Annnnnd we have a winner! What a cute first episode to start off what looks to become an entertaining, zippy ride.
Both leads are adorable, but more than that, the story is fresh and innovative. It takes some familiar elements and mixes them with creations that are pure Hong Sisters Originals.
(If you’re coming to this series totally new to the whole gumiho concept, you might want to bone up on the lore with this Pop Culture post.)
SONG OF THE DAY
My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho OST – “정신 이 나갔었나봐” (Lost my mind) by Lee Seung-gi
[ Download ]
CHA DAE-WOONG (Lee Seung-gi) is in his early twenties and dreams of being a movie actor — an action star, specifically. He’s still a university student, but in his immature way of thinking, he feels he’s about to get his big break and would rather quit school and start his career. He’s a big man on campus and he plays the part to the hilt, which is helped by the fact that he comes from a rich background, and therefore does not lack for sycophantic followers.
Then there’s the gumiho (a mythical shape-shifting fox with nine tails), who comes to be called GU MI-HO (Shin Mina). She isn’t given a name to start with, so for all intents and purposes, her name is now Mi-ho. Personality-wise, she is friendly, curious, and very frank in a way that is very 4-D (fourth-dimensional, which is to say eccentric in a cute way). We’ll get into her origins a bit later.
EUN HYE-IN (Park Su-jin) is Dae-woong’s school sunbae and his crush. We haven’t seen much of her and she seems sweet and friendly, but her character description indicates a sly streak. (It’s an interesting reversal to make the gumiho the candid one and the sweetheart the fox-like one.)
KIM BYUNG-SOO (Kim Ho-chang) and BAN SUN-NYEO (Hyo-min) are Dae-woong’s schoolmates and sidekicks. Sun-nyeo’s father runs the action school that Dae-woong attends, and she nurses a pretty enormous crush on Dae-woong, in that dreamy starry-eyed way. Byung-soo, meanwhile, seems to like her but she remains oblivious. It’s a classic triangle rife with angst possibilities, but this drama will probably play it for comedy. Thankfully. (Side note: Sun-nyeo means fairy. Perhaps some mythological details will work their way into her character. Or not.)
Orphaned at a young age, Dae-woong was raised by his aunt and grandfather, the latter of whom now has to deal with the results of indulging the boy: Dae-woong is impetuous and a bit cocky, although he’s also good-natured and charming. He’s always getting into scrapes, and Grandpa tries to lay down the law in the only way that works — with his bank account.
Last but not least, we have PARK DONG-JOO (Noh Min-woo), a mysterious man who is tracking down the gumiho.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
Gu Mi-ho waits patiently outside the school campus, looking lovely and chipper, and as soon as she spots Cha Dae-woong, she waves and calls out enthusiastically. Far from being glad to see his girlfriend, he immediately whirls around, trying to ignore her as he fakes a phone call and starts walking the other way.
Being a supernatural being has its perks, however, and speed is one of them. Mi-ho comes at him from the opposite direction, and despite the sunny innocence with which she accepts his excuse that he didn’t see her, I’m pretty sure she’s sharper than she looks. She says with complete earnestness, “Well I’m sure if you didn’t want to die, you wouldn’t have lied and pretended to not hear me, right?” It’s not a true threat to kill him, but it IS the trump card she holds in this relationship, which she doesn’t scruple to use when it suits her. I love this about her.
Mi-ho grabs Dae-woong’s hand and leads him to her “very special discovery,” while every man on campus goes gaga for her. A typical characteristic of the gumiho is beauty but her appeal is more than just skin deep, and she has an especially alluring aura that captivates men. Thus Dae-woong is the object of every guy’s envy… only he would beg to differ.
With a flourish, Mi-ho points to her big discovery: A restaurant is serving a freshly killed cow, and she’s just dying to eat some. This is a familiar routine for them, and today Dae-woong puts his foot down — no! He can’t afford beef!
At his flat denial, Mi-ho raises her eyebrows in an “O rly?” expression, then leans in close to whisper, “Then I’ll want to eat you.” That puts the fear of god into Dae-woong, who cowers. She starts to sing a little ditty, asking, “Fox, fox, what’s up? I’m eating rice. What are you eating it with? Some Dae-woong side dishes!”
She playfully asks, “Did he die? Did he live?” He gulps fearfully, and she declares, “He lived!” and runs off exuberantly to eat some beef.
So how’d he get here? Now we jump back in time.
Dae-woong records a video at action school with the aid of Sun-nyeo and his buddies. In stark contrast to his timidity of the opening scene, here he puts out a strong, masculine energy as he swoops across the gym on wires and brandishes a sword menacingly. He’s doing this in the hopes of putting it online and becoming a success story, and needs it to look cool.
