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?
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.
The fandom was hyped over Bulgasal.
Especially on Tumblr.
And sure, Tumblr has been through a lot of changes over the past few years – with a mass exodus when they knocked out the porn. But there’s an inspired and chatty community of K-Drama fans there who live for the gifs and the guessing with on air dramas. Since Tumblr is kind of no longer the go-to for a lot of the general public, there is less bullshittery there as well, and fandoms can exist happily without being spammed by crappy commenters. Many of the K-Drama lovers of Tumblr, myself included, all got stuck on Bulgasal as it was airing. We spent way too many hours of our day collectively musing over it, enjoying our shared current obsession. Cause Bulgasal was the perfect show for a fandom – especially as it aired.
I’ve included a ridiculous amount of saved memes, gifs, and ramblings from the fandom I’m going to share here to give you a peek at the collective madness.
PLEASE NOTE: I’m gonna apologize to all the content creators right now because I just took screen shots with no intention at the time of sharing them beyond constantly sending them to my bestie via text (who does not even watch Korean dramas but suffers through my bouts of fandom like a real trooper). So I most likely cropped off the creator tags at the top – but to be clear, I did not create these memes or posts. These were labors of love from the fandom – mainly gathered off Tumblr – and I promise, Tumblr creators, next time I will do better with citations.
If ever a show was created for GIFS, it’s Bulgasal. Every shot is gorgeous and begs to turned into a gif or image set. The lens flares! The color saturation! The wide angle shots! It was a feast for the eyes, though your brain may go hungry.
There’s no template for Bulgasal. The writers just went hog wild.
I kind of imagine a bunch of writers got drunk together and brainstormed an idea for a new show, writing down their thoughts on pieces of paper or napkins or whatever, and then instead of sobering up and piecing together a grand masterpiece of epic proportions, they just handed everything to an intern and said “Here, sort this out! It’s genius!” The intern then spent a few days trying to decipher the drunken scrawl of these creative writers, had a mental breakdown, and then quit the industry all together deciding to be a radish farmer. The new intern, coming in to discover the scraps pasted together on the wall like a murder board, just assumed it was finished and sent it on to production.
And thus the world was given Bulgasal. A gorgeous disaster with a Netflix-sized budget.
Seriously, the budget must have been enormous. All the location shooting. The horses. The extras. The creature features. The costuming! Though the costuming department really has some explaining to do because they had enough money to give us this…
But then they also gave us this…
Costuming department, please explain your choices. Why is this extremely attractive woman wearing an old lady’s sweater vest? What is happening here? Listen, I know the South Korean fashion industry is a mysterious entity unto itself and has given us plenty of bizarre fashion choices in dramas over the years. Usually Kong Hyo-Jin is the victim of fashion crimes in dramas, but it appears the torch has been passed on to Kwon Na-Ra. She could not catch a break in this show! It was just one episode after another of ill fitting clothing in clashing colors and patterns.
Of course, the ruling king of fashion in this show is the antagonist: Ok Eul-Tae played by Lee Joon. He rocked a different look in nearly every episode. This was a man who had learned to play with what works over his centuries on the planet. Styles, colors, patterns – from the clothes to the shoes to the accessories, Ok Eul-Tae was always dressed to the nines. He’d embraced the modern world and the lavish tailored comfort of designer apparel.
Our boy didn’t even really make the scene until the end of Episode 3. He tried to con our leading lady, got into a few car crashes, and eventually crawled out of the flaming dark woods covered covered in blood and swaggering into our hearts. It was love at first sight.
As if that weren’t enough to gain our attention, our villain proceeds to have a chatty, albeit violent, confrontation with our leading male… the two monsters sussing each other out. And I’m not going to beat around the bush – the whole thing was extremely gay.
It was heavily queer coded. You would have to be blind not to see it. This is also the first real glimpse of Eul-Tae’s personality – and he’s a card, ya’ll.
I am a sucker for fun, fully insane villains.
They’re far more terrifying than your basic menacing baddie. They’re unpredictable. They’re moody. They’re insecure and powerful and dangerous like wild animals.
In episode 5, the two monster men meet again – for lunch this time. At a fancy restaurant. It was this scene that convinced me Lee Joon was playing one of the most compelling villains of all time. Eul-Tae’s nearly one sided conversation with our good-guy monster Hwal was so unhinged, I was riveted to the screen. I thought… my goodness, that man is completely bonkers. I love him.
Ultimately, the plot fails us with the connection between these men – but if you just read the character dynamics and the situations as presented, you’d think these two dudes shared some serious history together. Eul-Tae skips around Hwal like an eager puppy. He seems to eager to please him and follow after him – but is completely incompetent’s in winning him over or earning his trust. It’s clear he has not used his time on Earth improving his people skills. The man is oblivious.
But that’s also what makes him so charming and scary.
Honestly, some of the best scenes with Eul-Tae involve him in cars.
Chatting with people.
Eating people and then crying about it.
He’s just a delightful menace.
