K-Drama Review: Gu Family Book

 Gu Family Book:

Oooh, I like this. I like it a lot.  However,  if you don’t do supernatural, you’ll want to skip this one.  The lead character of the first two episodes is a gumiho (sort-of-kind-of-but-not-really similar to a werewolf in Western culture, because traditionally a gumiho is a 9-tailed female fox instead of a wolf, and there are other differences as well), as well as a sort of minor deity who guards and protects the forest and has magical powers- which he mostly uses to protect the forest,  make things grow, make pretty blue lights in the air, gather butterflies, and leap over trees. The primary male lead of the remainder of the show is his son by a human mother.

If you need to know more than that, I suggest you read the recaps of the first two episodes at Dramabeans and Koala; DB loved it all, K loved the first but hated the second with a passion that, fair warning, turned the air blue. It’s kind of cool to see how very, very, differently we can see the same drama.

I found it stunningly beautiful as far as music and cinematography go.  In the first two episodes I loved the lead character’s acting and his character, and his monk friend is a sweetheart. I found the female lead’s acting a little off, and while I felt desperately sorry for that character, I neither liked nor admired her much and felt sorry for the man who fell in love with her, so I wasn’t that angry about the 2nd episode, since I never had a high opinion of the lead female’s brains or character to begin with.  However, these first 2 episodes are only back-story- the leads here are not the main characters of the show, they are merely the parents of our hero, so whatever we liked or disliked here may have nothing to do with the rest of the show.  You need to preview them, as elements of this backstory are not family friendly.

Kang-Chi is our hero, the adult son of the parents we met and said good-bye to in the first 2 episodes- our half man/half gumiho hero, who is played by Lee Seung-Gri (King2HeartsMy Girlfriend is a Gumiho; cameo role in Greatest Love).  I’ve loved him in everything I’ve seen him do, and that holds true for this show as well.  His character doesn’t learn he’s not fully human until a few episodes in, and you know, that’s kind of earth shattering revelation to deal with, “By the way, son, you’re actually part puppy.”

Yeo-Wool is lead female, played by Suzy, who was in Dream High, and is a member of the Korean girl group Miss A.  I liked her in Dream High, though a lot of reviewers didn’t.  I thought she was fresh, cute, and believable.  A historical drama is quite a bit different, and I don’t think she’d fit well with a traditional sageuk, but that’s not what this is, so she worked for me.  Her character dresses like a boy (our not always bright hero thinks she is a boy), and she has been a martial arts instructor at her dad’s school, so, not too traditional.

Currently she travels incognito with a wonderful bodyguard, male servant of her father’s, Gon.  He’s played by Sung Joon, who was the lead in Shut-up Flower Boy Band (my favorite of the Flower Boy series, and one of my top 10 favorite K-dramas, ever), and the little brother in Lie to Me.  He’s fabulous here.  You have to watch his face whenever he’s on screen, even if he’s not talking.

Episodes 3-10: I am really enjoying this.  It’s still incredibly pretty with great background music and an intriguing story, and now they’ve added a bromance and two loving, warm family bonds, which is like catnip to a cat for me.  It is true that sometimes Lee Seung-Gri’s delivery is a wee bit awkward or over-acted, but I didn’t mind. He’s as cute as a puppy and the story itself is just over the top enough that it’s kind of like watching an old martial arts film but with better production values, so his occasional (very occasional) awkward delivery fits the tone and just adds to the fun, and honestly, it’s not all that awkward, and definitely not all the time.


 Gu Family Book Kang Chi transformed attacks


I’m enjoying Suzy’s role, too.  I understand that if I actually spoke or understood Korean, I might find her jarring.  I think I recall reading a reviewer who does both (I forget who, though) saying it’s kind of like finding a valley girl accent in a story set in the middle ages.  But you know what? That reminds me of A Knight’s Tale , a movie ostensibly set in the middle ages, the days of chivalry and Chaucer, where the audience watches jousting tournaments while cheering to AC/DC’s We Will Rock You.  I’m okay with that.   She is a female dressed in boys’ clothes, skilled in archery and sword fighting, a martial arts instructor and a tomboy much beloved by her father in a period show set in the Joseon era when girls didn’t even always get a name from their parents, so I don’t see why her modern sound should be an issue.

I’ve also read a lot of complaints about her acting, and I just don’t get it. I think she’s doing a great job.  Well, unless she’s in a scene requiring her to run.  She runs like a girl, and I mean that in the most scornful way imaginable.