The whole group hangs on Dae-woong’s every word, and he clearly enjoys being the leader. He’s also got that rich-boy carelessness about him, such as when he buys everyone ice cream like he’s the star of a drama treating the staff. He brags about the movie role he has almost, just about won — he’s a finalist and his last audition is coming up.
He brings his buddies Sun-nyeo and Byung-soo to his grandfather’s hair salon and promises them free perms, and gets his own hair set in anticipation of his audition. Too bad the manager calls in Grandpa, who growls at Dae-woong for abusing his status as the owner’s grandson yet again. Thinking fast, Dae-woong hastily pretends he’s going to pay this time. And then runs away.
He speeds away on his flashy new motorcycle, paid for with tuition money furnished by Grandpa — who needs an education when you’re just about to become a movie star? However, he is pulled over by a cop because Grandpa has reported the bike as stolen, so Dae-woong is hauled in to jail. Where his big worry is that his hair will be over-permed. LOL.
Aunt Min-sook bails him out and takes Dae-woong’s side, as she’s more lenient than her father. Grandpa is determined to straighten Dae-woong out, however, and announces that he’s sending him off to a rigorous academy to get some education. He orders him to re-enroll in school.
Dae-woong protests wildly — what about his audition? Grandpa is unmoved, and says that until Dae-woong becomes a person (meaning, a mature adult), he’s grounded. He means it, and won’t even let Dae-woong out of his clutches to go pee.
This will not do. Dae-woong offers up one shoe as collateral that he won’t run away, and that buys him a little space when they drop by a rest station. He hides himself in an empty garbage bag, so when Grandpa comes searching for him, he assumes Dae-woong fled out the window.
Grandpa yells in frustration, and Dae-woong sneaks onto the back of a grocery delivery truck. Escape complete!
Now for our gumiho origin tale, told by a monk to visitors of his temple as he refers to a wall scroll, upon which an old woman and a fox have been painted. This drawing depicts the story of a gumiho who wanted to become a human.
The fox drawing turns human and our Mi-ho comes to life from within the picture, floating down to earth in human form to live amongst the people. However, such was her unearthly beauty that she sent men sprawling at her feet, gaping in awe, everywhere she went.
The men went positively mad for her, and this became problematic. For one, the ladies didn’t like it. Believing the gumiho’s attraction to lie in her nine tails, they prayed to the old woman in the scroll, the god of birth (or grandmother spirit), to get rid of the tails.
The grandmother spirit found herself in the middle of all this strife, and believed that if she found the gumiho a husband, this problem would be settled. A man was selected and the gumiho happily prepared for her wedding day.
Alas, no woman wanted to give up a man to the gumiho’s clutches, and they spread rumors that the gumiho eats men’s livers in hopes that consuming a hundred of them would make her human. Naturally this scared everyone off, and on her wedding day, the gumiho was jilted.
The grandmother spirit cut off the gumiho’s tails and locked her up in the scroll forever, where she now resides, tailless.
After hitching a ride in the truck, Dae-woong alights somewhere along a mountain road. It’s dark and rainy and he signals a car, begging a ride. The driver is the monk, who brings him along to the temple and puts him up for the night.
Dae-woong borrows his cell phone to call his aunt Min-sook and tries to guess her phone number (ah, the perils of cell phone address books). Reception is weak in these woods, so he holds up his phone and wanders in search of a stronger signal.
This takes him to the isolated temple that houses the painted scroll. He finally finds reception just outside the building and tries a few more times to call his aunt. He gets a wrong number, but the last caller asks him not to hang up, so he stays on the line.
She makes a few curious remarks, like how he looks better with his hat off. With growing dread, Dae-woong looks at his phone — it’s off, but the voice is coming from it. What’s going on?
He starts to edge away, but she warns him that if he runs, she’ll be very angry. She has a task for him to do, and invites him inside. (She remains invisible to him, and speaks to him mentally via his phone, which is why he can’t locate the source of her voice.)
Mi-ho directs him to the scroll, and tells him to draw nine tails on the fox. He resists fearfully, but she orders him to hurry, so with a lot of misgivings, he starts to draw. As he does, Nature senses a disturbance; the skies thunder and the watchdog barks furiously. The monks realize something is wrong, and hurry to the gumiho’s temple.
When Dae-woong finishes drawing, Mi-ho is finally free, and boy do the Heavens protest. The storm freaks Dae-woong out and he runs, only to fall down a rocky hillside. He lands hard and is knocked unconscious.
