Tale of the Nine Tailed: Episode 1
The premiere episode of tvN’s Tale of the Nine Tailed is a fun venture into a world wherein the supernatural lurks in the shadows of the human world. Lee Dong-wook is our titular gumiho with a cross to bear, while Jo Boa is the intense PD who spends her days chasing the supernatural. These types of fantastical dramas are always a gamble, but I’m happy to say this one is working for me. Its dark tone lends it an air of mystery and suspense, but its sense of playfulness keeps it from feeling too serious or heavy.
EPISODE 1: “What happened at Fox Ridge”
When a fox turns 100, it can transform into a beautiful woman or a man who mates with one. The fox who lives 1,000 years flows through the heavens and becomes a heavenly being.
That mysterious shaman-like spirit can foresee events beyond a thousand miles.
It’s 1999. A lone car drives down Fox Ridge. Inside, a little girl happily opens the musical carousel her parents gifted her for her birthday. Outside, the streetlights are mysteriously extinguished one by one and a fog descends. A shadow crosses the windshield, and the car swerves. Glass flies everywhere as the car dramatically flips, landing upside down in the street.
Little Jia opens her eyes. Her parents are injured and unconscious. She sees two figures outside and yells for help. They crouch down … and it’s her parents. She screams.
She awakes safe and sound at home with her parents, relieved it was a dream. Jia happily plays with her musical carousel until she notices one of the horses is missing its head. Then she sees the spot of blood on her sleeve. You know things are wrong when her parents begin laughing during the news report on casualties from a devastating fire.
Jia asks for some walnut cookies, so her mom rummages in the kitchen. Jia grabs a pair of scissors and hides them behind her back. Oho! She reminds her mother that she’s allergic to nuts which her doctor mom would never forget.
She stabs her “mother” in the leg, demanding to know where her real mom is. Whoa, this child doesn’t play! Her “mother” attacks her and enlists the help of her “father.” Jia escapes and runs upstairs. She locks herself in her room, shoving some furniture against the door.
The doorknob falls out as her faux parents bang on the door, and a beast-like hand reaches through the hole. Her “father” growls, “I see you,” as he peeks at her through the hole. Suddenly, there’s slashing sounds and animal-like whimpers.
LEE YEON (Lee Dong-wook) appears in the room with her, holding a red umbrella. “Are you Ah-eum?” he asks. A golden vapor flows from his hand toward her, and he sighs that she’s not. He kneels down, his golden cat-like eyes staring at Jia. He orders her to forget everything that happened and whispers something we don’t hear about the consequences if she doesn’t.
Bewildered, little Jia now stands in the road by her parents’ flipped car. Their bodies are gone. Yeon surveys the scene from afar and vanishes.
21 years later. Yeon wakes up in his fancy abode and forgoes a healthy breakfast for a tub of ice cream. Armed with his red umbrella, he crashes a gumiho’s wedding. She begs for her life, insisting she no longer hurts people.
Yeon laughs. With how many livers she’s eaten, “How can you dream of a happy ending?” Yikes. She appeals to the fact that he’s fallen in love with a human before too, but that backfires since hates being reminded of his “scandal.”
Her hand transforms into a claw, and she attacks. He somehow materializes a sword and holds it to her throat. She begs to see her husband-to-be once more. They’re interrupted by an attendant – it’s time for the bride’s entrance. Yeon gives her until the end of her ceremony to live.
We cut to a grown NAM JIA (Jo Boa), now a TV producer. In a van, she edits an author’s script about myths and the supernatural. Jia’s mind flashes to the accident as she tells her colleague PYO JAE-HWAN ( Kim Kang-min) she’s witnessed the supernatural, and it doesn’t scare her.
After they arrive at the wedding hall, Jia gets a text that their informant backed out. Yeon walks by unnoticed and opens the waiting room door only to be attacked by the bride again. But a few swift, brutal snaps of his umbrella take care of that.
There’s a series of pops and cracks as she Exorcist-spins her head back around to the front, grossing Yeon out. She resorts to questioning his authority. What right does a disgraced, former guardian mountain spirit have to punish her?
She flees into the wedding hall. Yeon locks them in, and a very unfair fight between the supernatural Yeon and a group of human men ends how you’d expect. When Yeon strikes her husband, the gumiho bride flies into a rage.
