Updated: Nov 1, 2020
The 'Tale of Arang' also known as 'Arang and the Magistrate'.
I started this one after completing 'Flower of Evil' and wanted to check out other works of Lee Joongi, and this drama from 2012 caught my eye. Along with Shin Min-Ah, this made a good visual. I have been a fan of Shin Min-Ah as well, she seems to be one of those few K actresses who seem to have an organic face and a natural feel to her acting.
The story is set in a time when they wore fancy robes and still wrote in Chinese characters and since I am no expert on Korean History, let's leave it at that.
It started strong, with a guy who can see ghosts and is wandering around the nation in search of his mother who took off one day without a word and has been AWOL ever since, and a peppy ghost who has lost her memories and wants to know more about her life as a human and her death, before she makes the journey to the next world. Apparently, she had been dodging the grim reapers for 3 years! That's a very poor record for a grim reaper. Imagine not meeting your targets for 3 years, he would've gotten the boot here in this world. But the bosses of Hell and Heaven are these cool chaps, busy playing 'Go' and sharing insights which seldom add anything to the flow of the story and rather add to the confusion. They are not bothered about a ghost not making to the tally.
It was an interesting plot and a stellar cast and had this drama been a 12 episode or even 16 episode saga, it would have been a nail-biting thriller. But it is a 20 episode drag which after the 9th episode I couldn't wait to finish.
The first 3 episodes were fast, interesting, and funny and were successful in roping me in. Sample this: Lee Joongi's Kim Eun Ho taking measurements of the ghost Arang (Shin Min-ah) as no one can see her but him and she wants new clothes to meet her fiancee from the time she was alive!
But from the 4th to 9th episode the pace of the story is soo slow. There was a scene when the magistrate meets the local Lord and the Lord washes him down, calling him the son of a rebel and not a nobleman but he keeps shut not uttering a word. It was Lee Joon-gi's screen presence that kept me going. It has the usual mix of Kdrama spices, the love triangle, and the jealous boyfriend, the triangle being an unusual one. Some concepts were fresh, like the peek into the ghost world, where you need to fight for food. Apparently, as a ghost, you can only eat the food offered in a memorial service. So all the ghosts fight for the limited food supply. And women are not safe as a ghost as well! I remember myself yelling ‘Oh Hello.. you creepy ghost, let the lady ghost walk in peace will you, damn! ‘ There as well, the guy-who-can-see-ghosts has to come rescue our ghost gal.
Lee Joongi does justice to his role, especially in the scene where Arang first tells him that she has only 2 months left before she leaves for heaven or hell forever, you could literally his agony in his eyes, his heart shattering into a million pieces. There are quite a few fight scenes as well if you dig those.
Shin Min-Ah, is splendid, the character is bold and daring and she proved again that she has a wide range when it comes to portraying the feelings of the character.
I was surprised to see Yoo Seung-ho (of ‘I am not a Robot) as the Emperor of Heaven. His getup was indeed funny, I have not researched how the Emperor of Heaven has been portrayed in Korean folklore, it may be in line with the legends, but that didn’t make it any less laughable.
Kang Moon-young as the evil fairy, the main antagonist of the story, was trying hard to ‘look’ evil, it almost felt forced.
Yeon Woo-jin's character was despicable and pitiable at the same time. He bartered his soul for a better life, a social standing, and a family, but never to find love and happiness. Is it just me or there is just one expression plastered to his face most of the time?
In the end, I would say if you are craving for Lee Joongi, you can go ahead with this, but this is not something that will keep you at the edge of your seat.
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