are good, but the reviews are bad. Oh-gong tamps down his indignation over the unfair evaluation, but Patriarch points out that his methods are imperfect; sure, he exorcised demons clinging to cars that cause accidents, but smashing an overpass in the process doesn’t look great to the humans.
Oh-gong nearly loses his temper when he’s told he won’t get his reinstatement this time, and reminds Patriarch through clenched teeth that he’s been good ever since he was released. Patriarch tells him better luck next time, but Oh-gong breaks the table in half in a rage, done with accruing points—he’ll just eat Monk Sam-jang.
Patriarch freezes and asks how he knew Sam-jang exists in this world. Which just confirms for Oh-gong that the rumor was true. Patriarch realizes his mistake and says quickly, “Nope,” but Oh-gong isn’t fooled and declares he’ll eat Sam-jang and grow powerful. Worried, Patriarch decides to seek out Mawang for help.
At a concert arena, a singer performs before a packed crowd. He’s PK (Lee Hong-ki), and as he sings, spirits fly through the crowd and head for the crystal ball mounted on a bull figure. Aha, the concert is put on by Lucifer Entertainment, and afterward as Mawang meets with Patriarch, he looks over his collection of crystal balls, each from a different concert.
Patriarch guesses that all of Mawang’s hit stars are monsters of some kind. Knowing that PK is one, he guesses Jang Nara is too. (“There’s no other explanation for her not aging!”) (Mawang admits to considering surgery to age her up, LOL.)
Mawang declines to divulge more secrets, but when Patriarch admits that he’s here because of Oh-gong, he gets testy, thinking it’s about Oh-gong’s promotion. Then he gets positively gleeful when he hears Oh-gong isn’t going back to heaven, which is hilarious. Patriarch shares about Oh-gong’s quest to eat Sam-jang, and recalls that Mawang was the one who sent the human child who freed Oh-gong. Mawang protests that he totally didn’t intend to free him, and that he already paid for his mistake.
Patriarch reveals that the child is Sam-jang—she was given Sam-jang’s fate of confronting demons as punishment for freeing Oh-gong. Patriarch asks Mawang to find her and protect her.
Meanwhile, Sun-mi arrives at the house of the family who exorcised the dummy-demon. The family had wanted to sell the house and move, but now that the boy is cured, they’ve decided to stay. The boy apologizes for having bit Sun-mi the last time (aha, leaving the demon’s identifying mark), and Sun-mi notes that he’s back to normal.
As Sun-mi leaves with employee Han-joo, he recoils at the sight of a scary-looking woman nearby—the woman possessed by the bride-dummy. The Bride says to herself, “It was this house.”
Oh-gong makes his way to that curio shop where the bride dummy was, and picks up a nearby pitcher. As it emits smoke, he sees a vision of the woman meeting the doll that possessed her and offers to buy the pitcher.
Told it’s a very valuable item, Oh-gong makes a call to demand money from SA OH-JUNG (Jang Gwang), who happens to be a CEO of a large corporation (ha, and this drama’s incarnation of Sha Wujing, aka Friar Sand or Monk Sha, the most loyal of the disciples). Obedient CEO Sa agrees to send money immediately.
Oh-gong drops in on Frosty next, and explains that he’s really only looking for the Bride because she’s connected to the Groom, who knew Sam-jang’s identity. Frosty asks if he’s giving up on point-earning, and Oh-gong declares that if he eats Sam-jang, he doesn’t need points.
He offers the magical pitcher to Frosty as repayment for all the ice cream he’s eaten, saying that the reason Frosty has no business is because his energy makes it too cold. The spirit inside the pitcher supposedly has kept it warm for a hundred years, and will bring his shop more warmth. Aw, I like this friendship.
While Han-joo drives, Sun-mi spots a menacing evil presence attached to a car ahead of them. The car starts to swerve as the demon causes the driver to drowse, and Sun-mi orders Han-joo to pull up alongside the car.
Sun-mi shouts at the driver to get his attention, then swears at him to wake up and watch where he’s driving. The driver takes offense, but Sun-mi turns her attention to the demon, yelling at him to get lost, and finally the demon gives up and flies off. Of course, that leaves one angry driver swearing at them, but she ignores that.
As their car stops at a red light, Oh-gong steps into the crosswalk and Sun-mi’s attention is particularly drawn to him, and his to her. After crossing the street, Oh-gong turns to look back at her, and her mind flashes to the contract from 25 years ago.