Yeon gets the better of her quickly, and she tells her husband not to watch as Yeon runs her through with his blade. He calls her foolish for not running when he gave her the chance earlier. He agrees to erase her husband’s memories of her, and she dissolves into ash.
In the lobby, Jia catches sight of Yeon and stands transfixed. She tries to remember where she’s seen him. Her colleague pulls her out of her reverie and suggests they check out the wedding debacle next door.
The witnesses claim Yeon was the bride’s true love, so she left her husband-to-be at the altar. Yet the bride’s wedding dress lay on the ground stained with blood.
Jia is further confused to hear from GU SHIN-JOO (Hwang Hee) that the hair she found on the dress is from a red fox, a species that was previously endangered. Those left were implanted with GPS trackers, and none are in Seoul. When she leaves, Shin-joo makes a frantic call.
Elsewhere, Yeon people watches in the park and broods over the bride’s talk of his past love. He stares at two black bands on his fingers. When a little girl loses her balloon, Yeon summons it into his hand and returns it to her.
His skills amaze a little boy who asks if he’s an alien and immediately accepts Yeon’s claim of being a gumiho. He peppers Yeon with questions, learning that Yeon is over 1,000 years old and is waiting for his first love. A fox mates for life.
The little boy adorably encourages him and offers to be his friend after hearing Yeon’s love won’t come back. But Yeon doesn’t want human friends since their lifespans are so short. He advises the boy not to struggle needlessly with things that are unbearable.
Yeon reports to the Afterlife Immigration Office. He wasn’t happy about having to catch the gumiho bride, but his his boss TALUIPA (Kim Jung-nan), god of the border of life and death, tells him to just follow orders.
He loses his temper, ready to be done with his mandatory service that’s already lasted 600 years. She whips out his contract, reminding him he chose this in exchange for that girl’s reincarnation. She cheekily offers to discharge him and burn his contract, but he hastily attempts to blow out her conjured flame.
HYUN EUI-ONG (Ahn Kil-kang), gatekeeper and weigher of a soul’s sins, interrupts their squabbling. Yeon leaves his high-five hanging, but that doesn’t dampen Hyun Eui-ong’s enthusiasm as he yells, “Honey!” and rushes to Taluipa. He’s a softy and tries to get her to understand Yeon’s love-induced pain.
While Jia investigates red foxes at her office, Jae-hwan rushes in with CCTV footage of Yeon. Everyone puzzles over the fact that there’s no footage of the bride exiting the wedding hall. Yeon left alone. Jia recognizes the umbrella obscuring Yeon’s face as the one her mysterious stranger in the lobby carried.
Yeon meets with Shin-joo who is panicking about Jia finding the fox hair, but Yeon seems unfazed by his companion’s excitable nature – Shin-joo has been working with them for years. Shin-joo panics harder when they see a TV ad calling for information about Yeon from Jia’s program. Yeon refuses to abandon his signature umbrella and dares “that human” to come after him.
Elsewhere, Jia meets a smiley, bumbling LEE RANG (Kim Bum) for an interview. He’s a fan of her show “Search for Urban Myths” and claims to have seen Yeon, describing him as a monster who doesn’t age or die.
Jia is skeptical, but he insists he’s telling the truth. After noting his expensive shoes and lack of accent belie his poor student story, Jia bids him adieu. “Fox Ridge,” he says. That stops her cold. It’s where he saw Yeon.
In the parking garage, he magically goes from bespectacled farm boy to suave rich boy and hops in GI YOO-RI (Kim Yong-ji)’s car. Rang smiles as he notes that Jia didn’t miss a thing. He likes her. Yoo-ri asks if they should eat her then, but he says not yet.
Yeon’s immense enjoyment of his mint chocolate ice cream is interrupted by a call from Rang. They seem to skirt the border of enemies as Rang happily taunts him about his dead girlfriend. If Yeon meets him, he’ll share an interesting rumor. Yeon hangs up but looks conflicted.
Following Rang’s instructions, Jia goes to a bus stop alone that night. When the bus arrives, a very drunk man staggers forward and falls. Jia goes to help him, and he holds her back, refusing to let her board the bus. As it pulls away, Jia spots Yeon inside. Shortly after, the lights on the bus wink out.
