Review – Bulgasal: Immortal Souls

I mean… can you resist this goth aesthetic???

There’s gonna be a lot of gifs and images in this review… so if you’re internet is slow, give it a minute to load up cause… lights camera action.

Ah, Bulgasal! I’ve been sitting on this review a while because this is a tricky show to discuss. Like many other poor fools out there, I watched this drama as it was airing. And in a strange way, that contributed to my love/hate relationship with this fantasy. Cause I should have hated it. I shouldn’t really recommend it to anyone in good faith. But I had such a blast watching this show!

I was soaked in the fandom, giddy with anticipation as the mystery unfolded, and horny over too many characters not to love it. I was amused as often as I was annoyed with the outcome week to week as the story unfolded two episodes at a time. It doesn’t deserve a high rating. It’s slow paced, the plot line is a huge mess, and the characters are weird. But I’m giving it a high rating cause I loved this dumb, beautiful disaster of a show with my whole heart.

Everything you need to know about Bulgasal is revealed in the first ten minutes of the show with the narration introducing the last monster, the flashes of mysterious scenes on a bridge, and the cool opening title sequence. Not once did I hit the skip button, either. I love that title sequence.

Bulgasal has an unknown story line (we’re not following any real historical royal families or diving into era specific conflicts or politics), so there’s no easy guessing of the plot’s major conflict. It’s got reincarnation angles, so there are multiple timelines with multiple versions of characters popping up. It’s got a grumpy protagonist who spends the large majority of the show sulking around a dirty house while a bunch of sunshine characters come in upset his world. It’s got a very enjoyable and theatrical antagonist who has more chemistry with the leading man than the leading lady does. And it’s got all kinds of wacky supernatural stuff at play without clear rules so it’s always a mystery how it’s going to effect the storyline and all the characters.

I mean, you won’t really know what’s happening or why in this show for a long time and even when you find out it’s not particularly inspired, but it’s so much fun guessing. If you have any imagination whatsoever you will invent a plotline three times better than the one offered and bask in the glory of your mental fanfiction as you stare at the beautiful people on your screen.

Bulgasal is a whole vibe. You’re either on board or not. Do you want on this ship?

Wait, I’m sorry. What was that? I don’t think I heard you.

I said DO YOU WANT ON THIS SHIP?

Meow Meow.

ALL ON BOARD.

My personal rating 10/10. My subjective rating? Uhm… 7/10? But why be subjective with Bulgasal? That’s not what this drama is bringing to the table. Let’s adjust to uh… Overall rating: 9/10. A beautiful disaster that captivated the fandom.

Now let’s talk about what made Bulgasal… Bulgasal. Or rather, let’s just follow tangents along and ramble as I reminisce on the fandom and the characters in this show.

SPOILERS BELOW.

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BL Dramas – Which Country Does BL Best?

BL, or Boys Love, is nothing new to the scene. It’s been around for quite a while, largely in print or anime format. It’s also been extremely diverse from the get-go with many different genres and settings offering us male/male relationships from super sweet romance romances to intensely sexual content. I still remember stumbling across the anime Ai no Kusabi (1992) – which was burned onto a CDR and stuffed in as some free bonus content from my order of Wolf’s Rain (2003) I’d received off eBay.

Ya’ll. I was not prepared for Ai no Kusabi.

I’d stumbled across the Finder manga in 2002 and thought I’d found the peak pervy storyline of the sexy mafia boss and his feisty reporter twink… but no. Ai no Kusabi created an entire world around sex pets, like the Claiming of Sleeping Beauty trilogy and Exit to Eden books by Anne Rice, this was a society built upon BDSM and sexual servitude.

So, like many others, I discovered BL through Japanese manga and anime. Some of them creeped me out with their childlike boy characters (No Money, Boku no Pico), while others made the age-gap work for them (Junjou Romantica). And of course, there were plenty of manga and anime series with heavily implied gay storylines and artwork, giving us “manservice” if you will, where they would show you they were gay but wouldn’t tell you they were gay. One of my all time favorite series X/1999 is one such storyline. I mean… that entire story is just queer escapism. The manga, the anime, even the weird movie… it’s good stuff. Super gay. And yet… not.

