Overall Rating: A
Subtitles: I think the Viki subtitles for this were good? I don’t remember any issues which is always a positive sign.
Brief Synopsis: A forest guardian falls in love with a human woman and wishes to become human but she betrays him when she discovers what he is and he is killed. Twenty years later their son, who grew up with no idea about his parentage, discovers his half-beast nature and must decide how to handle it before everyone he loves is destroyed. Watch it on Viki here.
**Full show spoilers below the image. If you do not wish to be spoiled, do not proceed**
Ending Type: So… in the main story line our female heroine dies which is like, extremely tragic. However we do get a time jump and our immortal lead meets her again 400 years later when she’s reincarnated. I know a lot of people complain about the open-endedness of this final scene but to me it was incredibly beautiful. Like our leading female is the one who sees the peach tree hanging from the moon in the main story line which is how she knows that she will die because she met the male lead. But in the future timeline he is the one who sees the tree when he sees her reincarnation for the first time, and since he’s immortal in his current form we know this means he has to find the Gu Family Book and become human to be with her because that’s the only way he can die because of her. I freaking loved that??? To me that one image was more than enough for me to confirm that they get their happily ever after AND that he finally succeeds in finding the Gu Family Book and becoming human. So I classify this one as a happy ending, and you can fight me on that.
Characters: I had a really hard time narrowing down the characters to discuss for this because there are many many moving pieces so I’ll stick to the people who are billed as main cast and do a brief overview of everyone else.
The first two episodes take place in a past timeline and mainly follow Seo Hwa (originally played by Yoon Se Ah, later (and inexplicably?) by Lee Yeon Hee) whose father is killed after being falsely accused of a crime by our Big Bad, Jo Gwan Woong (Lee Sung Jae). She is then sold to the local brothel and after some resistance gives in to the training, only to find her first night is supposed to go to Gwan Woong himself. In a desperate attempt to save her, her servant switches places with her and is raped (this was some heavy content for the first ep of a K Drama, kids) while Seo Hwa ends up being saved by Gu Wol Ryung (Choi Jin Hyuk) who she does not know is the forest guardian. He falls in love with her, they get married, and he goes on a quest to become human. BUT SEO HWA IS. THE ACTUAL WORST. So when she sees that the man who has loved her and cared for her has a beast form she BETRAYS HIM. TO THE MAN. WHO KILLED HER FATHER. AND SOLD HER TO A BROTHEL. AND KILLED HER BROTHER. AND RAPED HER FRIEND. Because this makes sense? And then when she finds out she’s preggo she tries to get rid of the baby and then kill it after birth. She’s like. The literal worst. In every way. Like legit Gwan Woong is a truly evil person but to me Seo Hwa was the villain of the past timeline arc, what a trash human.
However she does manage to give birth to an amazing human/beast hybrid, Choi Kang Chi (Lee Seung Gi) who is adopted by the owner of the local inn and is a very respected leader in their village. Kang Chi is raised beside the inn owner’s true son Park Tae Seo (Yoo Yeon Seok) and daughter Park Chung Jo (Lee Yoo Bi) and is loved and accepted by the owner and his children. He wears a mysterious bracelet that was given to him by a monk who said that he needed to never take it off until he was twenty. What he doesn’t know is that this bracelet keeps his beast nature in check and allows him to live as a normal human. What I learned from this show: people really, really do not like non-human entities. When we first meet Kang Chi he’s a charismatic and slightly irresponsible guard of sorts to the 100 Year Inn. His brother Tae Seo finds him exasperating but trusts him and leans on him and his sister Chung Jo deffo is crushing on him (it’s mutual). He’s an immediately likable character with a strong moral compass and strong relationships with the people around him. But when Gwan Woong shows up things start to go haywire and Kang Chi goes on A Journey. He looses his father figure, the family loses the Inn and is subjected to a lot of awful stuff (there are some really heavy themes in this show folks) and he discovers his beast nature. As usual Lee Seung Gi delivers hardcore in this dynamic and complex role, showing us the wide emotional range of Kang Chi as he goes on a journey of self discovery and has to deal with being mistrusted by everyone around him and has to figure out who he is going to be and how he is going to live. Kang Chi is a truly awesome character and a great hero–even in his darkest moments you can trust him to follow his instincts to make the right choice. 10/10 loved this kid and his journey and Seung Gi’s performance.
Tae Seo and Chung Jo also go on some pretty intense emotional and personal journeys in this one, and I loved both of their characters as well. Tae Seo delivers well as a boy haunted by his torture and under the control of hypnosis even when part of him knows something is off. Yeon Seok really killed the intense emotional moments with this character, and the way Tae Seo took after his father but also was clearly influenced by his brother Kang Chi was captivating. In the latter part of the season the writing and Yeon Seok’s acting did a great job of keeping you guessing while also remaining true to the character, and I loved it. Chung Jo, like Seo Hwa, was sold to the local brothel when her father was wrongfully killed. Unlike Seo Hwa she did not suck in every way. I loved that her story played out as a foil to Seo Hwa’s, with the head gisaeng choosing to protect her the way she hadn’t protected Seo Hwa but also Chung Jo choosing to live her life on her terms. She did not run away as Seo Hwa did but instead challenged Kang Chi to get her out according to the law, and then she put her heart and soul into making her life in the gisaeng house a life she could embrace. She went on a very raw and emotional journey and Yoo Bi really slayed every part of it.
Our second main character and probably my favorite female heroine ever written was Dam Yeo Wool (Bae Suzy), the daughter of a martial arts master who is a badass but also maintains her own femininity. We meet her when she’s trying to figure out if she’ll ever find love and she hears a prophecy that the man she meets under a peach tree hung on the moon is her soulmate but they will share a tragic fate (aka one will die because of the other). Shortly thereafter, when she saves Kang Chi from some guards who are after him, she sees the peach tree and realizes what it means. But even though she’s initially drawn into his world because of the prophecy, Yeo Wool is no secondary lead. This girl has her convictions and will fight to the end to do what she believes is right and what must be done. She’s strong-willed and pig-headed and even though she’s charming as heck (HOW CAN ONE PERSON BE THAT CUTE HONESTLY?) she is formidable. I absolutely adored her character and this show made me a HUGE Suzy fan because Suzy really sold the part for me.
Relationships: Kang Chi and Tae Seo had a bromance that was very front and center in the show, even if their actual scenes together were few and far between. The affection they had for each other, and the trust and familiarity that they had from growing up together, was evident throughout. It was hugely emotional when Tae Seo was under hypnosis and trying to kill Kang Chi, but the scene where Kang Chi breaks him out of it by just being there for him was like, mega raw and poignant. Later when they are just having their bro chats my heart hurt a little. Bless this show for having such a strong and moving bromantic relationship.
Kang Chi and Yeo Wool: THE CUTEST. Possibly because they were both so darn cute? Or because their characters were both warm and sweet so with each other they were just double warm and sweet and extra cute??? I mean for the first several episodes Kang Chi thinks Yeo Wool is a boy which is hilarious and he learns to trust her up to the point where he recognizes that he trusts her more than anyone else around him. When she sees his beast nature looooooooooooong before their relationship takes off and she just accepts him my heart about burst? Especially after the Seo Hwa travesty, seeing that was amazing. And the fact that her proximity kept his beast nature at bay and taught him how to control it–kids, it’s powerful as heck. I was just obsessed with these two from start to finish and I loved absolutely everything about their story. When she took the bullet for him I was not surprised but I was heartbroken, and I am glad we got our final scene which tells us that his patient waiting for her would bear beautiful fruit. Love it so much. A++++ romance across the board.
High Points: Like, all of it? The whole story and all the characters and the sub plots and their relation to the main plot and the setting and just…. all of it. Thoroughly enjoyed this one. THE VISUALS ALSO. Stunning.
Low Points: OK I guess the sfx for the beast parts were not exactly top notch but I did not mind them. If I have to complain about anything it would be the first two episodes, which I felt were necessary and a good grounding for the story but they were SO DARK like wow. The tone of the rest of the show was much, much lighter even if a lot of the same themes repeated themselves. I was just caught off guard because I read a review about how heartwarming the show was and then watched the first two episodes and was slapped across the face with darker themes than I have seen in a K Drama ever. But it was all well done so? Can’t really complain?
Final comments: Look, I loved it. Very much recommend. But do prepare yourselves for those first two episodes, and for heavy themes to persist. But I promise once our real story starts in ep. 3 it is a lot of fun and very charming and heartwarming and all that good stuff. ❤