Mi-ho finds him there and peers down at him curiously. He won’t wake up, so she decides to help. He drew on the painting for her and could become useful, so she she may as well save him; leaning over him, she breathes a mystical energy into Dae-woong, which she calls her “fox bead.” As she does, we see her nine tails gleaming in the moonlight.
In the morning, Dae-woong awakens in an odd position — he’s hanging on a high tree branch and only remembers up to the part where he fell down the mountainside. When Mi-ho approaches, he doesn’t recognize her, even when she tells him they met last night.
(By the way, I LOVE Mi-ho’s explanation for why he’s hanging in the tree. She says matter-of-factly, “The boar wanted to eat you, so I put you up there so he couldn’t.” She’s adorable.)
However, a few key phrases trigger Dae-woong’s memory, and he realizes she was the girl on the phone. He freaks out, thinking her a ghost, but touches her cheek and confirms that she’s human. She takes that as a compliment: “Do I really look like one?”
Now he grows indignant, believing that she was playing a prank on him the night before. He leads her back to the temple to confess about the scroll, which he considers mere vandalism.
Mi-ho speaks honestly, but the story is so fantastic that Dae-woong interprets her words in more mundane ways. For example, she complains that she doesn’t like that temple — she got locked up there by ol’ grandma and finds it excessively tiresome. Dae-woong interprets that to mean that she’s a troublemaker who is serving punishment, which is easy to believe since (1) hello, crazy antics, and (2) his grandfather would do the same thing.
He asks how long she was shut in the temple, and she answers, “Five hundred years.” That stops him short, so he asks for details, and she supplies them. The grandmother spirit is a well-known story and she introduces herself as a gumiho, so he guesses she’s spinning tall tales — or crazy.
She explains that she helped him, too. The reason he isn’t in any pain is because she gave him her fox bead, which is in his chest. She reaches under his shirt to point it out, and he pushes her aside, convinced she’s literally insane. He says she should have nine tails, and she answers that they’re only visible in moonlight.
Enough is enough. Dae-woong heads off on his own, directing her in the opposite direction, and starts walking. Only… remember that pig Mi-ho mentioned? It comes back.
HA!! What is it with the Hong sisters and their pig-fearing men? (It would have been mildly funny on its own, but the callback to You’re Beautiful elevates it to effin’ hysterical.)
Despite Dae-woong’s deep wish to be rid of the crazy girl, he can’t just leave her to the pig’s mercies and he comes back to get her. She’s not the least bit scared of it, but he grabs her and starts running.
Meanwhile, the mysterious Dong-joo, Gumiho Hunter, makes his appearance at the temple. He somehow sensed the disturbance and inspects the vacated temple, murmuring that he’d taken all these precautions to make sure she stayed locked up.
In the nearby town, Dae-woong separates from Mi-ho and sells a necklace for some cash. He surmises that if his grandfather pays his school tuition, he is safe to return home. (At home, Grandpa pays his tuition, then wonders, “Wait. Does this mean I lost this time, too?”)
He calls his school and gets the confirmation, which means he is free to return to Seoul. Mi-ho perks up her keen ears to pick up the details of his phone call, and starts to follow him.
Dae-woong assumes that he can ditch her freely since she doesn’t know anything about him… so when she calls out his name, he’s shocked. She recites the list of personal details, and asks for him to buy her lunch. Sigh. He’s stuck with crazy girl a little longer.
He takes her to a grill restaurant, where she eagerly anticipates her first taste of meat in 500 years. She almost takes a bite of raw meat, but exerts her self-control to refrain — she has worked really hard to appear human, and that’s not human-like behavior.
Humoring her belief that she’s a gumiho, Dae-woong notes dryly that his grandfather’s always telling him to try harder to seem human himself (as in, “Be a man”). That’s one thing they have in common. He asks after her family, only to hear she has nobody. That makes him feel an unexpected pang of sympathy for her — it’s another point in common.
He excuses himself to go to the bathroom, but in actuality slips away, rationalizing it since he bought her lunch. When he doesn’t come back, Mi-ho goes off in search of him — then marvels at all the chairs in the bathroom. She opens up one porcelain throne, marveling at its beauty, then decides it’s a well! And she happens to be thirsty…
To my GREAT relief, she decides that it’s a pretty well but not very clean. Meat is a different matter, however, and when she drops it into the bowl, then accidentally flushes it down, she flips out. Noooo! She starts to reach in to retrieve it, but catches the scent of her pursuers in the air (the monk, Dong-joo, and policemen) and hurries away.
Dong-joo hears that the girl was here with a young man — whose description sounds a lot like that guy at the temple last night — and guesses that they’re together. Once he fixes the monk’s broken phone, he can see who he called and track him down.