Caveats for family viewing:  with one or two exceptions I would not skip most of these scenes, but I’m trying to be sensitive to all our readers. That said, I probably missed something. Don’t let this glimpse substitute for your informed judgment:

The lead bad guy was and is cringe-worthy.  His lines are cheesy, over the top, mustache twirling, and it must have really pained the actor to have to say them. Ugh.  There is a brutal scene between him and the servant girl in the first or second episode which I would have rather skipped and suggest you do the same. You don’t see anything, but the dialogue is ugly.  There is also a scene where the human female lead is stripped and tied to a tree, but her undergarments are long and billowy bloomers and a sleeveless top.  You see more skin at most modern weddings. There are two hangings, one a suicide and one not.  That’s the first 2 episodes.

When Gumiho Papa marries Kang Chi’s human mama there is a suggestive bit of ribbon undoing before the cut away.

And, you know, Kang-Chi is half man, half beast.  Like the hulk.  Except not green, and with the addition of  fangs, claws, and a bit of blood lust. If you have sensitive young people, they will probably find him scary.

The lead bad guy continues to be disgusting, and his conversation at the Gisaeng house is not edifying IYKWIMAITYD.

episode 7 has a lot of swearing in one scene.

episode 9/10 :   A big reveal, and since it is a spoiler I will share it in yellow text- highly to read: Kang Chi discovers that Young Master Dam is actually agasshi Yeo Wool (ie a girl, not a boy) when she trips and he conveniently catches her and starts to restore her balance with one hand behind her back and the other hand in front, er, full of the evidence that she is definitely a girl.  It’s played for astonishment and shock, with a lot of awkward, not sensuality, but there it is. end spoiler.

There are some great boy lessons (like in Spiderman) in Gu Family Book.  Episode 19’s gem:

“Teach me how how to fight better. I need to become stronger because I have more I need to protect.” He’s referring to people here, not things.

“If you become stronger, you also have to bear more responsibility.”

As it happens, one of those responsibilities is an absolutely grim and shocking one, particular in a culture based on Confucianism.  When asked if it’s really okay, the character who bears this responsibility says something like, “What difference does it make that I’m alright with this task or not?  It has to be done, and I’m the only who can do it so that’s what I will do.”

That’s when I decided I just might have my 14 year old son watch this with me next.

Episode 20: Has a shirtless Kang Chi scene and his girl is not quick to look away.  But it also has these lines:

Once you decide you must attack, do not hesitate. It’s not just you who will die, but all of those you need to protect (I love the presumption that being strong means you have a responsibility to protect). Being strong means knowing how to draw the line between mercy and mercilessness.  Being strong means having a burning heart for justice and a cool head for judgment. To be strong is to be lonely, but only when you can keep your strength under control can you win.

Or take the Dramabeans translation, which I like even better:

Master Dam: “Strength is compassion fighting against cruelty. Strength is simultaneously carrying warm ties of friendship and cold duty. That is why—to be strong is to be lonely. And only when you can bear those things, can you win.”

I loved this one almost to the end.  I did find the final ending less than satisfactory, as it relied entirely on a typical Korean mystic theme that I find philosophically and theologically unsound, and storytelling wise, a total cop-out.   Spoiler coming.

SPOILER:I will share it in yellow text- highlight to read: If you saw Rooftop Prince it was kind of like that ending, only, IMO, worse. end spoiler.End SPOILER


That ending. It left too many questions unanswered.  But it did have its own special share of cute.  I still like it, and my son will watch it with some cutting of certain scenes.  If the ending had been better, this would have been in my top ten, but it wasn’t, so it’s probably closer to one of my favorites at the bottom of a list of two or maybe three dozen.=)

If you’re interested in using Gu Family Book for some ‘social studies’  or history and culture for school, you may find these links useful (posted with permission from the amazing Zelda) :

GFB Historical Background Posts for those who are curious:

GFB’s place in history 12 | The martial academy’s statue & symbols | Gumiho depiction 12

Japanese merchant groupMiyamoto clan crest | Place in time and class 123 *series completed*

Saeguk/fantasy webcomics/graphic novels I really recommend for the bored: HERE | Alternative ending to GFB short story

Conclusions: I liked it enough that I plan to watch it again with my teenagers sometime in the next year.


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

Things to know when watching a K-drama

More Things To Know

Addiction, and why I like 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 knew more Japanese when I started my K-drama addiction – 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.  As  a Chinese acquaintance recently told me, “Everybody likes K-Dramas.”

How I’m teaching myself to read Hangul, or the Korean characters, free.

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  1. Posted August 3, 2013 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    I loved GFB all the way till the end when I nearly blew a gasket yelling about the cop-out, but then I read in an interview that the end was planned from the beginning. *shrug* I’ve followed your lead and rewritten the ending more satisfactorily in my head. Actually, for a while our family hobby (the three oldest watched it with us) was describing alternate endings, all of which were better than what was actually filmed. Can’t imagine why they didn’t ask us first. :-p

    Lee Seung Gi was awkward on occasion but I have to say his acting has improved a ton since Shining Inheritance (which I’m still planning on reviewing for you… some day *hangs head in shame*).

