Goblin Episode 1: A great start

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I haven’t decided if I’m going to be writing about this show on a consistent basis, but I thought it’d be good to capture my thoughts on the premiere quickly. Coming after Legend of the Blue Sea, this has to be the next most hyped about drama of the year, especially with the power packed team of writer Kim Eun-Sook and and director Lee Eung-bok, who wrote this year’s most popular drama, Descendants of the Sun. Honestly, I wasn’t very impressed with the writing of DOTS. I could see why it became such a hit, but  towards the end, it was really the strong cast that carried the show through because the plot became repetitive. However, I would agree that the direction was strong throughout.

Judging from the premiere, I can almost confidently say that Kim Eun-Sook may have outdone herself. The word epic cannot even begin to describe what Goblin does in its premiere as it moves across at least three different timelines, establishes its supernatural premise and “rules” of its world and switches seamlessly between comedy, tragedy and romance. As already promised from the trailers, the cinematography is excellent with the sageuk sequences so artfully crafted, almost like a form of visual poetry. The modern day sequences fare pretty well too, especially the first meeting between Eun-tak and Kim Shin/Goblin in the rain. Such beauty is juxtaposed with brutal grittiness as the show certainly doesn’t shy away from splashing blood across its scenes, whether its through sword fights or from car accidents.

I wasn’t expecting to be moved when watching the premiere of any show, but wow, that scene of 9 year old Eun-tak realising that it was her mum’s soul celebrating her birthday for her just blew me away. The joyful atmosphere of the scene takes a complete turn to a mix of sorrow, fear and suspense when young Eun-tak’s facial expression completely changes. The exchange that follows is so heartbreaking as we see Eun-tak and her mum exchange their final words. The gift of seeing spirits that Eun-tak feels sorry to have becomes somewhat a gift because it allows her to have closure with her mum.

It goes without saying that everyone will also be talking about Grim Reaper, played so enigmatically and sinisterly by Wang Yeo. For someone who delivers the news of death, he’s certainly very charming and the tension between him and Goblin is definitely fun to watch as they try to outplay each other using their supernatural ability to send things fly across the table. Also a lot of fun is Eun-tak’s interactions with Goblin, where she completely undermines him and doesn’t take him seriously. It was funny to see how she discovered blowing candles could summon him and that even includes virtual candles on her handphone. Unlike shows where the ability to see spirits is handled with a sense of fear and torment, it’s interesting to see the show take a more playful approach to this, with Eun-tak’s directness in relating to the spirits she sees.

Romances/stories that span across worlds and across time periods are so common in the k-drama world that it’s no longer refreshing on its own. What’s important is how the show uses this trope to develop compelling characters and explore meaningful themes, rather than allow the supernatural elements to overshadow actual, logical plot development. In that sense, it’s too early to tell whether Goblin will do that. Nonetheless, there’s enough in the premiere to keep us tuned in for more.

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