Just in case anyone’s wondering, yes, I am watching You Are the Best, Lee Soon-shin and yes, I promise to write about it. Today, however, I want to talk about Gu Family Book.
Contrary to what some of you may think, I do like a good romance and when I heard the buzz about the tragic love story that kicks off this drama, I decided to give the first two episodes a go.
It could be that I have a very old-fashioned view of romance but this is definitely not my idea of a love story. Many people have described the relationship between Wol-ryung and Seo-hwa as a tragedy. What they don’t tell you is that a lot of what happened could have been avoided if someone had given the poor lonely gumiho a Tenga and blow-up doll.
Why mythical forest creatures should be given a crash course in the birds and the bees (spoilers and extreme snark ahead) >>>
Cliff’s Notes Version of the Story So Far…
This studmuffin is Gu Wol-ryung, a thousand-year-old gumiho with a fabulous real estate portfolio and nifty magical powers. Eligible bachelor of the century: Y/Y?
For the last one thousand years, Wol-ryung has been leading a happy and carefree existence but his idyllic buzz is rudely interrupted when, long story short, he sees a half-naked chick being tied to a tree.
How he would have reacted had she been less of a babe is anyone’s guess but I digress. Said chick is Yoon Seo-hwa, the daughter of a disgraced minister who was murdered in broad daylight by Jo Gwan-woong, his former friend and subordinate, and a prime candidate for chemical castration if ever there was one.
Because General Douchebag has the hots for his former friend’s daughter, he has her, along with her brother and maid, sold to the local gibang so that he can have his way with her and defile her family name even further. What I wouldn’t pay to see his dick drop off from a particularly vile strain of syphilis.
Seo-hwa, of course, would rather die than become a gisaeng, which explains why she’s been stripped to her undergarments and tied to the tree: her boss-to-be wants to break her pride and spirit by shaming her in front of all the village busybodies, which of course, upsets our tender-hearted forest guardian. Only problem is, he isn’t supposed to interfere with the lives of human beings. What to do?
He turns to Nature for advice:
Leaf: Don’t do it, son. Chick ain’t worth the pain you’ll be going through later.
You know how Nature always seems to get wind of when something bad’s going to happen? I’d say this is one of those instances.
Wol-ryung finally gets his chance to save her when he
feels a strange disturbance in the Force sees her running through his forest to get away from the gibang’s henchmen (in a nutshell: her brother found out that General Douchbag was going to be her first patron and hatched a plan to help her escape.)
In terms of visual effects, this is a very pretty drama (the blue floating lights? Very Final Fantasy.) But I really do wish that the production company had used some of the money spent on CGI to send the writer for logic classes because what follows after Wol-ryung’s rescue of Seo-hwa just makes everyone look like a moron.
A Case Study of WTF Behavior
Exhibit A: Wol-ryung
After spending god knows how long staring at her half-naked form (hence the lingering close-ups of Seo-hwa’s neck and bare shoulders) as well as her face after rescuing her, Wol-ryung decides that he is in love with a woman he’s known for all of 24 hours (??!) and declares that he’s going to become human so that he can grow old with her.
Dude, apart from telling her your name, you have barely talked to the woman. At least find out if you share the same taste in music and interior design. Even Romeo exchanged witty repartees with Juliet before they decided to get hitched. At any rate, no good has ever come out of a whirlwind engagement — just ask Paris Hilton and Britney Spears!
And then we find out why he’s so anxious to get married:
So let me get this straight: Basically, what he’s saying is that he’s lonely…and possibly very horny.
Dude, I think most guys would call what you’re feeling a boner. You’ll get used to it. Just imagine your hermit friend taking a bath and it will probably go away.
Actually, if you just stepped out of your forest and ventured into the city every now and then, you’d probably see a lot of women like her.
Because there is no older and wiser gumiho around to give our poor hormonally-addled forest guardian a pep talk, Wol-ryung goes ahead with his fool idea and asks Seo-hwa to marry him.
At this point, I’m thinking: If you’re going to go ahead with this stupid idea, fine, but shouldn’t you find out if she loves you back before giving up your immortality for her sake? Unfortunately, this guy is incapable of doing any strenuous mental calculations because all the blood in his brain has travelled down south.
I nearly busted a gut listening to his proposal:
Wol-ryung: Marry me?
Seo-hwa: I’m the daughter of a traitor.
Wol-ryung: Marry me?
Seo-hwa: I’m a runaway slave.
Wol-ryung: Marry me.
