K-Drama Review: My Girlfriend is a Gumiho

 My Girlfriend is a Gumiho

My Girlfriend is a 9-tailed Fox

16 episodes

Mostly rom-com with some melo elements

I mentioned this one in my list of favorite K-Dramas.  I just watched it a second time and I don’t think it’s in my top ten after all, but it’s still in the top 15.

A gumiho or 9-tailed fox is a creature in Korean folklore and mythology, just as leprechauns and banshees are Irish, sirens are Greek, and the Lorelei is German.  Basically, it is a supernatural fox with 9 tails, nearly always female. She is able to shapeshift, usually into a beautiful woman who seduces men and then eats their hearts and/or livers.  For the purposes of this drama, the organ eating propensities are merely character smears, the result of malicious gossip by normal human women who were jealous of our gumiho’s incredible beauty and ability to attract men.  All the poor gumiho ever wanted was to marry a human being and become human herself.  Because of the harmful gossip another magical creature, Samshin Grandma, removed her tails and traps her in a painting for 500 years.  This was not a punishment, but more a case of protective custody.

Along comes our hapless hero, a 22 year old ne-er do well, spoiled, orphaned grandson of a rich and doting grandpa, and nephew to an even more doting unmarried aunt.  Cha Dae Woong, played by Lee Seung Gi (or Ki, depending on the romanized spelling system used) isn’t malicious, but he is an irrepressibly lovable,  irresponsible, lazy, fun-loving, self-centered, rascally rapscallion who takes for granted his grandfather’s love, forgiveness, and money.  Oh, he is a charmer, this boy.   Dae Woong accidentally frees the fox, who has very little knowledge of how this modern world works, and against his wishes or judgment becomes responsible for her.  Seung Gi is a lot of fun here, and he’s always cuter than a basket of housebroken puppies wearing fuzzy bunny ears.  On the second viewing, his acting wasn’t as strong for me, which is why this show is no longer in my top ten list, but all the cute is why it was only bumped a scant two or three places down on the list.  Sometimes he’s cheesy and over the top, but the cute is a strong get out of jail free card for the occasional over-acting in this drama.

The gumiho (whom Dae Woong later names ‘Mi Ho) is played by Shin Mina, and oh-my-stars-and-garters, is she ever adorable in this role.  On second viewing, the adorable cuteness was even better with her.  I don’t how she did it, either.  She really ought to have been too old to pull off this much cuteness without making me cringe, but I never winced even once.  I just wanted to give her a bowl full of the cow meat she loves, and watch her smile, skip, and crush on Dae Woong with complete and utterly charming frankness.  She won the editor’s choice for best character in a K-drama in 2010 over at Dramabeans, and she deserved it.  She deserved it so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so much!


Other characters:

Dae Woong wants to be an actor in action films, and he’s a student and cast member of an action/stunt/martial arts training school run by Director Ban, actor Sung Dong-il.  Sung Dong-il sshi is a highly respected actor in Korea.  He’s been in a bazillion dramas.  He does comedy, melo, sageuk, and here he has a hilarious secondary romance line with Dae Woong’s aunt.  But the role I’ve seen Dong-il sshi in that I like best, is his real life role as father to his own son, the heart-stealingly cute Jun in the variety show Appa! Eodiga? (Dad! Where Are We Going?).  I mean, he’s fine, here, just not amazing (this is largely the fault of the character, not the actor), and I totally love watching him grow as a father in the reality show.

Park Dong-joo Teacher (Noh Min-woo)– a half human/half supernatural being who lives in the human world as a veterinarian while fulfilling his responsibilities as a hunter of other supernatural beings.  I like Min-woo (he’s in Full House 2), but his character here wasn’t my favorite.  I can’t say much more without giving away spoilers, so I’ll just say his spook hunter career seems sometimes to be related to protecting the human world from supernatural beings who have crossed the line and are where they don’t belong, and sometimes seems to be about protecting the supernatural creatures, and sometimes those lines seemed blurred.

EUN HYE-IN (Park Su-jin)- is a slightly older than Dae Woong is student and actress that Dae Woong has a huge crush on (we know she’s older because he calls her noona).  She’s a stock Korean character in this drama, snotty, arrogant, interfering, and, though she never seemed to return Dae Woong’s feelings when he was crushing on her, now that ‘Mi ho’ (the name Dae Woong gives the gumiho) is in his life, she wants to come between them and do as much harm to Mi Ho as she can.  I loathe these sorts of K-drama females.  Fortunately, she’s not the worst of this sort, and there were several fun twists on her efforts to shove Mi Ho out of the way.  I also love that Mi Ho’s nickname for Hye-In is a Korean word for something like ‘internet slander’ or ‘malicious gossip.’  So very, very accurate.

KIM BYUNG-SOO (Kim Ho-chang) and BAN SUN-NYEO (Hyo-min)- Dae Woong’s best friends (although he may not have realized that at first).  Sun-Nyeo is the daughter of the director of the action school (he’s a single dad), and she has a crush on Dae Woong which he knows almost nothing about.  Meanwhile, Byung Soo likes Sun Nyeo, and she’s equally oblivious to this.

CHA MIN SOOK- I don’t know the name of the actress, but she’s been in a lot of K-dramas.  Her character is Dae Woong’s maiden aunt.  She has had many unsuitable suitors in the past.  She and Director Ban fall in love.

It’s written by the Hong Sisters, the  same duo who did two other of my favorite shows- Hong Gil Dong and You’re Beautiful

So the Gumiho has entered the human world, and she wants to go all the way- she is in love with the man-child Dae Woong and wants to become human so he will love her back.  He’s prejudiced against humans loving supernatural beings and non-humans.

