Hwayugi / Korean Odyssey

Overall Rating: A+ (++++)
Subtitles: I have now watched this on both Viki and Netflix because that’s who I am as a person and I definitely prefer Viki’s subtitles. I think they were truly awesome for this show. Netflix’s subtitles are never like, bad, per se, but the way they translate names and some of the other supernatural language was very annoying to me.
Brief Synopsis: A human with special blood that can make demons extremely powerful becomes involved with a slew of chaotic neutral supernatural creatures who are all driven by selfish motives as the apocalypse draws closer. Watch on Viki here or on Netflix here.

**Full show spoilers below the image. If you do not wish to be spoiled, do not proceed**

Ending Type: Um well it sure is not a happy one!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! But tbh considering the entire show sets you up for one of our beloved leads having to kill the other one the ending was not nearly as tragic as it could have been. And they left it open for us to go crazy with our fan theories and/or a season 2 (PLEASE I BEG OF YOU GIVE US A SEASON 2!!! SON OH GONG TAKES ON THE HEAVENS!!! WE ARE READY FOR IT!!!)
Characters: This will be easily the most difficult blog posts I am going to write on here because let us be real, this show is freaking amazing and it’s a complete masterpiece from start to finish filled so SO MANY GOOD characters and SO MANY INTERTWINED STORYLINES and just. Wow I almost want to say nothing because I feel like I’m either going to have to be obnoxiously brief or I will be writing forever.
The solution I’ve decided on is to talk about types of characters and at the end I’ll sing a little bit of a song about our main 3-4. That should be fine. (Please note comfort food has been involved in the writing of this post).
So primarily we have our crew of supernatural beings. What exactly they all are/what analogous creatures we might have in Western culture is never clearly defined. Ma Wang (Cha Seung Won) is quite literally the devil king and hilariously at the helm of Lucifer Entertainment, which employs a good deal of the other supernatural creatures (demons maybe? but not demons the way we think of them due to: they came from heaven. Except for probably Ma Wang? or did he come from heaven too? I am trying too hard to make this fit into my narrow understanding of how divine beings work so thank you @ Hywaugi for making me think about these things). These demons are pop stars and other idols who collect energy from their concerts and other events that the other demons can use for what is essentially a power boost. The pop star/idol/demon we get to know best is PK/Pal Gye (Lee Hong Ki) who is a pig demon (THE ONLY PIG DEMON?? unclear). We also have Secretary Ma (Lee El), Ma Wang’s faithful dog demon, and eventually my favorite buddy the Octopus Prince who possesses the body of Alice (Yoon Bo Ra) for the majority of the latter half of the season. And we cannot forget our Monkey King, Son Oh Gong (Lee Seung Gi) or his faithful servant Oh Jeong (Jang Gwang) (he’s actually credited as Yoon Dae Sik but I have seen this show many times and I am like 100% that his actual name is Oh Jeong?). So Hwayugi/Korean Odyssey is inspired by/loosely based on A Journey to the West and the lore of all these wonderful characters comes from there but one thing the show did that threw me a bit was made Ma Wang the Bull and it is my understanding that Oh Jeong is the actual bull in the Journey to the West? Not important.
OK still going with our supernatural cast. We cannot forget our Winter King/Summer Fairy who share a body so that Winter King can live during the day and Summer Fairy at night (Sung Hyuk). Shoutout to Sung Hyuk for presenting the two characters with distinct feels. I am perhaps not the world’s MOST observant person but it took me a couple episodes to pick up on the fact that it was, in fact, the same actor in both roles. These two are not demons or represented by animals but have their own special powers and we love them. Similarly we love Soobori (Sung Ji Ru), the liaison between the heaven world and the human world who is constantly caught up in the plots between the demons he is trying to manage and who have like…. little to no respect for him (HE IS DOING HIS BEST FOR YOU GUYS OK? (For real for real in the sequel THAT WE NEED I very badly need everyone to figure out what all he went through to protect them like seriously)). And finally we have blessed Bu Ja (Lee Se Young) who is later possessed by an ancient and powerful priestess and transforms from our favorite dorky zombie into our Big Bad and goes on her own journey of self-acceptance and discovery.
In the human realm I’ll leave it at our leading lady, Jin Seon Mi (Oh Yeon Seo), a girl who grew up being able to see evil spirits and who was tricked into releasing Son Oh Gong from his prison. She discovers that she is the newest incarnation of Samjeung and she has a divine calling related to the impending end of the world, as it were.
Literally all of these characters are phenomenal and phenomenally written and the way their stories and sub plots all end up intertwined in the climax of the story is just??? pure gold.
