Pre-recap thoughts: I knew I wanted to recap The Thousandth Man before the series even started – but then, I’d thought the same thing of Haeundae Lovers and look how that turned out (in case you’re wondering: I gave up on recapping the show when I realised I felt the need to bathe in bleach after every episode. I’m given to understand that it isn’t at all good for your skin – makes it all pruney) – and thankfully, the show did not disappoint. It’s darkly comedic, true, but at its core, this drama is about life. And love. And, oh yeah, livers.
This particular gumiho’s tale begins with a narrator giving us the backstory: that a gumiho must eat the livers of 1,000 men before the end of her millennium in order to become human. Our heroine, Gu Mi-jin (Kang Ye-won), has devoured 999. She now has but one month left to devour the liver of a man who willingly gives it to her… or die.
So… low stakes, then?
Present day: Two children are playing in an airplane and accidentally spill water onto the neck of the woman seated in front of them – it’s Mi-jin and as she turns to glare at them, her eyes flash an eerie blue, thus alerting us to the fact that she isn’t human.
She spies a couple kissing and turns away, either in disgust or envy. Given that she’s romanced at least 999 men, I think I’m going to go with envy. Or perhaps hunger, because she then whips out her cell phone, scrolling through photo after photo of herself with various men, licking her lips as she goes. Er, is she thinking of how delicious their livers would taste? Cause that’s awesome. A little gross, but still, awesome.
The plane experiences some turbulence and the pilots share a grim conversation, saying that they’re in trouble due to wind shear (a rapid change in wind velocity which can cause a change in the lift and therefore altitude of an aircraft); Mi-jin glances around the plane and thinks to herself that it isn’t possible for her to die like this – she only has one liver left to obtain!
Her phone falls from the seat and she slips and slides across the juddering floor to retrieve it, but the rocking causes her to stumble and fall into a man who’s somehow been sleeping through the entire ordeal – perhaps his eye-mask has magical properties?
She thinks of her mother and of her sister, Mi-mo, and begs the man seated next to her to tell her family – if he manages to survive, that is – that she always wanted to become human, always…
Annoyed at being woken from his slumber, he slips off his eye-mask and she gazes at him shock. Flashback time!
It was the Goryeo era and Mi-jin stood at the edge of a cliff before a man who looked remarkably like the airplane passenger. Bravely, she told him that if she had to die, at least it would be at his hand. The doppelgänger, with a hand that trembled, held a sword to her throat as a small army advanced behind him, armed with bows and arrows. One of the men called out to the doppelgänger – who was apparently a General – and warned him of her gumiho nature. He yelled back that he’d take care of the matter, but his men couldn’t abide by that and let loose a torrent of arrows… which the General stopped with his own body. He held Mi-jin close and they fell from the cliff into the river below. As the General gently touched her face and the blood seeped from his body, she thought of how sorry she was to have done this to… her husband.
She’s jolted back to the present as the passenger (our hero, Kim Eung-seok – Lee Cheon-hee) cocks his head quizzically and asks her to let go of his hand. She tells him dazedly that he looks exactly the same (as her dead husband), which he assumes is a pick-up line. He tells her that she really does need to become a human (i.e. to live a better life) and even as she’s protesting, the plane lurches and sends her falling into his lap. Ha.
Eung-seok arrives at his restaurant and is berated by his colleague, a fellow chef, for not giving him any warning as to his arrival. Eung-seok suspects that Kyung-seok is hiding something from him, which he vehemently denies. It turns out that he’s accepted unauthorised reservations, which annoys Eung-seok: all guests must be pre-approved by him as he doesn’t trust people. (To… eat his food? To pay for it afterwards? Is he that bad a cook?)
Eung-seok sighs and heads home, which turns out to be on the second floor of the restaurant. Handy, that. His relief is interrupted by a man who comes in wanting to make a reservation. Kyung-seok explains that their restaurant, Last, caters only to those who’re about to die (aha!) – it’ll be their ‘last’ meal and the date, time and menu will be decided by the restaurant. Boy, it looks as though Eung-seok is carrying over some regrets from his past life; I guess not getting a last meal was one of them.
Kyung-seok shows the man out, muttering that next time he should make up an excuse, or tell Kyung-seok beforehand and he’ll make one up for him.
