It seemed like it took forever for Goblin (also known as Guardian: The Lonely and Great God) to be out in its entirety. But, as the old saying goes, “Good things come to those who wait.” Although, in the case of this drama, it would be more accurate to say, superbly fantastic things come to those who wait.
Once upon a time there lived a great General, Kim Shin, who faithfully served two kings during the Goryeo Dynasty. The immature second king was manipulated by his trusted advisor and believed the lie that his subjects honored General Kim more than they did him. So, with the lie fueling his insecurities he ended up ordering the death of General Shin. Kim Shin died when his friend, the man who served along side him in many battles, plunged the General’s own sword into his chest in order to keep him from dying a dishonorable death at the hands of the king’s executioners. General Shin was turned into an immortal goblin who has walked the earth, with his own sword still in his chest, for over 900 years. The woman fated to be his bride is the only person who will be able to see the sword and remove it. Once that happens, Kim Shim will be turned to ashes and scattered by the wind, forever.
Goblin, Kim Shin, has roamed the world for many centuries looking for his bride so she can remove his sword and he can finally rest in peace. There are only a few people who know he is a goblin and they guard that secret well. He possesses great abilities such as teleportation, super-human strength, changing the weather… He is serious and methodical until he meets a cheerful, happy-go-lucky young woman who makes him want to live again.
Kim Shim’s roommate is a Grim Reaper who has no memory of his past life. At first they barely tolerate one another’s presence but as time goes on they become close friends. The Reaper’s job is to escort people who have died to the afterlife. He is invisible while wearing his hat but appears as a regular human without it. Like the Goblin, he also has special powers – he can see people’s past lives if he touches them, he can stop time, erase people’s memories, hypnotize them, make objects float… Reapers are people who have committed serious sins in their past life, and knowing that fact might be the reason the Grim Reaper is a sullen, quiet soul who doesn’t smile much, however, he has a kind and generous heart.
Nineteen year old Ji Eun-Tak is a high school senior. Her mother passed away on her ninth birthday and she has lived with her abusive aunt and selfish cousins ever since. Despite her awful home life, Eun-Tak is a sweet, lighthearted girl who works hard and is helpful to others. Ever since she was a very little girl she has been able to see ghosts. At first she was frightened but gradually got used to the experiences and is even on friendly terms with some of them. She seems to think she is fated to be the Goblin’s bride.
Eun-Tak’s boss is Sunny, a beautiful woman who owns a chicken restaurant. She is outspoken, strong, independent and alone in life. She’s looking for her Prince Charming and thinks she might have found him when he cries the first time he sees her at a jewelry street stall as they both reach for a royal-looking jade ring.
Thirty-seven year old Gong Yoo has a bachelors degree in theater and began his career as a video jockey on Mnet in 2000. A year later he had his acting debut in the TV drama School 4. But it was his role in 2005’s smash hit Kdrama Coffee Prince that skyrocketed him to stardom, instantly making him a Hallyu star. In 2011 he starred in the movie Silenced, based on the novel The Crucible. The film brought to light the evils of sex crimes against minors and the disabled and a revised bill, dubbed the Dogani Bill, after the Korean title of the film, was successfully passed in October of that same year, allowing heavier punishments for offenders of children under 13 and the disabled. Awesome! He was recently in the blockbuster zombie thriller Train to Busan which received 96% from critics and 89% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. It was the first Korean film of 2016 to surpass 11 million admissions and became the highest grossing Korean movie in Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Singapore, grossing $87.7 million worldwide! Writer Kim Eun-Sook chose Gong Yoo to play the title role of the Goblin from the very beginning. She said, “I’ve been rejected (by Gong Yoo) for five years now, so I was extra careful when I made the proposal (for him) to appear in my drama.” We, the viewing audience, are so very lucky he said yes.
Handsome Lee Dong-Wook began his acting career in 1999 but it wasn’t until he starred in the 2005 hit Kdrama My Girl that he became a Korean Wave star. I loved him in the mystery/romance drama Wild Romance, the fantasy/romance drama Blade Man, and the forever romance drama Bubblegum. Goblin‘s writer didn’t even consider casting Lee Dong-Wook because the production team didn’t think he “matched the image of the (Grim Reaper) character”. But somehow he was able to read the scenario of Goblin and was very interested in playing the part of the Grim Reaper. His agency tried to change the writer’s mind but nothing worked. Eventually, they told him to give up but he refused to stop going after the role. Then, during one face-to-face meeting with writer Kim Eun-Sook he was able to convince her he would make a superb Grim Reaper, and the part was finally his!
