The drama gods did not bestow their grace on this fantasy drama.
Genre: Romance, fantasy
Synopsis: Habaek (Nam Joo Hyuk), the god of water, arrives on earth to search for the three sacred stones he needs in order to ascend the throne. He mysteriously loses his powers and must enlist the help of his mortal servant, Yoon So Ah (Shin Se Kyung), to help him navigate through this unfamiliar world.
I wasn’t interested in watching this drama initially because I wasn’t fond of any of the cast members. It didn’t help that the two leads are notorious for being bad at acting. But I found myself being mysteriously drawn to it after seeing the trailers, so I took the plunge despite all the negative reviews. Was it worth my time? Yes, and no. Let me vent and start with where this drama went wrong.
The bad — Story and coherence
It is hard to believe that this drama was written by the very same scriptwriter who gave us Arang and the Magistrate, a fantasy sageuk that I enjoyed a lot despite its somewhat draggy plot in the later half.
Given that The Bride of the Water God is based on a popular webtoon, the writer already had very good source material to begin with, and yet she couldn’t deliver.
The show could have been an exciting treasure hunt since Habaek needed to search for the missing stones on earth, but he managed to find them a little too easily and quickly.
My biggest peeve was Habaek being powerless for almost 90% of the whole series. This was the same frustration I had with Vampire Detective. I get that a powerless deity is good fodder for fish-out-of-water jokes, especially since Habaek has an arrogant personality, which meant he could potentially offend many humans and get into awkward and hilarious situations. But you have a non-human as the lead, so why deprive him of his super powers for so many episodes? I’m watching a fantasy drama because I want to escape from reality and see some magic right? Even in the rare instances where he regained his powers, we were never offered a clear explanation for it.
A lot of crucial information was also withheld from the audience for too long, which made it hard to understand the rules of this fantasy world, and hard for us to relate to the decisions made by the characters. The impact was then lost when the details were finally revealed. There were also some things that were never explained right till the end.
There was also a particular scene in the beginning that was replayed several times throughout the series, which could only mean that it was an important scene. But it all amounted to nothing much in the end and I felt somewhat cheated. That scene was nothing more than a bait to capture viewers’ attention till the end.
The first few episodes had a lot of outrageous things happening that were probably meant to be humourous, but I didn’t laugh at all. A mentally ill patient obsessed with UFOs and Obama? A wild boar attacking a car? And why should deities drive cars (even if they are capable of driving at super-human speed) when they can teleport? It was amazing that I didn’t drop the drama then.
The drama was also rife with characters whom I found unlikable: the dialect-speaking male nurse working in So Ah’s clinic kept nagging like a granny, the lesser deities especially Joo Geol Rin, the spoilt rich girl Shin Jaya who doesn’t seem to be of any importance to the plot but keeps appearing, and even the deities Moora (played by Krystal) and Bi Ryeom (Gong Myung) bordered on annoying to me because they seemed to behave like enemies of Habaek instead of his friends.
The bad — Special effects
The drama had some rather beautiful cinematography and colour palette, after all, this was directed by the same PD who helmed Vampire Prosecutor, a drama that I enjoyed.
But it was the less-than-polished CGI effects that made the show rather laughable, especially the aforementioned wild boar. Granted, I have seen special effects in Hong Kong, Singapore and Chinese dramas that are far worse than this, but the CGI doesn’t quite make the cut for Korean drama standards.
I’m not sure I liked the Greek-inspired costumes that the deities wore in the celestial realm either. Krystal looked gorgeous in anything she wore, but I can’t say the same for the male deities. I was impressed with the backdrop though, which I later found out that the celestial scenes were all shot in India.
Passable? — The acting
I’ve seen Shin Se Kyung and Nam Joo Hyuk being lambasted for their poor acting in this drama, but I don’t think they were all that bad. I must admit that Nam Joo Hyuk looked awkward in several scenes where he had to be angry, and Shin Se Kyung looked like she was just flailing around instead of being distressed in a scene in episode 5 (the poor CGI wasn’t helping her either). But I didn’t have much issues with their acting for the most part of the show, though their acting is definitely not at the level that make them worthy of a grand prize.
Nam Joo Hyuk was also hampered by a character that was rather bland and cool, which didn’t offer him many opportunities to emote unlike Im Joo Hwan, who shone in his role as Hu Ye. Nam Joo Hyuk may not have had a wide range of facial expressions, but I thought he did a good job in his voice acting, as he had to speak in authoritative sageuk speech throughout the show.
Gong Myung’s acting was decent but I couldn’t like his character because he kept being unreasonably mean to everyone. Krystal was surprisingly good at acting for an idol singer.
The good — The romance
Many detractors will argue that the two leads lacked chemistry, but I found myself strangely drawn to them as the episodes went by. I think their romance was what made me continue watching this drama despite its weak plot. I saw many people rooting for Hu Ye instead, but his stiff demeanor didn’t appeal to me. To each his/her own.
While the first half of the series was spent trying to introduce the fantasy world to us and showing Habaek adjusting to the human realm and finding his precious stones, the second half of the series focused more on the romance, which could be why I enjoyed the later episodes more.
The good — OST
I really love the soundtrack of this drama, which should come as no surprise since the songs were penned by acclaimed composer Nam Hye Seung, who was the music director for dramas such as Goblin, Chicago Typewriter, Reply 1988 and Cruel City.
My favourite songs are Glass Bridge by Savina and Drones and Without You by Lucia. Both songs have been on constant replay in my head. I must add that the physical album of the soundtrack has a very beautiful design too and I feel tempted to buy a copy for myself.
The good — Eye candy
Call me shallow, and I don’t gush often about how good-looking actors are, but Nam Joo Hyuk is really perfection and pleasing to watch on screen. He caught my eye in Scarlet Heart (I was more interested in his character’s story arc than that of the leads), and I think he has won me over in this drama.
It helped that he was dressed in fashionable clothes for most of this drama, likewise for all the other cast members. I totally get why Shin Se Kyung gets so much praise just for looking pretty too; it’s even more amazing that she hasn’t changed much since her days as a child actress. There is just so much pretty here. I just hope they will work harder on their acting for subsequent projects.
I must make special mention of the adorable pair of dragon stuffed toys. The blue one that represents Habaek is called Yong Yong-ie, but I can’t recall if the pink one had a name. If you read my previous post about Goblin filming locations, you will probably realise that I have a soft spot for stuffed toys. I feel tempted to get a blue Yong Yong-ie for myself, but it’s a pity that the dolls only seem to be sold as a pair. Not willing to spend that sum of money.
Watch at your own risk. The likelihood of being dissatisfied or disappointed at the end of it all is rather high — that is, if you even make it to the last episode. The romance and eye candy may compensate for the lacklustre plot, but this is also highly subjective.