OK so Ma Wang. He is the best? OK? The faces that Cha Seung Won can make just…. make me die like the level of comedy is unbelievable. But he can also be scary af and I had no problem seeing him as the devil king and believing his pretty dark backstory. He is kind of like an older brother/father figure for all the other demons hanging around because he holds the most power (except over Son Oh Gong I believe??) and has the most control of his demon nature even if he slips sometimes (every single time someone causes a problem and Secretary Ma asks if she should kill them and his first response was yes followed by a quick “no no no I almost have all my points” was amazing). What I loved about him, and all of them, was that he kept you guessing because you knew he was, at heart, an amoral character following a specific set of rules to achieve a goal he cared about, and whether he’d slip up at any time or decide it wasn’t worth it was very much in question. He also delivered a big emotional punch with his own backstory and the lengths he went to to attempt to save his woman from her punishment. Towards the back of the season he really became the heart of the show, and when he showed up for Son Oh Gong at the end I had Way Too Many Feels. Just. Wow. Such a great story for this character, so well done, so well acted.
Jin Seon Mi was probably the least interesting of the main cast but she was still amazing? Like she, from the beginning, has a moral compass and like…. empathy so you can pretty much count on her to have the right motivations and to want to do the right thing in all situations WHICH IS SO GOOD AND SO IMPORTANT but considering she’s surrounded by super amoral demons who follow their own rules it did make her somewhat more boring. Oh Yeon Seo did an excellent job with her, though, and sure did take us on a very emotional journey as this character went from a somewhat bitter loner to a woman with an unusual set of friends on a mission to a woman in love who must make a heartbreaking choice to protect the world at the expense of the person she loves the most. Like gosh she sure…. takes you through the ringer.
Bu Ja/Scary Priestess Lady was also freaking amazing. Bu Ja, as a zombie brought back to life by Jin Seon Mi’s special blood and taken in by our Demon Brigade, was easily my favorite side character in the first half of the season. She was pure comic relief and in such unexpected ways, just like bless the writers for coming up with this character and bless Lee Se Young for portraying her so perfectly. When she became possessed by the evil priestess I was legit shook and also shook by Lee Se Young’s acting because SHE SURE WAS CLEARLY A DIFFERENT PERSON. Like. Ugh so good. Anyway.
Our real main character is Son Oh Gong and oh man does Lee Seung Gi come back with a bang for this one. (Please note this is the first LSG show I watched and at the time I knew almost nothing about him nor that this was his comeback role following his military service and I think I was only 4 episodes into it before I’d already started another LSG show because I was like “holy wow this dude can act though.”) Honestly Seung Gi is so freaking talented, why does no one talk about him? Just kidding he’s like super famous and beloved just not in America because we have not, as a country, embraced Korean media the way we, and the rest of the world, should. The end. IN THIS ROLE he is especially amazing. TBH I have lots of favorite actors at this point and I’ve been impressed by a lot of people but I can’t think of any other actor who could pull this part off? It’s all in the micro expressions that take you from this soft, gentle, caring face to “hello I’m a demon and I will WRECK YOU” and the whole range in between and just. Incredible. Son Oh Gong is one of the most dynamic male leads I’ve seen written–he’s an amoral supernatural creature with the powers of a god who begrudgingly does good deeds in an attempt to get back into the heavenly realm. He’s a clever trickster whose tricks fluctuate from the mundane painting of a cow statue to large-scale “I’m going to change the narrative for the ending of the world” trickery, and everything he does makes sense and is believable. His emotional range is incredible and the journey they take this character on as he learns how to feel pain and to care for another person is subtly and wonderfully and hilariously and poignantly built because he never loses himself along the way. Seung Gi portrayed this with unbelievably masterful skill and I just… cannot rave enough about any of it. The story, the writing, the acting… yeah.
Relationships: *Eats eight bars of chocolate*
Where do I even begin?
OK let us just say the family/group dynamic of all the above mentioned characters was pure gold. They really give it to you with all the feuding and betrayals and everyday interactions and underlying affection and questions of loyalty and just…. ugh. The moments when we got basically the whole supernatural cast + Jin Seon Mi together in one place were utter perfection.
The PK/Bu Ja dynamic deserves some praise because you only get a few short scenes with these two before Bu Ja is suddenly Super Duper Evil but PK never gives up on the Bu Ja he believes is still somewhere in her and the emotional ride of this storyline and the back and forth between these two is…. killer. Like wow does it pack a real punch and just. Ugh. When Super Evil Priestess finally asks PK to burn her body (that is rotting because Samjeung is dead) I… wow. Yeah. That was sure a scene and A Feel and just…. wow. Wow.
