Hwayugi: Episode 20 (Final)
I know that our monsters in Hwayugi didn’t go on a pilgrimage like they did in Journey to the West, but it still felt like quite the journey, full of misadventures, great tales, and a couple of wrong turns. We’re finally at the end of the road and it’s time to put Monkey’s love to the test once and for all. Can the Great Sage, Equal to Heaven actually go up against heaven and live up to his name, or will Fate get the last laugh?
FINAL EPISODE RECAP
Oh-gong’s body lies prone in Patriarch’s glass room, surrounded by heaven’s minions. In voiceover, Mawang narrates as if telling a children’s fable: Long ago, a monkey was born so powerful and bad-tempered that he caused trouble everywhere he went, and in an effort to placate him, heaven made him into an immortal. The monkey named himself Great Sage, Equal to Heaven.
Mawang is telling this story to Han-joo’s kids, who ask if Monkey is living happily ever after in heaven now, but he says that Monkey was punished after he stole a staff to put out a great flame that the people begged him to protect them from.
The children think it’s unfair that he was locked up for so long when he was trying to save people, but Mawang says it’s because Monkey wasn’t doing it for humanity, and never truly loved humans. Mawang continues that Monkey was freed from his prison and suffered a cruel pain as his punishment, and is now alone.
As he tells the story, we see glimpses of Oh-gong, who is alive but hardly living. He looks weary and defeated as he sits in his garden, staring off into space.
Mawang asks the kids if they don’t want to see the monkey, which of course they do, so he sends them to Oh-gong’s house via elevator portal in the hopes that they’ll coax him out of there. He even tasks them with retrieving the shiny gold bracelet on the monkey’s wrist in exchange for all the toys they want.
The children tiptoe into the garden and jump in fright at the sight of Oh-gong, who barks at them to get out. Do they not recognize each other? He used to babysit them!
Oh-gong is cold and harsh as he shoos them away, but when one child drops a toy dinosaur, it gives him a sudden flashback to the day he first met little Sun-mi, and he clutches his heart in pain.
The boy asks if he’s okay, and Oh-gong asks if they know each other. Wait, does he have amnesia?
Mawang tells Patriarch that when Oh-gong’s body was broken, his memory was shattered into pieces as well, and now whenever a fragment of his memory returns, it sends a shooting pain to his heart. He says that Oh-gong refuses to take one step out of his house.
Patriarch wonders why, when Sun-mi is no longer in this world and he has no memory of her. He asks if Oh-gong is still wearing the bracelet, and Mawang says the bracelet seems to still have hold of his heart. He explains that the bracelet is what saved Oh-gong when he battled the dragon, protecting his heart when it should have shattered like the rest of him. Ah. So it saved his life.
That’s what Patriarch finds odd, since according to heaven’s plan, the bracelet should have disappeared when Sun-mi died. Mawang just scoffs that heaven knows nothing and nothing goes according to its plan anyway.
Patriarch says that Sun-mi only had one request when she took on her heavenly calling—she’d asked him to keep Oh-gong away from her because she refused to let him be the one to kill her. Mawang says that the two of them broke their deadly fate by sacrificing themselves to save the other. But… she still died?
Oh-gong is due to return to heaven now that his punishment is over, but Patriarch worries what’ll happen if he takes Oh-gong up there in his current state. He says he came up with an idea to remove the bracelet, but he doesn’t know if it’ll fly: He requested that Sun-mi be allowed to return from the afterlife for just one day, to remove the bracelet.
With his liquor ban lifted, Oh-gong drinks and drinks and drinks in his cellar, though even that reminds him of little moments with Sun-mi, not that he recognizes the memories or understands why they make his heart hurt.
He begins to hear Sun-mi’s voice calling his name, and finally realizes that he’s not imagining it. He heads out to the garden, where she’s waiting for him on the bridge with a sad smile… but Oh-gong doesn’t recognize her.
He goes up to her and sees that she’s not human, while Sun-mi looks down at his wrist and wonders why the bracelet is still there. She says lightly that his personality seems to have gotten worse, and tells him that she’s the one who put that bracelet on him and she’s here to remove it.
But Mawang tells Secretary Ma that there’s something heaven and Sun-mi don’t know—that once Oh-gong chose to put that bracelet back on, he became its master, not her. Mawang kept that little tidbit to himself since they never would’ve let Sun-mi come back if they’d known, and he’s hoping that seeing her will help Oh-gong piece together his memory. But they only have one day.
