TLDR: Rating: 08/10 - Great cinematorgraphy, cast and chemistry between the characters.
Guardian: The Lonely & Great God is one of the best Korean dramas I have ever watched. Excellent cinematography, OSTs (I can listen to Stay with me on repeat for eternity), cast, and the lead pair's chemistry. Apart from some cringe-worthy romance moments, the whole package is unmissable. If you are a K-drama fan, this is a drama that you shouldn't miss.
Guardian: The Lonely & Great God is a 16-episode K-drama aired from December 2, 2016, to January 21, 2017, on the tvN channel in Korea. Now, it is available worldwide to watch on Viki, and dramacool. Unfortunately, it is not yet on Netflix (and seems unlikely for the future as well).
Romance between a Goblin and a high school student, a Grim Repaer and a Chicken restaurant owner, all while discovering mysteries of their past lives connections and disclosing their fate.
Guardian: The Lonely & Great God is a romance story of a Goblin Kim Shin (Gong Yoo), who is the protector of souls. He has been alive for the last 935 years in agony, searching for his bride to end his immortal life. He shares a house with a Grim Reaper (Lee Dong Wook), who is searching for a Miscellaneously Omitted Person (Kim Go Eun), who should have died with her mother before even being born. The lost soul is living with her Aunt's family and is bullied in her own house and school for being an orphan. She works at a Chicken restaurant owned by a young pretty woman Sunny (Yoo In Na). All their lives are intricately connected through fate (in past and present lives). A lineage of servants is serving the Goblin, who become his nephew, uncle, grandfather, and so on. Yoo Duk Hwa (Yook Sung Jae), is the family's young heir that has been serving the Goblin for generations.
The reason why this drama attracted great expectations and interest from the production stage was because of Kim Eun Sook, the drama's writer. She is famous for having a Midas touch with the Producer Lee Eung Bok, who collectively worked for another popular drama, Descendants of the Sun. This drama was also a comeback for Goong Yoo to the silver screen after a hiatus of 4 years.
The story is a little complicated but let's try to simplify it without revealing the spoilers. The drama is staged in ancient Korea where Kim Shin is an unbeatable General under the rule of King Wang Yeo. Wang Yeo is easily influenced by his advisors. To help him keep in check, Kim Shin marries off his sister to the King. The King and his new bride love each other but the affection is soon clouded by fear. Given Kim Shin's popularity and following in society, Wang Yeo's advisors poison his thoughts saying that Kim Shin should be disposed of, otherwise he will take over the King's position. Convinced, the King orders to kill everyone that Kim Shin holds dear, including his sister, the Queen. When everyone is dead, he orders to kill Kim Shin, who is killed by his own sword and dies in his friend's arms. The sword that took the lives of countless people killed by Kim Shin in the war, killed him as well. Thrown in the fields in agony, Kim Shin kept praying to God (if there is any) to save him or at least end his suffering. However, no one responds until a few years, after which he is resurrected as a Goblin. An immortal being with immense powers, he sets out to take avenge his sister's death but finds the King in sorrow over his dead wife. He takes his servant with him on a voyage to another side of the world and stays there for years while the generation of the family serves him as their master.
Some 900 years later, Kim Shin is still awaiting his fabled wife who will be able to remove the sword wedged into his chest and bring an end to his life. Throughout the years, Kim Shin would travel back and forth from South Korea to Canada. He stays at one place for 20 years at a time to avoid any suspicions. He spends his days helping humans choose the right path. One day, he saves a pregnant woman hit by a car, thus offsetting the balance for the Grim Reaper who comes to collect the souls of the woman and her unborn child. The unborn child grows up as Ji Eun Tak, the one who can see ghosts and communicate with them. She is also able to summon the Golbin to her location whenever she blows a candle/ fire.
At 19 years of age, an orphan living with her Aunt's family and talking to the ghosts around her comes to belives that she is the Goblin's bride. Kim Shin and Ji Eun Tak set off on a journey of love, heartache, and laughter throughout the drama run. All the lead characters get entangled in each other's lives from that point on. Kim Shin and Grim Reaper become housemates, Ji Eun Tak starts working as a part-timer at Sunny's chicken restaurant, Grim Reaper meets Ji Eun Tak to realize that she is the Miscellaneously Omitted Person that he has been searching for the last 19 years, Grim Reaper meets Sunny on a bridge to fall in love instantly and to realize that they share a significant past that none of them remember. The storyline keeps switching between the past and the present, but mostly present, to portray every character's current state.
After a little character development, the plot starts to sag, mainly due to the whole pull-out sword thing conundrum. However, this is also the time when we see the budding bromance and romance between the main characters, Kim Shin - Grim Reaper - Yoo Duk Hwa, Ji Eun Tak - Sunny, and then all of them together (we don't have many scenes of Sunny and Yoo Dok Hwa though). In essence, every relationship was given enough time to grow naturally and nothing seemed forced.
