Lee Yeon (Lee Dong Wook), a thousand-year old gumiho, wanders the world punishing evil spirits while waiting for his love Ah Eum (Jo Bo Ah) to be reincarnated. Meanwhile, his brother Lee Rang (Kim Bum) seeks vengeance on him.
Tale of the Nine-Tailed scored negative points in my book before it was even released for three reasons. First, it was advertised as the first male gumiho drama—and, considering that I adore Lee Seung-Gi’s fabulous Gu Family Book, that annoyed me to no end. Second, it was clearly intended to be a Goblin imitation, something that would try and replicate its success by using the same recipe. And third, it starred Lee Dong-Wook, who can’t act.
I started it anyway, because I’m a sucker for modern fantasy. Mythical creatures walking amongst us is one of my favorite drama concepts, and one that is seldom done well.
Some Good Still
I don’t have many positive things to say about this drama, but I’ll freely admit that I really liked how much darker it was compared to the usual modern fantasy shows—undoubtedly a result of the fact that it’s aired on tvN. I also appreciated the many different creatures we got to see at the beginning of the show, displaying a certain diversity in the series’ folklore.
Unfortunately, Tale of the Nine-Tailed, as it focuses on its main plot, quickly forgets about those creatures, and restrains itself to its main gumihos, with the occasional appearance from the delightful Gatekeeper and her husband. And, of course, the main villain.
On top of that, the writer and director seem to have “dark” confused with “disgusting”, frequently taking their show into borderline horrific waters. I started episode 3 while eating breakfast, and almost ended up throwing it all up. Which brings me to my next point.
Ever since Game of Thrones became a global phenomenon, people have been striving to make their movies more and more violent. As if one gory show suddenly made it alright to get as crass as possible. It’s the first time I see a KDrama sink into this sort of fault, and frankly, I could have gone without it. The camera seems to take some sort of perverted pleasure in zooming in on crying, bloody animals, emphasizing their pain as if it were fun to watch.
Over and over we’re shown baby animals hurt and dying, with no incidence on the plot whatsoever. Sure, maybe these occurrences did lead to something else, but in the end, it could have been done in a much more respectful way. Animal suffering is real and a terrible thing. Thousands of creatures, be they pets or wild animals, are hurt every day.
I don’t need this in my show, and frankly, it makes me angry to even see it used for fake emotional impact so blatantly. More negative points.
So Much Ugly
And in the end, the violence isn’t the only thing that’s ugly about Tale of the Nine-Tailed. Where Goblin had mastered the art of making magical creatures magical, boasting gorgeous visual effects, beautiful photography and unforgettable music, this cheap copy of it is dreary, gray, bloody… ugly from beginning to end.
The worst of it isn’t even that it’s not pretty, because I could absolutely forgive a team for not knowing how to do something, even if it’s kinda their job. No, the worst of it is that there’s one scene in there which shows that yes, they do in fact know how to shoot pretty scenes. They know, but they can’t be bothered.
This, I can’t, and won’t, forgive.
Here’s the thing. There are so many people around Lee Yeon who are loyal to him because, in the words of one of them, they just can’t help but love him. But apart from that one tree-healing moment, I couldn’t see anything that would inspire that sort of hardcore devotion. Sure, he’s kind of likable, once you get past the sarcasm and blasé attitude, but that’s about it. He’s not a good person, nor is he attentive or generous. The show keeps repeating that he’s worth immense love, but I never felt that.
On top of that, his entire relationship (or lack therof) with his brother relies on lazy writing. Had he done something, he could have spared thousands upon thousands of people from suffering at Lee Rang’s hands. And also, you know. Put an end to his own brother’s pain, so there’s that.
The Wrong Characters
In the end, I can’t bring myself to care about this overdone story of an immortal being wandering the earth for eons as they wait for their lost love’s return. This particular take on it brings nothing new to the table, and fails to provide good enough leads to catch my attention.
No, instead, I got completely pulled in by two very secondary characters: Lee Yeon’s sidekick Sin Ju, a gentle-hearted vet played by Hwang Hee, and Yu Ri, a traumatized gumiho played by Kim Young-Ji, whom he shows a kinder side of the world to. I was more invested in them than the lead couple. In fact, there was a scene of theirs which cut off to get back to the leads sharing ice cream, and all I wanted was to get back to them instead of the boring mains.
All in All…
With terrible cinematography, a predictable plot, unlikable main characters and a disturbing enjoyment of animal abuse and suffering, Tale of the Nine-Tailed is a messy, depressing attempt at recreating the success of a vastly better show. If you’re in the mood for supernatural creatures and an epic love story lasting beyond death, go watch Goblin.
Title: Tale of the Nine-Tailed
Country: South Korea
Starring: Lee Dong-Wook, Kim Bum, Jo Bo Ah
Aired: 10/07/2020 to 12/03/2020
Number of Episodes: 16
Genres: Supernatural, Mystery, Horror, Fantasy, Romance
My Rating: ★☆☆☆☆