I don’t know about you but I never got the sense that Seo-hwa was in love with him at all. If anything, I always felt that she would have settled for anyone who wasn’t a) her father’s murderer and b) butt ugly, and that she was just grateful that he wasn’t bothered about her runaway slave status.
I was waiting for her to show me that she was as into him as he was into her and thought I was going to get it with this:
Looks all swoony and romantic, doesn’t it? And then the scene cuts to show us her reaction and I can’t help but think that either she’s having cramps or Wol-ryung is stepping on her toes because this is not the expression of a woman who is experiencing her first flush of desire. She looks like she’s in pain.
I don’t know what the director was thinking. If it had been up to me, I’d have re-shot the scene or cut it out altogether.
You know what the real tragedy of this story is? That there’s no one around to talk sense into Wol-ryung. The only friend he has is a misogynistic monk, which brings me to:
Exhibit B: Monk So Jung
Apart from being an information dump and a fount of misogyny, this character is next to useless in this drama. He gives terrible advice — instead of telling Wol-ryung not to get married and that women are the devil’s armpits, maybe he should have told him to take the time to get to know his wife better before giving up all his perks as a forest guardian — and I feel so offended every time he opens his mouth. I wonder what he would have done if Seo-hwa had given birth to a girl instead. I would not be surprised if he had let her drown.
Exhibit C: Yoon Seo-hwa
I am starting to feel very sorry for Kang-chi. If his parents’ brain pans are any indication, it will be a miracle if his IQ rises above the low teens.
I have no idea what the writer was thinking when she created the character of Seo-hwa because the character makes some truly WTF decisions that no self-respecting woman would ever consider. You tell me what you would do in her situation:
- Traumatised by her husband’s transformation into a werebeast, she runs away from the man she’s spent the last three happy months with and goes straight to her would-be rapist for help. Oh, and did I mention that she ends up getting slapped in the face by said douchebag?
- Said douchebag then informs her that he was the one who oversaw her brother’s execution and blames her for causing her maid’s and brother’s deaths. Guess who Seo-hwa is angry with? That’s right: Wol-ryung. Why? Because he lied and told her that they were both safe. Seriously, this woman has no priorities. I get that she’s angry with Wol-ryung for not telling her the truth but hello? The person who wiped out your entire family is insulting you and gloating about their deaths. Shouldn’t you, I don’t know, direct your anger at this asswipe first?
- Because the logic in this drama has gone to hell, she leads General Douchebag and his men to Wol-ryung’s secret hideout so that they can kill him. Just in case you’ve forgotten (because Seo-hwa obviously has), he’s the one who saved her in the forest and gave her sanctuary for the past three months.
One of the problems with the character of Seo-hwa lies in part with the characterisation of Wol-ryung. By painting him as this overly innocent gumiho who wants nothing more than to make her happy, it makes her look like an ingrate when she gets angry with him for lying to her. Had Wol-ryung been shown, for example, to be a character with a morally ambiguous disposition or someone with an unpredictable temper from the start, Seo-hwa’s anger and decision to run away would have been more understandable (though I would have changed the scene where she goes to her father’s murderer because that makes NO sense whatsoever.)
The bigger problem lies with the writing, which presents the story and characters in a very superficial manner. I have seen Saturday morning cartoon characters with more depth than Seo-hwa and Wol-ryung. I get that he is smitten with her physical appearance but there has got to be something more substantial to show why he is willing to become human for her sake, otherwise it is nothing more than a shallow infatuation. Apart from her beauty, what else does he love about her? I haven’t got a clue and it is for this reason that I’m unable to take his so-called love for her seriously.
Seo-hwa, like Wol-ryung and the monk, is nothing more than a shallow caricature. What can you tell about her apart from the fact that she is the daughter of a disgraced official? There is very little going on beneath the surface and Lee Yeon-hee’s performance doesn’t help you get to know the character any better either.
A stronger actress would have been able to elevate the mediocre script but with someone of Lee’s calibre, what you see is what you get, which is to say there’s a lot of glaring, lip biting and wailing. I never thought I’d say this but she makes Park Min-young look like a Daesang winner.
When I first heard that this was a tragic love story, I was expecting something epic and heart-wrenching. I was certainly not expecting this. This is no love story. It is a one-sided schoolboy crush gone horribly, horribly wrong.
I feel so cheated.
If you are starved for a proper romance that will get you in the heart, may I suggest checking out Beautiful Life or Long Vacation if you haven’t already? They may have aired more than a decade ago but the stories are timeless, which is what a really good romance should be.