After watching the Chinese movie Together many times, and crying each time she saw it, Kim Go-Eun (Ji Eun-Tak) said she knew she wanted to become a filmmaker but ended up taking a side path down that road and became an actress instead. She said, “When I stood on the stage for the first time, I was so nervous that I thought it would be so hard if I had to do this for the rest of my life. But from my second performance, I felt ecstatic, as if I had wings on my back, and I never wanted to step off the stage. I keep on acting because I want to hold on to that feeling.” She has been in several films since 2012 but her first TV drama came at the beginning of 2016 when she starred in Cheese in the Trap.
In 1998, at the age of 16, Yoo In-Ah (Sunny) joined an agency with the thought of being a singer in a girls’ Kpop group but was unsuccessful because she found the dance routines were too complicated for her to memorize. Then in 2006 she joined YG Entertainment thinking if a singing career wasn’t meant to be she would try acting “because it seemed fun.” She persevered and her big break came in 2009 in the form of the daytime sitcom High Kick Through the Roof. The following year she won Best New Actress in TV for her role in one of my favorite Kdramas, Secret Garden. Among some of the other awards she’s received are Best Entertainer in a Variety Show as the MC on TV Entertainment Tonight, Best Radio DJ for Let’s Crank Up the Volume, the highest rated radio show in its time slot on both AM and FM bandwidths, and the Rising Star Award for her staring role in Queen In-Hyun’s Man, another one of my favorite Kdramas.
The twists and turns in Goblin‘s storyline can be a tiny bit tricky if you’re not paying attention. The story encompasses a little over 900 years, weaving back and forth from the Goryeo period to a couple decades after 2017.
There are lots of varied special effects in this drama, everything from floating objects to glowing swords, snowflakes rising, walking through walls, and teleportation. It’s all done perfectly, adding magic and wow to the storyline.
Goblin was a huge hit, consistently topping viewer ratings each week of its run. Its last episode ended with an 18.68% nationwide rating, making it the second highest rated cable television show in Korean history, just barely behind Reply 1988 which ended its show with an 18.8% nationwide rating. What’s the reason for its tremendously huge fan base? Well, maybe it’s the original plot and engaging storyline. Or perhaps it’s the amazing, emotional acting. It could be the beautiful, soul-stirring music, or the lovely location scenery. Maybe it’s all the superb special effects. If I had to guess I’d say it was all of the above. Aside from a few, tiny directing/editing mistakes that were overlooked, the drama is a masterpiece – start to finish. Kim Eun-Sook, writer of the immensely popular Kdramas Secret Garden and Decendants of the Sun (and several others), can now add Goblin to her impressive list of fan-loved dramas. The woman really knows how to tell a story that captivates the heart.
This drama had three separate directors – Lee Eung-Bok, Kwon Hyuk-Chan, and Yoon Jong-Ho. I really don’t know how that worked. (One directed the ancient scenes, one did the modern scenes, and another directed the special effects? Or maybe all three were on set for everything? Or they each directed five episodes and collaborated on the 16th?… I have no idea.) However, what I do know is that three people were able to direct in a way that you would think it was just one person. It’s not choppy or mixed, but flows smoothly and consistently throughout the entire 16 episodes.
The music is fantastic. Eleven different songs had peak charted positions all in the single digits. Chanyeol (from EXO) and Punch team up to perform Stay With Me, which happened to not only top the charts in Korea but was also charted in places throughout the world. I Will Go to You Like the First Snow, sung by Ailee, was charted number one in Korea. Heaven is a lovely little duet performed by Roy Kim and Kim EZ (from GGot Jam Project). “Heaven is in your eyes… Heaven is in your kiss…” You can’t get any more romantic lyrics than that. Urban Zakapa sings Wish, a dreamy sounding song with just a hint of sadness in the music. Round and Round is the song played during the opening credits of the drama. It has a perfectly haunting sound and the words wonderfully represent the characters lives that go ’round and round’ in the story. A+ for the soundtrack.
The drama was shot in three different places in South Korea and also in Quebec Canada. The unique Canadian scenery is charming and lovely with the colors of autumn surrounding the lovers. I’ll never be able to see a red maple leaf again without thinking of Kim Shin and Eun-Tak. We also get to see the sweethearts by the ocean, and the Goryeo period scenery in the palace courtyard and the battlefield is quite grand. There’s also a scene where Kim Shin is on an ancient ship which he makes sink during a terrible storm. CGI? Undoubtedly. But it’s drama on a grand scale nonetheless. Just a side note – Goblin has had such enormous popularity that tourists have been flocking to its filming sites.
Whether or not you believe in past lives, reincarnation, spirits, or God, Goblin is an entertaining and emotional double love story that spans nearly a millennium, and you can’t get any better than that!
(By the way, my eyes misted up on more than one occasion so make sure you have a box of tissues nearby before you begin each episode.)
Engaging, romantic storyline
Superb, emotional acting
Gong Yoo’s facial expressions
Yummy, real kisses
Fantastic special effects
Great CGI work
Excellent chemistry between both the cast members and the characters
A few things the directors and editors overlooked