I typically try to only talk about live action movies and dramas that are adaptations of popular manga, webtoons, etc. Today’s post will be a bit different since it’s not on an adaptation, but an original series. I’m talking about Goblin: The Lonely and Great God (also known as Guardian: The Lonely and Great God). It’s often just referred to as Goblin or Dokkaebi (도깨비) in Korean. Originally aired in December 2016 – January 2017, this drama is probably my current favorite drama of all time. It also happened to be -THE- drama for 2016-2017. It was incredibly popular all over Asia, and even started several memes. I’m not sharing this just because it’s my favorite. I want to talk about it for future references and comparisons, and to kind of show more of my expectations when it comes to quality dramas and movies. As much as I love dramas, there’s always something for my Drama Circle and I to complain about. It’s usually really weak writing, acting, cringey and nonsensical stuff, and plot holes (the worst offense really). Honestly, I originally hadn’t planned on watching Goblin. I didn’t think I’d be all that interested in it, and 2016 was a disappointing year for dramas. Now it’s my favorite series and I feel that it really raised the bar when it comes to expectations for a drama. The reason why I enjoyed Goblin so much was because it was basically as perfect as it gets. It was the one drama that we didn’t really have anything to complain about. It got to the point we only started really nit-picking to make little jokes. A year later, and I still have a hard time finding anything as good as Goblin.
SUMMARY OF THE PLOT
Kim Shin was an unbeatable and popular war general in Goryeo (Ancient Korea). After defeating his enemies and claiming victory on the battle field, he returns home. Instead of being welcomed warmly, Kim Shin and his army are greeted very coldly by the palace. He is called a criminal, to which he demands to meet with the young King. Refusing to back down and intent on meeting with Wang Yeo, Kim Shin’s men and the some villagers are shot and killed by the palace guards. After reaching Wang Yeo, Kim Shin is told that more people will die if he takes another step towards the King. The Queen tells him not to worry about her and to press on. As he continues on, the Queen and people he knows are killed before him. Soon after, he too is struck down. However, Kim Shin is brought back to life by God. He has become a Goblin, an immortal being with godly powers. However, this gift is also a curse for his previous sins and the bloodshed he’s caused. He is cursed to see his loved ones die as he continues having to live a lonely and immortal life. The only chance he has at death and ending his curse, is when he finds the Goblin’s Bride.
900 years later in present-day Korea, there is a high school girl named Ji Eun-Tak. She is the legendary Goblin’s Bride that Kim Shin has been waiting for. Due to being the Goblin’s Bride, Eun-Tak is able to see spirits and is very aware of the supernatural. Eun-Tak lives a lonely life of misfortune. She’s mistreated by her cousins and aunt who don’t care for her and only want the fortune Eun-Tak’s mother left behind. She’s also mistreated by classmates and is a loner. Despite her misfortunes, she has a rather bright and positive personality. Her life starts to change not only after meeting Kim Shin. Her life changes more as she also meets the Grim Reaper and Sunny.
It’s basically a drama-fantasy-romance series, but with a surprising amount of comedy. I know it seems super dark and serious, but it’s actually pretty cute. The other thing I liked and found interesting is how everyone and their fates are somehow intertwined.
My criteria for characters is that they need to draw me in. Sell me your story. Make me empathize and want to understand you. I like breaking down characters and trying to understand them. Good and strong characters need to be dynamic and interesting. The best characters are the ones that grow throughout the story.
Kim Shin is played by famous and popular actor Gong Yoo, famous for titles like Train to Busan. He seems like a very serious person with an incredibly painful past. However, he is often a bit childish and sweet. He is a force to be feared when angry or upset, but is incredibly kind to good people. He’s loyal to those he cares about. He suffers from his past and the loneliness from his cursed immortality. He always tries to seem cool and sophisticated around Eun-Tak, but the reality is quite the opposite at times. Kim Shin is like an innocent little boy smitten with Eun-Tak. He starts off very lonely and plagued with the guilt of his past. However, it’s wonderful to see him find love and friendship. The cute romance between Kim Shin and Eun-Tak is adorable, but I also just love his bromance with the Grim Reaper.
