Friday, March 17, 2017

KDrama Review: Goblin (The Lonely and Great)

The Gist: Once upon a time there was a man. This man was a general in the king's army. This general was betrayed by his king and suffered a great curse. This man was no longer a man. He was a goblin.

Kim Shin (Gong Yoo) has wandered the world for over 900 years, waiting for the Goblin's Bride who can remove the sword in his chest and his immortal curse. Ji Eun Tak (Kim Go Eun) has always been different - the ghosts she can see have told her that she is the Goblin's Bride, although she does not know what that means. That is, until her 19th birthday when she summons a Goblin to her side by blowing out the candles on her cake. In Kim Shin, Eun Tak finds a salvation from her miserable home and school life and in her, he finds his chance to die. Unfortunately, now that he is not alone, he is not sure he is ready for his time to end.

Throw in a Grim Reaper (Lee Dong Wook), who becomes the Goblin's unlikely roommate and who can't reconcile his feelings sassy chicken store owner (Yoo In Na) and you've got Goblin. Let's settle in - it's a fabulous ride.


1. The World Building

I have been mostly unimpressed with the fantasy dramas I've watched thus far, so I was excited to hear that Goblin was doing so well. The thing that impressed me right off the bat was the nuances of the world that were a constant delight to discover. I love the corporate feel of the reaper world; that the most troubling thing that they deal with is too much paperwork. I love the teahouse that Reaper operates out of and the mysterious questions about the reapers' pasts. Some of the best scenes are when Reaper is escorting souls on their way (the blind man meeting his guide dog! I teared up.)

I also love the touches on the Goblin lore. The doors that open between places for him and the summoning with the fire were both nice touches to the storyline. There is also a great intersection of worlds when the Goblin interferes with doomed souls. The balance between real world and fantastical elements is handled craftily and the whole discovery was a joy.

2. The Found Family

This is one of my favorite story devices: when a group of unrelated people create their own family and depend on each other. This starts with the Goblin and Reaper. Their bromance really steals the show in every scene they are opposite each other. They are natural opposites, but as two eternal and empathetic beings, they are naturally poised to understand each other. Especially as they both start romances with mortal girls, they are following each others' pitfalls. The scene where the Goblin and Reaper come to save Eun Tak from the kidnappers and they're doing a nice slow-motion walk gave me literal chills. LITERAL CHILLS.

They're also both sort of tragic heroes. As comedic as they are, they are both facing down their own tragic fates. The Goblin is doomed to die now that he's met the girl he loves and the Reaper can't really connect with a mortal because he does not know himself or his past.

Next up in the family is Eun Tak. Although she's the only mortal residing in the house, she's magical in her own right. She can see the reapers, the Goblin, and ghosts, and she has her own special role to play. She brings a unique perspective to the house and it's adorable to see the boys get protective over her. I love her bright and cheery attitude in the face of her troubles - which I know is standard for heroines, but I love a strong and chipper leading lady.

Rounding out the family is Duk Hwa (Yook Sung Jae). He is likely to rub you the wrong way at first, but it's nice to see his growth through the show. Also it's funny to see him push the buttons on our Goblin friend, especially knowing the history his family has of serving him.

Sunny is fabulous in her own right, but she's not really connected to the house, so she is a little ancillary to the found family in my mind. However, her big sis attitude with Eun Tak and total confidence is refreshing. She also took some time to grow on me, but her chemistry with Reaper is fantastic and heartbreaking all at once.

3. The Romance

Like Descendants of The Sun, Goblin has two parallel storylines rather than competing love triangles. The romance is well paced and well developed. On the Goblin/Eun Tak side of things, you get over the supposed age gap pretty fast. The Canada scenes were some of the best of the bunch. Eun Tak and the Goblin both have some pretty dramatic acting to do with each other and both actors rise to the occasion. Especially towards the end, there is some nice kisses and sweet touches. They are a well written pair, which makes the balance they walk of sad and funny so poignant.

Reaper and Sunny likewise are total delights. The way they meet is hilarious and without spoiling much, the ultimate framework of their love story is well woven, which kept me totally engaged. Their romantic trajectory is very different from the others, but I think that's what keeps this show interesting.

Honestly, I found myself thinking as the show went on that it was just plain romantic. Not sweet, not cute, not sexy, just so so romantic. It's one of the best I've seen.

4. The Backstory

I traditionally have had trouble with stories that jump back in time too much, have reincarnations/dopplegangers, and amnesia. Goblin has quite an abundance of all three and has handled it the best of any drama I have watched so far. Peeling the layers back on this story were worrying at times, exciting at others, but all the way had me just wanting to watch all of the time.

Let's get into spoiler territory here: So the Goblin, Reaper, and Sunny are all original players in the historical backdrop. The way that the Reaper handled finding out he was Wang Yeo broke my heart all over the place, but watching him and Kim Shin work towards some kind of reconciliation that they didn't get in their past life really reinforced their friendship. I would have liked to see a bit more building between Kim Shin and Sunny (his reincarnated sister), but seeing Reaper and Sunny process who they are and sort it out across their lives made their romance ending particularly satisfying. I guessed that Reaper was the king very early on, but it was still fascinating to see everything fall into place as an organic source of conflict for our characters.


1. Some qualms about that ending...

Spoilers ahead! You have been warned. So I had this aching in my stomach that this story was going to end sadly and I was half right. Yet, I think that the show ended exactly as it needed to. I have two qualms about the ending. They aren't flaws with the plot, but are things I am still processing and feeling a few days after finishing this show.

Number one: breaking up the bromance. Now, it is necessary for Reaper to be truly happy to put aside his memories once more and live again as a person. This gives him and Sunny the chance to be happy without the burden of their past. Reaper doesn't need to feel guilty anymore. He definitely has the happier of the two endings because Goblin now doesn't have his friend to walk his immortal life with. I was hoping that if Goblin has to live on that at least they'd still have each other. I was sad to see that relationship dissolve with the end of the show.

Number two: Goblin has such a sad fate. While it reinforces the sacrifice he makes for Eun Tak, to have the time with her in exchange for his chance to die, it is gut-wrenching to think of him living on waiting for her for years and years and years. If she only has four lives, then even living long with her will leave him alone for most of his life. Essentially, Kim Shin is exactly where he started - lonely and waiting for his bride. It was pleasant to see the two of them meet again at the end of the show, it was honestly happier than I thought they would get, but still ultimately left me feeling sad.

But, that's not such a bad thing. This show is all about balance and it is funny, happy, and breath-takingly romantic, but it is also sad, and anxious, and leaves you thinking and feeling long after you've finished. I love a happy ending, but it gives a real weight to the show that the emotions linger. At its heart, this show is sad, but the beautiful world and characters are definitely worth the trade off (also it's not hopeless, which is what I truly can't stand).


So... let's wrap up this review. I didn't hate anything about this show and in fact, am surprised at just how impressed I am with it overall. It's one of the best shows I've watched. Period. The story is well-paced, the sets are beautiful, the effects are good, the romance is romantics, and the soundtrack is to DIE for (seriously - check out Round and Round and Stuck in Love. If you didn't watch the intro to this show every time, you are a stronger person than I).

Don't wait. Watch this show immediately and when you have a lot of time to sink into it. I can't recommend it enough.

Final Grade: A+++ Damn Near Perfect.

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