Sun-mi moves closer to remove the bracelet, but Oh-gong swipes her hand away, refusing to let her near it. He says that his heart is in pain and this bracelet is the only thing allowing him to survive, but she says he’s got it backwards because the bracelet is what’s causing the pain. He asks what happened after she put the bracelet on him, and she says that something miraculous happened—she fell in love with him.
The other monsters share a drink at Frosty’s bar and wonder if Sun-mi will be able to bring back Oh-gong’s memory in just one day. PK says that Oh-gong’s temper has gotten so bad that he tried to remove the bracelet once and almost ended up roasted pig. Frosty worries that getting his memories back will be worse for Oh-gong because of the pain that’ll come with them.
The monsters are all startled when Alice walks into the bar, back to her old self after Dragon Prince left her body. She doesn’t remember anything from the time she was possessed, and PK says that their dating scandal happened because he was following her around, but she didn’t like him.
Alice takes out her phone and asks about a picture on it, and PK looks heartbroken when he sees a group picture of them with Buja and Summer Fairy. He remembers the night they’d taken it, and muses sadly that he’s the only one left. Aw.
But it turns out that Buja is still around—or rather, Priestess in Buja’s body, which is now rotting away without a connection to Sun-mi. She’s sleeping in subway tunnels where other homeless people avoid her because she smells so bad.
Priestess notices a newspaper with Kang Dae-sung on the front page, announcing his fall from grace in a massive corruption scandal. It finally dawns on her that she really was a demon all along, and she wishes that someone would just burn her so that she could die.
Unsurprisingly, Kang Dae-sung’s supporters turn on him and give his assistant a surreptitious nod while he isn’t looking. That night, he drinks himself into a stupor and rails at Priestess’s coffin for leading him astray, muttering that he should’ve dropped it in the ocean as planned.
He eventually passes out, and when he wakes up, he’s bound and gagged inside Priestess’s coffin. Wow, that’s karma for ya. His assistant orders his henchmen to drop it in the middle of the ocean, while Kang Dae-sung screams and writhes inside to no avail.
Oh-gong returns to drinking and seems skeptical that Sun-mi fell in love with him and chased him around like crazy, and that he allowed himself to be trapped by a bracelet. He asks what she did, and she lies that she ran around declaring her love and calling him handsome, and he says that she has no pride. Ha.
She swears that she’s the one who activated the bracelet, so she controls it, and Oh-gong tells her to go ahead and try activating it again so that he can tell if she’s lying. Sun-mi doesn’t hesitate to lean in and kiss him, and though he looks shocked at the kiss, he decides that she’s lying because it did nothing to the bracelet.
But the kiss does trigger a memory of a past kiss, and that sends another shooting pain to his heart. It brings Sun-mi to tears to see him hurting, which she points out is a sign that she’s telling the truth. She begs him to come outside so that she can prove it.
Sun-mi worries that one day isn’t enough time, and clutches the pendant around her neck. It contains a star that Patriarch plucked from the sky to allow her a day in the living world. Meanwhile, Oh-gong has another flashback to a time when he’d complained about Sun-mi holding him captive with that bracelet, which makes him think that maybe she isn’t lying.
When Mawang comes home, he nearly bursts into tears at the sight of Oh-gong’s coat draped over his bull statue. He runs inside to find Oh-gong casually hanging out after a bath, and Mawang can barely contain his emotional reaction.
Oh-gong doesn’t remember having lived here but he does agree that it feels familiar. Mawang welcomes him with open arms and urges him to listen to Sun-mi, and to recover his memories so that he can remove his bracelet.
Sun-mi visits her old office, sad to see that Han-joo is closing the business in her absence. She clutches the necklace to make herself invisible when he comes in, only to accidentally make herself visible when she knocks a bottle over.
He panics, thinking that he’s seen her ghost, and tries to make himself faint because he’s so scared. He knocks himself in the head repeatedly until he finally faints, and Sun-mi whispers that she’s sorry.
When Han-joo wakes up the next morning still in the office, he thinks he’s still hallucinating to see Mawang sitting across from him. Mawang says he’s here to take care of Sun-mi’s estate, and tells him that she left the building and the business to Han-joo, with the wish that he’d continue to live a good life and cry happily at his daughter’s wedding someday.
He bursts into tears and Sun-mi smiles as she watches him from outside. Mawang gets sentimental and pretends to have something in his eye, and he and Secretary Ma notice unseasonable flower petals falling from the sky on their way out. He wonders if it’s a sign from his beloved that she’s reincarnated as flowers in this lifetime.
