A take on an ancient folktale that doesn’t resonate with the original as such. Instead of bringing much anticipation that most carried, it makes huge efforts to focus on just the added romance aspect which brings utter disappointment. Not only that, the main purpose of the drama is made unclear as well. Huge lifesavers of the drama are definitely the side characters, as well as the evident character development with our leads.
Hello and welcome back to the blog! I’m bringing to you all the much awaited review of A Korean Odyssey, which has been something that I’ve been following for the last 2-3 months or so. This drama has definitely taken me on a ride, for all sorts of reasons. Not only did it bring me a little hit of nostalgia, but it also kept me invested to see and follow these handful of characters who I certainly rooted for eagerly. So now, let’s finish this once and for all.
Title: A Korean Odyssey/Hwayugi (화유기)
Broadcasted Dates: 23rd December 2017 – 4th March 2018
Number of Episodes: 20
Note: Followed after a handful of episodes had already been aired. Followed religiously since.
Synopsis (borrowed from Dramapanda who sums it up super well):
[This drama is] About a woman with the ability to see demons and ghosts, Jin Sun Mi (Oh Yeon Seo) learns to deal with her demons with the help of a talisman (a yellow umbrella). Her blood is also something precious, with the scent of a lotus flower, overwhelming and drawing demons towards her. As a girl, Jin Sun Mi encounters both the Bull Demon, Woo Hwi Chul (Cha Seung Won) and the Monkey King, Son Oh Gong (Lee Seung Gi). Her encounter with them is significant, as she frees Son Oh Gong from his imprisonment and makes a pact with him that binds the two.
For both my opinion on the drama as well as my initial impressions/current trek of the drama, check out my previous post here: “A Korean Odyssey” Current Trek
I discuss in fair detail about how I feel about the first half of the drama, and why I decided to continue with it for the remaining half. And so, I’m just going to launch in and discuss what I liked and disliked about the drama.
1.The fact that Lee Seung Gi is acting again and plays an awesome rendition of the Monkey King
I’m sure this statement is self-explanatory. I’m sure many decided on picking this drama up due to that reason alone. I mean come on, Lee Seung Gi on the small screen?! Who can say no?!!
*clears throat* But still, through an objective perspective, Seung Gi did great with this one. For one thing, for his first project since finishing his compulsory military service, he has done extremely well; you can’t even tell that he hasn’t been acting for the past 2 years. He doesn’t fail to encompass the personality of his character, and I can really see the cheeky, mischievous Monkey King within him. The only thing I wished that they had kept even more firmly about his character was the monkey-like behaviours the original Monkey King had. One thing that I used to adore about the original Journey to the West TV series was how his natural monkey instincts always reiterated to me that he wasn’t a tame human, but still a monkey at heart. But I guess I can keep one eye open about this since we’re setting the story in 21st Century South Korea.
2. The bromance between Ma Wang and Oh Gong
Ahh, this really brought to me the nostalgia of the original story. I always laughed my head off whenever I saw these two bicker on-screen. Obviously, their chemistry in “You’re All Surrounded” passed onto this drama as well, which is great. Throughout the drama, you see these two butt heads, but their genuine friendship which has last for hundreds of years truly shines through. In the original tale, these two were arch enemies, before they start to terrorise the Heavens and the Netherlands, which the pinnacle point in their relationship, and thus become as close as brothers.
It was always a pleasure seeing these two interact with each other on-screen, and brought both laughter and warmth to the drama. Many fans with myself included, truly appreciated their appearance on screen. Gotta love each time Ma Wang calls Oh Gong ‘nut job’; Seung Won was just so extra in this drama.
3. The rest of the cast and their interactions with each other
The final thing that I could appreciate about this drama is that it invested time into its side characters, and built sub-plots throughout the drama which mostly tied together with each other. Ma Wang’s race to become a deity, the relationship between Pal Gye and Bu Ja, Bu Ja’s journey into discovering her lost identity and Lee Han Joo’s dedication towards Seon Mi both in work and in relationships are just some of the aspects which were added into the drama, yet still served a purpose. The drama wasn’t solely devoting 100% into pushing the romantic relationship between Sam Jang and her protector; it also invested time into the other characters as well, which is something that I greatly appreciated. So, thanks to the Hong Sisters who kindly created this drama, encompassing aspects such as love, loyalty, devotion and family, because that was truly how everyone was with each other – one big happy family.
Bonus: The OST
I had to make a special mention the “When I Saw You” by Bumkey. Still addicted to the song now, and every time I listen to it, the scene where Seon Mi sees Oh Gong again as an adult loops in my mind over and over again. Most of the other songs of the soundtrack are decent too, such as “I Will Be By Your Side” by MeloMance and “Let Me Out” by NU’EST.
I’m going to try and make this section as spoiler-free as possible, but sorry in advance if I do ruin anything for you.
