Saturday, June 7, 2014

KDrama Review: Arang and the Magistrate

The Gist: Eun Oh (Lee Joon Gi) has been able to see ghosts for most of his life, but he does his best to ignore them. That becomes impossible when, on his search for his lost mother (Kang Mun Yeong), he meets Arang (Shin Min A), a brash ghost who wears his mother’s hair pin. The connection made, Eun Oh agrees to help Arang find out who she was in life, since she can’t remember anything about her living days. Fate intervenes further when the Jade Emperor allows Arang to be human for three full moon’s time to find out the mystery of her murder. Eun Oh stumbles into a better position to help her, when he gets made into a magistrate of a corrupt town at the mercy of Lord Choi (Kim Yong Geun). As they begin to investigate their joint mysteries, it is obvious that something is not right in the Choi household, besides the cruelty of Lord Choi and his apathetic son Ju Wal (Yeon Woo Jin). With the help of a local shaman (Hwang Bo Ra) and Eun Oh’s servant (Kwon Oh Jung), the pair set down to discovering a shocking truth, while trying not to focus on the dwindling time they have together.


1. The Mystery

While this story certainly had political undertones, it was nice to see a Joseon story that wasn’t all about being king, overthrowing the king, and all that jazz. No, a good murder mystery is a nice change of pace. I really only lament that the layers were peeled back so quickly *Spoilers ahead* Because wow! What a twisted hand of fate. So Ju Wal is a murdering psychopath, which makes Arang’s continued longing for him so creeptastic, I could hardly stand it. And it was great! What tension! He was willing to kill all those girls for a comfy life. He’s pretty much just the worst (aside from his dad). Eun Oh’s mom is wrapped up in it so delicately. Her anger mirror’s her possessor’s so well. They’re both so blinded by their singular desire that they’re shunning the people important to them. It’s a good story and the real way Arang died is just extra heartbreaking. Ju Wal is really responsible for her death over and over again.

2. The Romance

While the pacing may have been a little off, Eun Oh and Arang are very sweet together. They have a great chemistry and Shin Min A is a great spunky leading lady. Her character here had echoes of her character in My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, but that’s OK. She’s still adorable. Their romance was supplemented nicely with the *baby spoilers* Shaman’s crush on Dol Sue. They are so incredibly awkward together, but it’s actually really humorous. Really my only complaint is that the magistrate spends a weird amount of time hanging outside late at night, just waiting for Arang. It happened all the time!

3. Imaginative Side Characters

Outside of our charismatic leads, we had some really likable side characters. First off, the reapers are visually very unique and interesting. I loved it. Beyond the aesthetics, Moo Young (Han Jung Soo) had his own problems going on. The Jade Emperor (Yoo Seung Ho) and the Underworld King (Park Jun Gyu) had an unusual and interesting dynamic. I was mostly surprised by the trio in the magistrate’s office. Mostly exposition and annoyance for the first half of the series, once their allegiance starts breaking down, they turn into almost compelling personas - funny too! 


1. The Ending

*Spoilers Obviously* So I was very curious about where they were going with the end of this show. It was obvious they weren’t going to go fully tragic, with an eternal separation, but they definitely had some problems to work around. I didn’t mind the ticking clock on this one as I did with many other shows. Yet, I have to lament watching this on the heels of Rooftop Prince because I’m already a bit peeved with the reincarnation storyline. This one did a bit better as Arang, even as a reincarnated little girl, has all of her memories and it leads to a squeal-worthy adorable moment between them. That said, it’s awkward to shove a pre-existing adult relationship into this child’s body. Also, with Eun Oh being the Shaman and Dol Sue’s kid, aren’t they going to find it weird that little Eun Oh, ends up with a little girl named Arang. I would be weirded out. Also, no one ever figured out that Ju Wal is a murdering lunatic! I kept waiting for the big reveal and they just never got around to that point. I did like the idea of him becoming a grim reaper and I did like the previous reaper disappearing with his sister. It was a good closure on the whole thing. Another peeve: they traveled all the way to the underworld to look at Arang’s special Life/Death book and Arang figures it out herself before Eun Oh even tells her! That seemed like a real waste. Boo.

2. Ju Wal’s Unending Self Pity

*Minor spoilers* I mean, yeah sure, he had a rough childhood. And yeah, who really wants to be held to an agreement they made when they were starving and like seven years old? Still, Ju Wal looks like he’s about to burst into tears this entire series. I find almost everything about him 100% unforgivable. It’s unforgivable that he is willing to kill innocent girls (not a feminist thing, just people even)in exchange for a life, that he can’t even recognize the face of his fiancĂ©e, a girl who saved his life (and the memory wipe thing does NOT justify this in my opinion), heck the fact that he even lets demon chick wipe his memory, his wishy-washy IlovehersoIhalfprotectherbutthenswitchsidesandamokwithherdyingthing, and just general selfishness makes it so not alright. Yes, we get a good apology out of him, but Arang never realizes the extent of his sins and so that even feels only half committed to me. Annoying.


1. The Pacing

This show was enjoyable, but absolutely definitely too long. I have my doubts about twenty episode shows and twenty episode romances twice that. I think if we had discovered layers of the mystery more intermittently, rather than really fast at the beginning and then nothing for fifteen episodes, it would have made for a more captivating watch. Likewise, the confession comes pretty promptly from Eun Oh, but Arang’s resistance feels oddly manufactured and takes too long without leaving a good amount of time for a relationship. Hack this show to sixteen episodes and sparse out the reveals, and I think this show would have been much better.


So… this show was pretty good. The romance had good chemistry and the mystery was certainly interesting, but the pacing was funny and the show was too long. This was certainly an amnesia plot done well, with enjoyable scenes of the Jade emperor and I loved the reapers. Still, I don’t think I’d ever rematch this show as once the reveals have been revealed, there isn’t much left to go on.

Final Grade: B-


  1. HI I'm new here and Ive looked thru your reviews, and i see that you don't review Jdrama as much as Kdrama. Im not blaming you or anything cuz i know the korean actors are cute. Anyways I wanted to make a request on you reviewing "Last Friends." It would mean a lot it you did, thank you

    1. Katie! Hey, I'm not biased :) I think the Japanese actors are cute. The reason I've been reviewing more Korean dramas is because they're more easily accessible legally via Netflix and Hulu than the Japanese ones. I wish they'd hurry up and work something else to get me my Japanese shows!