Oh-gong looks around Sun-mi’s empty apartment and begins to remember a few of their early encounters, which matches the story that Sun-mi told him. She joins him there and he notes that he treated her rather badly, not that he feels sorry about it or anything, but he wants to know why it still hurts—that’s the part he can’t figure out.
She says that she doesn’t have much time, and he sees from her star necklace that she has a day, which he thinks is short for someone who claims to have loved him so much. She says she did love him and even put a star in the sky for him, which he thinks is odd since she wouldn’t have the power to do that.
He still won’t let her near the bracelet and declares that a day is very long, and orders her to lead the way to lunch since he has no memory of the foods he likes. In keeping with her opposite theme, Sun-mi takes him to eat ddukbokki, insisting that he loves it. He looks skeptical and declares that if he doesn’t like it, he’s going to make ddukbokki disappear from the earth altogether.
She panics, but he doesn’t find it half bad, though he’s more confused by the fact that he likes being with her. He wonders if maybe he feels sorry towards her for something.
Mawang stops by the General Store looking for Grandma, and the grandson offers to trade phone numbers with Mawang and call him when she comes back. He notices the kid eating mushroom porridge, his favorite food, and they even know of the same restaurant that makes the best in the city.
Mawang goes to put his number in the kid’s phone and pauses when he sees that the wallpaper is a shot of the falling stars from the night he’d taken Iron Fan’s punishment in her place. The grandson says that Grandma insisted that he go outside that night and bow to the stars.
He notes that Mawang must’ve seen the flower petals falling today too, pointing to a few petals stuck to the back of Mawang’s phone. As he starts describing the sudden shower of blossoms, Mawang is struck with a strange feeling… Is it recognition?
Mawang asks the boy’s name, and he answers, “Hong Hae-ah.” Mawang is overcome with emotion and he looks like he might burst into tears. He returns to his office to ask the portrait of Iron Fan if their child’s name is Hong Hae-ah. But he remembers Patriarch warning him that the moment his son is found, he’ll be hunted by heaven because he shouldn’t be alive.
PK hears his stylists mentioning a rotting smell and finds Priestess huddled in a corner waiting for him, and he’s shocked at how bad she looks. She asks if he’ll steal some energy balls for her to eat, and when he readily agrees, she calls him stupid.
He says it’s not for her, so Priestess asks, “Then for her sake, will you burn me?”
PK looks stricken but he agrees and takes her to a cemetery. He conjures up a mystical blue fire in his hand and hesitates, so Priestess tells him that Buja was gone before she became a demon, and she’s the only one left in this body.
He says he knows, but he still can’t bring himself to light her on fire or look her in the eyes. Priestess gives him one last message from Buja: “I liked you,” and then presses his hand to her heart.
The blue fire engulfs her and she looks up at him gratefully before disappearing into ashes, leaving PK alone with his tears.
Patriarch worries that Sun-mi will run out of time, and Secretary Ma thinks it’s a shame that she’ll never get to hear how Oh-gong really feels about her. Mawang says there’s still a chance that she will, and refuses to tell Patriarch the details because he’s been hiding stuff from them.
Mawang asks him to answer one question—whether Iron Fan was reincarnated as a flower—and Patriarch pretends to stretch while making a big O with his arms. Happy, Mawang in turn tells Patriarch that Oh-gong can remove the bracelet himself if he just pieces together his memories.
Sun-mi buys Oh-gong cotton candy to try and relive their happy memories, but he complains when she describes every single one of their past dates as having ended with demon hunting. It does send a flood of memories coming back to him at once, though now he’s convinced she used him just to catch demons.
She said he protected her, because they made a contract that he’d come to her side whenever she was scared or struggling or in danger. She thinks that’s enough proof that she’s the master of the bracelet, but he still won’t let her take it off.
Sun-mi worries that remembering any more will make things worse, claiming that she’d be embarrassed because she loved him enough to hang a star for him. But that triggers a memory of watching her watching the stars, and soon Oh-gong remembers confessing his love over and over and telling her that he chooses to be with her.
He calls her out for lying to him and snaps his fingers, and a shower of star candies falls from the sky into her lap. “I think the one who loved enough to hang a star in the sky… is me,” he says.
Sun-mi insists that his love was caused by the bracelet and isn’t real, so once she removes it, his pain will cease. He tells her to go ahead and remove it then, and finally offers up his wrist.
But when she tries to pull the bracelet off, it glows but stays put, refusing to budge. He asks angrily if she knows what she’s talking about: “Are you sure that my pain is because of feelings created by this thing?” She confesses that she never knew his true feelings and just believed that his love would disappear when the bracelet came off. He says that she failed and tells her to go back, and disappears before her eyes.
Mawang sees that Oh-gong is still wearing the bracelet and says he hasn’t recovered enough of his memories, but Oh-gong says angrily that he remembered being happy with Sun-mi and feeling sorry, but all he feels right now is pain.
Mawang: “Of course you feel pain. It can’t not be painful. She’s dead.” He urges Oh-gong to recover those memories and not run away when he’s so close to the end.
Oh-gong walks through his garden lost in thought, and begins to remember the sword he hid in the rock, and what Sun-mi had said about feeling sadder for the one who’d be left behind. He stops in front of the spot where he’d held her as she died in his arms, and it finally comes back to him. Awash in tears, he breathes out, “Jin Sun-mi.”
PK wonders if Sun-mi will have to return to the afterlife never having heard Oh-gong’s true feelings for her, but Frosty tells him that she did confirm his feelings once, very briefly on a cold night. He’s thinking of the night he froze the bracelet for her, and she’s standing at the same spot thinking of the same.
She whirls around to find Oh-gong behind her, and she’s surprised when he calls out her name. He tells her that he remembers everything, including the last thing she said to him—that she was relieved that his love would disappear once she was gone.
He says that he kept something from her, and holds his wrist out. To her shock, he pulls the bracelet right off and it disappears in his hand. He begs her to ask him anything she wants, and so with tears in her eyes, she asks, “Am I still pretty to you?”
He answers, “Yes, you’re pretty. Because I love you.” Kyaaaa. He walks over to her and pulls her into his arms, and she sheds happy tears as she says, “Nothing disappeared. I love you.”
It’s only a moment before Sun-mi remembers that she has to return and leave him alone again, but Oh-gong refuses to send her back like this and tells her to close her eyes. He says he has something to give her and presses his forehead to hers.
When she opens her eyes, her right eye glows red, and he says that he’s given her one of his eyes so that he can find her anywhere. “I will find you. No matter where you are or how you’ve changed, I will recognize you. Remember my name. I will find you,” he says.
She promises to wait and never to forget his name, and they stare into each other’s eyes lovingly as her time runs out and she vanishes.
Sometime later, Han-joo is hard at work trying to fill Sun-mi’s shoes and goes to see a haunted property armed with Sun-mi’s yellow umbrella. The ghosts laugh at him because he can’t see them, but they back away when he swings the umbrella around.
He ends up wandering into Frosty’s bar, and Frosty says that this isn’t a place that just anyone can find, noting that the umbrella must be how he found it. Han-joo says it belonged to his boss, who was surrounded by people so impressive that he wonders if maybe she wasn’t human. Frosty suggests the reverse, that the people around her were monsters, which makes Han-joo drink to shake off the scary notion.
Mawang bought up Kang Dae-sung’s cursed land and tells Oh-gong about his plans to build a hotel there, which Oh-gong thinks is a bad idea because demons are bound to be drawn here. Mawang says that’s the whole point, because then he can amass points faster by catching more demons.
Oh-gong laughs and acknowledges his uncanny business sense, but refuses to live there with him. Mawang insists that he’ll build him a giant bathtub and give him three parking spaces, ha.
Mawang wonders how they got swept up in Sam-jang’s fate, and Oh-gong says with a smile that however they were sucked in, he’s happy to be standing here with Mawang now. Mawang says that Oh-gong is responsible for chasing the darkness and bringing the light back to this world, and calls him a little impressive.
Oh-gong knows that Mawang loves him and tells him not to miss him too much. He says he has to be on his way because someone is waiting for him, and Mawang agrees that they each have their own paths to walk. Oh-gong turns to him and says, “Mawang, let’s meet again in the middle of our paths,” and they both smile warmly.
Secretary Ma alerts Mawang to his son peddling magical trinkets in the street again, and he shows up to put a stop to it. Hae-ah grumbles and wonders why Mawang is chasing him and not demons.
Mawang offers him a job at his new hotel cleaning toilets, which he doesn’t like at all. He offers to buy the boy some porridge instead, and they bicker the whole way about what he’s allowed to order.
Mawang asks whom he takes after, and Hae-ah says Grandma told him he looks like his father. Mawang: “Your father must be very handsome.” They scratch their backs in exactly the same way as they walk, like carbon copies.
