Review – Goblin – The Lonely & Great God
Quite possibly one of the most mysteriously addicting shows I have ever watched. Despite it’s problems, and we’ll get into that later, it absolutely stunned with witty banter, romance, bromance, mystery, and the supernatural. And the music! What originally seemed like a mish-mash of supernatural mythology worked perfectly in this Korean drama. Gods, goblins, grim reapers, cursed children, and ghosts all wandered the streets together.
If you haven’t seen this show – open another tab and watch it immediately. Without delay. Count up how many candles were lit during the making of this drama…(seriously, they went overboard with the open flames in this show) and that’s how many feels you’ll get.
Overall Rating – 10/10. Everyone Is Okay With Gong Yoo Living Forever.
If you have watched it (probably more than once already, am I right?) then you’re probably itching to talk about it.
So let’s discuss…
The Romance… aka The Goblin & The Bride.
Gong Yoo is an immortal Goblin who can only be killed by his true love, the Goblin Bride. And his true love is a sarcastic, wise-cracking, quick witted youngster who is none too inclined to kill off her supernatural sweetie.
Let’s address the elephant in the room first. The age difference between our main lovers (it’s twelve years, if you’re curious… or, inside the mythology of the show, about a century). This bothered a lot of people and I’ll be honest, it usually bothers me too. But it didn’t. Even with the school girl uniform, it didn’t.
Maybe it’s because of the often childish behavior of the male lead. Maybe it’s because I was already sold on the story. Maybe it’s because our leading lady wasn’t a child… she was 19. Whatever the reason, the age difference didn’t affect me. I actually found it sweet. The Goblin was very gentle with his Bride, never rushing her, never acting overtly sexual towards her, never having the relationship move into areas she wasn’t ready for. I actually think he acted more “virginal” than she did (my theory is he was *celibate because he had no choice).
*NOTE: Though it never specifically says the Goblin can’t be touched by humans, it is heavily implied. Especially considering his reaction to her grabbing hold of him in the library for the first time. Later, when he thinks about it in his bedroom he wonders how she was able to touch him. This gives more substance to my century old celibate theory.
For me, Gong Yoo will always be closely tied to his character in Coffee Prince. That is still my favorite K-Drama and it’s impossible for me to mentally remove the link between the actor and the role. He was playful, complex, and sexy in that show and he’s the same in this show. Was the romance in this show as good as in Coffee Prince? Not even close. BUT it was still very good and had it’s own unique vibe.
It was blustering. The Bride using her humor to hide her insecurity. The Goblin being rude and hauty to hide his. She was a thousand miles and hour and he hadn’t been off cruise control in years. It was cute.
Kim Go-Eun is really amazing as the orphaned Goblin Bride. I absolutely loved her teenage dramatics, the lying, the sob stories used to manipulate, the overt nature of her. Plus her smile! She felt very modern and very full of life for someone who had escaped death so often.
Gong Yoo, of course, owned the role of the Goblin. Well, almost. I didn’t really buy him as a general and war hero. You could have covered him in six gallons of blood splatter and I still wouldn’t have bought it.
But that aside, he was fantastic. This character was extremely enjoyable because the Goblin was both world-weary and yet now experiencing something completely new… love. Not to mention a friendship with another immortal who understands him, ala the Grim Reaper. But mostly love. All those years of loneliness and solitude, of passing the time, of distraction and destruction were ever present, but now being coated in a reinvigorated lust for life.
I especially loved that they strongly suggested the Goblin was bipolar. How awesome was that? A pill popping god? I loved it!
As someone who struggles with mental health, I couldn’t help but feel joyous that it was brought to the front of this show – and not stigmatized. It was just a part of him, another thing that made him unique. And lovable.
The Grim Reaper.
Speaking of lovable, let’s talk about the Grim Reaper. Could this guy be any more adorable? (answer: no) Lee Dong-Wook was perfect casting as the surprisingly innocent agent of death.
I absolutely loved the tedious paperwork, company dinners, ReaperMail and black hats. The drudgery of it. I also loved how isolated they all were, wanting things but not needing things. Sleep, food, shelter. They’re aware of the world but not really apart of it. Each of the various reapers we got a glimpse of was unique and you got a real sense of their personalities, even if they were just nameless agents of death.
