Like other K-drama fans, I have waited for months to finally witness the day where I get to see Lee Dong-wook (Strangers from Hell) and Kim Bum (Mrs. Cop 2) together. Ever since the news of their casting in this drama, I have looked forward to watching their dynamics on screen as well as Kim Bum’s small screen comeback after four years. I was super excited to tune into this premiere, but it left me with mixed feelings.
Tale of the Nine Tailed is a fantasy romance series that follows a gumiho (Korean mythical nine-tailed fox) called Lee Yeon (Lee Dong-wook), who came down from the mountain in order to catch evil spirits wrecking havoc in the city. In exchange, he is granted a wish—that his dead lover be resurrected, though he has not found her yet. His hunting activities catch the attention of the gutsy Nam Ji-ah (Jo Bo-ah), who produces a TV program about urban legends. Enter Lee Rang (Kim Bum), Lee Yeon’s half-brother who is half-human and half-gumiho. He harbors deep hatred for humans and goes around tricking and eating them. The two brothers are not on good terms with each other.
For starters, I kept getting Wang Yeo (Lee Dong-wook’s character from Goblin) vibes from Lee Yeon’s character, almost as if this was a spin-off story. In Goblin, Lee played the Grim Reaper who was being punished for his sins as an evil king in his past life. Now I know I shouldn’t compare the two shows just because they are from the same genre, but everything about Lee Yeon screams Grim Reaper/Wang Yeo, as if the former is channeling the latter. Both characters wear the same sleek black suit, have the same relaxed, assertive, and traditional personality, go out to collect spirits, wait for the resurrection of their first loves they can’t move on from, and even have the same humor. There is little that is new about the character.
I don’t want to be hasty to judge, since this was just the first episode, but I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I was watching Goblin all over again. This is disappointing because I was expecting something different from Lee Dong-wook. The same can be said about Kim Bum. Maybe it’s because Kim is just too pretty, but I felt that he didn’t quite manage to convey Lee Rang’s creepy side. His presence doesn’t scream danger like his character was often described before the drama, and he does not come off as intimidating either. Lee Dong-wook and Kim Bum have the potential to be an exciting pair, but I’ve already lowered my expectations as early as episode one.
I have my list of K-drama antagonists that I love to hate, the ones whose performances were so good they made me grit my teeth in anger. Somehow, I’m sure that Lee Rang won’t make it to the list of my favorite antagonists, unless he becomes the anti-hero or he is given a redemption arc later in the story. Although, I did like how fast paced the plot was. Many things happened in the first episode, which works perfectly for a drama of this genre because it lets the viewers absorb the plot easily. Unlike slower-paced shows, where it would be agonizing to wait a whole week for the next episode. By then, viewers would have already forgotten last week’s events.
I found Nam Ji-ah, the female lead, to be intriguing. Jo Bo-ah plays the gutsy, straightforward TV producer quite well. Nam Ji-ah is competent and observant due to her curious nature and has impressive deductive skills, almost like a female Sherlock Holmes. Her backstory is remarkable—as a child, she had survived on pure instinct and figured out that the two individuals inside her house were not her real parents. She is also reckless and daring—sometimes almost obsessively, and while this is a bad way to get what she wants, it goes to show that she won’t be another damsel in distress. Even when the two male lead characters are alpha males, the female lead will likely not be submissive. I hope I’m right.
On the brighter side, even though the concept is not entirely new—mythical creatures, family feuds, an unrequited love that the main character awaits for hundreds of years—it’s enough to pique the viewers’ curiosity. I particularly like how the story settings change accordingly to fit the current situation of the characters. Ji-ah’s past is narrated at night, which suits her dark past. Lee Yeon says that it is raining on a sunny day because a fox is getting married, which is also an indicator of a bright wedding and foreshadows the heartbreak that is about to happen to the couples. Ji-ah and Lee Rang’s first meeting happens on a bright day, which shows that even with Lee Rang’s disguise, Ji-ah could see right through him.
Overall, I think I’ll stay for the long run because romance fantasy shows are my favorites. I know I shouldn’t be disheartened as this was just the first episode and the show has plenty of time to improve, but first impressions matter. I found Lee Rang’s sidekick Gi Yu-Ri, played by Kim Yong-ji (The King: Eternal Monarch) a really interesting character with a lot of potential. I just hope the writers not only focus on the three main characters but also give the interesting side characters enough screen time to leave a mark.