When he gets home that day, Mawang is saddened to see that Oh-gong’s monkey statue is gone, and CEO Sa tells him that Oh-gong packed up for a trip. Mawang guesses it must be a long journey if he packed his statue, and CEO Sa says that he went to the afterlife to find Sun-mi and bring her back.
Mawang’s face goes from shock to amusement, and he chuckles as he thinks of what havoc Oh-gong will wreak on the afterlife.
Oh-gong drives toward the ocean with his magical Mary Poppins suitcase in the back, and he narrates in voiceover, “Wait for me. Whenever you’re struggling or scared or in danger, call my name and I’ll run to you and protect you. Because I love you.”
Er? I mean, it was kind of an upbeat ending, but it doesn’t exactly feel happy because Sun-mi is still dead and Oh-gong is still alone. They had a whole hour in which to fix that problem, but instead of using all of the mystical plot devices at their disposal to bring Sun-mi back to life and give her immortality like she deserved, they gave her ONE DAY to revive Oh-gong’s memory? The whole episode felt like a really long epilogue where nothing fundamentally changed. Would it have killed them to just wave a magic wand and bring her back as an immortal? Or to have her new monkey eyeball give her the power to stay in the land of the living?
I do leave the series firmly believing that Oh-gong will turn the netherworld upside down to retrieve Sun-mi, no question about it. But I would’ve liked to see it with my own eyes and actually get a sense of closure about them sticking it to the gods and subverting that deadly fate. Because you can’t actually say they defied the death bell if one of them is still dead! Hello! I thought the whole point was that Monkey was such a rebel that he’d always find a way to circumvent heaven and make his own rules, but instead of changing heaven’s paradigm, he just mucked up their plans a little.
I don’t know about you, but I’m disappointed in Monkey’s uncharacteristic obedience to the laws of heaven and earth. I thought he’d do something radical in the finale to make up for Sun-mi’s death in the last episode (which by the way, missed its emotional target by a mile when they didn’t have her possessed by the dragon and killed by Oh-gong, WTF, thanks for nothing). I feel like Episode 20 was an interlude and the real action is all set to go down in Episode 21: The Eye of the Afterlife… except there is no Episode 21.
I didn’t mind the amnesia, even though it didn’t feel particularly clever, but at least we got emotional payoff when Oh-gong remembered his love and finally told Sun-mi the truth about the bracelet. I just expected a bigger reward from the heavens for saving the whole goddamn world from destruction than a star necklace with a 24-hour expiration date. And then I thought that Oh-gong would just keep pulling stars from the sky and filling her necklace to keep her there for one more day, and another day, until infinity, but that didn’t happen either.
I’m complaining, but it wasn’t a complete disaster of a finale, because it didn’t go against its own story logic or give characters sudden lobotomies—everything was in keeping with the rest of the series and we got sendoffs for most of the major relationships in the show. I even think the promise of what’s to come in our characters’ futures is in line with how I want the story to end. Wouldn’t it be nice to be shown that ending instead of told to imagine it, though? The only ending I thought was satisfying was Mawang finding his son, and having to protect him at a distance without revealing who he is—perfectly bittersweet because there’s story logic to back it up.
As a whole, Hwayugi was a clever adaptation that spun a fanciful world full of monsters and magic into a believable contemporary fantasy drama. The world felt full and the mythology was layered, thanks to the wealth of its source material in Journey to the West. And the casting was so spot-on that it took very little to buy into the fiction whole hog. There’s so much to like about the drama, which is why I’m disappointed that the series didn’t really deliver on its own doomsday plot to satisfaction, with weeks spent building up to one dragon battle, which consisted of swinging a sword at it a few times from a distance (seriously, he couldn’t have made contact like, once?). I blame the director for that.
I loved the ingenious use of the bracelet to bind Monkey with love as a twist on the contract relationship trope, and how it ceased to have a hold over him the moment his love became real. The trajectory of his character was satisfying to watch, as he went from selfish trickster to an actual hero and learned how to love for the first time in his life. I wish the heroine had gotten the same treatment, because in comparison she really got the short end of the stick, what with the static character arc and the death. The one upside I can find is that Oh-gong isn’t planning to wait around for a century till Sun-mi gets reincarnated, and is planning an afterlife jailbreak instead. He’ll probably burn the afterlife to the ground in order to save her and they’ll have to spend another lifetime with him living out some form of punishment, but at least they’ll be together. It’s a breadcrumb, but right now I’ll take that breadcrumb. It’s all I have! Don’t take it away from me!
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