The 21st Century has already seen many cultural shifts and changes, one of the most positive of those has been the push for global acceptance of LGBTQ+ people. We have seen gay marriage, gay rights, and gay issues become major movements around the world. My ardent wish is that by the mid-century, LGBTQ+ people will have equal rights and protections under the law everywhere.

In the past few years I have watched an explosion of BL live action dramas coming out of Asia, the popularity of this genre increasing almost exponentially whereas now it seems a global phenomenon. This is largely due to the fact that gay content has always been enjoyed outside the gay community. Love is universal, after all, and whether it’s two boys, two girls, a boy and a girl, or a pairing of other gender or sexual identities, it all reads the same – people falling in love.

Since 2020, BL is increasingly common in the live action drama market. So… which country does it best?

I’m not sure there is a real answer to that, as everything boils down to preference. Whether you prefer Thai, Taiwanese, Korean, Filipino, Japanese, and Chinese dramas will, undoubtedly, heavily influence your rankings. I certainly have my preferences, as I am sure you have yours (if you have watched more than one BL, that is). My preferences tend to be related to the storylines and dynamics more than the country, though. So in the genre of BL, I tend to stray from my preference for Korean Dramas, though there are a few from Korea that I enjoyed.

Anyways, without further adieu – here are my favorite BL drama series that I’ve seen from various countries….

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THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES by Mindy McGinnis

Just finished this little gem of a YA book and had to post. I read a lot of YA… a lot of it. So it’s always nice when a book surprises me. And this book did.

It’s the story about a girl named Alex whose older sister was murdered in a small town. Alex is out for blood, peeps. Alternating between three characters – Jack, the popular boy who takes an interest in our psychotic protagonist – Peekay, the preacher’s daughter who is, honestly, just a nice representation of your basic teenage girl – and Alex, our dark hero. I actually thought the author did a good job of making the teens authentic. Other interesting characters pepper the story, friends, ex boyfriends and girlfriends, teachers, parents, police officers, townie boys. It’s a quick read – gets right to the action – and stays in first person (via three people).

I loved it! I bought it for the library, but I’m keeping this copy… already placed an order for another. It’s not Stephen King or Girl on a Train… it’s more like watching a really fun thriller movie. Bite sized and easy to digest. Highly recommended for a quick, dark read.

RATING: FOUR STARS

Title: The Female of the Species
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Originally published: 2016
Genres: YA, Contemporary Fiction

Review – Backstreet Rookie (and Ji Chang Wook’s Career Choices)

So cute! So breezy! So light weight it floats away as soon as you let go of it.

Here’s my issue with Backstreet Rookie, Melting Me Softly, & Lovestruck in the City. They all featured Ji Chang Wook, so of course I watched them all cause I’m a fan. But they’re all just… good. But not great. Not outstanding. Not the types of shows to get you excited about the story line or the fate of the characters. None of these shows are top tier dramas and Ji Chang Wook is a top tier actor, so it feels like a waste somehow, even when it’s a good show.

Ji Chang Wook is an actor who is skilled in his craft, who can bring complexity and a wide range of emotions to his roles, who can really suck you into the character arcs of a story. And none of these story’s are worth him. These are all shows you hand over to lesser actors. These are shows that only required a handsome male lead who can be charming and a little pathetic when in love. And by taking these roles… Ji Chang Wook has lowered his standards, and ours.

Listen, I’m not saying I didn’t have a good time watching this show. I enjoyed every episode of it.

Backstreet Rookie is a story about a handsome dude running a convenience store and the young super model “average girl” who is obsessed with him. She comes to work at his store and helps the business do better in order to win his heart and of course it works. They both fall in love. There are obstacles along the way. It’s a typical romantic comedy without any over-dramatic high stakes or melodramatic emotional obstacles to overcome. They’re both impossibly attractive and single – so yeah… cue the wedding march, I guess. I honestly don’t remember much more to the plot than that, now that it’s been a while.

I think there was a side story line about her sister wanting to be an idol. And another side story line about a guy obsessed with Reggae music. Maybe? Was he an author or something? I don’t remember. Whatever. The side stories were cute, but they were garnish, not appetizers. They weren’t mean to be filling in any way, just decorate the surroundings of the main story.

