Review – Hwayugi / A Korean Odyssey
You never know what you’re going to get when you start watching a Korean supernatural drama. Vampires, ghosts, gumihos, goblins, demons, grim reapers, or deities. You also don’t know how involved they’ll be in the human world. So it’s always fun – because each show tends to write their own rules for the game. In Hwayugi, we have demons, ghosts, deities, fortune tellers and more – and they are all heavily involved in the human world.
All the supernatural characters in this show are extremely quirky and enjoyable. The pompous tv host demon who is trying to mend his ways, the shallow celebrity, the bratty exiled monkey deity, the male/female fairy, the demon dog and the zombie girl. We even have a powerful billionaire CEO that spends his evenings playing a servant because these domestic chores bring him joy. Most of these supernatural peeps have a job or something they are doing for a reason, or striving for, or living for. They kinda make sense, motivation wise, though they are also silly and preposterous as well. That preposterous nature is where the fun of this show lies. It’s so over the top and silly that you can’t help but love it. Reminds me of You’re Beautiful. Just… fun.
At it’s heart, Hwayugi is a love story about a woman who can see ghosts and a monkey god who’s been banished from the heavenly realm. She is an outcast amongst her own people just as he is. She’s spent her life alienated and alone. And he’s spent large chunks of his life imprisoned. She’s our human, struggling with her emotions, and he’s our crazy deity, struggling to have emotions. Problem is, she’s been transformed into a mythical monk whose blood grants powers to demons and he’d like very much to eat her and gain that power. These two are bound to each other, with contracts and spells.
It’s a total mess. But a lovable mess. With outstanding costuming.
Overall Rating – 8/10. Modern Deities Wearing Funky Fur Coats.
More discussion, musings, and spoilers follow….
So… there were problems. My biggest qualm with this show was weak character development.
I mean… what do any of these characters WANT or NEED? Who are they? We get a vague idea that our lead female would either A. Not Like To See Ghosts or B. Be Protected From the Ghosts She Sees. What does Monkey Boy want? Nothing. Well, booze. What does Ma Wang want? To be… what? Reunited with his deity sweety who is cursed with shitty lives in the real world? Why? She was a deity and he is a demon… how did they even meet, were they friends, lovers, coworkers? Well, they were lovers apparently. They won’t really tell you the whole story…. its vague. It’s all pretty vague. There’s so many characters and side stories and shifting plotlines. It’s a total mess.
That said – it was so campy and hysterical, I really didn’t mind the weird plotlines. Or it’s problems. The cast had incredible chemistry and played off each other brilliantly. In particular, the comic genius of Cha Seung-Won, our tv host demon Ma Wang. I died laughing over his shenanigans. And Lee Seung-Gi, our monkey god, played off him perfectly. Their bickering and playful fights and friendship was perfect.
You’ll have fun watching this show. It’s not the best supernatural story out there. I mean, it doesn’t have the heart or the sincerity of Goblin. It doesn’t have the action and high stakes of Gu Family Book or Scholar Who Walks the Night. It doesn’t have the sweet romantic shenanigans of Oh My Ghostess. Even the ghost hunting was done better in Master’s Sun. This show kinda tries to do a little of everything so it doesn’t really do a lot of anything. Except be funny. And unique in its own right.
The Hong Sisters are odd ducks. Sometimes their writing is so bizarre. In Hwayugi, there is a scene where our lead female is given the chance to discover if the feelings the male lead, our monkey god, has for her are real and not based off a love-spell. How does he really feel about her? Does he even like her? Would he really kill her if given the opportunity? Basically, it’s an open window to ask him anything at all – to find out if her crush is one-sided or not – to find out if he cares. Instead of asking him something, you know, reasonable… she asks him if he thinks she’s pretty. What?! I think dozens of people are pretty. That doesn’t mean I like them, or have romantic feelings for them, or would save them from a burning building, even if it were no inconvenience for me. But that’s what our lead female wants to know. Validation of her attractive face and figure. Does she not own a mirror?
Here’s the thing… the Hong Sisters CAN write a cool female character – who is both pathetic and still strong and lovable. A character with… personality. They’ve done it before. The Greatest Love being a prime example, but even in Master’s Sun our wacko female had a backstory and context. In Hwayugi, our lead female is a blank slate of a ghost-seeing realtor who seems… what? What’s she like? Does she even like anything? This actress is great though and manages to put a lot of insecurity and emotion into her limited dialogue. Despite her poorly written character, I adored her and wanted her to find love and peace. Who can’t relate to the lonely girl who just wants to be accepted?
So that’s the real magic of this show, I guess. That even though it’s not that great, you still really like it. I really liked it. Even as I picked it apart in my head, I enjoyed the ride.
You had the basic Hong Sisters love formula – of an immature but powerful male who will treat his crush like garbage for half the show and a girl who is stuck with him, for whatever reason, and still likes him. And a bunch of side characters who sorta-kinda flirt but won’t really get a love story. Like our pig boy and his zombie. They were freakin’ cute, though, weren’t they? Snaps to the pretty actress for playing both a zombie and a powerful evil spirit so well.
The special effects were largely awesome. I especially liked the beginning of the show – when they were chasing down ghosts and spirits to earn heavenly points and sell some real estate. That was fun. I even liked the bad wig of the Summer Fairy.
I don’t know. This is a hard one to review, honestly. At some point, our main female is supposed to save the world… from an evil dragon who will give incredible strength to a bad man in politics and thus lead to Armageddon. Sigh. It was too much to take seriously. If they’d said it would lead to a plague or shown us pictures of dead fish floating in the waters in South Korea… it might have been scary. If they’d said it would lead to the death of all human world-bound deities and demons, even that would have been exciting… as we liked the demons in the show. But “save the world” was a bit too ambitious and thus felt very low-key as a threat because it was so unbelievable. It was a close-knit group of people in one city – they should have kept the “threat” close, too. Anyways, I’ve already been critical enough.
Just watch it. Watch it and enjoy it. For the fabulous collection of fur coats. For the cozy camaraderie of the supernatural peeps, hanging out at bars and at home and at ice cream stands. For the handsome Lee Seung-Gi and his awesome new hair cut. For the interesting episode plots in the beginning involving ghosts and their backstories. For the unpredictable nature of this shifting story line. For the odd hair cut of the “English” Korean guy. For the adorable sweetness of the lead female’s coworker. For the two goofy hitmen. For the octopus god stuck in the hot girl’s body. For the zombie girl! For the tv host and his endearing loyal platonic relationship with his dog companion. It’s the strength of all these little things that combine to make this show worth watching.
Cause it really was fun. Messy fun. Like coloring with crayons. Just… be like a kid and have at it!