K-drama Goblin offers supernatural bromance

A handsome goblin gets a teen bride and has a grim reaper as his roommate in K-drama Goblin

Traditionally - according to Oxford Dictionaries, that is - a goblin is a "mischievous, ugly, dwarf-like creature of folklore".

In the fantastic world of Goblin, a K-drama where beauty is unquestionably its own magic, no such creature exists. Instead, the title character (Gong Yoo) is an immortal with puppy eyes and a taste for fine art and fashion. He swans around like a model out of an autumn/winter lookbook, but also performs miracles when the mood strikes him.

Once, when he was tipsy, he saved a pregnant woman who was dying after a hit-and-run accident, and beat a grim reaper (Lee Dong Wook), who had to leave the scene of the car crash empty-handed.

Then, by a quirk of fate (or authorial design), the woman gave birth to a girl who might be the goblin's bride, the fabled human being who can remove an invisible sword from the goblin's torso, lift the curse of eternal life and reduce him to ashes.

Gong Yoo (above left) and Lee Dong Wook star in K-drama Goblin, while Channel 8 drama Hero features Shaun Chen and Chen Hanwei. PHOTO: VIU

Can she really? Will she? Will you care?

She is a lovely 19-year-old orphan (Kim Go Eun) when she first meets the goblin by the sea, after she unintentionally summons him by blowing out candles on her cake at her private pity party.

He is a 939-year-old who has puppy eyes, remember, which can mean only one thing. Puppy love, on her part and his, will stalk this drama.

The show, which was created by Kim Eun Sook, the queen of romantic comedies such as Descendants Of The Sun, has its charms - namely, some cute lifestyle jokes here and there.

When the goblin's teen bride raids the fairy-tale section of a bookstore, she calls it a "background check" on her boyfriend, an act akin to running through his Facebook page, if he had one.

Meanwhile, the goblin and the grim reaper, who become reluctant housemates in an early episode, are old fogeys who get dressed when they are told they are going to the Google Play Store. (As immortals who hear people's thoughts and see their futures, they simply haven't gotten around to figuring out smartphones, apparently.)

Then again, they are also just boys. Sometimes, they brood over questions of eternity and divinity deep into the night like earnest, philosophical teenagers. Other times, they start supernormal playground fights at dinner, sparring with each other with flying utensils.

Gong Yoo and Lee Dong Wook star in K-drama Goblin, while Channel 8 drama Hero features Shaun Chen (far left) and Chen Hanwei. PHOTO: MEDIACORP

Somewhere in this mumbo jumbo, though, there is a sense of deja vu. Good-looking guys who hang out in a good-looking house. Men who fall in love and behave like boys. Hasn't Kim been there, done that, with shows such as A Gentleman's Dignity (2012), Secret Garden (2010) and City Hall (2009)? She has done it better too.


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After the rapid-fire romance of Descendants, especially, Goblin feels weary and its whimsy can feel forced.

It plays like a bedtime story in more ways than one. Sometimes, it casts a spell, and other times, it just sends you to slumberland.

Hero, the Channel 8 drama, is ostensibly set in Dakota Crescent, one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore. But it actually takes place in the magic bubble of local television, where even an unseen taxi driver can't say "Dakota Crescent" correctly (the way a Singaporean in the street would say it, with flat intonations).

Still, as housing estate shows go, it isn't bad.

This type of drama is often built to promote contentment, but Hero thinks a bit bigger. Many of its central characters, who include Shaun Chen as a job hopper, Chen Hanwei as a serial entrepreneur, Jesseca Liu as a law student and Andie Chen as a provision shop dork, want more out of their lives.

And the show doesn't cut them all down to size.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2016, with the headline 'Supernatural bromance'. Print Edition | Subscribe