Mi-jin arrives home, sighing that she thought she was going to die on the airplane. Mom wonders if Mi-jin’s not happy to see her and then she – omo – sniffs Mi-jin’s butt. LOL! It seems she’s realised that Mi-jin, although having gone overseas to find her thousandth man, hasn’t quite managed to complete the task and thus, is still a gumiho (which perhaps explains the butt sniffing, as she’d still have her tails). Mom Mi-seon warns that she has only 100 days left to eat that liver, or she’ll disappear altogether.
Lying in bed that night, Mi-jin remembers her husband and the man who looked so much like him. She rummages through her keepsakes to find a dagger and thinks back to when her husband had given it to her.
The General had been practicing his sword fighting as she played the gayageum. She noted the fierceness of his expression and the intensity of his sword arm and he told her he had good reason for it: a gumiho had appeared in the next village. As his talk turned to killing, Mi-jin worried about knowing the gumiho in question and hoped it wasn’t her mother or younger sister. The General, who seemed to sense her unease, then handed her the dagger, but told her she’d never have to use it as he would always protect her.
She’s pulled from her reverie by little sis, Mi-mo (Hyomin, from the K-pop group, T-ara), telling her to come out and watch a news report. An actress named Han Lee-seul (cameo by T-ara’s Jiyeon) has disappeared; Mi-mo tsks that she was too arrogant, always bragging that she had only 3 livers left to acquire and now she’s nothing but foam. What, like the Little Mermaid? Why not ash? Or would that be too vampiric? Hm.
Mi-mo warns that Mi-jin could share the same fate, if she doesn’t get that last liver before her 3 months are up, and Mi-jin complains that it’s hard to find true love these days. Mi-seon shakes her head, saying that in this era, love is easy – the days of a slowly developing romance are long past; modern men fall quickly and Mi-jin needs to stop being so picky.
Though they want her to become human, both Mom and little sis seem to be having trouble adjusting to life as a human being: Mi-mo grumbles about menstrual cramps and Mom complains about the state of the living room, as it’s covered in Mi-jin’s fur. Mi-jin takes umbrage at that, saying that it wasn’t too long ago that Mi-seon had fur, too. Hee, this conversation cracks me up, because it’s turning the extraordinary into something so incredibly mundane and whiny and human.
At work, Mi-jin – who seems to be a… cosmetologist, I think? Perhaps someone could correct me if I’m mistaken? – warns the woman she’s treating that there’s something wrong with her liver, which is of course what she’s picked up on, given her preoccupation with that particular organ. Mi-mo interrupts (calling Mi-jin a fox, to her dismay) saying that there’s a cute guy asking for Mi-jin in the lobby.
So Mi-jin steps outside, but instead of a guy, finds a series of yellow footprints pasted to the ground, with a note asking her to follow them. She does, quite literally hopping along to keep on the footprints (which is too cute) and finds… a sign saying, ‘I love you, Mi-jin’. It turns out to be the man who’d tried to make a reservation for Eung-seok’s restaurant, Min Seok. He tells her he’s been waiting for her these long two months, picking flowers for her, looking for her… He starts to tear up as she watches him with a sort of appalled fascination.
Min Seok tells her to feel his heart and places her hand on her chest, which just seems like an excuse to get her to fondle him, but whatever works, I guess. She slides her hand down a bit and he jerks it back up, saying that that’s too far – she’s not feeling his heart, she’s feeling his… liver. Hee. Show, you make me laugh.
Mi-jin complains to her mother about the cheesiness of both his words and his actions and Mom says that she likes Min Seok – there aren’t too many like him these days. She reminds Mi-jin of Mi-mo’s ten-in-one-go story: Mi-mo had been working as a nurse in the Vietnam War and ten (dying) men – either delirious with pain or simply wanting to believe it was true – had mistaken her for their girlfriends, meaning ten men thought they were genuinely in love with her. Ergo, ten lovely, lovely livers. (Mi-mo glances at the camera and does a joyful little hip wiggle as she counts off each man on her blood-stained hands – oh, I do like the dark humour of this drama.)
Mi-jin complains that that isn’t love and Mi-mo counters that of course it is – it’s sincere in the moment even if it isn’t eternal and that’s just human nature.
