An Honest Review Of 'Goblin' By A K-Drama Fan

In need of a Gong Yoo fix? This show is for you.
by Kathleen Baylon
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The Long Plot, Sans Spoilers

The whimsical drama, in the tradition of folklores, starts with a halmoni (grandmother) sharing how the goblin came about—in the Goryeo period, a fearless warrior, as a reward and punishment, was turned immortal. His immortal life will end only when his bride removes the sword buried in his chest.

In the present day, nine hundred years since he turned immortal, we meet the stodgy goblin, Kim Shin (Gong Yoo). Having witnessed so many deaths and condemned to remember them all, he is lonely as he waits for his bride to appear. Life gets interesting when the cheerful 19-year old high schooler, Ji Eun Tak (Kim Go Eun), appears and claims to be his bride. He also finds himself living with a nameless grim reaper (Lee Dong Wook) who, in contrast, doesn't remember anything from his past life. The grim reaper meets the gorgeous chicken shop owner Sunny (Yoo In Na) and he starts to wonder what kind of person he used to be. Their four lives get intertwined and we find out as we go along just how closely. Joining the fray is Yoo Deok Hwa (Yook Sung Jae), the heir of the family protecting the goblin.

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The Honest Plot

The immortal goblin who wants to die meets his bride, and with mortality within reach, becomes conflicted over choosing between life or death. With the help of the grim reaper, he and his bride face the challenges fate throws their way and also resolve his 900-year old grievance.

The Actors And Where You Last Saw Them

1. Gong Yoo as Kim Shin, the goblin

I last saw Gong Yoo in Big in 2012 but it's a drama that would be best forgotten (I still don't understand what the heck happened there). Everyone else has seen the 37-year-old actor in the popular zombie apocalypse movie Train to Busan, for which he is nominated for Best Actor in the 11th Asian Film Awards that will be held this March.

2. Kim Go Eun as Ji Eun Tak

25-year-old Kim Go Eun is an award winning film actress, almost sweeping all the best new actress awards in Korea for her titular role in Eun Gyo (also A Muse) in 2012. She made her TV debut only last year as the lead in the hit TV adaptation of the webtoon Cheese in the Trap.

3. Lee Dong Wook as the Grim Reaper

The 35- year-old was the sweet boy next door lead in the drama Bubble Gum in 2015. He was also in Scent of a Woman in 2011, for which he won Top Excellence Award in the SBS Drama Awards. For Filipinos, however, Lee Dong Wook will always be Julian of My Girl, which aired on local TV in 2006.

4. Yoo In Na

Yoo In Na was training to be a singer, quit, then tried her acting chops. Her supporting role in Secret Garden in 2010 won her Best New Actress in the 47th Baeksang Arts Awards, and the 34-year-old actress has been landing lead and supporting roles since then, most notably the bratty/antagonist roles in the hit series My Love from the Star and The Greatest Love.

5. Yook Sung Jae

Yook Sung Jae is a member of the Korean boy group BtoB (Born to Beat). The 21-year-old actor won the New Star Award in the 23rd SBS Drama Awards for his performance in The Village: Achiara's Secret in 2015 and the Best Couple Award with Kim So Hyun (the queen in Goblin) in the 2015 KBS Drama Awards for Who Are You: School 2015.

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Did You Know? 

1. The screenwriter Kim Eun Sook (also of Descendants of the Sun, Heirs, Secret Garden, Lovers in Paris fame) had tried to cast Gong Yoo for five years but was always turned down. She was shy to ask him again but, eventually, she did. And this time, he offered a quick yes. On the flip side, according to DramaFever, although Lee Dong Wook was determined to play the grim reaper, he was rejected multiple times. It was only when he finally scored a one on one meeting with the writer that she agreed to give him the role.

Can you imagine a different goblin or grim reaper? Or a better bromance?

2. With the popularity of Goblin, Lee Dong Wook's 2006 guesting in ABS-CBN's now defunct show Wowowee was somehow resurrected and has been getting a lot of attention recently. Awkward!!! The comments are funny though.

3. Tourists have been flocking the filming sites of Goblin. According to allkpop, a vendor provides the necessary props—a bouquet of wildflowers, a scarf, and an umbrella—for 1,000 South Korean Won each (~P50) for fans to reenact the scene on the rocky pier in Jumunjin Beach in Gangneung,


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4. Yook Sung Jae shared in co-BtoB member Peniel's vlog that he studied for a month in the Philippines. He stayed in Cebu and can speak some Cebuano.

5. Kim Go Eun lived in China for 10 years and is fluent in Mandarin. She can also sing and actually did the vocals for "Attraction" on Cheese in the Trap's soundtrack.

6. Yoo In Na was a DJ from 2011-2016 for Volume Up, the number one radio show in its timeslot by the time she left.

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What My Fellow K-Drama Addict Friend Thinks:

"Goblin is an interesting and fascinating watch because it took a very tried and tested genre [featuring] grim reapers and goblins and twisted it on its head and made the characters more human and relatable. Human, in the sense that they experienced life as we know it to be (even if they are gods or non-mortals). The goblin eventually fell in love and understood what he has been missing for so longthat in the end, "everything shined" with his bride, the grim reaper finally understanding his past, and being loved and forgiven (eventually) in spite of all his faults, etc.

"The drama is relatable because you get to understand and become involved as the characters figure out life, death, love and everything in between. That the beauty of life could be found in the unexpected, that even individuals who have lived forever can be touched by genuine and heartfelt acts of selflessness. That whatever the outcome—sad or happy—every day is a beautiful day with the one you love."  Catherine T., Marketing Manager

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What I Think:

I started watching Goblin without knowing what the plot was (Gong Yoo? Lee Dong Wook? Kim Go Eun? Cheeeck!) so how the story unraveled was a pleasant surprise.  It started as an epic drama (wait, is this a big budget drama?) then dived into rom-com/melo territory, smoothly weaving between the two and slowly revealing the characters and their narrative. Some parts (all those product placements!) didn't really push the plot forward and the tone occasionally drifted (turning too cutesy), but they were not jarring overall.

With all the actors, even those playing smaller roles, plus the writer and director receiving distinctions in their prior work, I expected a lot and was not disappointed. The actors were their characters. Beyond the love story, I like how the writer depicted the relationships between brother and sister, between friends, between master and subject, etc. The memorable lines and the imagery were beautiful. The chemistry between the actors was also great.

Even Taiwanese actress Shu Qi is a fan!

With a grim reaper as one of the central characters, death was a recurring theme that ironically made the story more grounded. Although some of the grim reaper's scenes felt like fillers, they were thoughtful and stressed the themes of life and death, oblivion and remembrance, and reward and punishment using the story of the ordinary humans he would go to collect.

In a fantasy drama, the writer makes up rules within that world that creates the conflict of the story and also resolves it. I have seen a few that left me dissatisfied because the writer, including this drama's writer in her prior dramas, eventually goes against one of the rules. But the goblin's world, I'll bite and follow him through his magical door.

I'd Recommend It To:

Anyone who loves a good story.

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