[Korean drama review] Dokkaebi/Goblin: The Lonely and Great God

Every moment with you shone, every moment was worth it.

Genre: Supernatural, fantasy, romance, comedy

Synopsis: Kim Shin (played by Gong Yoo) was once a formidable warrior who slayed countless enemies in Goryeo. After his death, he is reborn as a dokkaebi (an immortal better known as a goblin in the English-speaking world) as a punishment and reward for the many lives he took as a human. He searches for his destined bride (Kim Go Eun) who is the only one capable of pulling out the sword stuck in his chest to end his life of immortality. Along the way, he ends up being unlikely housemates with a grim reaper (Lee Dong Wook).  Hijinks ensue and the past and present start to intertwine… 

Comments:

I paid no attention to this drama when it was first announced, simply because I didn’t like the scriptwriter’s previous dramas. There was an exception though; I did like Secret Garden a lot, and with famous actors like Gong Yoo and Lee Dong Wook on board, not to mention a very impressive teaser, I decided to set aside my prejudices and give this drama a chance. Little did I know that this would end up being one of my most favourite Korean dramas ever.

Thumbs up — A strange and beautiful tale 

The synopsis of the story may sound quite absurd, but being out-of-this world is what makes it a fantasy right? I was utterly impressed by how the writer managed to create a rich fantasy world of goblins, grim reapers and ghosts — each with their own unique abilities and quirks. I thought the imaginary world she created was on par with the likes of Twilight or other famous fantasy stories from the West. I remember scriptwriter Kim Eun Sook saying something to the effect of wanting to write a fantasy story that was uniquely Korean to rival those produced in the West. It was thus an ingenious move of her to center the story on a dokkaebi, a mythical being unique to Korean folklore that has not been featured much in dramas or movies. Not only does this present a great opportunity for her to deliver fresh content, it is also a chance to introduce a little known aspect of Korean folklore to an international audience. This drama piqued my interest and led me to read up more on dokkaebi — although they are referred to as “goblins” in English, they have entirely different characteristics from the goblins we know in Harry Potter and other stories from the west.

Doesn't this remind you of Assassin's Creed?

Doesn’t this remind you of Assassin’s Creed?

Besides the fantasy element, I liked how the subject of life and death was portrayed in a way that is both grim and beautiful. The loneliness and emptiness experienced by our two immortals, Kim Shin and Grim Reaper, are evident — their rooms are large but decked out in monotonous colours devoid of cheerfulness, and they can sit in the dark at home for hours without knowing that time has passed, because what is a few hours when you have existed for hundreds of years? But happiness and new meaning are injected into their lives when they meet Ji Eun Tak (Kim Go Eun) and Sunny (Yoo In Na), and they learn how to live and embrace life beyond just merely existing. Ji Eun Tak (Kim Go Eun) describes Kim Shin as “strange and beautiful” in the show, and I think this phrase perfectly describes the drama too. It can have you laughing in one moment, and moved to tears the next moment.

Two thumbs up — Comedy and bromance

I thoroughly enjoyed the comedic moments in this drama, and there was no lack of it. The jokes range from word puns, to bickering between couples, to petty fights between the two immortal housemates, to them being socially awkward when interacting with humans. The humour is a consistent element peppered throughout the whole series, and it amazes me how the scriptwriter could come up with all these funny scenes; it makes me think she must be a genuinely funny person in real life. The bromance was also a standout till the point that it threatens to overshadow the romance. I think I can watch an entire spin-off series of our goblin and grim reaper having trivial fights and saving the world.

Word play #1: Kim Shin tells Grim Reaper to get back to his senses (“정신차리고 / jongshin charigo”) and prepare lunch (“점심차려 /jomshimcharyeo”). Notice how the sentence rhymes?

I enjoyed the word puns in particular, many which were unfortunately lost in translation in the English subtitles. From Kim Shin telling Grim Reaper to “shut up” (pronounced “dak cheo” in Korean) for giving him boxes of chicken (“dak” in Korean), to Kim Shin saying that he will turn into nothingness (“mu”) and then getting annoyed with a box of radishes (also pronounced “mu”); all these hilarious lines are GOLD.

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Word play #2: During a fight, Kim Shin proclaims that his former job was a warrior (전직 무신 / jeonjik mushin), and the baddie says his current job is being jobless (현직 무직 / hyunjik mujik). Notice how the sentence rhymes again! LOL!

Kim Shin also had many catchy lines that he would repeat throughout the series. Some memorable lines include “This is really my first time, really (진짜 처음이야 진짜 / jinjja cheoeumiya jinjja)” and “I’m in a tough situation (퍽 난감하군 / pok nangam hagoon)”. These not only form an integral part of the character’s personality, but also shape the show’s identity. It helps that many of his lines can be easily used in different contexts in our daily lives, as proven by Korean netizens who can’t resist quoting the show’s famous lines in any comment they make about the drama. Unfortunately, I won’t have the chance to use any of these lines since not many people around me know Korean.