Oh-gong makes a fan-waving gesture back at her, echoing his fan-waving farewell years ago, and her eyes widen in recognition. She darts out of the car and goes running after Oh-gong, and although she loses him in a courtyard, he sends a boy to lead her to a nearby garden.
Oh-gong waits for her there, and when she joins him, he refers to her casually as “kiddo,” noting how she’s aged. She replies in clipped tones that he hasn’t aged at all, and that he scammed her and disappeared. He replies that he couldn’t appear because she never called his name, chiding her for not trying harder to find him.
She says she didn’t bother trying, since it didn’t seem worth it. That ruffles his pride a bit, and she adds that she was a kid who thought a fairy was something worthwhile, but that he was just a demon confined to a house. She tells him dismissively to go along his way, since she has no intention of calling his name.
He pokes at her pride by saying that Little Sun-mi who pleaded for his protection was cute, but Old Sun-mi is just kind of sad. He offers to give her a talisman and asks for her phone number, and when she asks if he really means to come when she calls, he agrees. But she surprises him by saying she doesn’t need a number for that, since she remembered his real name.
Oh-gong is a bit alarmed at that, and follows her out calling that a lie, though he doesn’t seem certain of it. He warns her not to lie, so she says she’ll pretend she doesn’t know, which of course bothers him even more.
Sun-mi tells him fiercely, “It doesn’t matter, because I will not call your name. It’s that I am not calling your name, not that I cannot call it. I grew up all on my own and protected myself quite well. And so, I don’t need to call a protector fairy’s name.”
Oh-gong seems quite put out by this, even as he talks like he’s glad of it. As he walks away, Sun-mi’s eyes fill with tears as she recalls being a child begging him not to leave her.
Mawang shows up at Sun-mi’s real estate office looking for her, and assistant Han-joo fawns all over the celebrity judge. Sun-mi’s not in, so he’s left to wait for her return in her office, where he looks at her photos and remembers their encounter when she was a child.
He thinks she’s lived a pretty normal life, until he spots a painting on the ground and uses special glasses to see inside the safe it conceals—and the piles of cash inside. Not bad for Monk Sam-jang.
He does, however, scoff at the sight of her ratty Pororo slippers… and then leans in to sniff them, knowing that Sam-jang is supposed to smell of lotus flowers. He can’t decide what he’s smelling, and buries his face in the slippers and inhales deeply.
That’s the strange sight Han-joo returns to, and he’s so shocked he drops the coffee he’d brought. Mawang tosses away the slipper and forces a dignified mien as he excuses himself, which lasts long enough for him to leap into his car. He’s so mortified that when Secretary Ma offers to kill the employee, he reflexively agrees, ha.
As Sun-mi crosses the street, she’s accosted by the angry driver from before, who raises his hand to smack her for swearing at him earlier. But suddenly his hands freeze midair, and then start slapping his own head repeatedly—prompted by Oh-gong standing at a distance, puppeteering his movements. Haha, that sight gag is hilarious.
The driver spots Oh-gong in the distance and quickly runs away before he sustains more damage, while Sun-mi remains befuddled at the whole encounter. Then she turns and sees Oh-gong there, who approaches to ask WHY, IF she remembers his name, she doesn’t just say it already.
He tenses in anticipation when she agrees to say it… but she gets a call and leaves him hanging. Then she tells Oh-gong that he may have felt at ease knowing that she couldn’t call him all these years, but now he ought to live with some anxiety at the thought that she could call him if she wanted.
He tells her to prove it by saying his name, and his eyes flash red as he warns that she’ll die if she’s wrong, saying she’s taking her joke too far.
So finally, Sun-mi tells him plainly that she was bluffing. But still, she asks, “Have you never once thought of me, who might have called you?” He says of course not like it’s the most obvious thing.
“I see,” she says with some disappointment. “Although I waited for you for twenty-five years, thinking maybe you might come to protect me. Hoping earnestly.”
She declares that her 25-year-long tortured hope ends today, and wonders why she waited. She walks away, and he watches her go.
Oh-gong goes to a bar that night, where the proprietor has Frosty’s pitcher, meaning she’s another ex-heavenly character. Oh-gong wishes he could drink tonight, explaining that he ran into someone who made him feel bad. He doesn’t feel bad about wronging her, but hearing that she waited earnestly for him bothers him greatly, even though he doesn’t understand what that feeling is.