Ji Chang Wook was super sweet in this. He’s good at playing these frustrated, adorable men. He’s good with comedic timing and playing off other characters. And he’s always good with his female leads, always.

The female lead, played by Kim You-Jung, was a drop-dead gorgeous young woman who went through a rebellious phase before settling into the routine and responsibilities of a regular job. She was stunning in every scene and her character was quite charming and I liked her the entire show.

There’s nothing to complain about. You’ll like watching it. You probably just won’t remember much of it later.

There are God-Tier work place dramas, like Coffee Prince, Incomplete Life/Misaeng, Live, Move to Heaven, & Pinocchio – you know, the ones that do the heavy lifting and bring more to the table with incredible character development, deeply moving character arcs, unexpected realism, and award winning performances – and then there are all the others, which vary from good to meh to skip it. Backstreet Rookie was good. Check it out. You’ll undoubtedly like it as it was a fun, feel-good rom-com.

I will warn you there is no physical intimacy in this drama. A hug, maybe?

This is not a spoiler, in my opinion, as we all know what we are getting into when we start a romantic comedy. For whatever dumb reason we, as an audience, weren’t allowed to see the couple kiss (other than the pop kiss in the first episode with the weird pseudo-flying move). I thought this was a bullshit choice by the show runners, frankly, and it deeply annoyed me right at the end when I was supposed to be happy about a happy ending. So an otherwise cute and cheerful romantic comedy went out on a sour note. They even had the audacity to have the characters break the fourth wall and look directly into the camera and wink at us, as if we were on this decision and agreed to look away. Listen, that’s not how the endearing break of the fourth wall at the end trope works. Watch The Greatest Love, that’s a far better romantic comedy that did the same trick the correct way. That is what we want to experience when our characters acknowledge the viewing audience.

Sigh.

Ji Chang Wook, are you sure you don’t want to do action dramas again? It doesn’t have to be anything as exhausting as The K2, mind you. We know you don’t want to be Super Wook any longer, but surely there is a middle ground. Something between. I know you’ve got it in you to bring the house down, so I’ll keep watching and hoping you pick up a role worthy of your acting chops.

Until then, I guess I’ll have to settle for these good-but-not-great romances you keep churning out.

Backstreet Rookie – Overall Rating: 8/10 – Ridiculously Attractive People Maintain Their Perfect Figures & Complexions While Working Blue Collar Jobs Selling Junk Food.

Review – Color Rush

In the world of this drama, some people are born color blind. It is inexplicable color blindness, having nothing to do with traditional color blindness that involves genetics and cells in the eye’s retina. These unique people are called Monos. They see only in shades of gray.

Monos can be triggered into seeing color, however, if they find a person known as a Probe. Also incredibly rare, these individuals can activate (for lack of a better word) the eyes of Monos. The Monos then experience a color rush – as their eyes change to see color. It’s an overwhelming experience, causing fainting and blackouts. The Monos only experience color in the presence of their paired Probe.

Needless to say, this change in world view is very disorienting and compelling to the Monos. The experience causes obsessive tendencies and can even result in violence. The Monos desire to be always in the presence of the Probe leads many to stalking, kidnapping, and assault. There have even been cases of Monos eating their Probe partners.

So when our cute young Mono unexpectedly discovers his cute young Probe, all he wants to do is run away before the madness takes him. And all his Probe wants to do is flirt and invade his personal space, red flags of warning be damned. He strings along his color-rushed Mono, dolling out small doses of overwhelming color in carefully crafted (and surprisingly thoughtful) experiences. He drapes himself around this fainting, confused cutie and drags him into closets to see rainbows. Even when it’s obvious the experience is having an unsettling effect on the Mono, our slinkly Probe keeps pushing him along. Cause if you can see the world in color… why would you ever go back? Isn’t it worth the gamble of madness? Isn’t it worth turning your life upside down for? Isn’t it… the perfect metaphor for discovering you’re gay?