Jia ends up piggybacking the elderly man with one eye to his house. She observes he’s strangely heavy and doesn’t appear to breathe. On the bus, everyone but one teenage girl seems to be asleep. Yeon stands and rushes toward her.
The old man tells Jia that he’s already paid her back for this favor, and we see the bus swerve and crash. Jia hails a cab, but when she turns around, the old man is gone. We zoom in on a totem pole with a crack over one eye.
Jia stares in horror and disbelief at the familiar scene before her on Fox Ridge. She rushes into the bus where all the passengers appear to be dead. Jia approaches the teenage girl who abruptly opens her eyes. Yeon walks down the street, his hand dripping blood.
The cops examine the scene, finding five dead and one survivor. Jia observes to DETECTIVE BAEK (Jang Won-hyung) that there were seven people on the bus. There’s no trace of Yeon.
Shin-joo reads the headlines and encourages Yeon to leave it alone, but Yeon’s determined to handle it. At the hospital, Jia sits with the teenage girl Soo-young. Knowing what it’s like to be the sole survivor, she’s sympathetic and supportive.
Before she leaves, Jia asks if she saw Yeon and shows the picture of him under the umbrella. The girl starts hyperventilating and fears he’s coming to kill her. Sure enough, Jia spots Yeon in the lobby minutes later.
Jia recognizes his voice and watches him intently as he asks why a PD is looking for him. Jia shows him the photo she has of him under the umbrella and notes she’s seen him three times: at the wedding, on the bus, and here looking for the victim.
“Did you kill them? Or did you come to kill?” He smirks and says he’s just found someone he wants to kill. Judging from the look in Jia’s eyes, she concurs.
She insincerely apologizes for accusing him without evidence, but he’s had enough. As he walks away, Jia tosses her bag to him and tells him to take her business card from inside. He tosses it right back, hoping to never see her again. Jia calls Jae-hwan to say she’s got Yeon’s fingerprint.
In the car, Shin-joo calls it fate that Yeon ran into the little girl he saved 20 years ago. Yeon is grumpy about it, and Shin-joo remarks that they do look a lot alike. Yeon tells him to quit consulting for the show, but Shin-joo refuses. Besides, Yeon loves “Search for Urban Myths” and even left a comment saying the grim reaper’s outfit was wrong. HA.
That night, Soo-young hears the clacking of heels in the corridor. Her door slides open, and we see a pair of high-heeled boots. Soo-young screams.
Seeing the frightened Soo-young, Jia berates Detective Baek for leaving her alone. They found no traces of the intruder, but Soo-young is so frightened that Jia takes her home for the night. Soo-young worries she’s imposing and asks about Jia’s family. She smiles to hear Jia lives alone.
At the hospital, Yeon learns Soo-young was discharged and is given a note from Jia. Whatever she said makes him frustratedly hurry out.
Jia is awakened by Soo-young creepily standing over her. She claims to remember what happened that night. In a flashback, Soo-young smiles menacingly after the lights go out, her one eye golden. She snaps two passengers’ necks.
She acts distressed as she tells Jia that everyone died, and Yeon tried to kill her. Jia comforts her, making her secretly smile. A glass suddenly slides off the table and breaks. As Jia picks up the pieces, she asks where Soo-young was going that night. Ah, she knows, doesn’t she?
Jia stands and holds a piece of glass against Soo-young’s neck. Soo-young drops the act and asks when she figured it out. Jia notes that Soo-young doesn’t have the defensive wounds an accident victim would have. Who is she?
Soo-young transforms into Rang. Jia backs away, terrified, as he says he ate the real Soo-young. She stabs him in the shoulder with the piece of glass. He yanks it out and asks if she thought that would hurt him. Jia’s face hardens, and she admits she’s just using herself as bait.
Cue something being thrown through her window, knocking Rang to the ground. Yeon storms in holding her note that says she took the thing he wanted home with her. He doesn’t see Rang who flies at him.
The two fight viciously, and Jia stares in shock when Yeon refers to Rang as his little brother. Rang says they have a dysfunctional family. No kidding.
Their fight moves through the house, smashing poor Jia’s windows and furniture. (I hope they reimburse her.) Jia watches them fight and looks at the camera she stashed on a shelf.
