This Korean drama is yet another original series. Hwayugi (화유기) is a currently airing series, having started late December 2017. However, I wanted to write on this since it has an interesting back story. It’s based on the famous Journey to the West. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it’s one of the most famous Chinese (and Asian in general) stories of all time. This is the very tale that the Dragon Ball and the Saiyuki series drew inspiration from! Hwayugi is basically a modern and romantic Korean twist on a Chinese classic tale.
So first, let’s have a little brush up on Journey to the West. I’m going to hella basic sum it up, because honestly I don’t remember the details too well either. Basically there’s a Buddhist monk named Xuan Zang(aka Tang San Zang or Tripitaka) who must go on a difficult journey to the western parts (of Asia), in order to collect some sacred Buddhist texts. He went through many trials and suffering. His task was given to him by Buddha, who also provided him with protectors. These protectors agree to help in exchange for atoning for their sins. These guys are Sun Wu Kong, Zhu Bai Je, and Sha Wu Jing. These characters are more well known for their western names: Monkey (aka The Monkey King). Pig (aka Pigsy or Piggy), and Friar Sand (aka Sandy).
Left to Right: Sha Wu Jing/Friar Sand, Sun Wu Kong/Monkey, Xuan Zang, Zhu Bai Je/Piggy
Dragon Ball had alot of influences from Journey to the West. Son Goku is loosely based on Monkey, including the ability to ride on clouds. Oolong is based on Pig. There are other examples, but you get the point. The tale is a classic and is often referenced and used as inspiration. Now onto the series Hwayugi – A Korean Odysessy itself.
Since childhood, Jin Sun Mi has unwillingly had the ability to see spirits. She’s always been followed and attacked by demons and spirits. Her ability has left her with no friends, and her only ally was her late grandmother. Young Sun Mi was tricked by Son Oh Gong, a trouble-making monkey deity, to release him from his prison. They had a contract in that Son Oh Gong would protect her from the demons whenever she called his name. However, Son Oh Gong tricked her again by removing her memory of his name. 20 years go by and Sun Mi is now a successful real estate CEO. She’s gained her fortune by exorcising demons and spirits from bad-luck properties. She spent the past years trying to find the fairy that tricked her. Eventually she finally runs into Son Oh Gong again. As punishment for releasing Son Oh Gong, the heavens have made Sun Mi Sam Jang. Sam Jang is the role of a human who will save the world from great danger. However, Sam Jang carries an irresistible scent of a lotus flower and it is said that whoever eats her shall gain great powers. Sun Mi is in even more danger as all sorts of demons try to come after her. Son Oh Gong is also after eating Sam Jang, but is unable to eat Sun Mi because of their contract. In the meantime he decides to protect her so he can eventually eat her himself. She was initially just prey, but will it develop into something more? Added into the mix are the bull diety/demon Woo Hwi, his dog secretary Ma Ji Young, an idol pig demon named P.K., a zombie idol, and many more unique characters.
Jin Sun Mi is played by actress Oh Yeon Seo. Sun Mi has been plagued with her ability to see the supernatural. It’s only gotten worse for her now that she’s Sam Jang. She’s always been alone with no friends. The only love and support she ever had was her late grandmother. Despite being in her early-mid thirties, Sun Mi is quite innocent. She only wants to be a normal human being and not have to see or be hunted by scary things. Despite everything, Sun Mi is kind and tries to help spirits when she can. She wants Son Oh Gong to keep his word in protecting her, and it seems her reliance on him may develop into something more.
Son Oh Gong is played by singer and actor Lee Seung Gi. He’s known for his roles in My Girlfriend is a Gumiho and Shining Inheritance. Dude was hella popular and this is his first project since finishing his mandatory military service. On a side note, he’s previously dated Yoona from Girls Generation. Son Oh Gong is based on Son Wu Kong, the Monkey King. He’s a trickster and incredibly selfish, immature, and inconsiderate. He caused a big incident in the heavens, which led to him being punished in the first place. He’s trying to make up for it so that he can return to the heavens, and so he can lift his ban on booze. Oh Gong is incredibly powerful, and despite everything, can be good. Initially he protected Sun Mi because he wanted to eat her himself. However, he comes to be under Sun Mi’s control thanks to a special bracelet. He soon finds himself in love with Sun Mi.
Woo Hwi/Ma Wang is played by famous model and actor Cha Seung Won. His acting is fairly similar to his role in The Greatest Love. Cha Seung Won is also the father of former professional League of Legends player, “Livy” Cha No Ah. I believe he’s based on the Bull Demon King. Woo Hwi is a bull demon who has refrained from evil deeds in order to become a deity in the heavens. His cover on earth is the CEO of the Lucifer Entertainment company. The talents he houses here are all demons as well. He is extremely annoyed by Son Oh Gong and just wants to be rid of him. Woo Hwi is HELLAAAAAAA EXTRA. He’s mostly comedic relief, but it is also seen that he has alot of influence and power. He is not a force to be reckoned with. For now he’s been helping Sun Mi, but I reckon that he may later become the antagonist.