Ma Wang and Son Oh Gong though, what a freaking excellent brotherly relationship. They really are like teenage brothers from the get-go, having lived together for 20ish years since Ma Wang feels bad for accidentally freeing Son Oh Gong from the prison he was supposed to be in eternally. But the two annoy the crap out of each other and occasionally go to battle in ways that are quite serious, like when Ma Wang tried to trap Son Oh Gong in that one picture like FOREVER by burning it or when Ma Wang buys the Guemganggo and instructs Jin Seon Mi to put it on Son Oh Gong. Aw man this makes Ma Wang sound like the bad guy but forreal forreal Oh Gong is annoying AS HECK constantly so you kind of get it when Ma Wang goes full-on vengeance mode. Watching the interplay between these two, from friendly banter to little tricks to the uh, more serious ones, and back again was a true joy to watch. Just like honestly one of the most captivating relationships in television history, and when Son Oh Gong takes one of the hits from the falling stars for Ma Wang and then Ma Wang comes through for Son Oh Gong in the last few episodes…. peak feels man. Peak feels. This whole relationship just, bless it. BLESS IT.
Can I even talk about Son Oh Gong and Jin Seon Mi without crying? Unlikely. There is not a romance in any show ever that matches this one for the feels. I say that with utter confidence, even knowing there are some AMAZING ones out there. But this relationship just…. damn. Damn. Like we go from little Jin Seon Mi being tricked into freeing Son Oh Gong from his prison in exchange for his promise to always protect her when she calls his name, but then he steals the memory of his name from her so she can never call him (WHAT A JERKFACE) and then 20ish years later they meet again only for him to discover that she’s the person with the special blood he wants to eat but he can’t because they have a contract and he’s supposed to protect her. Then she puts the Guemganggo on him and he falls in love with her and they both know it’s not real but they’re tied together anyway and as they interact more and more and work together to rid the city of evil spirits they start to become more and more fond of each other until the lines are blurred and they are both wondering whether what he feels is all the Guemganggo or if any of it is real. Definitely when they discover their tragic fate and the meaning of her destiny as Samjeung and Oh Gong goes off the deep end trying to find a way to SACRIFICE HIMSELF INSTEAD SO SHE CAN BE SAVED I legit just…. the way the story is told and the things they go through and how it all builds just. I cannot even with the emotions here. I cannot. When he finally took the Geumganggo off because he realized his feeling were real and he wasn’t bound by it anymore…. that moment though. And like, she does die. And that was awful and painful and terrible. But their last moment together in the final episode–FRIENDS THAT IS PEAK FEELINGS IT DOESN’T GET MORE EMOTIONAL. It just. Does not. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve watched this fanvid because of that final sound byte (also it’s just a great fanvid like wow). I should also mention that 3 of my 5 favorite kiss scenes of all time occur in here so.
**Of note: a key part of the Jin Seon Mi/ Son Oh Gong relationship is that, because of the Geumganggo, he feels her pain, etc, which makes him really attuned to her feelings and respectful of them. This means that when she tells him not to do something he actually doesn’t and when she asks him to go away he actually does and I guess I’ve just watched so many of the K Dramas with the “I WILL FORCE MY LOVE ON YOU UNTIL YOU WANT IT” trope that this dynamic Really Spoke To Me and I was just like…. yeah could this romance have been any better? Probably not.
****Also of note: there was actually a ton of humor in this relationship, especially at the beginning, which is also great. But it’s mostly just feels like oh goodness the feels.
High Points: For serial the whole thing. Like, all of it. The writing was top notch, very tight and intricate and delicate and phenomenal. The characters were so dynamic and fantastic and they were all portrayed WITH PERFECTION I am for real this cast blew me away. The production value was also high (even though my friends and I like to joke about how it was clearly shot in the winter because towards the middle of the season you can see everyone’s breath, even indoors (but the effect of that is kind of super cool also??? like we are making our way towards the end of the world it’s like this very meta thing)) and the visuals were stunning. From a Western perspective the dragon at the end was not the highest standard, but as an avid watcher of Game of Thrones I have a working understanding of exactly how expensive those SFX are so I am OK with lower quality mythic monsters in shows where the rest of the budget was clearly used very wisely. Like I’d rather have that high quality visual there for 99% of the season (which it was) than have all that value wasted on 5 minutes of dragon.
Low Points: When it was over and that meant there was no more of it to watch. Seriously devastating.
Final comments: At the time I am writing this I have watched 23 K Dramas in their entirety and I’m a significant way through about 6 more. I have loved (like really loved) and enjoyed pretty much all of them (time to throw shade at Memories of the Alhambra!!), but only a couple have been true slam dunks for me. This one tops the list, with Chicago Typewriter close behind. Maybe that’s because it’s totally my jam in every way (I love me some modern fantasy, especially when written and produced and acted superbly), but I really think this show is an actual masterpiece and I think it has a lot of crossover appeal. It’s my intro to K Dramas show for most of my friends who are into more serious Western TV shows because it’s on that level but also contains enough of what makes the K Drama genre so charming and addictive that it’s an excellent starting point. Let us just say that most of my YouTube fan video consumption is from this show (with Chicago Typewriter in a close second) because the show made me feel enough that watching little snippets over and over again makes me remember those feelings and I love it. This is also my first full rewatch experience and it has not only been just once. Like, I really can’t overemphasize how much I love this show.

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