Dae Woong has to learn to grow up, take responsibility and care for somebody else more than he cares for himself- to ‘become a person,’ as his grandfather has been telling him for years.

But there are bigger stakes here- though neither of them realize it at first. This is a spoiler, so I’m making the text lighter in color (this won’t work for all readers).  If you don’t mind light spoilers, highlight this paragraph:

Mi Ho has been told if she will drink a vial of the spook hunter’s blood at the same time she gives her ‘ki,’ or energy, in the form of something she calls her ‘fox bead’ to a human to take care of for 100 days, then she can become a human.  Dae Woong has learned that with that fox bead he will have incredible powers of recuperation, as well as be able to perform some mighty impressive stunts, so he’s more than willing to keep the bead for her.  This is only half the truth.  Dong Joo the spook hunter did not tell Mi Ho that when she takes the fox bead back at the end of 100 days, the human host will die, all of his human energy having been absorbed, and since she did not know that, of course, Mi Ho did not tell Dae Woong he was risking his life.  She also doesn’t tell him all of what she does know-  that if he keeps her bead, she will die.  She’s decided to go ahead and quietly die at the end of the 100 days, because she doesn’t want to hurt him.

Nothing to do with this part of my post. It’s just a cute scene.

I don’t think it’s giving too much away when I say that my favorite scene in the show is Dae Woong’s response when Dae Woong finally discovers just how high the stakes are and that one of them has to die.  It was epic, but also involves the two of them entering territory no human or non-humans have ever entered before, so now nobody knows what to expect or how it will all end.  This is a romantic comedy, but it’s also a melo and there are many heart-wrenching scenes.  That’s episode 13, my favorite.  I was harshly let down by the second half of episode 14 and most of 15.  It’s so hackneyed, so boring, so annoying, so WRONG in about 18 different ways – ways that contradict the stated intention.  Argh. I wish drama writers would learn a new trick.  And this one annoys me so much because they made it look like they had before.

I’d like to say more, because I’d love to talk more about this show and some of the themes, but everything I want to say would be a spoiler.

Why Show is Not Entirely For Family Viewing: As I mentioned in my original, shorter, review, this one requires more previewing than most of the other K-dramas I recommend here- not because of any images or even the relationships themselves for the most part , but mainly for some of the very frank discussions Mi Ho has- she’s so cute, so frank, so literal (kind of Amelia Bedelia like in some ways), so childishly open in the things she says that it doesn’t come across as lewd or offensive, but I wouldn’t want to have a discussion about it with my 8 year old, either.  While Dae Woong has the fox-bead, for example, he cannot get involved with any other girls, or the bead will be harmed. But Mi Ho doesn’t say ‘get involved,” she says mate- he can’t mate with anybody else (it turns out he can’t kiss or hold hands, either- all these acts of affection fall under the ‘mating’ heading).   On her list of life goals, mating with Dae Woong is on the top of her list.  On another occasion when she’s warning him he has to be strong and not think about mating, he gets all indignant and huffs that he never thinks of that at all, and she fairly flummoxes him when she  tells him he doesn’t have to lie, and anyway, she thinks about it lots and lots and lots of times.  There is a very daring double entendre in episode 2.  There’s a hilarious but slightly off color scene where one character has consumed too much beer and can’t find a bathroom, so he urinates against a wall on the side of the road- and the wall falls down, revealing him to the lady householder who was in her garden. This is followed by a discussion at the police station  as to whether he is or is not a pervert.   Dong-Joo teacher takes Mi Ho to a bookstore and is showing her the different sections. They accidentally walk by a porn display (I don’t think you see much detail beyond the title, and at any rate, it flashes by quickly), and he’s going to ignore it, but he looks flustered, and she says proudly, “Oh, I know what that is. That’s about mating.”  This stuff is not in every episode, and after all, if you’re watching with subtitles and your kids don’t read it quickly enough, you can substitute some other words.=D

Who will like this: Lee Seung Gi fans.  Shin Mina fans (although I think she gained thousands of new fans with her performance in this drama).  Those of us who love cute and adorable in our K-dramas.  Rom-com fans who are okay with more cute and adorable than steam or sizzle, because this definitely does not sizzle.  It bubbles, like a sweet and fizzy soda that tickles your nose.

Who won’t like it: Lee Seung Gi and Shin Mina anti-fans; those who prefer more ‘adult’ rom-coms and more sizzle and aren’t that into cute. Those who avoid supernatural elements in their entertainment.  Silly folk who are adorable-adverse.

Shin Mina as Mi Ho the Gumiho girlfriend

Oddly, almost all the Dramabeans stable of reviewers loved this, but a lot of their readers complained that it was slow and boring.  There are some flaws I haven’t mentioned here, mostly because they’d be spoilers.  With the exception of the oh-so-boring-annoying-and-TIRED-noble-idiot strand of the story which I hate,  the thousand and one levels of adorable coming from Shin Mina just obliterated the flaws for me, and the resolution at the end washed away the nasty after-taste of noble idiot.  Happy sigh.



You may also like:

Dramas I’ve completed, recommend, and reviewed: see here.

Things to know when watching a K-drama

More Things To Know

What is it I like about K-Dramas?

You might be watching a K-Drama if….

Where to get your fix: Sites where you can find subtitled K-dramas (and dramas from other countries, as well. I’ve watched a handful of J-dramas (Japanese) and TW (Taiwanese) dramas, but I vastly prefer the K-dramas, even though I know more Japanese – I got an A in my Japanese 101 class back in the day, when we actually lived in Japan and once I even knew both hiragana and katakana- but still K-dramas interest me vastly more).


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