Thoughts: Before I start this dear little nutshell, let me first confess that I usually avoid stories of ghosts and spirits like the plague. You see, I have an overactive imagination that gets me into trouble; it goes without saying that I can’t watch thrillers or horror films. This, of course, includes most things involving the supernatural.
Having said that, I resolved to temper my overactive imagination and immerse myself in the whimsical world of Arang and the Magistrate. Why? Because it’s Lee Jun Ki’s comeback drama project. 😉 Episode 1 is an easy blend of splashy cinematography and fanciful storytelling.
Nutshell: The drama begins with Arang being chased by guards of the spirit world who are intent on capturing her so as to take her on her aborted journey to the spirit world. She was able to escape from her “grim reaper” (Korean ghostbuster) and as been on the run ever since. She fortuitously runs into Lee Eun Oh (Lee Jun Ki’s character) who is not only able to see her, but can also hear her and touch her.
When she realizes that he can actually see her, she pesters him to help her discover her identity and the circumstances surrounding her death since she can’t remember anything of her human life. He rashly promises her to help if and when he ever becomes a magistrate.
Unbeknownst to him, the town that he is currently passing through while in search of his runaway mother (she disappeared so that he would stop visiting her and instead resign himself to living with his nobleman father) is in dire need of a magistrate. Arang convinces her spiritual medium “friend” to go before the magistrate hiring committee and tell them that Eun Oh is perfect for the magistrate job. As such, the committee kidnaps Eun Oh and installs him inside the magistrate’s residence, thereby circumventing any penalty for disobeying a royal command. The king had decreed the town establish a magistrate or face dire consequences for disobeying his royal command.
With him trussed up like a prisoner, she shows up and tries to sweetly convince him to keep his promise. When he demands to know why she planned his magistrate appointment, she tells him that “a promise is a promise.” He had promised to grant her wish (discover her identity and the circumstances of her death) if he were appointed the town’s magistrate. Heh…definitely never make rash promises, especially to a ghost. She then tells him how she worked hard to present her case before the previous magistrates, but each magistrate had died from fear. She had heard of this rare medicine that would enable her to show herself to the magistrates, but when she took the medicine and visited the first magistrate, he had died of a heart attack. The second one died because she only showed half of herself in her attempt to conserve her last remaining “medicine.” The same with magistrate number 3. That’s how magistrates 1-3 died, and so she pulled some strings to force him, the only human who can see her, into the magistrate position.
Unmoved, he coldly tells her to get lost.
Meanwhile, the town is ruled by a corrupt man who issues an ultimatum to his son to accomplish his mysterious mission before the appointed deadline.
The next morning, the hiring committee comes to the magistrate’s residence with a coffin, prepared to take Eun Oh’s body for burial. In shock, they pleasantly learn that Eun Oh is not dead but rather most definitely alive. In full anger at their deceit, he commands them to bring his magistrate clothes.
His trusty servant comes to his “rescue” a tad bit too late and informs the hiring committee that they’re all dead; they’ve messed with the wrong man. His master is the son of a nobleman! LOL. At this piece of news, the hiring committee falls on their collective faces and begs for mercy.
Meanwhile, Arang seeks out her spiritual medium and convinces her to help her one last time. If she does, Arang will never show her face again. Unfortunately, Arang’s plan backfires, and she creates a huge disturbance to protect her spiritual medium friend, thereby calling the attention of the ghostbusters. As Arang runs for her life from them, Eun Oh intervenes in someone else’s affairs–for the first time in his life–when he recognizes his mother’s hairpin on Arang’s hair.
Post-Nutshell Thoughts: In true fashion of a fusion sageuk, this show easily mixes the formality of a historic piece with the vernacular of modern-day speech. Especially cute and funny are the moments between Lee Eun Oh and Arang.
The show packs a lot of drama and layers. For one, the “magistrate” is the bastard son of a once noble woman who has now been resorted to servant status and a nobleman. Our magistrate lives in the “real” world. Arang is a lost spirit who lives between the “real” world and the spiritual one. Oh, and she doesn’t remember who she was in her past life but firmly believes that she was wronged somehow. Then there’s the side story of the celestial beings up in the heavenly realm. Similar to the stories surrounding Ancient Greece, Arang and the Magistrate is a multi-layered story of humans, ghosts, and gods/celestial beings.
So far, episode 1 does what it sets out to do: establish the premise of the story. There were definitely some cute and funny moments. I’m undecided, though, whether I am going to love this series, but then again, it usually takes me a few episodes before I warm up to a show.
The characters are interesting enough for me to stay tuned for episode 2. 😉