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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Review – Hwayi: A Monster Boy

Hwayi: A Monster Boy is melodrama mixed with mayhem. It’s bloody, it’s brutal, and it’s blunt in its delivery… but it works. I enjoyed this movie so much I watched it twice.

The plot is relatively simple – a young boy is kidnapped and held hostage, but something goes wrong in the exchange. Rather than kill the boy (or, you know, return him), the group of vicious criminals known as the Daylight Robbers decide to keep the kid and raise him themselves.

Shockingly, the young boy grows up to be a solid student, a talent artist, and an overall nice guy. Sure, he’s got obvious problems… like imagining a gigantic, horrific creature stalks him, always just around the corner. He seems shy around girls, which is not surprising considering the only female influence he’s had is the shattered woman the gang keep chained to the kitchen sink. But overall, all things considered, our hostage seems to be hanging in there with his rowdy bunch of degenerate fathers.

Of course… that’s all about to spiral drastically out of control in the next hour and a half of the film, so… buckle up.

The main plot kicks off right before our young protagonist is set to go off to art school and possibly escape his “family.”  Fate lures the whole gang back to the beginning – to the boy’s parents and secret grudges and haunting connections between all the characters. It was… tragic and heartbreaking and deeply, deeply disturbing.

This movie felt like someone had condensed an entire 16 episode violent melodrama drama down into 2 episodes. Each character felt fully realized, unique, and solid in the world – and it was easy to imagine exploring each of their backstories and current lives in more detail had it been a drama series instead of a film. The twists and turns of the plot were wild but also worked easily within the narrative and world of the story. The acting was exceptional – in particular the two male leads (Kim Yun-Seok and Yeo Jin-Goo) – though even side characters charged into their scenes with the gusto and confidence of a leading role, as if each were trying to steal the entire movie.

Watch it when you want an evening of exciting, blood-soaked melodrama.

4.5/5 Stars