An older man (Park Jung-hak), seemingly devoted to Mi-seon, comes in and admits to her that he couldn’t make a reservation at the restaurant where she wants to eat. Frostily, Mi-seon tells Jung-hak that if he can’t manage to make a simple reservation, he shouldn’t bother to come back. Battling tears, he leaves.
It turns out to be Last restaurant and, grimly determined, Jung-hak faces off with Kyung-seok. He rolls his trousers into his socks and advances towards Kyung-seok, picking up a vase of flowers from the table as though to hurl it at Kyung-seok. Kyung-seok braces himself, but Jung-hak instead gently places the vase on the floor… and then lies down on the now bare table, saying he won’t leave until his reservation request is granted. Hee.
Eung-seok says that they should simply grant his reservation, then, as they only have the one table, but Kyung-seok refuses on moral grounds, saying he’s going to teach the man that money can’t buy everything. Eung-seok retorts wryly that he’s only refusing because Jung-hak isn’t a pretty woman.
Meanwhile, Jung-hak writhes on the table in agony as his bladder is about to burst and eventually decides to leave, wondering, ‘But what is this restaurant and why is it making me suffer?’ LOL.
Min Seok too has decided that, in order to gain Mi-jin’s love, he must make a reservation at Last. He thinks back to Kyung-seok’s earlier words and, trying to look as pathetic and miserable as possible, tells Eung-seok that his girlfriend has only three months to live… which is ironically the truth, if Mi-jin doesn’t manage to get that last liver.
Jung-hak attempts to appease Mi-seon’s anger by doing the ironing, but all he irons is a single, white sock, over and over again as it ‘makes him feel good to see it flat’. Mi-seon rebukes him for failing again and he puts on a pair of sunglasses to hide his tears. As he leaves, he bumps into Mi-jin who – as a running joke – can’t see past his apparent poker face (or maybe it’s just the sunglasses) and thinks he’s in a good mood. His lips quiver and rushes out the door in tears. Hee.
At the dinner table, Mi-jin salivates as Mom places a piece of steak in front of her – until she notices that it’s cooked; Mom tells her not to be so picky (another recurring theme?) and Mi-jin unhappily eats up.
Mi-mo decides that if they want to eat at Last restaurant, it’s best she goes to convince the owner as he’s a young man. Mi-jin scoffs at this and tells her family that, unlike her sister, when she becomes a human, she’s going to love only one man forever. Mom and little sis sigh, and tell her to wait and see if she still feels that way when she becomes human.
Min Seok sends Mi-jin pictures of himself mouthing the words ‘I love you’ (in Japanese, which Mi-jin doesn’t seem to understand, ha) and Mi-mo shakes her head at his cheesiness, saying that he stole the concept from a movie. Mom thinks it’s cute but Mi-jin says she can’t feel his sincerity; does he really love her?
Both Mom and little sis tell her to seize the moment – this could be her thousandth man! – and so she agrees to go out with him the following day. She doesn’t seem too excited, though, but I suppose I wouldn’t be either, if I knew the date might end with my boyfriend dead and his liver in my digestive tract.
Eung-seok and Kyung-seok go shopping together at the fish market, like the cute couple they are and Kyung-seok takes the opportunity to talk up Min Seok’s case. He muses that, for Mi-jin, having such a short period of time left to live must be a terrible feeling and Eung-seok – somewhat shiftily, methinks – says that it isn’t the length of time that counts, but rather what you choose to do with it. Nevertheless, he agrees to the reservation and the two resolve to give the couple an amazing (final) memory.
Cue: food porn! There’s lots of vegetable fondling and chopping and swirling and sautéing and other chef-fy actions I can’t name. Kyung-seok asks Eung-seok to taste the soup, but takes offense when Eung-seok wonders why he has to taste it – it doesn’t look bad. HA. Oh, poor Eung-seok, to have come so far in life without an ounce of wisdom to his name.
He has a taste, but the look on his face is blankly stunned, as though he’d expected steak but got chicken instead. Kyung-seok notes his expression and tastes the soup himself: it’s a bit bland and he’s surprised that Eung-seok didn’t notice, given his superior taste buds.
Eung-seok seems disquieted and surreptitiously tests a fingertip of salt on his tongue. Then another. And then he shakes a whole lid-full into his mouth. Blergh. I’m shuddering just watching it on-screen. But if his expression is any indication, no matter the amount of salt, he still can’t seem to taste it. Well, that’s not good. He sits down heavily, the implications slowly dawning on his face and in our minds. Kyung-seok asks for the time and Eung-seok jolts, then defensively responds that there’s still a lot of time left. Okay, terminal disease it is, then.
