K-drama Hwayugi aka A Korean Odyssey is kind of a big deal right now. It’s the drama that everyone seems to be watching - it's even on Netflix as a Netflix Original! The hype for this drama is real and it’s here to stay.
But for those of us who might have missed the memo, it might be a bit hard to catch up and finally understand what fellow K-drama aficionados are talking about. The drama started airing last year in December and the final episode is fast approaching. What do we do? Binge watch all episodes? Just give up on watching it altogether?
Perish the thought of skipping this drama because Hwayugi is so much more interesting than you'd think! The male lead fluctuates from intense love to intense saltiness, from sympathy for the female lead to wanting to eat her. It’s a doubly intense emotional rollercoaster due to all of his mood swings and the drama’s plot itself which features lots of scary evil spirits and blood (don't worry, this isn't quite a full horror drama).
What even is Hwayugi?
Hwayugi, also titled A Korean Odyssey, is a very very loose adaptation/spin off of Journey to the West, a Ming Dynasty Chinese novel about a monk and his three special protectors who travel to the west in search of sacred Buddhist texts. You won't find any animal-human hybrids here (most of the time), as this adaptation shows all the main demon or ‘Spiritual Realm’ characters in their human form, though there are some scenes featuring a little bit of animal morphing and the Pig getting chased through the streets of Seoul.
There are obviously a multitude of differences between the original tale and the drama, such as the modern setting and the fact that the Monkey and the Monk/Samjang have a complicated love story, but the drama has done a really interesting job of reworking features of the original.
Where are they odyssey-ing to? Are they actually journeying to the West?
It doesn’t seem like there's much traveling in this drama because the main conflict is different from the original. In a nutshell, Jin Seon Mi (Oh Yeon So) has been tasked with preventing the end of the world. I know, it’s pretty intense, and it seems like an impossible task for a human. Add on top the fact that all the evil spirits and supernatural beings want to eat Seon Mi, and its a wonder she hasn’t just passed out from stress.
This is where Son Oh Gong (Lee Seung Gi), the “Great Sage Equal to Heaven” comes in. Due to a series of very sneaky deals (check all the terms of your agreements!), which has ultimately resulted in Oh Gong being trapped to obey and protect Seon Mi because of a magic bracelet, Oh Gong is now stuck with helping our heroine save the world.
In addition to the main storyline, we’ve also got the story of the Devil King and his quest to become a deity so that he can save the woman he loves from an endless loop of living and dying in extremely tragic ways. There’s also the mystery of how the zombie girl, revived by Seon Mi’s blood, died – who killed her, and why?
Is the romance good?
Heck yes it is. You don't have to be a fantasy fanatic to appreciate just how good and complicated the romance is in Hwayugi. The magic circlet that Seon Mi trapped Oh Gong compels him to protect her by making him fall in love with her. This has led to so many hilarious scenes where Oh Gong is super cheesy in professing his love and then does a 180 and curses the world and the bracelet. The funniest thing is that he believes his feelings towards Seon Mi are purely due to the bracelet’s influence – oh how little he knows.
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