Joseon X-Files: Episode 6
This episode was a little (okay, a lot) scarier for me to watch, because ghosts and supernatural stuff always gets to me a lot more than, say, aliens or monsters or mutations. That said, don’t let my wimpiness scare you off, since everyone’s got a different set of standards for what constitutes fear-inducing. I just happen to be a wuss when it comes to ghosts.
SONG OF THE DAY
10cm – “Healing” [ Download ]
EPISODE 6: “Ghost of Lee Du”
Our story starts here, at the deserted manor owned by Lord Lee Du, on a dark and stormy night.
A man comes into the darkened house carrying a lantern, making his way from one rundown room to another. The man comes upon a wall covered in a painting of a many-armed god as thunder sounds and lightning lights up the sky, striking a rod buried in muddy ground outside.
There’s an odd energy in this house, and the man senses a presence. Water ripples in a metal bowl, seemingly of its own accord. The ripples suddenly smooth out, and then the bowl shoots off across the floor. Rainwater falls through the dilapidated roof and puts out the man’s lantern.
Fearfully, he takes out a talisman to ward off spirits, but to no avail — that unseen force takes hold of his bottom half and drags him across the floor.
In the morning, he is found dead, his body is strangely riddled with numerous small stab wounds.
Hyung-do and Jang Man are called to the scene, though they are puzzled as to their role here, not being coroners or policemen. Their contact explains that they were called because they purportedly deal with “bizarre matters” that defy explanation.
The owner of the estate, Lord Lee, is the one who requested Hyung-do’s investigation. He’s a high-ranking government official, and explains that the dead man was a shaman sent to exorcise the house, which he says is haunted by a ghost. Despite the gravity of that statement, he speaks with a curiously light, smiling attitude as he requests that Hyung-do find out what’s going on.
The two men head over to the house in question, where Yoon-yi has already arrived and begun investigating.
Never one to take a risk when paranormal forces are at work, Jang sprinkles the ground with salt to ward off bad energy. Who else thinks this guy totally got into the wrong line of work?
Before passing to Lord Lee, this property originally belonged to a certain Lord Choi, who was condemned for treason. Hyung-do’s investigative branch was involved in the matter, and he explains the circumstances of the incomplete, hastily wrapped-up case: Lord Choi had escaped from prison and disappeared, leaving his defenseless family to be rounded up for interrogation. Lord Lee had been the lead investigator at the time.
Team X-Files makes its way through the ruins of the house, which is littered with debris like little metal rings that have fallen from doorjambs. Hyung-do has his usual skeptic’s face on, not at all spooked at the creepy environs.
On the other hand, Yoon-yi reports that there’s something definitely off about this place. Metal objects seem to float of their own accord, and the foundation is shaky. Furthermore, the shaman was injured by his own tools during his attempted exorcism, and the stormy weather had continued in the face of the rites.
Hyung-do scoffs at the idea that the weather is related to the ghost, to which Yoon-yi clarifies that she doesn’t mean there’s a direct relationship. However, she senses some kind of correlation…
The group separates as they make their way through different parts of the house, and as Yoon-yi inspects one area, we become aware of a second presence in the room, watching her from behind. She spies a flash of light moving in a darkened room at the end of the hall, and approaches cautiously… all the while the strange presence keeps a close eye on her… and gives us a brief glimpse of a brightly colored girl’s hanbok…
At the other end of the property, Hyung-do notes more scattered door rings on the ground. In one room, he finds charred logs, and starts to put together a logical explanation. For instance, if a person was here in the house that was supposed to be empty, and shadows witnessed from the outside, the proliferation of ghost rumors are understandable.
A scream sounds — Yoon-yi’s — and the men race to her side. Yoon-yi has fallen to the ground, and Hyung-do sees a flash of red clothing moving outside. He chases the hooded figure, and Jang is able to make a flying tackle, preventing escape.
The woman in red identifies herself as a shaman who was called to perform an exorcism on the house. She had left behind her ceremonial tools, and is merely here to retrieve them.
Or so she says — Hyung-do eyes her with a great deal of skepticism. He doesn’t outright accuse her of lying, but it’s clear that he’s listening to her explanation with a huge grain of (ghost-warding?) salt.
The shaman gives her take on the recent ghostly activity, stating that an ancestor of this home must be angered. In an attempt to ease this anger, she had performed exorcism rites and tried to correct the flow of energy through the house by digging a pond outside on the grounds (think feng shui). However, in the process of digging, she discovered something odd: a large metal post driven into the ground.
Sensing a strong, bizarre energy emanating from the post, she had tried to remove it, but it was driven so deep that she could not. And that was when the ghosts started to appear.
Yoon-yi interrupts this talk to lead the group to a room of particular interest: while exploring on her own, she had found the room at the center of all this mystery. The walls and floor are splattered in blood, still thick and red, and on the far wall is that painting of the many-armed god, which was among the last things the previous shaman had seen before meeting his untimely demise.
Interestingly, Yoon-yi eyes the shaman with some distance and disdain. Although she agrees that something is odd here, probably something supernatural, she doesn’t easily accept the shaman’s words. She doesn’t contradict her claims directly, but it’s a curious thing to find Yoon-yi in a new place on the believer-versus-skeptic spectrum. Prior to this, she had been the believer counterpart to Hyung-do’s skeptic, but now she takes the middle ground.
(Also: I in no way want to reduce this dynamic to a mere romantic triangle, but I think it would be remiss to ignore that there’s a tiny thread of… antagonism?… weaving its way through the scene, with the ladies looking askance at each other, in turn. But it’s okay; I’d fight for Kim Ji-hoon, too.)
Hyung-do insinuates that the shaman may have arranged this creepy tableau herself, though Yoon-yi says that the scene is too elaborate and excessive for a person to manufacture.
The shaman sticks to her line of reasoning despite Hyung-do’s challenge. Hyung-do decides to search the entire house to look for more marks in the walls, splitting up into two teams — Yoon-yi with Jang, and himself with the shaman.
She demurs, saying that the spirits are strong tonight and that they are safer waiting, but Hyung-do tells her plainly that he doesn’t trust her. He could always just decide to end the investigation by making her into the criminal — a warning not to cross him before he gets to the bottom of this on his own.
Hyung-do watches the shaman’s expression as he asks her questions — it’s as though he’s testing her answers, although neither she nor we know what he’s driving at. He asks if she had always worked with this household, to which she replies no; she had only come after hearing of its blocked energy. Sarcastically, he remarks that she’s quite brave to do so, when the former owner was a traitor who abandoned his family.
Yoon-yi and Jang take a look around that particular room, where they notice something stuck to the ceiling beam. It’s a talisman — a red placard written upon in gold lettering, meant to ward off spirits. Jang climbs up to retrieve the talisman, and Yoon-yi notes how old it is. This was not placed here recently by Lord Lee, but appears to date back to the Goryeo period, which preceded the Joseon era that forms the backdrop of this drama.
By now it’s raining, and water seeps into the wall where the mural is painted, soaking the outer layer and revealing something written underneath. Yoon-yi and Jang pour more water over it to get to the hidden message, which turns out to be a record of this house, dating back to the Goryeo era.
The record explains the circumstances of the house’s construction, which was interrupted by the actions of an angry ghost, who would cause thunderous storms. A shaman decreed that the foundation of the house was summoning the spirit, so the owner installed metal posts throughout the house, and that halted the ghostly energy.
Yoon-yi suspects that the entire house — whose layout and architecture is peculiar — was built in a style specifically designed to ward off the malevolent force.
One question niggles at Yoon-yi: Did the storm summon the ghost? Or, do strange things only happen on stormy days?
That’s… not exactly a comforting thought, particularly as Hyung-do is currently outside with the shifty shaman as the rain pours down around them.
As they wait for the storm to abate, Hyung-do mulls things over and draws some conclusions. He asks the shaman about her attempt to dig the pond, which resulted in the ghostly appearances. But when she starts to make more of her vague explanations, Hyung-do cuts her off and says she must have killed a lot of chickens to splatter the room in blood.
She pretends not to understand, but Hyung-do points out that blood dries when it makes contact with air, but the blood in the room was still sticky and wet. As though someone deliberately spilled it there. And there’s only one explanation he can think of.
“Leave this house,” he says. That’s the message she meant to deliver, wasn’t it? What did she think to do after driving everyone out? What was she looking for?
The shaman sticks to her explanation that she was only here to collect her tools, but her voice wavers nervously and she steps backward as he advances. Hyung-do concludes that the only thing that had disappeared in this house was Lord Choi, the traitor. And that traitor had a daughter who is about her age.
Hyung-do has put together the pieces, and concludes that she has come here to get revenge upon her enemies using the ghosts, and is also looking for the father who abandoned her.
The shaman stutters and looks mighty unnerved, but the confrontation is cut short by a huge flash of lightning, which strikes the metal pole in the ground. This has a curious effect — and slowly, the metal rings that had been scattered throughout the house start to fidget, then float up into the air.
As though guided by a magnetic force, all the metallic miscellany in the house twitches with energy and hovers still for a moment — but we understand, as does the shaman, that they are about to make their move.
The shaman casts a look back at Hyung-do in that pregnant pause, and there’s a somber beauty about the moment as she braces herself for her fate. Hyung-do’s eyes widen as the metallic objects — rings, knives, shards — launch themselves straight at her, driving through her and embedding in the wall.
Blood splatters and she falls to the ground, dead.
But that’s not all: more sharp objects fly through the air outside, this time aiming for Jang, who barely takes cover behind a comforting plank of wood. Hyung-do races outside and finds him badly shaken but safe, and when the crescent moon becomes covered in an eclipse, the energy seems to drain out of the metal objects.