The first half of the drama felt comic and heartwarming, whereas the other half is bittersweet and heartbreaking.
In the second half of the drama, the story picks up slowly. We have more flashbacks and learn about Kim Shin, the Grim Repear's, and Sunny's back story, and how they are interlinked. We learn that Sunny is a reincarnation of Kim Shin's Sister, Kim Sun, and Grim Reaper is no one but Wang Yeo himself. We all uncover the tragic story of how Wang Yeo was responsible for the deaths of Kim Shin and Kim Sun. It was heartbreaking to watch the Grim Reaper come to terms with what happened when he was Wang Yeo. He suffers immense pain and guilt for his life as Wang Yeo and tries to make things right.
When Kim Shin learns about this, he is unable to contain the resentment he held in his heart for 900+ years, becomes cold, leaving their relationship strained. Finally, the time to remove Kim Shin's sword comes, in an epic face-off between a ghost and goblin, Ji Eun Tak manages to remove the sword, and Kim Shin disappears after killing the ghost. Ji Eun Tak's memories and ability to see ghosts disappear. However, reluctant to forget everything about Kim Shin, she leaves clues about her life in her diary. Unable to decode these clues, she carries this sadness through her life. But this inner love and longing eventually resulted in Kim Shin's return to the real world.
On his return, he discovered no one remembers him apart from the Grim Reaper. This brought both of them back together, both of them forgiving each other, after which the bromance returns. The end for both couples is bittersweet.
Ji Eun Tak and Kim Shin marry to become Goblin's bride, but she dies tragically in an accident while trying to save others. But before leaving the realm, her ghost visits Kim Shin and asks him to wait for her in her next life.
On the other hand, Sunny and the Grim Reaper do not end up together. Until the Grim Reaper lives through his punishment, Sunny had already passed away, but even they meet each other on their way to the afterlife. Years later, the two reunite in their next life where they are finally together and live happily.
Kim Shin, who lost his friend, his bride, and his sister, is finally reunited with the reincarnation of Ji Eun Tak, who still has her memories intact.
Reasons to watch this drama
The bromance between the one who cannot forget his past life and another who could not remember at all was just great. Their silly little moments through the drama kept the viewers laughing to the core. Seeing them struggle to live together given the difference between their personalities, habits, and professions, was great entertainment.
These characters (Goblin and the Grim Reaper) start as enemies, almost childish, always fighting each other. But with each interaction, they grew closer to each other. Their goofiness, the dinner table telekinesis fights, the trip to Play Store, and the supermarket run to get spring onions lightened up the mood of the otherwise sad story development. These characters grow from enemies to inseparable buddies throughout the drama. The same goes for Yook Sung Jae's character, who starts as a spoilt heir of a millionaire family but then you see him grow into a more warm and caring person. The reluctant partnerships evolve into a close bond as they try to protect Ji Eun Tak together and find happiness even in their current circumstances.
The Cinematography & Soundtracks
Guardian: The Lonely & Great God delivered gorgeous scenes, great locations, and visuals that take the characteristics of the fantasy romantic comedy genre well. The war scene that looks very similar to the Battle of Bastards from the Game of Thrones, the scene of the ship where the ship staff is bullying Kim Shin's servant, or be it the scene where the Goblin and Grim Reaper cut the car in half to save the lost soul- all are visual treats. Don't even get me started on the locations- the Jumunjin beach where the Goblin and his bride meet for the first time, Kim Shin's favourite buckwheat farm (Borinara Hagwon farm), they even made an abandoned underpass from the legendary scene of the Grim Reaper and the Goblin walking home with spring onions seems like a great location. The backdrops are from South Korea and Quebec, Canada. Collectively, these add to the charm of the scenes and the storyline.
The music and soundtracks are probably the best in the world of K-dramas. I loved each and every song on their OST list. My personal favourite is Stay with me by Punch and Chanyeol. Other songs I enjoyed include- Who are you by Sam Kim, Heaven by Roy Kim and Kim EZ, Wish by Urban Zapaka, and Hush by Lasse Lindh, which also help convey the emotions of the scenes and situations to the viewers.
With Gong Yoo, Lee Dong Wook, and Yook Sung Jae, it was anyway slated to be a treat to viewers' eyes, but the cinematography and locations added to the oomph. The OSTs are the cherry on the cake. 'Stay with Me' remains to be the most-watched youtube video for a Korean OST. This drama is a treat for your eyes and your ears.
Ratings: 08/10 : Overall, I loved the richness and depth of the story. The back story and mystery of each character set the tone of the drama, with high stakes and a lot of questions mingled within the plot. The story takes its sweet time to give answers to the viewers. With each answer, the story gets better and better.
The immense amount of product placements can get annoying at one point.
If you are looking to watch a drama with a mixture of fantasy, romance, suspense, history, love, and friendship, you will absolutely love Goblin.