Warning: Lots of spoilers ahead!
There’s plenty to say about the drama now that it’s over and much to dissect so let’s get right into it by discussing what I did enjoy about it.
Final Impressions: Overall, the fantasy stories covered throughout the duration of the drama, with every passing episode were all unique and interesting on their own as Sam Jang and Oh Gong battled it out with evil spirits. My favourite by far was when they entered the 1930s/40s film since the set was fairly well done and it was a fun moment without Oh Gong leaping in to save the day right away.
I also found the stories involving demon dolls, terrifying portraits, and heartbreaking zombie subplots entertaining and worth the watch. It kept me on my toes, with various fantasy and supernatural tales all rolled into one series and had me wondering what will happen next.
Another thing the drama deserves praise for is the chemistry between the cast. Whether it’s scenes with Sam Jang and Oh Gong or Oh Gong and Ma Wang, PK, Bu Ja, etc., They all interacted and delivered so well that towards the end, it just felt like I was watching a Korean supernatural version of The Addams Family. Instances of betrayal, meaningless bickering (who would have ever thought that two statues would end up and be the topic of insistent arguments in a K-drama?) or couple drama, they all ended up involved like a family would.
My third favourite thing about the drama would be the twists in relation to the original source material. I think the Hong Sisters were clever in their interpretation of Journey to the West, it wasn’t a case of, “how can we replicate this perfectly” but more about finding ways to make the story their own and different. I’m definitely no expert when it comes to Journey to the West or the epic tale and all its details but I’ve kept a close eye on comments as I watched the episodes to get an idea of what fans and people who know the original think about Hwayugi.
From what I’ve read, people seem to like how the Hong Sisters have managed to portray the characters and the story. For me personally, the entire story of Princess Iron Fan and Ma Wang with their lost son (the drama makes it so obvious as to who their son is hehe) to the Peddler/Grandmother speculated to be the goddess of mercy, and even Sam Jang’s origins and birth. These types of details were vastly more intriguing and note worthy as opposed to sitting there and watching the drama without any background information whatsoever.
Even details like the Geumganggo bracelet, we all wrote it off as being the ‘modern’ version of the crown but the Hong Sisters included that as well, even paying homage to the original Monkey King by showcasing the crown on the monkey statue that kept reappearing throughout many episodes.
Lastly, I think it’s fair to say that Lee Se Young was a complete scene stealer and brought so much to the show as a secondary character, playing Bu Ja, the sweet amnesic zombie and the powerful priestess, Ah Sa Nyeo, deceiving everyone with her cunning wit. She was completely mesmerizing in her roles and depicted both characters so well that her scenes were far more entertaining than the main cast.
So now that I’ve shared what makes the drama worthwhile, it’s time to discuss my woes and what I disliked.
To begin with, I could never fully invest myself into the dram because the ‘epicness’ of the story was never really conveyed due to low production quality. With a story like this that tackles so much supernatural elements, the quality of it was too low to illustrate the scale of the Great Sage’s tale. It didn’t feel like an ‘epic’ story. I know effects and cinematic elements are only one aspect of the drama but with the supernatural and fantasy genre, it does matter. Not only would I have been more awed with better quality but would have labelled the drama epic if more thought went into the production and technicalities since actors can only do so much.
My second biggest concern would be the script. I’m still very torn and damaged with the drama’s ending (why, why, why, why, WHY? Why you gotta be like that?) but at other times I found the plot sloppy. This clashes slightly with my statement about how I think the Hong Sisters made the story clever but sometimes I think they forgot other details in the process of paying attention to the original story.
Overall, if I had to sum it up, Hwayugi was good but not incredible. The cast was my main reason for sticking around and the details that had me doing guess work and using my imagination. Without these two things, the drama would have fallen short since the writing wasn’t all too satisfactory or the production impressive. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s a die-hard Hong Sisters fan but it wouldn’t necessarily be on the top of my supernatural/fantasy list, more within the mid-range of good dramas.
So whether you loved Hwayugi or not let me know! Do you have mixed feelings like me?
To end on a positive note, I leave you with this – I live for all the scenes between Oh Gong and Oh Gong Jr. 😉 Lee Seung Gi with a toy monkey will always be engraved in my heart 💕