To say the premise of this series about all the colors of the rainbow is dark is the understatement of the year. It’s deliciously dark. My only complaint about this show is that it didn’t lean in harder to its obvious tonal values. It wanted to be both dark while also cuter than a basket of kittens… which is impossible to pull off under this plot line. I mean, we are told the color rush experience triggers cannibalism in the first episode. You can’t toss out information like that and not have it color, so to speak, the budding relationship.

Honestly, the entire show was just middle of the road for me – the actors, the locations, the cinematography, the side story (which was non existent but could have been awesome), and the romance. Not bad but not good either. Just a solid “eh.” BUT – the plotline elevated this show into a higher status by being so intriguing that every episode felt exciting. The “what if…?” and the “oh god, is he…?” and the “OH MY GOD, IS THAT-?” that you’ll be asking yourself throughout the run time were massively engaging. Ultimately a bit of a let down, too, but enough to propel you forward at an enjoyable speed through this shows short run time.

I’ve got more to say – but it skirts into spoilers, so let’s just drop a quick rating before we get into more. Though it really only deserved a 6 or 7, I’m gonna drop it in the top tier cause I doubt I’ll ever stop thinking about the BL story that tempted me with flesh eating insanity.

Overall Rating: 8/10 – You’ll See Colors and Cannibals Everywhere.

Spoiler time…

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INTO THE DROWNING DEEP by Mira Grant

It’s creepy and it’s gay. Need I really say more?

I finished another chunk of Into the Drowning Deep and while becoming more terrified of dark places in the water, I also discovered one of the scientists was gay. A few scenes later I learned the newscaster was also gay, as the two women began blushing and being awkward around each other. Not implied gay, mind you. This is not me reading into behavior. The author confirmed. These women are gay and crushing on each other. I nearly died.

Listen up, friends. Finding a book with explicitly gay characters that isn’t a romance novel or specifically about the “gay” experience, is rare. This book isn’t marketed for the gay crowd, either, which is awesome. It’s a horror/thriller novel. And two of the main characters are lesbians and (fingers crossed) gonna share some intimacy before being murdered by sea creatures. They might even live! I mean, barriers are being crossed here! The “kill the gays” trope that so prevalent in media might not be a part of this story…

When I woke up this morning, I was still thinking about how happy I was to have this nerd courtship happening amidst the cruise ship Bloodbath. And that’s when I started thinking about how the culture is changing (in this respect, for the better) – that horror novels have lesbian protagonists now. And not a solitary lesbian, either, but two of them. I mean, one would have been amazing… but two is like winning the lottery. I couldn’t think of a single horror novel with lesbians (other than Sawkill Girls, a YA horror novel that just came out last month).

I did a quick search and got several small press book results. But Orbit is a big publisher. Into the Drowning Deep has almost 10 thousand reviews on Goodreads and a 4.03 star rating. This is a huge win – for myself, for the community, for readers everywhere, and for the author.

*I finished this book shortly after writing the first half of this review – in 2018. For some reason, I never got back around to finishing it or posting.

So here I am… four years later… finally posting this review in 2022.

And I’m happy to report that there are even more gay horror and thriller on the shelves now, with more being published each year. So many more that it seems strange now that I was so shocked by the inclusion in this book only four years ago. Sometimes you just have to get the ball rolling and leave the rest to gravity and demand. I’m also happy to report Into the Drown Deep was badass until the very last page – and remains one of my all time favorite horror novels. The visual imagery from several scenes will haunt my mind forever. We’re talking permanently seared. Like how I can’t see a picture of a lighthouse now without thinking of The Southern Reach Trilogy.

This book deserves a sequel. It doesn’t necessarily need one, but damn would I love to read one. The author, Mira Grant (aka Seanan McGuire), has even said that she has a story in mind but her publisher doesn’t seem too keen to get the book out. I find that outrageous. Why would you not want to bank on a sequel to such a popular book?

Recently the author Brandon Sanderson told the world he had a few books that he’d written that were unpublished and started a Kickstarter campaign to see if his fans would help him get the books out. It became the largest Kickstarter campaign in history, raising over 20 million dollars in three days. All I’m saying is that I would fork out some money to the Kickstarter campaign for more mer-murder books.

