It’s January 2022 and we, the Hallyu fans, have been promised a lot of K-dramas. Some of these dramas seem to come from the supernatural category, be it the medical drama Ghost Doctor or the horror survival show All Of Us Are Dead. The summaries look enticing at first glance: Ghost Doctor promises an unexpected swap between two bodies during a medical case, while All Of Us Are Dead chronicles the terrifying adventures of high school students trapped in a crisis situation as a zombie virus spreads like a walking horse. fire spreads.
Zombies, witches and ghosts are common conspiracy tools, so common that we would probably know what to do if we saw them on the street: feed them vervain or stab them through the heart. We grew up in the era from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, saw Nina Dobrev sobbing at two sultry vampires in The Vampire Diaries, and some of us had the patience to play 15 seasons of Supernatural. Even Walking Dead – there’s only so much you can do in an apocalypse. Still, the show has spin-offs, and apparently more in the running.
In most of these shows, witches, ghosts, demons came, seduced men and women, killed them and brought them back in the same season itself. It’s nothing new to be honest, the only thing that’s new is the new fan bases born because of the romantic interests. In the beginning it is exciting, and then it becomes a dish that you just eat, because you are used to it. After the fourth season, you just sigh when the new school kid turns out to be a demon. You saw it from miles away, probably the first time they even said hello. We in India don’t have much to brag about – Naagin’s numerous seasons are meme fodder at best. The unthinkable happened when Sasural Simar Ka, your quintessential saas-bahu drama, suddenly became full of demons howling at each other from a VFX-infested hell, and then the daughter-in-law became a fly. There were even attempts at a werewolf story, with Karan Kundrra developing fur and canines in one show. shudder.
But what makes the Korean scene different? How did they get noticed with their fantasy shows? For starters, the relief about K-dramas is that most end with one season, which is usually 16 tight episodes.
It was in 2016 when Gong Yoo and the Grim Reaper Goblin emerged from the shadows to rescue a young girl, Eun Tak, played by Kim Go Eun. To the non-K drama buffs, it sounds like an odd combination: grim reaper teaming up with a goblin? What’s even more baffling is that a Korean goblin is not the same as the English one. For the inexperienced – goblins or dokkaebe as the Koreans call them, are magical and spiritual entities, expected to be dressed in traditional Hanbok.
This kind of magic, so unusual by the standards of witchcraft and wizardry of other shows, has made the Korean show Guardian: The Great And Lonely God one of the top-rated shows in South Korea. The Goblin, played by Gong Yoo, was once a strong warrior who was betrayed by his king. For nearly a millennium, he’s been walking around with an invisible sword in his chest, something only his “destined” bride, played by Go Eun, can pull. Filled with gods who dictate the ‘written future’, a gruff Grim Reaper with a haunting past of his own, Guardian draws audiences into the heart of Korean folklore, interspersed with modern times, with a touch of magic. The Grim Reaper and Goblin become sparring partners and then good friends, preparing delicious food for each other every morning. The Grim Reaper’s morbid business is basically like a corporate machine, with people dressed in suits and hats arriving for work. They are not bad, nor do they want to hurt the dead. Guardian is a bittersweet show that embraces ideas about fate, fate and death, without hitting the audience on the head with the message.
K-dramas seem to revel in their magical being and bring up a myriad of new terms in a non-Korean’s vocabulary, such as the Gumiho – a nine-tailed fox, who is not a fox but a spiritual entity, known to be love only one person in their life.
There have been several shows on gumihos, such as the Tale Of The Nine Tails, starring Lee Dong Wook, My Roommate Is Gumiho, and a completely different show called My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho. Away from constant romantic entanglements with other random people that other shows fall prey to, the storyline has a fixed purpose. In fact, in The Tale Of The Nine Tails, it’s Lee Dong Wook’s friendship with Kim Bum that is more memorable than the romance.
With tight storylines, occasionally wrapped as a romantic comedy with more than decent suspense and action sequences – these fantastic dramas stand out, perhaps more than the usual mix of romance and mush that K-dramas are known for. The unconditional love and romance is still there, but there’s more action scenes and magic than we’d expect. Hallyu’s fans are picking up details about the Korean lore along the way. It’s the quality that sets them apart from other television series, as they delve into their own mythology and try to create a rather unpredictable story. And more importantly, you know there is an end.
The K-dramas also don’t turn their backs on the usual ghosts and supernatural fiction, as 2019’s Hotel Del Luna showed. A hotel run by ghosts – all of whom have disturbing pasts – stumbles upon a rather terrified human, played by Yeo Jin-Goo. Yes, there’s a love story involved, but it’s also not the driving force of the show. The pursuit of peace is.
In most of these magical stories, they are all looking for peace and absolution – to end their cursed lives, and love is what heals them – as cliche as it sounds, though it doesn’t feel like it. More often than not, there is a happy ending to these stories.
It may be why most of us prefer to watch 16 episodes on a nine-tailed fox, rather than a naagin who curses everyone while she’s in her cave.