Yoon-yi is still in the room, and right before her eyes, the wall begins to repaint itself — the house record that she’d uncovered now becomes seeped with the dark colors of the previous painting of the many-armed god.
But that’s not even the creepiest thing: There’s another presence in the room with her. Yoon-yi becomes aware of it slowly, and with growing fear she turns her head to look behind her… where a little girl stands, watching her, dressed in a pink hanbok.
(You may have noticed that the be-hanbok-ed figure in the earlier scene was wearing pink while the shaman wore red, although we were meant to think they were one and the same. But now we see that this girl is in fact a separate entity.)
Yoon-yi scrambles out of the house, panting in fear, and dashes off toward the woods, trying to light a fire to replace the lantern she dropped. Alas, she tumbles into a pit, and despite a desperate grab for purchase, she is dragged downward into the hole.
By now the men are thoroughly spooked and tear through the house searching for Yoon-yi, but find no trace of her. Jang finds her compass on the ground and wonders fearfully if she’s been dragged off by a ghost. Adding to the eeriness is a whirring, mechanical sound that starts to come from the metal pole, which starts to shoot electric sparks, accompanied by dancing lights. (They look curiously like the lights emitted by the cursed gold of a previous episode.) A glance at Yoon-yi’s compass shows the needle going crazy.
It turns out that Yoon-yi has landed in a well — and next to her is a skeleton, long dead. She also sees more metal poles embedded into the ground in the well, and that same curious energy causes her metal necklace to float in the air, then shoot toward the pole, where it clings with magnetic force.
Thankfully, Hyung-do and Jang are able to find her in the well, and retrieve her to safety. By now Hyung-do believes that there’s a strange (as in paranormal) force in the house and is eager to be gone — and that’s even before Yoon-yi warns him that there’s yet another person in the house.
With this ordeal behind him, Hyung-do makes his report to Lord Lee, explaining that Lord Choi’s corpse has been found in the well behind the house. Lord Lee is unimpressed with Hyung-do’s conclusion of this case, saying that he has discovered nothing of import at all. Hyung-do merely responds tersely that they’ll be seeing more of each other in the future.
What that means we don’t yet know, but we can be assured that there is more behind this official than a mere haunted house — and after Hyung-do leaves, Lord Lee joins his other guest: pipe-smokin’ Ji Seung.
Back at her bookshop, Yoon-yi wraps up her part in this case by writing a report of her findings. Although she can make a number of educated deductions, ultimately they are unable to make a conclusive statement on this case.
What she does deduce is that there is some energy, accompanied by stormy weather, that causes metal to react in an odd way, as though with a magnetic pull. The unusual architecture of the house has something to do with it, and somebody or something is definitely at work here, but they are unable to know what that is.
That unidentified somebody returns to the house, where (s)he picks up the dropped talisman from the rubble and dusts it off. Lifting up a torn corner reveals complex gridlike pattern underneath. And last of all, a straw doll — often employed for hexes and curses — is dropped on the ground, bearing the name “Kim Hyung-do.”
This drama has a remarkable ability to introduce a puzzling, mayhap even confusing plotline that somehow comes together with surprising clarity as it reveals its conclusion. I always think I’m going to have to go back and watch it multiple times to understand the story, but as it turns out, that confusion is masterfully paced out so that at the end, the pieces just click into place. That’s impressive.
To be perfectly honest, this wasn’t my very favorite episode, although it was still a strong outing. I might have liked more in the way of a conclusion, because this one was left more open than previous episodes. Ultimately I’m not that bothered by it because we got more glimpses of the overarching plot, and it excites me to see hints that the drama might manage to tie these threads together in a way that I don’t see right now. It’s as though I’m standing too close to the puzzle to see the big picture, but I can steal peeks at the jigsaw pieces adjacent to mine and am intrigued at how they fit together.
For instance, it can’t be coincidence that this metal emitted the same glow as the cursed gold, right? Or that the humming noise coming from the metal post sounded almost like the humming of the alien craft in Episodes 1 and 2? (I really hope they link them somehow.) Although, the mere presence of Ji Seung at the end is pretty much a statement that it does all fit together.
As for this individual plot: Based on Hyung-do’s terse meeting with Lord Lee at the end, I wonder if he suspects that Lee had Choi killed and dumped in the well, rather than Choi running away. There’s more to this case, I’m sure…
I find myself still wondering about the identity of the shaman versus the traitor’s daughter. Hyung-do guesses that she is the same person, and the shaman’s nervous reaction seems to support that. However, the ending suggests that that was a misdirect — and that the true ghost of the home was Choi’s young daughter. That would mean that Hyung-do was spot-on about the daughter’s motivations — anger at her enemies, and also at her father — only he’d picked the wrong person as being the daughter.
Or, considering that ghosts were spotted as far back as the Goryeo era, perhaps this is just a tragic line of ancestry with more than one angry spirit left behind to haunt the living.