Side Plots and Tangents.
Part of what makes this show so special are the glimpses into individual lives of the characters. This show did not skimp on the character development…
We had the Goblin Bride and her dealings with various ghosts.
We had the Goblin and his long line of protectors and the various people whom he favored with good deeds and miracles.
We had the Grim Reaper and his somber but sensitive approach to taking the recently departed to their next destination. Those awesome death cards! That black hat!
It really added a layer of depth to each character, not to mention made the show more exciting to have such variation in our viewing experiences.
The Goblin and the Grim Reaper were besties. I wouldn’t have been opposed to it skirting the line a bit more, but that’s just cause I’m wired that way. As it was, it was just an awesome male friendship. One of the better ones in K-Drama world.
The unlikely bonding of these two dudes was a forest fire to my heart. Their bickering. Their brotherly teasing. Their other-worldliness. I loved the scene where they are sharing a room and musing about god…. and how they’d never seen him and how lonely that was. I also loved the facial expressions we got from the Reaper when he was caught in the middle of one of the Goblin/Bride arguments.
That face! So subtle, so funny!
There were so many wonderful scenes between these two dudes – from grocery shopping together to food fights at dinner. They were able to break out of their shells together. Use their powers for fun instead of for purpose. It ruled. It also didn’t hurt that they were both so handsome.
But let’s not forget the third bro.
Give the man a credit card, he earned it! His outfits alone made my day.
And really, the bromance should extend to our young “protector.” Yook Sung-Jae played Yoo Duk-Hwa, the heir to his families fortune and also their long legacy of supporting and serving the Goblin. Though he didn’t live at the Goblin manor, he was a frequent guest and companion. The banter between these three guys is yet another example of what made this show stand apart. It felt so… homey. Not to mention every young girl’s dream – to live with three attractive boys.
Let’s talk about all the cool powers of our characters. The Grim Reaper can stop time, freeze things, hypnotize people, see someone’s past when he touches you, teleport and move things with mind. I mean… wow. That’s a lot of cool powers, damn it. The Goblin can also teleport, be summoned by his Bride via the extinguishing of flame (coolness), stop time, move things with his mind, see people’s futures, conjure items and bring people back from the dead. He also has this amazing blade he can summon… which I never got tired of seeing.
I loved that this show had supernatural people using their powers in small ways, instead of large sweeping ways. There were no Marvel-Comics style apocalypses or massive fights or huge conspiracies. Just regular people doing regular things and supernatural people interfering, whether to help, to hinder, or to just do their jobs. It made it seem more real. And more enjoyable.
I know a lot of people thought the pacing of this show was too slow. Too meandering. It can’t make up it’s mind. It forgot who was driving. It couldn’t stick to a genre. It forgot certain plot points along the way. It was sort of a mess. And it was! It was, it was. But I actually liked that for once. I enjoyed wandering around in this world, even when not much was happening. I didn’t mind the extended montages. I didn’t care if it went back and forth and back and forth with the Goblin and the Bride. I didn’t care if we got sidetracked with domestic scenes and snippets of small stories of various people, living and dead, affected by the cast. I loved the small moments of the character’s watching dramas or music videos. It brought these otherworldly creatures down to earth, to a level we could relate to.
True, the show had problems. But I rather enjoyed its problems. It was like that eccentric uncle who tells you cool stories when he’s drunk… sure he’s all over the board and kind of rambles on or forgets what he’s talking about, but he’s so mesmerizing!
And let’s give this show credit for staying interesting the entire time. All sixteen episodes were fun to watch and full of heartbreak, comedy, romance, intrigue, slice of life, the supernatural, and more. It avoided the dreaded “second half slide” most shows suffer and stayed amazingly strong throughout.
The Second Romance.
So good they did it twice. The reincarnation story in this show was unexpected. I loved the concept of it, the lost memories, the soul embedded impulses towards another person, and the execution.