Pal Gae/P.K. is played by singer and actor Lee Hong Ki from the idol rock band FT Island. Hong Ki is famous for his roles in dramas like You’re Beautiful and Modern Farmer. His character is based on Zhu Ba Jie, or Piggy. He’s incredibly popular, dense, and childish. He’s a pig demon who knows the art of transformation. P.K. is also an idol under Lucifer Entertainment. He’s mostly comic relief and a lackey character.
Yoon Dae Shik is played by actor Jang Gwang. I believe he’s loosely based on Sha Wu Jing, or Friar Sand. He’s basically a top executive at a big cellphone company called MSUN (totally not Samsung or anything…haha). So far he doesn’t seem to exhibit any strong powers like the other supernatural beings in this drama. He had the appearance of an older gentleman, but refers to Son Oh Gong as “Hyungnim”. Basically, guys use “hyungnim” to refer to older guys/bros that they really respect. Dae Shik is respects Son Oh Gong and is an incredibly loyal follower. Even so, he seems like a cute little grandpa in this drama.
So far I’ve found this drama quite enjoyable. I picked it up on a whim, and I was surprised to find that it gave me somewhat similar vibes to Goblin. That’s not too surprising though, since it is airing on the same network as Goblin. It’s not quite to the same standards as Goblin, but it seemed promising so far. Although I do admit that it is a bit too cheesy for me at times. I somewhat like and hate Sun Mi’s naive innocence. I get it, since she missed out on alot of the normal things that one experiences while growing up. However, it was a bit weird and slightly annoying at times because she is supposed to be near her mid-thirties. I suppose a factor to what irks me with this is also the pacing of the romantic development. As of this post, I’ve watched 4 of the already aired episodes. The whole admittance to feelings within the second or third episode felt so sudden. Although, I suppose I do understand Son Oh Gong’s predicament and why he feelings are so sudden and like BAM! It just felt -too- sudden for me, and I felt like there just wasn’t enough development to make me believe it or feel any genuineness just yet?
Bitch, I ain’t scared of you.
What is this foolishness?
Another thing that kind of irked me was the CGI work. ISometimes it’s pretty cool…other times it looks like cheap and bleh for me. Again, detracting me from immersing into this world they’ve built. Sure there were ghosts…but I just didn’t find them scary. The unimpressive CGI didn’t really help either.
I regretted watching this alone in the dark at 3am when this shit popped up.
Here’s the thing, I love horror. I don’t get easily scared though (I attribute that to my Thai people being so great with horror stuff). So the CGI stuff might still be good enough for others. However, the shit that scared me most were the creepy dolls. I have few fears: heights, clowns, spiders, creepy ass dolls.
AW HELL NO…
Fuck that shit, I’m out!
Despite the poor CGI and the story still feeling a bit weak for me, I am enjoying this drama. The actors are all really fantastic. Though I will admit that Cha Seung Won’s character can be quite annoying from how extra he is at times. Still, it’s also a charming part of the series that leads to alot of laughs. I do enjoy all the characters so far, like the idol zombie chick.
On a side note, I don’t understand why people are hella cruel and mean to Sun Mi for being able to see ghosts. I would expect the normal reaction to be “She’s strange, let’s not try to associate with her” for sure. I expect a reaction and actions based on fear. However, here it’s more like “Let’s bully her and continue making fun of her!” Literally all the kids stand in the hallway happily singing about how she’s a ghost and gross. They even push her and all spit on a tree she touched because their parents told them that’s what you do to get rid of bad shit. What kind of shit parenting is that? I’m just saying, if it was me I’d be scared to mess with the girl who can see and talk to ghosts. I do like that despite the negatives in her life, Sun Mi is trying hard to live. My favorite quote is from when Son Oh Gong was trying to convince her to give up her life and let him eat her. He preyed on her weakness of being completely alone. She responds with, “Even though I don’t have family friends, or a lover…in my life, there’s me. Although I’m alone and life well, I’m more affectionate and proud of myself. I want to continue living.” This also comes right after the passing of singer Jonghyun from the idol group SHINee. It was seen as a really positive message amidst the recent tragedy.
It also took too long to explain who the hell this lady was. Literally 4 episodes to say that she’s the Summer Fairy, General Frost’s twin sister (who is really played by the same actor, just in drag).
Another positive is the OST. I wasn’t feeling the first OST song that was released. However, I am in love with the second song. Turns out it was sung by Bumkey, one of my favorite Korean R&B artists.
Despite my complaints, I am looking forward to the development of this drama. Though it’s not Goblin, it has some similar vibes. Still, I think this is one of the better dramas of the year. I am enjoying the comedy quite alot and seeing alot of familiar faces in this drama. Though I must also warn you that there are quite alot of Korean pop references, mostly regarding Korean celebrities. So some jokes might go over your head if you’re not familiar with that.
Edit: I also did a mid-series review [here].
Random observation for this series: