Hotel Del Luna meets My Girlfriend Is A Nine Tailed Fox in Tale of the Nine Tailed, a Korean fantasy romance that isn’t afraid to venture into the dark side of the supernatural.
Lee Yeon (Lee Dong Wook) is a gumiho who has managed to live in the human world unnoticed, atoning for a sin he committed hundreds of years ago. Once the former guardian spirit of Mount Baekdudaegan with divine status and power, Lee Yeon has to hunt and eradicate lowly supernatural beings as a consequence for falling in love with A Eum (Jo Bo Ah), a human princess whose fate is embroiled with the fox spirit and a dragon king. Her life however, is cut short but her journey into the afterlife is halted by Lee Yeon who interferes with her death and gifts her a fox bead, the most sacred item he has as a guardian spirit, in order to recognise her once she reincarnates.
He encounters Nam Ji Ah (Jo Bo Ah) a hard-boiled TV producer in the present day, who’s in charge of helming a reality series on myths and folklore in modern times. Stumbling upon a wedding venue tossed into mayhem, Ji Ah investigates the strange occurrences linked to a wedding case and follows the trail of crumbs that lead to Lee Yeon. Convinced of his identity being nonhuman, she manages to uncover the truth and comes to the realisation that Yeon once saved her as a child, and may hold the answers to her parents’ disappearance; who are considered neither dead or alive.
Alright, so there’s still a lot to unpack as far as the story goes and the initial relationship between Yeon, A Eum, and Ji Ah but many of these mysteries are worth discovering while watching the show, albeit difficult at times from the accelerating pace and the appearance of new characters. The show is definitely more nuance than other Korean fantasy shows since it debunks a lot of our expectations – Yeon has encountered numerous women who look like A Eum for instance, the first look alike not being her reincarnation. Ji Ah also doesn’t allow herself to be bewitched or deluded by Yeon, aware of the fact that she may look like his first love and his good will towards her is a projection of a love not for her specifically.
I definitely think such details which are usually glossed over or redundant in other dramas are finally being addressed and given more logical meaning, providing us with something that tastes fresh. The comedy side of this series leans more towards My Girlfriend Is A Nine Tailed Fox and brings a softness to the dark elements explored in the drama. The first case for instance, centres on the folklore of the dragon king and evil spirits that inhabit a secluded island. Yet the show doesn’t stop there, and adds more intrigue by complicating the mythos; mysteries related to zodiac animals and the lunar year, whether deaths occur coinciding within the same pattern of time or the hour of the cow, where time is suspended and allows for the door of the supernatural to be opened.
There’s plenty of folklore intricacies within and beyond the central tale of Lee Yeon and his brother Lee Rang (Kim Bum), or that of Ji Ah’s parents, and the tragic love story between a fox and human. If we consider these three segments as pillars of the main story, then everything else is secondary or even supplementary in understanding how their lives came to be what they are today. Six hundred years have passed when Yeon meets Ji Ah so the supernatural has been able to merge and exist within a human domain even if Lee Rang has no qualms with mercilessly annihilating them because he considers humanity to be a more inferior species. He’s the ‘bad boy’ type taken a step further since he uses vengeance as a facade to stick close to a brother who once abandoned and even tried to kill him…yikes!
The fourth pillar of the central story is that of the dragon king, responsible for A Eum’s death and brought back into the world with the aid of Lee Rang. After scouring the web to find more information on this, Daebak blog offered some insight into the rules of the mythology and the plot set-up of the drama itself. In this case, the Imoogi dragon used interchangeably with sea serpent is described as a lesser being that aspires to be a full fledged dragon if it survives for a thousand years. The legend reveals that a girl containing a mark on her shoulder would be the one chosen by the sun god to be the imoogi in human form; alarming considering that Ji Ah has the scales of the ‘snake’ referring to the imoogi that killed A Eum. In other words, Ji Ah carries both marks of the fox (the fox bead) and of the dragon (its scales).
I’m not sure if death is inevitable or closer to knocking on her door because of her connection to the dragon since it’s defined as being a benevolent creature, although violent at times because it feeds off of humans. There’s a possibility that Ji Ah’s existence threatens the immogi’s ascent into obtaining the status of a dragon. Digging even further into this (what an insatiable curiosity will do) it is possible that the dragon within the series either possesses the wish-fulling jewel or orb of creation known as Yeouiju in Korean and Chintamani stone in Buddhism – or desires it from Ji Ah, who may be carrying it undetected.
On the other hand, the afterlife is depicted in a similar manner as Along With The Gods while the supernatural settings in place within the human world resemble Hotel Del Luna like the afterlife immigration office run by Hades’ sister. The imaginative aspects of either really cement the fantasy of the show and add a little something throughout the chaos and everything thrown at us – literally leaving me frazzled with every new folklore discovery.
The chemistry here is good although pale in comparison to Lee Dong Wook’s last project with Yoo In Na in Touch Your Heart , being a duo that’s tough to beat but Jo Bo Ah really gives it her all in delivering a refreshing character unlike her typecast roles as the jealous and villainous second female lead. Let’s hope she can shake off those kinds of roles for good since there’s obviously so much potential in what she gives us here.
My biggest concern has to do with pacing since so much is hurled at us in terms of the story pillars and mini-mysteries that pop up along the way in connection to Ji Ah’s job and her simply attracting the supernatural. There are times when the drama does slow down a bit and it’s easier to follow along otherwise, sit tight and give it your undivided attention if you plan on making sense of it all!
After goblins and reapers have gotten their moment to shine, the gumiho has finally been reprised and brought back to the small screen in this new series that is riveting and full of fables to keep us satisfied.
Release Date: October 7, 2020 (Eng Sub available on Viki)