Eul-Tae isn’t the only man trying to worm his way into Hwal’s stone heart, though. There is also the spider monkey Nam Do-Yun, the blonde “teenager” who decides to stick to our hero like glue. He was an odd character from the very beginning, but by the time he made it onto the scene I’d already accepted that weird and possibly dumb things were going to happen a lot in this show and little to no reason would be given for it.
If you find yourself asking, “But why would they do that?,” then stop yourself immediately. Put that rational brain aside and turn on your “Okay! Whatever!” brain.
Did I understand Do-Yun? Nope. Did I enjoy his screen time? Yup.
The whole “be my daddy!” teenage boy stumbling around after a fully grown man was fun. He’s a little ball of sunshine and nonsense, and the monster man is an awkward, disconnected mess. It could have gone in a million different directions. It could have tied itself together so beautifully. But you already know by now that expert plot weaving is not what Bulgasal excels at. We did not get a finely crafted story with Do-Yun because of course we didn’t. Instead we got some weird “my mom is bestie forever, I guess” tune, after abandoning the far more interesting plot lines of Do-Yun reconnecting in a meaningful way with his reincarnated daddy or diving into the very, very complicated nature of being friends (but not really but wait what’s going on but wait-) with the man who killed you in multiple timelines. Ah, the wasted potential.
Still. It was fun to hint at it.
I mean… it almost went there. It skirted around the edges, at least.
This twice (thrice?) baked reincarnated family was a mess.
Edible. But… honestly… you would not want to repeat the experience.
However, you might still be talking about the mess you made in the kitchen for several years.
The totally bizarre but hysterical “family” dynamics of the cast were golden, though. The “mom” had the ability to turn monster man into a scoffing teenage boy.
Or the “dad” chiding his grumpy grown “son” at dinner.
And of course your “kid” being jealous when you bring home a new “stepmom.”
Every character interaction was a diamond mine of possibilities.
I mean… who could have expected the chemistry between these two characters?
I thought for sure we were going to discover these two had some mysterious, strong connection in another life – as either enemies or lovers or collaborators or maybe even siblings – but nope! Denied.
This poor gal just got abandoned, more or less, as far as storytelling goes. And it was such a pity, really, cause she’s a great actress and the possibilities were all there. Mysterious supernatural abilities – is this a curse from a past life? Daughter of the general – is she tied to his fate somehow? Wife to our monster man when he was briefly human – I mean, their scene together with the sword, calling each other monsters and that whole love/hate business… that begged for more air time and explanation. But, uh… no. No, of course not.
And this whole awkward reincarnation angle in the present… squandered. Two or three very brief scenes together and that’s it. But remember when he yanked her against him in the abandoned house and put his hand over her mouth… these two! How come this actress had such great chemistry with both the male lead and the antagonist?
Bulgasal did give us one beautiful past-life connection, however.
As well as one of my favorite tropes of all time – ENEMIES TO LOVERS. Or… lovers to enemies to strangers to enemies to lovers.
I had a blast watching all their scenes together.
She’s the woman-child trope, impossibly naïve while also being impossibly hot. He’s also this incredibly hot man who seems to be completely unaware that he’s an incredibly hot man. He’s been hunting her down – unsuccessfully! – for hundreds of years… and when he finally captures her she’s this polite, cheerful dufus who has no idea why this mysterious hot guy hates her so much.
Ah, reincarnation. For a show about reincarnation, Bulgasal had very little to say about it. Morality wise. It hinted there might be a lesson to learn… but it failed to instruct us what that might be. Family is… uh? Love is…? Monsters and humans are…? Eh. Whatever! Just look at these two hot people running around in the dark and be happy! And for the most part, I was.
They were a really fun couple to watch.
Except without any kissing scenes, which… I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive them for but whatever. Their chemistry was always questionable anyways. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, two attractive people doesn’t automatically equal chemistry. It does, however, guarantee your posters and still pics will look fantastic. Which they do.
Though Hwal plays a brick in this show, he actually can pull off facial expressions. Did you ever seen Nine Times Travel? He was wonderful in that oddball show and he excellent chemistry with his leading lady. Not to say the actor didn’t nail his portrayal of Hwal in this show. He did exactly what the script asked of him. Bulgasal would not be the carnival ride we know and love without him.
Listen. If you didn’t like this show, then that’s fine. We don’t have to like the same things.
But Bulgasal illustrates the beauty of one of life’s greatest treasures – Internet Fandoms. Sure, you can like K-dramas and enjoy watching them. Maybe you even blog about them. But enjoying something WITH others… it’s the best. If you’re like me, and can’t find another K-drama fan to sit around the house and scream and sigh and squeal at the shows with… then you take to the webs. You interact with others who share your interests. Not just passively, either. Likes and reblogs are passive. You must comment. You must create your own posts. You must mingle. And if you do… you’ll probably have fun. Odds are in your favor, at least.
Right now the fandoms are freaking out over Our Flag Means Death, the gay pirate show, cause… gay pirates. But there will be another K-drama that catches everyone’s fancy soon. Just keep an eye out. It goes beyond the usual obligatory posts… you’ll know it when you see it. And maybe I’ll see ya there.
Until then… here’s a few more Bulgasal posts. Cause… why not?