Ji Eun-Tak is played by actress Kim Go Eun. This was her second drama role. She was previously praised for her movie roles and her role in the drama Cheese in the Trap. When this first aired, there was buzz of everyone saying that she was too ugly. Kim Go Eun is a young but amazing actress. I absolutely loved her in this. She was 24-25 in real life, but looks young and was able to pull off that pure and naive charm of a high school girl. I found her pretty and charming in the girl-next-door kind of way. I thought she looked especially pretty in the scene from Canada. Typically I’m wary of high school girl characters because they’re really cringey and come off as that annoying “I’m dumb and can’t do anything so I need constant help/saving” kind of character. However, I really loved Ji Eun-Tak. Eun-Tak is smart and tries her best despite everything she’s been through. Due to all the crap she’s been through, she’s rather mature and positive. I found it refreshing that she wasn’t a constantly depressed character. At the same time she’s sweet and childish around Kim Shin. She really brightens up Kim Shin’s life. She’s always relied on herself and it was nice to see her rely on others for once. In a way Eun-Tak was able to do the things she couldn’t before. Personally I found her quite adorable and funny. I liked that she was mature, but also still had this sweet and childish innocence to her.
The Grim Reaper is played by famous and popular actor Lee Dong Wook, famous for titles like My Girl. As his name suggests, it is his job to collect and guide souls. There are many reapers and they work almost like typical company employees. His past is also mysterious since reapers have memories of their past lives completely wiped. The Grim Reaper always seems so serious, but funny incidents and misunderstandings often occur. One is due to his constant childish bickering with the Goblin. The other is his interactions with Sunny. This is due to his awkwardness and lack of understanding when it comes to things like emotions. He’s also very competitive with Kim Shin.
Sunny is played by actress Yoo In Na. She’s seen as a beautiful, chic, straightforward and cool character who doesn’t give a fuck. She’s the owner of a chicken restaurant which Eun-Tak later works at. When Eun-Tak’s aunt comes looking for her at the store, Sunny isn’t fazed by the aunt’s threats or attitude. She plays it cool and calls her “scary looking mob boyfriend” (really just a friend she randomly called) to complain about a crazy woman annoying her, ultimately scaring the aunt away. She supports Eun-Tak, shows her kindness, and in a way acts like a cool older sister. She is someone Eun-Tak respects and is grateful to. She always seems to act cool and indifferent, however, she loses it around the Grim Reaper. She’s smitten by him, unaware of what or who he really is.
There’s also this dude, Yoo Duk-Hwa. He’s played by actor and singer Yook Sung Jae of KPOP boyband BTOB. This guy here is Kim Shin’s “nephew”. He’s a cute rich and immature heir. His family had loyally served Kim Shin for generations before he originally died. Kim Shin made their family wealthy and they continue to serve him. They also help cover all his needs and backstory. For them the Goblin is “…someone who will be your uncle, then your brother, your son, and then your grandson.” Duk-Hwa is mainly comedic relief, often annoying the Goblin or Reaper and suffering the consequences. However, there is more to his character than meets the eye.
Cool Sunny meets awkward Reaper
I typically don’t care for dramas with older actors. However, the acting in this series is truly fantastic. Everyone had such great chemistry and they do such a great job of building this story. What I liked so much about Goblin is that it’s not just the two main characters that have depth to them. The Grim Reaper and Sunny have a great amount of depth and chemistry as well. They stand out well, even on their own. Even supporting characters like Duk-Hwa (his “nephew) and his grandfather leave a great impression. It’s not just the funny antics, but all the characters contribute something to the story and making Goblin a memorable series. Supporting characters aren’t just barely there characters. They really help to add something to Goblin that makes it a well-rounded series. I found each character helped build a strong foundation to this story and world.
Goblin vs. Reaper
Goblin and Reaper Bromance
I also loved the aesthetics of Goblin. It’s truly gorgeous. The production quality seemed more like that of a large budget movie than a drama series. I was seriously mind blown by how beautiful the cinematography was. Everything from the shots, colors, tones, compositions, and transitions seemed perfect. It’s so beautifully done that it’s quite easy to get completely immersed in the drama from the cinematography alone. The sets and everything looked amazing as well. It didn’t look cheap at all, which is great because it doesn’t distract and detract from the story. It really amped up the drama and proved Goblin to be an incredibly well produced series. See the “Round and Round” opening further down in music to see more of what I mean. Of course it’s not perfect. The CGI work is still a little weird at times. But I was willing to overlook it because everything else was so beautifully done.
The loud ass helicopter butterfly… (sorry it’s a joke haha)
I find music to be important for setting the scene. It not only helps set the actual mood of the scene and actions, but it can also give a glimpse into the characters as well. The OST (Official Soundtrack) for Goblin has to be one of my all time favorites. I found all the songs really fit in with everything. Not only did it fit, they were all just really amazing and beautiful songs. I loved every song in the OST, but here are some of my favorites.
“Round and Round” by Heize featuring Han Su Ji. It’s the opening for the series.