Do yourself a favor and read this book. It’s got action, adventure, mystery, thrills, chills, and mysterious terrifying creatures. It’s outstanding, unique, and worth every bit of your time.

RATING: FIVE STARS

Title: Into the Drowning Deep

Author: Mira Grant

Originally published: November, 2017

Genres: Horror fiction, Science fiction, Fantasy Fiction, Nautical, Adventure, Thriller

Review – The Red Sleeve

The Red Sleeve had a solid start but unfortunately wandered off the track towards the end and got lost in its own introspection. For nearly everything I liked about this drama, there was a counterweight of something I didn’t like. I will also admit I went into this with expectations of a sweeping historical romance, as I had heard this was a drama that captured people’s hearts with its love story, but, uhm… well, more on that in the review. Cause there was good and bad there, too, unfortunately.

The story itself was interesting and fresh. Though I am familiar with the fate of Crown Prince Sado, I am less familiar with the story of his son, King Jeongjo. I was captivated by the struggles of this young man, his fierce battle to always appear even tempered, intelligent, and upstanding so as never to be compared with his violent, mentally unstable father. You could really sense the pressure this young royal was under, how practiced his manners were, how he forced himself to endure any hardships with near silence and restraint. Lee Joon-Ho was surprisingly good in this role, for the most part, his bright eyes barely hiding the amount of intense suppressed emotion he carried around inside him.

He was especially charming in the beginning of this show. We got to enjoy one of the most tried-and-true tropes, the prince in disguise, as he sat around the library flirting with our lead female, the palace maid who somehow failed to recognize him as royalty.

These were the best episodes, in my opinion, and where both the lead male and lead female truly shined. At this point in the drama, the script felt focused and on track to deliver a great story of a young man navigating the complexities of politics and the dangers of the royal court while finding a loyal and intelligent woman to stand by his side. The King even says this. Verbatim. Like a thesis statement. That the crown prince will need to find solace and comfort in a woman, someone who can be his rock as he navigates the raging sea of politics. And for about half of the drama, that is the storyline we were given. And it was great.

I am most familiar with Lee Joon-Ho from Cheese in the Trap, one of my favorite coming of age stories (despite its flaws). He was excellent in that show as the extroverted, charming, troublemaker second male lead – the counterbalance to the serious, near psychopathic male lead. As a casting director, I can’t say Lee Joon-Ho would have been my first choice for this role, but overall the actor pulled it off. Personally, I think he’s better suited to a historical drama with more comedy, but whatever.

The most emotional aspect he was required to deliver was his conflicted relationship with the King. And he nailed it. You could sense how much he feared and probably despised his grandfather. And with good reason.

For those of you who may not know – Crown Prince Sado was murdered by his father. His death was particularly cruel – as no one wanted to outright murder him – so they shut in a small box until he died from starvation and dehydration. There were a lot of reasons behind Sado’s murder, but the constant criticism and strict disapproval of his father, the King, were certainly culprits. The King, played by Lee Deok-Hwa, was outstanding and captured both the disarming charm of the man as well as his mercurial nature, his fits of rage and suspicion, and his descent into dementia. Would it have been nice to have a little more overview into what exactly transpired between the King and his son Sado? Well… yes. I imagine it’s common knowledge in South Korea and no one needs the refresher course, but for us foreigner viewers I was grateful I had seen several movies and shows about Sado so I knew what was going on.

So that’s the basic plot. The male lead, our crown prince, is doing everything in his power to appease his grandfather the King and stay in his good graces so that he may one day take the throne. Our crown prince has many ideas for improving the country and is eager to step up and rule. Again, this is another area of the show that is both good and bad. Good, cause I understood why he’d been so studious and forced himself to remain stoic and even tempered in order to secure the crown. Bad, cause the show remained quite vague about the specifics of his grand plans of improvement. It was also quite vague about all the political and bloody turmoil that happened after he took the throne. They felt rather skimmed over and when they did take to the front of the stage, the emotional weight was lacking because those characters hadn’t been developed enough for me to care. Where the script chose to focus its attention often meandered and left me, the viewer, quite annoyed by its choices.