Mi-jin arrives for her date with Min Seok and finds a group of strangers instead, which personally I would find creepy, but to each his own. A makeshift seat has been prepared for in the boot of a car (it’s less weird than it sounds, I swear) and a headset is placed over her ears, which begins to play a chipper song and then, as the car moves slowly forward, the group begins to perform an act: that of various couples falling in love. It ends with Min Seok handing her a bouquet of flowers and I have to admit, it’s pretty cute; I can see why Mi-jin is charmed.
He takes her to the restaurant and she and Eung-seok are surprised to find they recognise one another. He’s especially shocked because he thinks she has only three months to live – and perhaps now her words on the airplane about becoming a human take on a different meaning to him.
Min Seok tells Mi-jin that he’s content with being a supporting character in her life – if only she’ll be the main character in his. Awww. He hands her a couple ring and she hesitates a moment, two, then allows him to slip it on her finger.
They eat course after course of delicious food – though Mi-jin seems excited only by the steak, hee – and after affirming that he loves her, she takes a deep breath and says, “In three months I may be gone from this earth.”
He laughs it off and says, jokingly, that he’ll do whatever it takes to save her. Face serious, voice uncertain, she says that there is one method to save her… but she’ll need his liver.
Up on the roof, Kyung-seok muses that something seems strange about the couple: if she has so little time left, why is the boyfriend so cheerful? Eung-seok sighs and says that love doesn’t have a time limit. Kyung-seok finds this amusing, seeing as how Eung-seok doesn’t so much as let women go near him, let alone actually date him. Hm, is someone still bitter about having unknowingly married a gumiho in a past life? I think so-ooo.
Min Seok believes that Mi-jin needs a liver transplant; he blanches at the thought and knocks his wine glass over, which gives him the excuse to call the staff in so he’s no longer alone with the sick girl. He babbles an excuse about needing a cigarette, then rabbits off to the garden.
Mi-jin goes out onto the balcony and overhears him telling his friend that the friend was right: he should’ve just broken up with her, before he found out she has liver cancer. Oh, you are such an ass; you claim to really, truly love her and say you were going to propose, but the moment you find out she might be dying your feelings for her die, too? Yeesh.
Heartsore, Mi-jin sheds a single tear which drops onto his phone as though her tears have summoned the rain. Sadly, it isn’t really raining – but how awesome would that have been? – and when he goes inside to find that Mi-jin has left and set her couple ring on the table, he smiles in relief and muses that at least she has a conscience. Argh, you utter bastard. I kind of hope she does eat your liver now, anyway.
Upset and feeling more than a little reckless, Mi-jin goes out for a night of drinking and dancing. She picks up a man in a club and they go to a nearby hotel and, as he takes a shower in preparation for their night of passion, she drunkenly asks if he loves her. Humouring her, he replies that of course he does; he loves her so much he’d give her his liver, his heart – everything!
Mi-jin perks up: this is exactly what she wants to hear and she thanks him, telling him that he’s her thousandth man, which makes him scoff at how much of a player she is and me giggle like a lunatic. She unsteadily climbs to her feet to make a few preparations of her own; in a fairly cool transformation, she calls on her inner fox and, in a matter of moments, her fingernails lengthen to talons, her hair billows and falls to her waist, her eyes – courtesy of the judicious application of eyeliner – become that of a slant-eyed fox and her clothing transforms into a black leather bustier and shorts.
But it’s not so much this cosmetic change that gives our stranger pause when he enters the bedroom, as it is the sight of her nine, foxy tails waving behind her like a sort of supernatural beckoning. It has the pretty much the opposite effect on him, however, and he takes off running (clad in nothing but his Superman briefs, ha).
Mi-jin, drunk and now in full-on gumiho-mode, follows him, leaping from lamp post to lamp post and lamenting sadly that he’d said he loved her. Clearly she’s no longer talking about random-stranger dude and when she hops down to the street below, she’s changed back into her clubbing outfit. Aww, poor gumiho – all she wants is a liver, and is that really such a bad thing? Er, on second thought, don’t answer that.
Eung-seok closes the restaurant’s gates for the night and is surprised to find Mi-jin seated outside, waiting for him. She plaintively asks for alcohol and he, perhaps feeling sorry for her, gives in.
At home, Mi-seon and Mi-mo watch a program on cirrhosis of the liver and muse that humans really don’t take proper care of their livers. Mi-seon thinks that this could be the reason she feels so tired and Mi-mo dryly tells her that of course she does: the human body is programmed to become tired at this time of night. They wonder if the reason Mi-jin has stayed out all night is because she finally got her thousandth man.
Speaking of, we cut to: the restaurant. Over a bottle of wine, Mi-jin wonders if all men are like this and says that Jin-yi unni was right to have such high standards. Upon hearing that she’s talking about the famous Joseon-era gisaeng, Hwang Jin-yi, Eung-seok hastily takes the bottle away from her, sure that she’s had far too much to drink (and her needing a liver transplant, too!). She tells him that long ago, men would give up their lives for love; that you could look into a man’s eyes and see his sincerity. Eung-seok sighs and replies that love isn’t set up (which I take to mean ‘planned’), love is… passion. Mi-jin gazes at him drunkenly and asks why there are no men like him around – or, wait, is he available?
He gulps and tells her to leave and she whines that all she wants to do is talk: she feels like she can be herself with him and talk freely, but all he wants is for her to leave. A little desperate – because he really does want her to leave – he tells her that if she goes now, she can come back anytime, he promises. He writes her a note on a napkin, saying she’s a VVIP, and signs it.
The following day, Mi-jin wanders into work, hungover and with one tail hanging out of her skirt. Hee. Mom says that she’s making it too obvious that she’s a gumiho, what with the tails and the sniffing out of Secretary Park’s location (Last restaurant, where he’s yet again futilely begging for a reservation) and Mi-jin moans that she’s tired. She did, however, manage to book the three of them in at a great restaurant for Mom’s birthday – Last.
When she shows up unannounced with Mom and Mi-mo, Eung-seok is surprised to see her but can’t exactly deny her VVIP status, written and signed as it is in his own hand, and so he and Kyung-seok seat the ladies. Jung-hak watches longingly from outside the restaurant and, as his eyes well with tears, he slips on his sunglasses. His stoic expression combined with those teary eyes is just too funny. But maybe I’m just sadistic; who knows?
Mi-mo, with the confidence born of once being a gumiho, or perhaps just the knowledge that she’s a pretty young woman, sizes up Eung-seok and asks if he’s the owner of the restaurant. When he confirms that he is, she smiles and flirtatiously puts forth a proposal: that he date her. Cue surprised gapes all around, and… the closing credits.
Post-recap thoughts: This show is everything I wanted it to be: blackly comedic with a slightly dramatic bent, but hopefully not so dramatic as to veer into melodrama territory (which is pretty unlikely given the genre and the episode count, but… stranger things have happened).
I’m really enjoying the family dynamic and like that Mi-jin has more to tether her to the world than her own desire to become human, because she has that extra motivation to want to stay with her mother and sister and to not cause them pain by, y’know, dying. I like that our female lead is wary (and weary) of love, that our male lead doesn’t seem to trust many people (but whyyy?), that our second leads are bratty and selfish and human, and that Mi-jin, despite knowing that Eung-seok looks just like her dead husband, doesn’t seem hung up on that fact.
The acting is fairly consistent, I think, and surprisingly subtle at times, but for me the standout has to be Park Jung-hak, whose angsty, straightman delivery – and the seriousness he gives the topic at hand, even when it’s something as silly as ironing a sock or making a reservation – makes his scenes so much fun to watch.
There are so many questions I have for the show to (hopefully) answer, such as: what sort of powers do gumiho have in this world? If gumiho are only female, how they do they reproduce? How long is a gumiho-turned-human’s lifespan? Is Eung-seok/the General the only man Mi-jin has married? Is Eung-seok – as I strongly suspect, in that 99% sure way – really terminally ill? Is that why he shies away from women? How much of his past life (if anything at all) does he remember?
I love that this is a show that raises as many questions as it answers, and that it gives us women who aren’t afraid to ask men out, men who wear Superman underwear and women who (literally) eat men for breakfast.
I can’t wait to see what more the show has to offer and hope you’ll be along for the ride as well.