During a break, Yeon asks how many people Rang killed. Rang yells that he doesn’t want to live a filthy life like Yeon. When Yeon responds his behavior is filthier, Rang attacks. They take the fight outside by busting through a window.
Rang calls time and suggests a bet. “If you can’t find it by the end of next month, this woman will die.” Jia comes running out, and Rang leaves with a promise to see her again. Jia demands to know who Yeon is, but he turns his golden eyes on her and orders her to forget him.
Later, Detective Baek calls Jia to say they’ve analyzed Yeon’s fingerprint. That night, Yeon arrives home to find the video Jia captured playing on a laptop in his living room. Jia stands on the balcony.
She knows his name and age, although she assumes it’s a fake identity. His memory trick clearly didn’t work. Jia holds the USB containing the original video and tells him to come get it. When he walks closer, she hops onto the ledge … and purposefully leans herself right off. WHAT.
Yeon sighs and leaps after her, catching her midair and landing lightly on his feet. Jia just got her confirmation that he’s not human. He angrily asks if this was a test.
Jia thinks back to when she was little and he told her to forget; otherwise, he’d kill her. “I was waiting for you.” And with that, she jabs a needle in his neck.
No meet cutes here. He threatened to kill her on their first meeting, and she stabs him with a needle once they reunite. It’s an interesting dynamic to start with, and I’m looking forward to seeing how things progress. They’re not exactly enemies at this point, but they have every reason to distrust each other. Jia has been roped into a world she’s not supposed to be in, and she’s not willing to play by their rules.
I really like Jia so far, and I’m so happy to see Jo Boa back to form after her last project which did not do her any favors. From the moment little Jia picked up those scissors, I knew she was going to be formidable. She’s tough as nails, resourceful, and quick-witted. Jia is decidedly not a damsel in distress, but she also isn’t some action hero type. She just gets things done. That being said, she does tend to go a teeeensy bit overboard when she gets determined. Girl threw herself off a high-rise balcony to prove a point and then injected a supernatural creature with some drug that may very well have no effect. A little more self-preservation is in order, but I do appreciate her determination and grit.
She said she’s been waiting for Yeon, but why, exactly? Does she just want answers, or is she looking for revenge on whoever killed her parents? Whatever her reasons, Yeon is going to have a hard time shaking her off now, especially since his powers don’t seem to work on her. Either there’s something special about her in general, or she’s linked to him specifically. The magic vapor told Yeon she wasn’t his reincarnated love, but I doubt it’s so simple. We’ve already had a couple mentions of fate, and this is a drama, after all. Then there’s the fact that Rang targeted her and has been trying to push her toward Yeon. I’m guessing this all has something to do with that rumor he mentioned.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a drama featuring Kim Bum, so I was looking forward to him here. I’m not disappointed. He’s great as the charming, dangerous gumiho with the devilish smile. I think he’s going to be a fun antagonist. He’s a wild card who plays everything like a game, but I have no idea what his goal is besides antagonizing his brother. They obviously have a fraught relationship with a lot going on under the surface. On Rang’s side, there seems to be genuine anger beneath his devil-may-care façade. I’m already curious to know their history. I wonder what the rest of their family is like…
I don’t have strong feelings about Yeon yet. He’s the quintessential broody, jaded hero with a dash of arrogance and flashes of a warm heart underneath his cold exterior. Despite being a familiar character type, Lee Dong-wook is giving him some flair. I’m hoping he’ll set himself apart more as a character once we get to know him better. So far, all we know is that he used to be a guardian mountain spirit and signed over centuries of his life as he waits for his reincarnated girlfriend. I guess I’d be pretty broody and jaded too.
One thing I really liked about this episode was its tone. I expected a dark vibe, but I didn’t expect the dash of horror thrown in. That opening sequence took me by surprise with how creepy it went. That’s a plus for me since I like horror, especially during this time of year, and I think it gives it a more atmospheric tone. The stakes automatically feel higher because these aren’t some cute, quirky fox creatures. These are gumihos that go around terrorizing and eating people. Of course, those are the ones that aren’t obeying the laws and are wanted criminals. Yeon seems to get along just fine without eating people, and I’m guessing there are others who do too. In general, I like the setup so far, and I’m looking forward to learning more about this supernatural world and the characters who inhabit it.
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