Listen, creating a good historical drama is a tough gig. Most sageuk’s end up like this one, with some solid episodes but overall sort of messy. They can’t all be Six Flying Dragons, I guess. For me, this was worth watching but I’ll never rewatch it. And if I am going to be recommending historical dramas, this won’t be near the top of the list.

Overall Rating: 7/10.

To say more is to venture into spoiler territory so come along with me, my friends, further down the page if you want to dig into the female lead and the awkward handling of gender in this tale.

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A Rising Star – Kim Sung-Cheol

I have been watching Our Beloved Summer on Netflix (which is awesome), and even though the leading male and female are perfect and captivating, it’s the second male lead that keeps stealing my attention. Kim Sung-Cheol plays Kim Ji-Ung, the psuedo-adoptive-brother of the male lead. In the show he’s a videographer, best suited to remaining behind the camera, observing everything but rarely taking part in it. He’s stubborn, a bit arrogant, closed-off, and terribly sad. He’s hyper-aware of other people’s feelings yet completely ignorant of how they feel about him. The sensitive person with the hard shell.

He’s so in his head all the time and has no idea he’s telegraphing all this emotions for anyone bothering to pay attention to him.

As these things go, once you notice an actor you start to see them everywhere.

I finally watched Sweet Home, which blew me away, and lo and behold… towards the end… in walked Kim Sung-Cheol. Once again playing this nuanced character that called for your sympathy and your criticism with equal measure. He was a member of a street gang that was going around terrorizing survivors of the apocalypse, but he stuck out from the group. His calm demeanor, his sad yet cold eyes, his world-weary posture. It was not surprising when his character ended up being a major focus of the plot. I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping we’ll see this character return should we get a second season of Sweet Home.

He’s the only one without a giant weapon but he’s the one you’re most wary of.

As if the K-Drama gods were rewarding me, I ran into him again when I was rewatching Arthdal Chronicles (speaking of second seasons – I find myself checking for news of this show’s next installment at least once a month). Though I’ve watched this show about four times now, I had never bothered to look up this actor. He’s one of my favorite character’s in the show, arriving mid-season to co-star with Song Joong-Ki’s Eunseom. This time, I recognized him instantly. Kim Sung-Cheol!

In Arthdal Chronicles, he plays a plucky foil Ipsaeng, a young man who has experienced the hardships and treachery of the world first-hand. He’ll do whatever it takes to survive, whether its lie, cheat, steal, or betray. He’s made his peace with the horrors of the world and is disturbed, greatly, by Eunseom’s alternative perspective and continued belief in humanity’s goodness. Kim Sung-Cheol is so good at playing these conflicted characters, whose eyes show so much emotion even while they are desperately denying they feel any.

He’s also really funny and gets into the physicality of his performances.

But most of all, he’s got that Je ne sais quoi – that undeniable something that draws your eye. I find myself focusing on him even when he’s next to the lead actors, some of the biggest stars in the game. He’s distinctive. His face, his voice, his performances are memorable and unique.

I’ve already added his other dramas to my que – and look forward to seeing him playing other characters. I doubt we’ll have to wait long for him to be cast as the lead in a drama – seems inevitable to me.

Review – Gu Family Book / Kangchi, the Beginning

I watched this series when it first came out, slapped a 7.5 star rating on it, and moved on with my life. Except I didn’t move on. I kept coming back to it. I don’t know how many times I have watched it now, but it’s a lot. A lot, a lot. And I honestly think it gets better with each rewatch. Now I’d say it’s a perfect 10/10. Occasionally our first impressions are just… wrong, okay?

Listen, sometimes you have to change your mind about stuff. It’s good for the soul.

Just like this drama.

Just like these two.

Bae Suzy and Lee Seung-Gi are the two leads, both of which are notoriously charming in all their dramas. Sticking them together was like the first person who thought to create a double layer cake. What if we put a cake… on top of a cake? Afterwards humanity forever wondered why they hadn’t been doing this the whole time. Cause of course, of course, cake on cake is perfect. And Bae Suzy and Lee Seung-Gi are perfect. They’re both charismatic actors who bring innocence, humor, and sincerity to all their roles. And just so you know – they don’t even really show up until episode 3. Like Queen Seon Duk, the first two episodes are all about the laying foundations of the story with the generation before.