This Youtube video summarises Kim Shin’s trademark lines in the drama.

Two thumbs up — Acting

Believe it or not? This is actually my first time watching a show starring Gong Yoo. He may have shot to fame with Coffee Prince almost a decade ago, but it was just not my cup of tea. Even though he looks much older now, I still found myself falling for his charm. His facial expressions in Goblin are GOLD — they are all so GIF-worthy. He does well in emotional scenes, but I think he is best in comedy, especially when you pair him up with Lee Dong Wook. I liked Lee Dong Wook in My Girl, which like Coffee Prince, was aired almost a decade ago and propelled him to stardom. It’s amazing how these two actors can end up in the same drama a decade later. He was hilarious enough in My Girl despite his character being a rather serious one, so I wasn’t surprised by how funny he was as the socially awkward Grim Reaper in this show. This is also my first time seeing Kim Go Eun acting, and I was very impressed with how she handled the transition of her character from a teen to a woman. She may not be as pretty as her plastic counterparts, but she has the acting chops. I think I’ve found a girl crush. Besides the leads, the supporting cast also managed to bring out the unique personalities of their characters no matter how small their roles were. Deserving special mention is Jo Woo Jin as Secretary Kim, who had such a deadpan manner of speaking that he has become an internet sensation.

Here, you can see that Secretary Kim is popular enough to have an entire video dedicated to him.

Two thumbs up — Cinematography and OST

The pictures speak for themselves. If the story made the drama “strange and beautiful”, then the cinematography and OST made it beyond beautiful. For a long time, Korean dramas had set themselves apart from Chinese dramas with their eye for aesthetics and a unique set of soundtrack for every show. Of course, things are probably changing now as other countries try to emulate the Korean success formula. I’ve seen a lot of Korean dramas with impressive visuals, but the cinematography in Goblin is easily on a class of its own. Some important scenes in the drama were shot from more than 10 different camera angles — imagine the number of times the crew had to reposition their camera and lighting, and how many takes the actors had to do for one scene alone. From spending huge amounts of money on a single action scene laden with top-notch special effects, to bringing back a chandelier from New York just to decorate the Grim Reaper’s tea house for the right “feel”, to a staff member growing buckwheat at home to be used in the show, you have to give props to the director and the team for effort.

This scene alone was shot from at least 15 different angles.

This scene alone was shot from at least 15 different angles.

The choice of songs for the OST was also perfect. There were many songs that were noticeably in English, and surprisingly, they didn’t feel out of place in this drama. Besides the songs having very nice melodies that suit the mood of the show, I was particularly impressed by how the lyrics matched the storyline perfectly. Case in point would be Ailee’s “I Will Go to You Like the First Snow”; the song perfectly described Kim Shin’s feelings in the drama. It’s little wonder that all the songs from the drama have been dominating the music charts in Korea for so many weeks.

Can be better — Pacing and story focus

Despite the drama being highly popular, it also has its fair share of detractors. Although I disagree with a lot of the criticisms out there, I do think the drama’s lack of focus on a central plot could have been an issue with certain viewers. I admit that the dilemma about whether to pull out the sword is a rather weak one that is hardly enough to sustain for 16 episodes, and this dilemma is almost forgotten in certain episodes where you have scene after scene of comedic moments. The writer did introduce other points of conflict to beef up the story though, which worked for me, but probably not enough for others who still found the show too boring. This is one drama where I felt that the conflicts in the story did not matter as much as the relationships forged between the characters. Just watching their humorous interactions and their transition from enemies to friends and family were more than enough to keep me entertained. I used to enjoy heavier genres like crime and mystery, but after bidding goodbye to my schooling days and entering the workforce, I’ve come to appreciate dramas that can relieve my stress and put a smile on my face. Goblin was the exact panacea I needed.

Verdict:

Overall: 9/10
Enjoyment: 10/10

This is not a show where you expect heart-stopping action or nail-biting tension, but the comedic interactions and chemistry between the unique characters make this a relaxing and enjoyable watch. This aesthetically pleasing masterpiece about a beautiful romance that transcends time and death will likely leave you with lingering emotions for weeks.

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One thought on “[Korean drama review] Dokkaebi/Goblin: The Lonely and Great God

  1. Yes, girl! This is how I felt about this show, too! Loved it from first episode to last, and even though the pacing was sometimes a little slow, it was so beautiful to look at, I really didn’t mind!

    I feel sad now that my Korean just isn’t good enough to fully appreciate those puns. Word play is my favorite! I’ll just have to learn more Korean and go back to watch it again when I’m fluent. 😉 Thank you for taking the time to explain some of them for us!

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