I loved how it unexpectedly tied together all the characters. If you really examine all the characters, you’ll see they’re all a tight knot of backstories. The Goblin saved the Brides pregnant mother, thus creating his own love interest. The Reaper is the reincarnation of the Goblin sister’s husband and boss, the Bride’s boss is the reincarnation of the Goblin’s sister. And Yoo Duk-Hwa’s family has been serving the Goblin for centuries. Boom. Add in all the ghosts around them and how their stories link back to the main characters and you’ll start to be really impressed with the writing of this show. No stone left unturned, so to speak. So let’s get back to the Grim Reaper and the Chicken Restaurant Owner… aka, the reincarnation of the King and Queen of Goryeo.
In round one, they were young and innocent: The King, manipulated basically since birth to believe everyone was against him and no one really loved him… and the Queen, the sweet young thing that loved him. Their marriage short lived, as the Queen was murdered with her “traitor” brother and the King committed suicide not long after. Tears.
Cut to modern times and much more interesting versions of our young lovers. They’re no longer young, for one thing. The King, punished for his sins, has been reincarnated and doomed to be a Grim Reaper with no memory of his past and no ties to the present world. He walks the country dutifully gathering souls without much thought for himself or his circumstances for several hundred years. Until he meets…
Our reincarnated Queen, now a lovely oddball in her mid-thirties who owns a restaurant and is ever pining for a handsome man to walk into her life while filling her mouth with pickled radish. Yoo In-Na is perfectly cast here. She’s got the innocence of a child mixed with the pervish nature of a mature adult. Her immediate attraction and subsequent annoyance with the Grim Reaper is so entertaining to watch! This is one of the most unusual courtships in K-Drama history, and it’s soooo funny and cute.
She doesn’t understand his strange behavior. He doesn’t understand what is expected of him, or even how to begin to act like a normal human being. She’s enchanted, he’s smitten, it’s soooo cute. I loved every second these two shared on screen.
I even loved the tragedy of their relationship. The suffering of it. And the end… well… the end was perfect.
This drama had a killer soundtrack. So many amazing songs! And though there were theme songs, they weren’t as repetitive as many dramas. I imagine the OST will be making boatloads of money. The overall tone of this show was largely held in place by the music, which was consistently beautiful. ooooh, that intro!
They spent a lot of money on this show. And it payed off. I mean, it’s not Game of Thrones production value, but it’s pretty darned amazing nonetheless.
Multiple locations for shooting, gorgeous tonality to the light, endless city scenes, extremely cool interiors, and interesting fantasy elements. Not to mention the historical parts of the show, which looked fantastic. Though I didn’t care for Gong Yoo as a general, I admit his black armor was to die for. And that sword! That’s a mighty big piece of steel to have lodged in your chest for all eternity, my friend, but it looks sooo cool. They special effects weren’t overly showy, either, which made them more believable. I especially liked the wisps of smoke when the characters teleported in and out of scenes. Nicely done.
The Product Placement.
Geesh! How much did Subway fork out, eh?
There was a lot of product placement in this show. It felt like significantly more than most shows. I guess someone had to foot the bill for all those filming locations… and I’m guessing Gong Yoo must demand a lot of money at this point. I hope they took the crew out to dinner a lot cause they surely did make a lot of extra cash showing us fancy towels and bottled water. All those internal ads can buy a lot of soju.
Oh, so many tears. I mean… the last few episodes just gutted me, brought me back to life, hacked me to pieces, stitched me up like a Frankenstein monster and revived me, and then talked me into mutual harikari. It was so painful! I swear… I cried and cried and cried and cried. Episode after episode. A moment of gut wrenching agony would be followed by true happiness only to throw us into the depths of despair again. Over and over. My advice is don’t bother putting on any makeup when you get towards the end of this drama. If you need to look good tomorrow, save the last few episodes for later because you are guaranteed to wake up with bags under your eyes. So many salty tears. So many emotions. And yet it had one of the best endings of any show ever.
But really… it’s all about the WHOLE PACKAGE. It wasn’t just the main couple. It wasn’t just the bromance. It wasn’t just the supernatural storylines. It wasn’t the romance. It wasn’t just the great music or the high production value or the terrific cast. It was EVERYTHING. The combination of everything made this show one of the best k-dramas I have ever seen.