The plotline of Gu Family Book is fantastic – both the supernatural plotline and the political one. There’s melodrama, action, revenge, political intrigue, and the supernatural. But at its core, this is a romance. And the romance is achingly romantic, with the plot winding slowly around your heart until by the time things start coming together for these two, you’re already desperately bound to their stories.

The warrior’s daughter and the gumiho’s son

Oh, Gu Family Book! This show has it all. It packed in everything you can think of in its suitcase of plot devices to spellbind an audience. Kang Eun-Kyung wrote a script to rival some of the best historical dramas of all time. The story is huge, complicated, and multi-generational – yet it’s easy to follow and just builds on itself as it goes. There’s tons of humor to balance all the tragedy. The stakes are high but realistic. All the characters are fully developed, and I mean all of them. And they all get complete characters arcs, too, with transformation and growth (even if towards the dark side). I’ll get into all of this in more detail in the spoiler section.

Sometimes your protagonists are only as good as your antagonists, and Lee Seung-Gi plays one of the most monstrous villains of all time. You’ll be rooting for someone to cut this man down from the very first episode. Lee Seung-Gi will make your skin crawl. He plays his role with such menace, such devious certainty, that you never once doubt his character’s soul is blacker than the eyeliner of the lead singer of The Cure.

There are really dark aspects in this drama – human slavery, rape, torture, and murder – though their presentation is PG-13, you might be disturbed by the content. Gu Family Book does not pretend that the past was an entirely pleasant experience – it could be a very, very harsh world. But our characters still find ways to survive, to find beauty, joy, and pleasure, in the world they occupy. Sometimes the darkness can be overcome, and sometimes people have to make room for the light despite of it.

Listen, I’m hard pressed to think of a reason why you won’t like this drama. Other than the “old-school” special effects – which okay, sure, they’re old fashioned… it’s just glowing lights and rather painful looking colored contacts most of the time, but whatever. I’m embarrassed to admit I was overly dismissive of the simplistic special effects first viewing – which now don’t bother me in the least. In fact, I actually prefer a lot of these FX tricks over more tedious CGI. Don’t let your modern eye keep you from enjoying this fairy tale goodness just because its special effects are a bit dated. Maybe at first you’ll be a little unsure of how to feel about some of the show, but it will hypnotize you. Next thing you know you’ll be utterly delighted every time those little blue will-o’-the-wisps show up, every time Kang Chi’s eyes switch colors, every time the operatic theme song by Yisabel busts in… “There’s a stone for the things forgotten…”

Around the early 2010’s is when Korean dramas started picking up a substantial fan base in America. There is something particular about the shows coming out during this time – they were so universally loved by viewers (with a few problematic elements here and there, sure) – they were so addictive, so shamelessly full of love, sorrow, hope, honor, and friendship – that they swept people up into the fan base and retained them as permanent K-drama addicts. Warrior Baek Dong Soo, The Moon Embracing the Sun, Queen In Hyun’s Man, Sungkyunkwan Scandal. If you’ve watched any of these dramas – then you know what I’m talking about. They’re distinctive. Distinctively freakin’ good.

Check it Gu Family Book and fall in love with a smitten tomboy warrior girl and the half-human half-mythical creature whose big heart and dimpled smile will win you over.

Overall Rating: 10/10. Supernatural Tale Involving Magical Blue Lights and Colored Contact Lenses.

Character Discussion & Spoilers Follow…

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2021 Korean Drama Awards

Korean Drama Awards of 2021 – According to me. Featuring only shows that came out in 2021 (with Eng Subtitles)… and to be fair, I certainly didn’t watch every show that came out this past year. But of the ones I did watch… here we go!

GENRE WINNERS

Best Romance: Mr. Queen

Best Comedy: Mr. Queen

Best Historical: Mr. Queen

Best Fantasy/Sci Fi: The Silent Sea

Best Mystery: Mouse

Best LGBTQ+: Devil Judge

Best Action: Taxi Driver

Best Drama: Move to Heaven

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