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted August 3, 2013 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

      I saw the cop-out ending coming, I just wanted to be wrong. SO MANY unanswered questions that way. I can believe it was intended from the beginning- it’s very much an eastern way of handling things, which is why I find it so annoying and unsettling, I guess. Same for Roof-Top Prince.
      I’d love to have been party to your family’s various endings.
      Glad you’re still thinking about reviewing Shining Inheritance. Really, any of them you want to review I’d link to and/or post, whichever you prefer.
      I’m running low on past dramas, and Shark has put a bad, bad taste in my mouth about watching ongoing dramas. It made GFB look like an artistically linearly finished complete work. I knew it was a melodrama going in, but still…

      • Posted August 5, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        GFB was the first one we watched as it was coming out, but then I also started I Hear Your Voice (with the 24yod and 20yod) and Monstar (with the 20yod). I was pleased with both of them, even though the ending of Monstar felt a little… anti-climactic.

        I thought about watching Shark but decided not to because I found it was part of the Resurrection/The Devil revenge trilogy. I watched the beginning of The Devil with 24yod and dropped it, though she told me how the story was progressing. When she got to the end I was really glad I hadn’t bothered watching it.

        We’re planning on starting Two Weeks.

        I should look over my list and see if I’ve seen any that you haven’t reviewed. I haven’t felt like blogging in ages, but this could get me started again. Off the top of my, I don’t think you’ve covered Sweet 18 or My Lovely Kim Sam Soon. I remember you mentioning Flower Boy Next Door, but I don’t think you’ve reviewed it, have you?

        • Headmistress, zookeeper
          Posted August 5, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

          I watched Sweet 18, but didn’t review, and now it’s been too long for me to remember enough to review it. I’d love to see a review of it.

          I still haven’t watched Sam Soon.

          I did review FBND here., but if you feel like reviewing it I’d love to read your take and I’d link to it.

          One I really want to review is Bad Family, but I’m not sure it’s available online anymore. I loved this one- it was so sweet in so many ways. Have you seen it?

          Shark: Errrrgh. I’m so mad about Shark in so many ways. Partly I’m annoyed with myself, I really should have known better. And partly I am just so disappointed, because I think Kim Nam Gil is such an amazing screen presence when he wants to be, and he really did not consistently deliver here, plus, the ending is just. blech. Nihilism.

  2. Posted January 9, 2014 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    hi, i share your love for korean drama too.. i like d gu family book.. but not upto the expectations… liked your just review too.. first 2 episodes are really not for family viewing…

  3. Bharat
    Posted December 15, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    The first Korean drama I (my entire family) watched was “Emporer of the Sea.) IT was very enjoyable, but again, the ending left a lot to be desired. All the main characters were killed off and the hero’s love (who he loves all through the 51 episodes, but has to marry a different woman who loved HIM) gets on a boat with the hero and his wife’s son in her arms to get away from ambitious (and utterly unscrupulous) guys in power.

  4. THZ
    Posted August 15, 2015 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    Love love loved this show… Wonderful cast but boy was there a lot of waterworks, I became a bit desensitized to the tears at times (less is more). I love the lead male character, Kang Chi. Tough little baby-face who has a fierce yet comedic quality. He just pulls the maternal instincts out of you because of how impulsive and soft-hearted he is (and that big, boyish grin). The supporting cast were all wonderful. I also loved Sung Joon’s role in Shut up and Let’s go and it was a pleasure seeing him here again. However, a couple things ruined it for me….


    I appreciated the sacrifice Kang Chi’s mother made to save Wol Ryung from being a demon, but the way Wol Ryung sealed himself away in isolation with her body after that seemed pointless in light of his wife’s sacrifice. Why do that? Leaving Kang Chi at that point made no sense to me as Wol Ryung gave no explanation as to why he should leave. At least be there for your son, dangit. You have a couple thousand years experience, you could at least mentor your kid, man! That would be a better favor to your wife than laying beside her corpse.

    And that ending, I’m sorry but I also find it theologically and philosophically unsound. I hate when shows use reincarnation as a plot device because it doesn’t even make sense to me in real life. Throughout the show, just what force or intelligence is dictating everyone’s fate into such misery? At least the Biblical concept of sowing and reaping makes sense because it’s a result of sin, ie breaking divine law but it is reversible through mercy, healing and repentance. This fate philosophy just put an overhanging sense of hopelessness. Kang Chi and Yeo Wool didn’t deserve all that doom and gloom surrounding their relationship. To me Yeo Wool got her butt shot (by a guy who has terrible aim) because she was stubborn and wouldn’t listen when they told her to go home. Not “fate.”