I already miss it and it just finished airing.
One of my favorite scenes was between the Yook Sung-Jae’s character and the fastidious manager – near the end of the series. The manager tells Yook Sung-Jae that the sign of adulthood was interest in the world and other people – shifting the focus away from yourself onto others. I found the beautiful and profound.
I hated that the show tried to make us believe that the Goblin designed the Destiny necklace. Come on. It was a cute little necklace but had a generic “straight from the jewelry rack at JC Penney’s” style. It was enough that he had picked it out from the street vendor, they didn’t have to push this custom design nonsense on us.
I went to bed wondering what would happen to the Goblin after his Bride had used up all her lives – and woke up this morning remembering that “Oh yeah, he can just kill himself now.” I suppose we shouldn’t rule out another cause of death, though I think at this point the god kinda owe him some mercy.
What’s it like to grow up remembering an entire past life? Can you even experience childhood? I was curious how that worked for the Bride.
Who’s up for a rewatch?
8 thoughts on “Review – Goblin / Guardian – The Lonely & Great God”
I came across this page and this article as I was searching through the internet for more things Goblin. It’s probably one of the better written review blogs I’ve read so far.
Your question at the end, about what happens when Ji Eun Tak reaches the end of her last three lives is something I wondered about myself, of course. A lot of people think that the Goblin will have to continue living alone, and thus saw the story as having a sad ending. I’d like to believe that the Goblin and his Bride will be able to depart the world together at the end of it all. God said that Fate is a question he asks, and the Goblin answered by proving that he was willing to be more than he was in life, and care for others more than for his own goals. That final question that God asked Ji Eun Tak – whether she was willing to sacrifice a life and love she never should have had, yet wanted more than anything – was beautifully answered. (I love that she didn’t jump into that as a selfless martyr. I love that she was afraid and asking herself wtf she was doing, until the last moment.). Given how they both answered God’s question, I would like to think that God would find peace with each other at the end.
*Sigh* Now back to my 3rd or 4th rewatch. The withdrawal from this show sucks 😦 But I do have a decent excuse. I’m not Korean and I don’t know the language! I have to watch sub-titles. I have to watch it multiple times to catch all the nuances, and scour blogs like this for things they don’t put in subtitles! That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Speaking of! I’ll leave two little post scripts I found, for people like me who might not have caught this:
1) Ep 5 – The Bride suggests ‘Park Bo Gum’ as a name, leading to one of my favorite lines, wherein the Goblin asks her if she’s a psychopath! Apparently, ‘Gum’ or ‘Geom’ (according to Google Translate) means ‘Sword’ – so that is how she was taunting him.
2) In a couple points, but specifically remembered from Ep 5 in the same scene, when someone mentioned the “5 million won” that the Bride keeps asking for, the Goblin replies defensively and asks why there’s any kind of “confession” needed. I learned that the joke behind this was that the words for “500” and “confess” sound very similar when spoken and the paranoid Goblin was just being jumpy.
***SPOILER*** I don’t suppose anyone who does read Korean can answer a question for me, by translating what Sunny’s death card says? I’m curious what she died of.
On a final note, I’ll comment on what you said about finding it difficult to see the actor as a warrior. I found that interesting, because I thought that he looked, felt and acted like an amazing warrior and General – it was the softer, goofy, jealous side of him that I had a hard time believing (though I feel he played both sides well and I loved both sides of him). I agree with what you said, it had as much to do with you having seen him in Coffee Prince first. Whereas I had never seen him in anything else prior to seeing him as the Goblin.
I think we likely both agree that we can’t wait to see what he does next.
Yup, I like to think they’ll both go out together. And Ooooo, nice side notes on Ep 5 – thanks! And I highly, highly recommend you watch Coffee Prince next. It’s amazing.
Does it end well? There’s a limit to how many KDrama’s I can watch with hard endings. It’s definitely on my list of ones to watch, thank you!
It ends spectacular for EVERYONE. Total feel good drama with some of the most memorable characters of all time.
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