I love how Dong-joo is totally affecting this too-cool-for-school, I-am-so-good-at-this mystique as his car drives RIGHT BY Mi-ho. (Who is having her first startled taste of soda.) To be fair, he has never seen her, but he trusts that he’ll be able to identify her from her beauty and her aura.
There’s a silly scene involving aunt Min-sook (oh, Hong sisters and your love of toilet humor), wherein she farts in an empty elevator. But then she panics because the smell lingers in the air when the doors open to let in another mysterious man, to her mortification. (We aren’t told who he is, but this is the owner of the action school.)
He pretends not to notice the smell, and when two ladies get on the elevator and gag, he takes the blame, muttering that he’s sorry. Min-sook is very touched at the gesture, and nods a thank-you in his direction. He, in turn, finds her cute.
Dae-woong is eager to take the next bus back to Seoul, only to be followed there by Mi-ho. He thinks she was stalking him all this while, not believing her explanation that she followed his scent. She declares, “I like you. I’m going to follow you.”
Now he’s really exasperated and accuses her of being a scary stalker, a type of person he is well used to because people are always clinging to him for his money. He sneers at her story and mocks her explanation of being a gumiho, and his meanness hurts her feelings.
With one last patronizing comment, he turns to leave. In a hardened tone, Mi-ho vows to get him to believe her: “Then, you’re dead.”
That’s…. unsettling. He takes the bus back to Seoul and heads to the action school, but he’s filled with paranoid fear and imagines that Mi-ho is lurking around every corner.
It’s with relief that he meets up with his friends Sun-nyeo and Byung-soo. The former is eager to please her crush and gives Dae-woong the keys to the building so he can spend the night there.
It’s only now that Dae-woong sees the horrible injury to his back, which looks incredibly painful. He hadn’t noticed because it didn’t hurt, and now he recalls Mi-ho’s explanation of her fox bead’s power.
Dae-woong starts to confide his strange experience to Byung-soo, saying that he met a weird girl who called herself a gumiho, then recalls that she made him promise not to tell. Byung-soo warns him (half-jokingly) that if a gumiho tells you not to tell, you’d better not tell or risk death.
Dae-woong tries to shake it off and starts shooting some hoops. But when the ball rolls away from him, it rolls back. He convinces himself that it bounced off a wall… which is when many more balls start rolling toward him, of their own accord.
From the shadows emerges Mi-ho, who has tracked him here, as promised.
Nervously, he gives her a weak thumbs-up at her proficiency, and she reminds him that she said she’s a gumiho. She looks up at the sky and announces that the moon is about to come out. Now she can prove it to him.
She steps into the moonbeam as clouds part and reveal the moon. And sure enough, when she faces him, there are nine mystical tails floating in the air behind her.
Stunned, Dae-woong gapes. Mi-ho tells him, “I am a gumiho. Give me back my fox bead.”
With that, she approaches him and leans in to retrieve it…
Oh, such a cute first episode!
I have a pretty high tolerance for formulaic romantic comedies and cliched setups, but I will always appreciate a fresh, creative idea over a hackneyed one any day. And the Hong sisters are wonderful at bringing a buoyant, vibrant energy to their dramas. I love the fantasy element, I love the twist on the old legends, I love the dynamics.
Most of all, I’m loving the characterizations. They’ve always been good at building compelling, complex main characters (though not so much with supporting characters), and building winning main pairings. They do that again here.
First off, Dae-woong. There’s something very Jae Hee-esque about Lee Seung-gi here, which is a GREAT thing in my book. He exaggerates his expressions a bit, but I’m not overly bothered by it because I enjoy his contradictory traits so much. In the company of his followers and friends, he acts all cocky and cool, talking big and putting on airs. And then he faces his gruff grandfather and becomes this immature, reckless troublemaker. In Mi-ho’s company, he’s a big ol’ wuss.
I was set to love the wimpy aspect of his character because it’s high time we have heroes who aren’t proud and misunderstood Mr. Darcys. But having Dae-woong be simultaneously wimpy AND cocky makes it even better.
Shin Mina is winning and charming as this innocent gumiho, but she’s no bland sweetheart type. I dig how she manipulates Dae-woong with veiled threats to eat him up, which I’m sure she can’t mean, and it’s hilarious. Then, take her intense stare, above right, when Dae-woong takes the last piece of meat on the grill. She suddenly turns menacing — nobody comes between a girl and her meat! — and warns him to give it back. Gulping nervously, he does. Smart boy.
Her child-like wonder gives her a refreshing appeal, and when Dae-woong mocks her at the bus station, the drama even elicits a moment of emotion-tugging sympathy. She’s a grown woman and also she’s a lost little girl.
I have a good feeling about this one! Stay tuned for girlfriday‘s recap of Episode 2.