    The ending was weak compared to how STRONG the show was gunning right up until the 23rd episode.

    A more satisfying ending would have been to have Wol Ryung help Yeo Wool, since a mythical creature’s blood can only save a person once (Kang Chi had already used up his turn for her). That would have been a welcome interference of “fate” since Wol Ryung didn’t mind doing it once before. I will mentally pretend this happened so I will feel a better sense of closure to this show that I spent so many hours binging on.

    Also what ever became of the 100 YEAR INN??? Did they ever get it back? What happened to the staff?

    And yes, Chung Jo got her revenge but does she now spend the rest of her days consigned to the Gisaeng house? Her father’s name was never cleared. She trained on drums but we never saw ONE performance from her, and that horrible system of slavery and state prostitution continues on. I would have rather had the nation shaken up by war and have these infrastructures crumble. I would have liked to see those iron clad turtle ships the Admiral poured so much into. I don’t care if they were CGI, gimmie those ships!!! All this build up… What became of it?

    Ignoring the end, this is one of the best shows I have ever seen, but because of the END which is a necessary component of the story, it brings the show down.

    Still love you, Kang Chi! I am still he exists as a character, nonetheless.

    • THZ
      Posted August 15, 2015 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

      What I meant to say was:

      “Still love you, Kang Chi! I am glad he still exists as a character, nonetheless.”

    • Annie
      Posted March 15, 2018 at 2:49 am | Permalink

      Oh WOW thats the ending? I really wanted Chung Jo to get out of that Gisaeng house. At first I was all for Yeo Wool and Kng Chi, but then all those bad things started to happen to Chung Jo. Her innocence was being thretened and here he was falling for someone else. that seemed cruel to me on the writter’s side.

      The fate is Kdrama logic. You cant argue with fate even thouhg it makes no sense. Its just annoying how all the writers go for the same concept. Accept for Healer though. Healer defied all drama logic.

      • Headmistress
        Posted March 18, 2018 at 4:13 am | Permalink

        Just finished rewatching HEaler with my husband, who has started watching K-dramas with me. He will watch one at a time, and it has to be one I’ve already seen. He liked Healer a lot. He really liked King-2-Hearts as well. I’m trying to choose another one for us right now.

        You’re right about fate. Maybe it’s just an inherently Asian thing, and very hard to break out of that mold in story-telling?

  5. sittie faisah
    Posted October 29, 2015 at 11:38 am | Permalink


  6. Bianca
    Posted October 29, 2015 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    omaygad. I read the ending. such a nonsense ending!! wtf. is this drama. wasted my 7 episodes. all i watched is their shouting crying no solution to their problems. all was hardship. no good things happen to the LEADS! as in WTF. cant believe that is just it. hate it

  7. miz
    Posted July 24, 2016 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    A beautiful drama, I really, really enjoyed it.
    Once I started watch it I couldn’t stop and I watched all 24 episodes in 2 days!!!! I did a GFB marathon… (I had only two days off and I used them to watch this drama… this is just to say how much I got caught by the drama…)
    Sadly there was one very bad element, the music: the score for instrumental music was good but 80% of the songs with vocals that sadly were playing during the most romantic moments were super cheesy and soooo boring! They took me out of the story completely and ruined those moments completely! Whoever decided to put those songs in the drama should be fired and banned from doing any sort of soundtrack for drama in the future.
    There was only one song that was very, very nice: “My Eden” by Yisabel and it would have been much better if they used it more often or if that became the main theme of the drama… but it was used especially for the story of Kang-chi’s parents so it was present in only a few episodes 🙁
    I adored Kang-Chi, actually he was the element that caught my eye time ago in a youtube video where there was a list of cool dramas to watch and it made me curious to look for it online. His character was so sweet, humane and brave, I couldn’t avoid loving him since the beginning. The actor who played it did an awesome job.
    The romance was very well developed and I ended up rooting totally for the two main heroes, I would have had more moments with them and their romance.
    I watched various Asian drama and I noticed they don’t really have problems in killing off one or two of the main characters… what the heck! I don’t mind sometimes but here I didn’t really appreciated it 🙁 It was too tragic! And I agree with one of the comments in this page: what about asking the father of Kang-chi to heal Yeo Wool?
    Also sadly I watched by mistake a video on youtube with massive spoilers so I knew already part of the ending 🙁
    Anyway even if there were spoilers and horribly cheesy songs I still loved the series and especially Kang-chi…

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