Hwayugi (aka A Korean Odyssey) is a 20-episode kdrama about the fantasy world of demons and deities and their interactions with humans. The primary character is Oh Gong, a deity that begins the series under house arrest until young girl (Sun Mi) sets him free in exchange for his protection. Oh Gong breaks his promise and leaves her alone and undefended. Years later, Oh Gong and Sun Mi meet again. The powers that be convince Sun Mi that shackling Oh Gong with a bracelet that will force him to protect her is fair retribution. But the bracelet also creates “instant love” from Oh Gong, something neither of them are comfortable with. As Oh Gong and Sun Mi work together to eliminate evil spirits, they grow closer and fall in love. However, Sun Mi is never sure if Oh Gong truly loves her or if the bracelet is the source of his feelings. Oh Gong and Sun Mi make sacrifices to save each other (and the world). Will their love survive?
* Son Oh Gong (Lee Seung Gi). This was Lee Seung Gi’s first role since completing his mandatory military service. He had a lean mean body. He seemed to have a deeper intensity and be more expressive on the physical side of the romance. This enhanced a performance of the star character. The writers, the Hong Sisters, previously featured Lee Seung Gi to great success in one of my favorite series My Girlfriend is a Gumiho. Like that series Lee Seung Gi’s character Oh Gong went from self-centered to hero. This transformation works for me every time. Oh Gong was smart, direct, and didn’t suffer fools gladly. Even in the initial episodes when he was in jerk mode, Oh Gong had an appeal. It was irksome when Oh Gong’s desire to protect his lady love Sun Mi meant he kept things from her. This made her unaware, which increased her vulnerability. That quibble aside, Oh Gong was a terrific character. Lee Seung Gi delivered a leading man that was heads and shoulders above any other character in this series.
* Jin Sun Mi (Oh Yeon Seo). Oh Yeon Seo is an actress that I’ve enjoyed in many series (Come Back Mister, Shine or Go Crazy). As the leading lady, Sun Mi had a hard life. Cheated out of protection by Oh Gong, burdened with ability to see and deal with evil spirits, and fated to sacrifice by the heavenly realm, Sun Mi could have been bitter or downtrodden. But she wasn’t. Instead she rolled with what life gave her, surviving with good spirits. But she was lonely and wanted love. When she put the bracelet on Oh Gong she expected a protector but also got a man declaring his love for her. She couldn’t allow herself to fully believe Oh Gong’s proclamations. But she couldn’t help herself from falling in love with Oh Gong. Her doubt factored into the ebbs and flows of their relationship. When Sun Mi was possessed by another character Oh Yeon Seo once again showed her flair for portraying a different character masquerading as another. Her best example of this was Come Back Mister. Oh Yeon Seo wasn’t as “all in” with the physical demonstrations as Lee Seung Gi but she did enough to make it work. This character deserved happiness and love. Initially deserted by Oh Gong, he became her champion and love of her life.
* The love story. The beginning of their love was marred because Oh Gong’s love was manufactured by a bracelet and couldn’t be trusted. I felt cheated out of watching them fall in love. But it became obvious that Oh Gong truly loved Sun Mi, making the bracelet a non factor. Unfortunately, Sun Mi didn’t know the bracelet didn’t matter and continued to doubt his declarations. This undercut the grandness of their love. It was there, the audience knew it, but the characters couldn’t fully immerse in their love. In the end, they both realized their love was mutual and genuine. It satisfied me.
Room for Improvement
* Woo Hwi Chul (Cha Seung Won). I wanted to like Hwi Chul. He was the third primary character of this series. I like the actor, Cha Seung Won, that portrays him. He has a presence on screen and a flair for facial expressions. But he was a fair-weather friend to Oh Gong. Again and again he’d forsake friendship and break his promises to pursue his own goals. Perhaps unfairly I’d hoped for a Goblin-like bromance between Oh Gong and Hwi Chul. That didn’t materialize. There were brief flashes but Hwi Chul would resort to his selfish ways and prove his loyalty wasn’t solid unlike Oh Gong’s. Hwi Chul was lucky Oh Gong didn’t waver. It was a relief Hwi Chul finally shone in the final episode.
*Demons and Heavenly Realm were selfish jerks. This isn’t the first series the heaven’s gods have been portrayed as users. Water God had a cadre of characters that at times seemed like petulant teens. Hwayugi’s demons (Hwi Chul, PK) and heavenly realm representatives (the Elder) were users. They saw Sun Mi as a means to an end and had no issues using her to achieve personal goals and elevate their status. Too many times they proved they didn’t care about her. When she was stripped of her powers, they dropped her like a hot potato.
* The writing. I’ve enjoyed several Hong Sister dramas (My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, You’re Beautiful). But lately they have struggled to find the sweet spot stories they once produced. I hoped for a wonderful fantasy world full of characters that were charming with a progressive love story that swept me up in it. Instead the likability of many the characters started low. Sun Mi stood alone until Oh Gong found his groove and joined her as the two characters to root for. While the love story delivered it was hampered and not allowed to soar until the end of the series. The Hong Sisters wrote a good drama not a great drama.
Watch or Not?
Would I recommend this series? Yes. Hwayugi ticked many boxes:
- enjoyable love story
- enjoyable evolution of the leading man Oh Gong
- enjoyable female lead Sun Mi who was not a wimp
- support characters that add to the fabric of the series
Bottom line, I can overlook the drama’s less than stellar aspects because it delivered a satisfying love story. Lee Seung Gi breathed life into the jerk to hero Oh Gong in stellar fashion.
OST. I thoroughly enjoyed the 9 vocals songs that comprised the bulk of the 14 track OST (see OST details). My two favorite songs were “Believe” by Mackelli (track 9) and “When I Saw You” by Bumkey (track 2). A playlist of the 9 vocals songs is below: