Occasionally shortened to ‘Goblin’, this K-Drama was sensational when it was released and remains sensational to this day. Just go ahead and watch it. You know you want to.
I know that the last thing I reviewed was proof that misery loves company but I’m back to my winning ways. I recently finished watching Goblin with my best friend after initially starting it in 2019 and it was a good decision. Sure, the show is over-the-top and has the most obvious product placement I’ve seen since a certain South African soapie partnered up with a certain insurer, but all these little ridiculous-nesses only add to the ambiance.
On a totally unrelated note – there are no Subways close to where I live and I didn’t know this until I started watching Goblin again. Make of that what you will.
Goblin tells the tale of warrior Kim Shin, who’s death is deferred after he’s impaled on a sword and pleads with the Almighty not to die. The Almighty grants that wish, and Kim Shin is reborn as a dokkaebi (which loosely translates to goblin) who must wander the Earth until he finds his bride. This woman will be able to finally remove the sword from his chest and grant him the death he’s come to crave after 900 years of watching everyone he ever loved, hated or looked sideways at die.
Said bride comes in the form of Ji Eun Tak, a young woman who’s life has gone from bad to worse since the death of her mother when she was a child. When we meet her, Eun Tak is living with her aunt who makes no secret of only wanting to get her hands on a missing inheritance, and her cousins who are both stupid and malicious. Eun Tak has known she was meant to be the goblin’s bride since she was a child. It makes sense, since she’s been seeing ghosts the whole time, too.
With great power comes great criticism
I didn’t know this until very recently, but Goblin faced some serious criticism during its one season run. Some of it was for the aforementioned glaring product placement, but the bulk revolved around some serious thematic issues:
- Ji Eun Tak is, canonically, a high school student when the show begins, while Kim Shin – a 900 year old supernatural being – presents as a man in his 30s. Even granted that her year of birth is said to be 1998 and the show’s release in 2016 would have her being 18 years old, that’s a skeeve gap that many critics just couldn’t overlook
- Our heroine is hopeful, open and optimistic to the point where the fresh naivete of youth meets the staleness of damsel in distress tropes. Whether her characterisation crosses the line between the two is a matter of personal opinion.
- Korean television is apparently notorious for casting as-near-perfect male leads as living, breathing human beings can come. Goblin took that tendency, added literal godhood to the money, power and looks and in so doing rubbed salt in the wound.
I’m sure there are things that I’ve missed, but those are the broad strokes. While each of these is valid in its own right, and taken together they paint a pretty bad picture – I’d venture to say that the show definitely outshines the sum of its trope-tastic parts. The age difference between Ji Eun Tak and Kim Shin is pretty standard fantasy party-building fair, and their romance never relies heavily on his ‘love for her innocence‘ or on her ‘love of his money’. In fact, she has a very specific amount of money she needs to get her life off the ground and it turns out her mom’s inheritance will do the trick. She’s also no wilting flower.
As to the show’s heavy lean into male perfection – I find this one hard to process in a global entertainment landscape which is notorious for its demands for perfection for female leads. I’m old enough to remember real conversations about how Lara Croft’s back-breaking bra size was an essential part of her character that should be considered in her casting. Heck, we’re all old enough to remember a female lead running through a dinosaur-infested jungle in her high heels in Jurassic World.
If male leads have similarly inane pressures put on them I think that’s a call to examine the whole culture around entertainment, not cause to shout for more mediocrity in male leads whilst totally ignoring the pressures for perfection on female ones.
Guardian: The Great and Lonely God Trailer (with subtitles!)
Quick, what’s there to love here?
Goblin feels like somebody wrote a contemporary romance novel, somebody else wrote an epic fantasy novel and somebody else wrote an urban fantasy… then somebody else decided that these three novels belonged together, biblically, and this show was their love child.
We’ve got ancient grievances manifesting themselves in the modern world, a grim reaper growing a conscience, a business woman who’s always got a beer and some cutting words of wisdom. Add in a cameo from the Almighty, meddling ghosts, stupid and malicious Tweedledee and Tweedledum then stir in some reincarnation for flavour… You’ve got yourself a show filled with angst, whimsy and that special intangible something that comes from near-perfect chemistry in the main cast.
With all the very real stresses that come from the Coronavirus pandemic and the resulting lockdowns around the world I’m willing to take whimsy anywhere I can get it, and Goblin delivers in spades. You’ll laugh, cry, get angry, laugh again and then cry in anger but somehow at the end of it all you’ll feel… happy. That happiness could come from emotional exhaustion, though.
Mood Rating: Gather all your feelings towards yourself and get ready to examine each and every single one as Goblin takes you on an emotional rollercoaster. Remember the snacks and tissue…