K-Drama: When the Devil Calls Your Name

I’m super conflicted about this one, and much will depend on how it ends and if they go all squicky on me or not. They’d better not. Seriously. Ugh.

This is a loose version of the Faust story. Rather than the devil being The Devil of Christian theology, he’s more of a dokkgebi, a goblin from the Korean mythological universe, with some splashes of confused elements from Christianity tossed hither and yon.

I was not going to watch it, because I thought it was going to be really dark and gruesome.
It’s got a lot of dark stuff (hello, soul-selling, goblins who deal death and destruction, child abuse back-stories, and a few ruined lives). HOwever, it’s also really funny and the two male leads are absolutely just ripping through their roles like prize fighters. I hope they are having as much fun as it seems like they are. Some of the humour is very dark and macabre (and well done, so if you like black humour, and I do, you’ll enjoy it), but a lot of it is also just delightfully silly. The devil character puts me in mind of a giant child with entirely too much power and not enough understanding of the way the human world works.

Basic story: A sixty some odd year old failed musician with nothing to be proud of in his life ends up in a deep, dark hole when the dokkgebi shows up and offers to sign a contract with him.  In exchange for his soul, he’ll grant some wishes. We don’t see what the first wish is that the singer asks for, but the others are things like success in music, youth, fame, fortune, the usual stuff. He goes back to looking like he’s in his thirties and he takes the music world by storm under an assumed name and has everything he wants for about ten years and then it’s time to pay his debt.

There’s a lot of hijinks, connections, back story, mysteries, and philosophy about free will and how much that went wrong in his life is the goblin’s fault and how much is his own- and more. The squicky stuff that I hope they are not going to go there is there’s a young singer he’s mentoring, and the writer is dangling a possible love interest between him and the girl. I really cannot believe they will actually go there, the main reason being this is Korea and the guy may look 30, but by now he’s actually nearly 70 years old and it’s just gross. It makes sense for her to be crushing on him because she doesn’t know he’s really old enough to be her grandpa, but it makes no sense at all for him to be acting like he might return the interest since he’s well aware of their real age difference- and also for other reasons that would be spoilers. If he does, I’m off the show. If he doesn’t, I’ll keep watching.

But meanwhile, there’s this song on the soundtrack which has utterly bewitched me.

Here’s a rough translation, thanks to google translate. I feel like there’s a possible nuance here with the sense that he’s left standing after the last train, but what do I know?

I’m alone on the street you left
Your beautiful smile, I can’t see it.
You, who were like a spring in the desert,
Your little voice that made me smile
I’m the only one unchanged, myself alone,
Standing under the streetlight’s glow
I’m left behind, on the street that you left
Even the wild nightbirds are silent, having flown far away.

I’m alone on the street you left
Your beautiful smile, I can’t see it.
You, who were like a spring in the desert,
Your little voice that made me smile

I’m the only one unchanged, myself alone,
Standing under the streetlight’s glow

doo doo doo doo doo (etc)
Please come back to me
Come on, baby,

I’m not sure- I think a sense of let’s try this ride one more time, or let’s ride this together, but I could be totally off in the wrong direction. I just love the tune, and the voices- there’s another version that’s a duet and it slays me.

Update: the last line is apparently ‘before another season comes’

I like most of the other songs, too, and I love the voices of the singers on this drama.


Post-script- the child abuse is really rough. There are several flashbacks to a teenage girl being hit, punched, kicked, and thrown by her step-father and I find those flashbacks too hard to watch, and the cultural differences in attitudes toward child abuse between Korea and America are one area where I am 100% all American and I think the abuser could just die and it would be fine.

Here’s another version with a better translation:


Post–script and update.  I watched to the end.  I’m still a deep, deep fan of the music, and the acting of the two male leads and a female second lead in particular.

But the plot seems to have just unraveled in a very messy way, and the whole world of this battle between a lower level Angel who becomes a devil and the deity just stops making any sense at all as far as I can tell.  It’s like they wrote the last few episodes by having all the writers and a couple strangers off the street write the script like a drinking game where every time somebody breathes, everybody takes a drink and a new person writes a couple lines for the script.  There are no rules, there are constant contradictions, things don’t make any sense, they don’t build on each other, there are so many hanging threads, and I didn’t even care about the female lead at all by the time it was over, she wss either boring or annoying.   The CEO of the music company was awesome all the way through, and always interesting.  She was fun in Hwayuki, too.

But the soundtrack?  I will love it forever.

Post postscript- A few weeks later, and I’m more satisfied with the ending for the main character.  Really, really satisfied.  I still find the lead female too bland and boring.  But I largely do agree with Cat’s remarks in the comments below.

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