Notes from the semi-lockdowns: Goblin Part 1

Gong Yoo as the titular Goblin

Before Crash Landing on You, the most viewed drama on Korean cable was Guardian: The Lonely and Great God, or Goblin to non-Korean viewers. Broadcast in late 2016 to early 2017, the show reached as much as 19% viewership in South Korea, with +20% viewership in Seoul alone. I remember everyone was going about this show on social networks back then (mostly fangirling over Gong Yoo, obvs), but I was too distracted by the plethora of shows that were new to me, thanks to more access to US, UK and local content via Australian TV as well as streaming services. It was also a time when I had a k-drama funk: I just lost interest in the genre and instead switched to Anglo-centric productions that included Game of Thrones, Sherlock, and Doctor Who, to name a few.

The massively popular show stars Gong Yoo in the titular role of “Goblin”, a supernatural who has been roaming the earth for 900-odd years as punishment for crimes he committed as a general in the Korean army during the Goryeo dynasty. Lee Dong Wook (My Girl, Hotel King, Touch Your Heart), Yoo In-na (My Love From the Star, Touch Your Heart), Yook Sung Jae (BTOS), and Kim Go Eun (The King Eternal Monarch, The Cheese Trap) round up the main cast of this fantasy romance novela that captured much of the imagination of viewers across Asia and elsewhere five years ago.

Goblin’s origin story

gong yoo as goblin/kim shin
Before turning into Goblin, he is known as general Kim Sin in the Goryeo dynasty.

Goblin used to be a brave army general, Kim Shin, whose successful campaigns to defend the kingdom against invaders cost so many lives and eventually his own. With every victory in battle, he becomes more popular amongst the citizens, resulting in jealousy and insecurity on the part of the young king, Yeo (or Wang Yeo, as “wang” directly translates to king).

Although Shin has constantly faced danger in the battlefield, life at the royal court is not safe either. When members of the royal family start to die one after the other, Kim Shin receives an order from the previous king to protect the young prince by arranging a marriage with his sister, Kim Seon (or Kim Sun, depending on where you’re watching). Fortunately, Wang Yeo and Kim Seon fall in love in spite of the increasing jealousy and suspicion on the part of Yeo, no thanks to the malicious advice he gets from his mentor, Park Joong Hyeon.

After winning yet another battle, Kim Shin returns to the capital in defiance of the Wang Yeo’s orders to remain in exile, prompting the young king to order the killing of everyone in the general’s company as well as members of his household. But worst of all, the killings also include Kim Seon, as the king fears that she has allied herself with her brother instead of him. When it is Kim Shin’s turn to die, his most loyal man volunteers to plunge the sword in his chest to give him an honourable death.

As he lays dying, Kim Shin taunts the gods for forsaking him and those he has fought for. The gods, insulted, punishes him by bringing him back from the dead to roam the earth as a goblin, an immortal who will never find peace, for even as he lives forever he also witnesses the passing of his loved ones.

Only the goblin’s wife can see the sword stuck in Kim Shin’s chest

In Korean folklore, goblins (or dokkaebi) have extraordinary powers and the ability to interact with humans. They are also often surnamed “Kim” and come into being when they possess objects or artefacts that are stained in human blood. In the series, the artefact is the magnificent sword that Kim Shin receives from the young king as a gift but is eventually stained with the blood of all the people that he killed in battle. It is the same sword that ends his mortal life and has remained stuck in his chest; no one else apart from the Goblin’s Wife can see and pull it out. Once the sword has been removed, Goblin will finally die.

The Goblin’s Wife

Kim Go Eun (left) as Ji Eun Tak, the Goblin’s Bride

It will be more than 900 years before Kim Shin meets Ji Eun Tak (Kim Go Eun) whose life he saves when her mother is hit by a car whilst pregnant with her. As a result of Kim Shin’s intervention, Eun Tak comes into the world with a unique gift that allows her to see ghosts who in turn inform her that she is the Goblin’s Wife. On the other hand, escaping death also means Grim Reapers are hot on her heels and the threat of death shall continue for the rest of her life.

On the night her mother dies, Eun Tak meets the Grim Reaper who is supposed to guide her mother to the afterlife but accidentally identifies her as the missing soul that he has been looking for. With a god who comes in the form of an old woman (and sometimes a beautiful woman in red) on her side, she manages to escape the Reaper and eventually lives with her cruel aunt and obnoxious cousins.

On her 19th birthday, she unknowingly summons Goblin/Kim Shin after blowing her birthday candle whilst celebrating on her own. Quick to pick up on the nature of the person who suddenly appears in front of her, she learns how to summon him at will and starts to build a relationship with the immortal to whom she introduces herself as his wife.

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