The genre of Korean drama (K-drama) is garnering ever-greater global attention. Typically shorter than American soap operas like “Friends,” k-dramas are especially appealing for their ability to cater to the female gaze, utilize universal messages within powerful storytelling and market themselves uniquely on streaming platforms. “A Lover Girl’s Guide” focuses on romance in this growing medium. For many, it has transformed our standards for love (singles out there, you can decide if this is for better or worse).
There’s just something about the relatable yet imaginative charm of a k-drama that soothes any worldly trouble. In an effort to do them justice, I have decided to dedicate this first column installment to my favorite romantic k-drama hitherto. Admittedly, this one is hard to top.
I am, of course, speaking of none other than “Guardian: The Lonely and Great God” (also known as “Goblin”). Talented writer-director Kim Eun-Sook weaves the tale of a love that extends across lifetimes. It stars “Train to Busan” actor Gong Yoo alongside actress Kim Go-eun, who has starred in popular k-dramas including “Cheese in the Trap.”
The main love interests are a 939 year-old goblin, or dokkaebi, named Kim Shin (played by Gong Yoo) and an orphaned high school student named Ji Eun-tak (Kim Go-eun). Despite the bizarre age gap, the connection between the two only blossoms after the lonely schoolgirl has grown up to be a cheerful adult working to surpass childhood traumas.
The term “goblin” may conjure images of creepy, grotesque creatures in many Western cultures. In Korean mythology, however, dokkaebi are considered to be immortal beings with great powers that can be used to help or cause misery for humans.
In the k-drama, Kim Shin is a guardian of souls. Having ended many lives on the command of his king, Kim pays the price when his same king orders him to end his own life. The twist: cursed with immortality, Kim is forced to wander eternally with a sword impaled in his chest, unless he finds the bride who can remove the sword so that he can find peace.
The show provokes metaphysical questions with scenes that are built around reincarnation and magic. It covers life and rebirth in just 16 episodes, almost as if encouraging its watchers to have existential reflections. The butterfly effect acts as a recurring theme, demonstrating how the smallest acts can create even major changes within one’s life.
But if the Goblin’s unique predicament and philosophical insights haven’t convinced you to watch the show, perhaps another loveable couple will. Grim reaper Wang Yeo (played by Lee Dong-wook) oversees the recently deceased in their journey to the afterlife, notified each time the dead’s name appears on a small white business card. Wang is known for his serious and nonchalant demeanor — the total opposite to aptly-named local restaurant owner Sunny (Yoo In-na). The mysterious dynamic between them is an interesting complement to the light-hearted relationship of the goblin and the goblin’s bride.
Veteran k-drama actor Lee Dong-wook executes the reaper role beautifully — deathly pun not intended. Wang Yeo is sure to steal your heart with his smart black suit and matching brimmed black hat.
Throughout the show, each of their relationships shows us in rich detail the complexities of navigating relationships and how difficult it can be to have the right relationship, even when it’s with the ‘right’ one.
This is a k-drama that will make the lonely singles feel even lonelier — but hey, at least it comes with a great album. Nam Hye-seung’s beautifully-selected songs convey the emotional power of scenes within the drama, in addition to constituting timeless additions to anyone’s playlist. Although many years have passed since I first watched “Goblin,” its official soundtrack is one of the few drama soundtracks I still play.
One of the drama’s greatest strengths is its thematic and visual mastery of complementary opposites: past and future, birth and death, love and hate, dark and light, extraordinary and mundane. This story compels us to trust in the way of the universe. Even at this moment, the universe just might be leading you to who and where you need to be.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.