Goblin premiered in late 2016. It made headlines when it was announced, for many reasons: star writer Kim Eun Suk (wrote his second drama after the smash hit Descendants Of The Sun in the same year), lead actor Gong Yoo (back to screen glass after a long time since Big 2012 ) and Kim Go Eun (mostly film actress and won hearts with her . And as expected, Goblin went on to become a smash hit, hitting the right note for the most part because it certainly wasn’t without flaws.
This is a story about an immortal Goblin (Gong Yoo) whose story begins centuries ago when he was just a human Kim Shin who fought for the king, who married his sister. King, in his insecurities and misunderstandings, orders to kill him and his sister. God gave Kim Shin immortality and superpowers, turning him into a Goblin. He can only be free from this life when his bride will draw the invisible sword from his chest. The bride turns out to be high school student Ji Eun Tak (Kim Go Eun). Then there’s the Grim Reaper (Lee Dong Wook), Sunny’s employer Eun Tak (Yoo In Na) and Yoo Duk Hwa (Yook Sung Jae) whose family has looked after the Goblins for generations. Also, there is Lee El as the goddess.
Goblin has an epic feel and premise that is majestic and drama deftly weaves a story that ties the past to the present. The mythology and rules of the fantasy world are well drawn. The scale is spectacular and the previous scenes in particular have a movie-like feel. I think there are parts of the fantasy rule that are not very clear, and provide an easy explanation of ‘true love’.
The characters are mostly interesting, with Goblins and Grim Reapers easily becoming a major part of the drama, as well as their relationship. The Goblin aka Kim Shin is a tragic character, sacrifices his life as a human and then suffers from the loss of everyone he loved over the centuries as he is the only one left with the memories of those who have passed. At the same time, he’s not some kind of melodramatic sad sack, because he’s cute, funny, goofy, mischievous and actually has a love for life. He has a heart of gold, helping people from time to time.
Then there’s the Grim Reapers. He also suffered a tragic fate. In his current state, he was an expressionless being who was completely oblivious to normal emotions. It’s great to see him gradually becoming more vibrant and expressive. Without giving anything away, I’d say the character arc is full of melancholy but you can’t help but feel sorry for him. Sunny is another lovely character (though underdeveloped due to less time).
Among the side characters, Duk Hwa is really pleased with his immaturity. Secretary Kim is a great one. Lee El as a god brings riddle and substance in his various avatars.
You must be wondering why I didn’t talk about our heroine aka Eun Tak. Well, I wasn’t impressed with this character because it felt too cute and innocent compared to the others. He is fine. Which brings me to my next issue with the show: the ultimate romance. It works only at the surface level. I did get the whole ‘only one survives’ and high stakes in their love but it never touched my heart. Maybe it also has something to do with the fact that the show just goes around in circles for the most part without much happening. The relationship also seems to be more the result of curiosity and infatuation, rather than a gradual build (which is mostly my problem with other writers’ works as well).
On the other hand, I like the relationship between the Grim Reaper and Sunny which has a solid foundation and their awkward interactions are a lot of fun. The bitter factor adds depth.
The episodes are longer than needed, which is emphasized more due to the lack of major plot development. Flashbacks (in full glory) take up so much screen time that it bores me to no end. Important events occur much later and thus can be resolved quickly.
Now that I’ve mentioned the issues I had with Goblin, it’s time to talk about the good stuff and this drama has a lot to offer. I hope I don’t sound like a broken record but the main strength of this show is the two male leads and their characters. Gong Yoo and Lee Dong Wook are at the top of their game.