I prefer the short opening version here, which only has Han Su Ji’s part. I also love the opening because it’s so beautifully done. It really shows a glimpse of the the series’ cinematography and aesthetics.
“Beautiful” by Crush.
It’s a really beautiful and soothing piano ballad with Crush’s sweet R&B vocals. Crush is one of my favorite artists so I was happy he sang this. It’s a really perfect song for Ji Eun Tak and Kim Shin.
“I Miss You” by SoYou (of the now disbanded KPOP girlgroup, SISTAR).
SoYou has always been known to be an amazing vocalist. This slow and bittersweet song is known as Sunny and the Grim Reaper’s song.
“첫눈처럼 너에게 가겠다 (I Will Go to You Like the First Snow)” by Ailee.
This song might catch Marc’s interest since it’s by Ailee. It’s a beautiful yet sad ballad. Since her debut, Ailee has been known as a pop diva with powerhouse vocals. She’s also shown that her voice is quite versatile and has contributed to various soundtracks as well. She really carries the sorrow, desperation, and heartbreak in her vocals.
So a list on things I think make a drama series (or movie) great and memorable:
1) Dynamic and interesting characters. I emphasize dynamic. They need to draw you in and have growth. They should have depth that really leave an impression, and should have chemistry with the other characters.
2) Good production quality. I’m not saying it has to be top quality production. Top quality is just extra brownie points. I’m just saying it shouldn’t look so cheap that it’ll distract me (unless that’s the point like in The Hero Yoshihiko). The production quality and the scenes should really build that world and draw you in.
3) Good cinematography. Similar to number 2, cinematography helps build the world of the story. The cinematography should be good enough to pull you into that world and story.
4) Great soundtrack. Music builds the ambiance. It really sets the scene. Again, I emphasize that it helps build and draw you into that world and scene. It also helps give insight to how a character feels. It helps sell more of that emotional component in the story.
5) Somewhat original story. Movies and dramas are no fun when you feel like you’ve seen everything before. There’s no excitement or interest in seeing things go exactly how you expect it. Overused cliches are also boring and cringey. Overall, the story should have some sort of originality to it. I like stories that have a little bit of everything: romance, drama, comedy, and action. There should be some quirkiness to it. It’s adding a bit of everything that makes it dynamic and more interesting. Interaction wise, sweet and cute gestures should be just that: sweet and cute. They shouldn’t seem awkward, or hella extra in the too cringey sort of way.
6) No Loose Ends/Plot Holes. Self explanatory. Don’t build up on something and never give a conclusion to it. Don’t put things that don’t hold up. At least keep these to a minimum.
Bonus if it’s a Korean drama that isn’t so heavy with blatant and shameless product placement. I can let it slide if it’s done with a purpose or isn’t so awkwardly blatant.
Honestly, I’m not that picky. I’ll let things slide as long as I’m entertained. However, for me to call something great, it basically has to be something that makes me feel like I can get lost in the story and world. I want to feel like I can feel the characters’ emotions and thoughts. I want to be like “DAAAW!!” and have my heart flutter for cute moments…I don’t want to feel like barfing from saccharine cringiness.
Cute things should make me feel like this…
I know this post is rather long, but it really is a fantastic and well-done series. It really met all the things I expect from a good drama series. It has such great and dynamic characters, an amazing OST, and beautiful cinematography and production. What really drew me into the series and won me over was that it was different. It kept me constantly hanging on to what would happen next. I typically get bored of dramas sometimes because there are so many cliches and it’s easy to see where things are going. Goblin blew my mind because it often turned out to be really unexpected and had several plot twists. Sometimes I joked about things and they would happen too, but I’d still be mind blown. There are alot of little jokes in there too. One such scene is when the Goblin/Kim Shin (Gong Yoo) got scared while watching Train to Busan, a movie that Gong Yoo started in as the main character. Best of all, there were very few plot holes or loose ends. For me this was the drama that saved the 2016-2017 year of terrible and mediocre dramas. Honestly, if you want to pick up an Asian drama series, I highly recommend Goblin. It truly is as perfect as it gets for a drama. There are a total of 16 episodes for this drama.
I’ll close this with my favorite quote from the series:
“Every moment I spent with you shined. Because the weather was good, because the weather was bad, and because the weather was good enough. I love every moment of it.” -Kim Shin/Goblin
But seriously…I was hella sad this ended and I can’t find anything as good…
On a side note, here’s a parody/summary of the entire drama by a popular American YouTuber in Korea, Dave. I will warn you that’s it’s heavy with spoilers, but it’s just so funny and worth it. It’s even funnier after you finish the series. Dude even does a parody of the OST in the background.