The proprietor slides over a martini to demonstrate what an earnest desire feels like—something you can’t have, which makes you want it more—which, touché. Oh-gong decides he has to get rid of this uncomfortable feeling asap, which he’ll do by eating Sam-jang.
That night, Sun-mi walks up to her building not noticing that the Bride is parked in front. The Bride had seen her with Oh-gong earlier, whom she knows as the Groom’s killer. Hence: Sun-mi is the enemy.
By the time Sun-mi enters her home, the Bride doll is lurking inside. Spotting it, Sun-mi grabs her umbrella and watches the doll transform into a ghost, recognizing the resemblance to the ghost that bit her. The lights blow out and the ghost disappears from sight, lurking under furniture.
On her guard, Sun-mi looks around for the demon but doesn’t see it, and blocks a flying picture frame that shatters on her arm. She runs into a room muttering that bleeding is bad… while the drops of blood on the shattered glass start sending red fumes into the air, attracting demons from across the city.
Mawang catches a whiff of the scent too, and starts to twitch and roar uncontrollably as his eyes flash red.
Clouds of black demons swarm Sun-mi’s building, but one gets kicked back—by Oh-gong, who faces them down. Wielding his gold scepter, he flies through the air fighting demon after demon, defeating them easily and stylishly.
Inside, Sun-mi hurries to wrap her bloody arm while struggling to keep the Bride doll outside her room. Then, she musters her nerve and grabs her umbrella and a lighter, then quickly steps outside to confront the demon.
But she finds Oh-gong inside her apartment instead, disposing of the demon himself.
Eyes wide and tone hopeful, she asks if he came to protect her. Just then, Oh-gong spots a familiar red mark on her shoulder and grabs her close, revealing the Groom’s mark. Making the connection, he mutters, “Dammit. Are you Sam-jang?”
And then, Mawang arrives outside and sends the remaining demons dispersing. Twitching in frustration, he growls, “Damn it, the punk has found Sam-jang too.” He lets out a roar.
Sun-mi asks again if Oh-gong came to save her. He shakes his head ruefully, then replies, “No, I came to eat you.”
Okay, time to unpack!
I liked this episode. I went into it trying to clear my mind of any thoughts or hopes, and found myself enjoying the lore, although I wonder if part of that is because I could recognize the source material. There’s always an extra bit of satisfaction in recognizing allusions and references, but that’s a separate issue from whether a story is itself compelling.
I think this drama should be fairly accessible to people who have zero background knowledge of Journey to the West, for several reasons: First, it’s a loose adaptation, and resets the world entirely by making it modern-day. There’s definitely new lore that is the Hong sisters’ own, so this is more like an “inspired by” story, not a remake or adaptation. And lastly, I think the original story is really pretty accessible too, as it’s mostly an adventure tale with a massive repository of monster characters and lots of exciting fights.
That said, I do like the way this show is adapting Journey to the West—it’s actually a cleverer adaptation than I thought it would be. There are the obvious traits they’ve worked in, such as Seung-gi’s monkey haircut (which somehow he makes work!), the tiger’s fur Oh-gong wears, his golden rod, and all the monkey and bull references (and, I assume also pig, once PK joins the party).
But there’s also the reinterpretation of the characters’ personalities, which I’m enjoying. Seung-gi makes the perfect Sohn Oh-gong, mischievous and hotheaded while at the same time betraying depth beneath the selfish surface. In the original story, I always thought the monk was the dullest character, being wimpy and whiny and constantly scared of monsters while his protector-monsters were flawed and entertaining.
But here, Sun-mi is shown to be brave in the face of her fear, and I really appreciate that while she has the power to see supernatural beings, she doesn’t have any superpowers. She’s still a weak human in a physical sense, but I see strength in her character that will provide a worthy foil for Oh-gong, which is a deeper relationship than I saw in the novel. And there’s a clever twist in making Mawang the actual protector, while Oh-gong is the one out to get her, which flips our hero’s role quite nicely from the original. The writers have put him in the role of someone she needs protection from, while also having set up this loophole where he becomes her protector. I dig that.
I’m hoping the rest of the mythology remains tight and compelling, and that the characters find their way into the quirky, sometimes-friendly, sometimes-at-odds dynamic that I think forms the backbone of this story. Well, that and kisses. I’m not going to be happy without some kisses.
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