With plenty of fantasy, Hwayugi packs a lot in its premiere, peaking anyone’s interest or filling you with curiosity.
About a woman with the ability to see demons and ghosts, Jin Sun Mi (Oh Yeon Seo) learns to deal with her demons with the help of a talisman (a yellow umbrella). Her blood is also something precious, with the scent of a lotus flower, overwhelming and drawing demons towards her. As a girl, Jin Sun Mi encounters both the Bull Demon, Woo Hwi Chul (Cha Seung Won) and the Monkey King, Son Oh Gong (Lee Seung Gi). Her encounter with them is significant, as she frees Son Oh Gong from his imprisonment and makes a pact with him that binds the two.
So I’m going to play it safe and say this is an adaption of an adaption, meaning that the drama is an adaption of Journey to the West films, specifically The Monkey King. To me personally, it seems far removed from the original source material while keeping the essence of the characters the same – Sun Wu Kong, Xuanzang, and Niu Mo Wang. In other Words, the Monkey King, a Holy person (in the case of the Korean version since Sun Mi isn’t a monk or scholar) and the Bull Demon King.
Of course since this is a Korean drama, it’s called a Korean Odyssey with the names switched up to reflect Korean ones but since Journey to the West is a significant epic in East Asia, the drama throws the plot in your face, expecting its audience to know who the characters are without much background info. I was quite surprised when I was hit with a ton of supernatural scenes and our Monkey King escaping his imprisonment within the first episode, it took me off guard as I’m to accept the characters as they are without really “warming up” to them as you normally would.
Lee Seung Gi as a Monkey King is something I’m all for – he brings a mischievous air to his character while easily being able to throw a few tantrums and fight demons. I mean just look at that haircut, he definitely looks the part. And it’s nice to see Cha Seung Won paired with Lee Seung Gi again since they make a great duo as actors who never disappoint when it comes down to acting.
Oh Yeon Seo on the other hand, suits her character and is known to really invest in her roles whether it’s a comedy or sageuk. I like how they chose an older cast who have each tackled more complex roles or have experience with fantasy since the Production team originally considered casting Park Bo Gum and even Park Shin Hye (possibly rumoured to have been offered a role).
What I’m most concerned about is the fantasy elements since I think the premiere was slightly messy with a little too much supernatural phenomena. It’s almost as if the Hong Sisters decided to combine all their previous works and pack it into Hwayugi. Master’s Sun was flawless in its delivery and gave me time to digest and fall in love with its characters whereas Hwayugi keeps shooting me with all kinds of things – my brain and my heart can only process and accept so much.
I’m not saying that’s a terrible thing, but I wish it would slow down the pace a wee bit so I can be on the same page. I have hopes for the second episode and like all fantasy dramas, it takes a week or two to truly know whether it’s worth the watch or will continue to satisfy. You can have a great cast, famous secondary stars like Lee Hong Ki and Bora but if the writing is stale then the show is bound to be shaky. So I hope it redeems itself and becomes a piece the Hong Sisters can be proud of while doing justice to the original films it’s based on.
With magical kettles, terrifying demon dolls, and a well-rounded cast, Hwayugi is taking risks and asking its viewers to come along for an extraordinary experience – at least it’s a drama unlike any other.
Release Date:December 23, 2017 (Eng Sub available on Viki)