1. How it doesn’t retain the vibe of the original tale, and is greatly confused as to what it is
This is certainly one of the biggest problems most had with the drama, myself included. Being someone who is very very familiar with the original tale, the aim and focus of the story confused me greatly. I wasn’t certain if it wanted to focus on the fantasy side of things, tied in with severity of trying to go against fate and the heavens, or if it were just simply an idol-focused rom-com linked in with some fantasy themes. Not much screamed to me that this was aiming at focusing on the greater themes that the Journey to the West drew on. Rather, the only way I reminded myself that this was even associated with Journey to the West to begin with were the characters, like Oh Gong or Ma Wang.
Aside from its focus, the plot was also pulled in multiple directions, especially in the beginning. The overall vibe and tone of the beginning was erratic, as if the drama itself was confused as to what it wanted to display. Not much progress was made story-wise, and what was really pushing the drama forward was mostly the romantic development of our main couple. The plot holes are so evident its cringe-worthy, and the overall flow of the story is uneven, choppy and strung-out.
2. The stupidity of certain characters
I honestly doubt the intelligence of certain characters, especially towards the second half of the drama. As always, the writers create very convenient scenarios to have characters lose their rationality and make decisions that doesn’t align with their character at all. In particular, I have to ask why PK had to be fooled time and time again, and still not learn his lesson. Yes I know, he’s a pig, but they didn’t establish in the beginning that he was unintelligent and didn’t know any better.
Pal Gye-yah, you vowed by the 2nd or 3rd time you got fooled and lied to, that you wouldn’t get fooled again. Why would you still carry such hopes and believe the lies again, only to be betrayed and heart-broken just like the other times? Honestly, by the 3rd time it happened to him, I was ready to hit him like everyone else. There are only so many times you can be lenient and forgive one’s actions, drama or not.
Another character is Seon Mi, which really got to me. Unlike Pal Gye though, I could kind of see her actions correlate to her characterisation, because she is selfless and quite naive as a character. But of course, there are times which are just way too convenient, where she throws out any sense of rationality out the window and decides to do her own thing when we all know too well, that she is just going to endanger both herself and the people around her.
3.The forcefulness of the romance aspect
As Oh Gong continues to repeat towards the beginning of the drama, he is forced to develop feelings and affection for Seon Mi, but geez could you make the situation any more obvious? In the beginning, it is clear that the chemistry is very forced, with both characters being very cold with other, especially Seon Mi’s passive-aggressive nature towards everyone. There isn’t any immediate buzz or sizzle between the two, which helps with the situation at hand, but leaves the audience very bored and others desiring much more.
Thankfully over time as both characters gain some developments in characterisation, we’re saved with what seems like genuine care and affection for each other, and we see both them become very warm-hearted people for each other. But for many who aren’t as patient, I can see why many by this point would drop it like a hot potato.
This is section is not spoiler-free and so please skip this entirely if you don’t wanna know anything about it.
Awkwardly enough, I couldn’t fit a comment about the ending suitably anywhere, so I’ve decided to make a separate section to change things up a little. Surprisingly, I didn’t mind the open ending as most did. I believe that it did a decent job at tying most loose ends together the best it could of. From very early on, it was made very clear that from our two lovebirds, that only one will truly survive; anyone could guess which of the two would truly survive. The drama made it clear that certain limits can be challenged and stretched, but only so much your fate could only be in the grasp of your hands.
Perhaps I found most comfort with the very very end of the episode, because I know exactly what will happen next, according to my own knowledge of the tale. Oh Gong will indeed successfully rescue Sam Jang from the Underworld, modifying the scrolls and records of life and death, and potentially makes her immortal. With him passing on one eye to her, it will enable him to see where she is, and it’s a connection that both share beyond the power of the Geumganggo. That piece of knowledge really eased my mind quite a bit, and perhaps that was why I was able to accept that ending.
One thing that definitely hit home for me was Pal Gye’s comment when he saw that group photo. That moment really broke my heart, knowing that from that photo, he was the only one remaining. Makes me realise how easily and tragically you can lose the closest of people around you, and reiterated the fact that whoever you have in your grasp, to hold on tighter.
Aside from the comments made above though, it still makes it quite distasteful that they conveniently gave Oh Gong amnesia in the final episode. Of course they do. Yes, it’s heart-breaking and puts us on edge that he can’t remember anything, but really? Amnesia? Just like any atypical drama out there? They could have done so much more with that ending in my opinion, rather than just feeding us flashbacks.
Picking up this drama wasn’t a regret for me at all. I welcomed everything it brought to me with open arms, and although I am bitter over some things about it, I personally think it did okay. And it is time for me to let it go once and for all.
Personally, there is much left unspoken from this drama that could have simply been fixed. Clearly, there were bits and pieces left aside and was just let to slide past in the pre-production period of this drama, but it didn’t fail in everything that it must have aimed to do.
Borrowing the rating from the lovely goddess of Kdrama reviews themselves Javabeans and Girlfriday, I would rate A Korean Odyssey as:
How much I liked it: 7/10
How good was it objectively: 6/10
Thank you all so much for reading this long and slightly delayed review. Also, special announcement: I will be volunteering to be writing some posts for the drama website DramaPanda later this month. The lovely Anne runs that blogsite, and has done some amazing stuff with it. If you’re interested in checking her stuff out, please go and visit.
Thanks again as always, and I’ll be back soon!
❤ Hyunnie ^^~