Once upon a time IlJimae was playing solitaire… feisty Gumiho got bored by it she taunted him to play poker instead. This basically explained what happened to Arang and the Magistrate 20-episode stride. It was like an Amazing Race where ghosts, Jade Emperor, humans, Hades, Grim Reaper and Heavenly-Fairy-turned-she-Voldemort mounted their moves to the slowly set pit stops and finally arrived at a momentous conclusion that sort of apologized for the dallying first half of the series.
In search of his mother, Kim Eun Oh, a son of a notable government official went to Miryang, but was halted of his main objective when a wandering ghost, Arang pleaded for him to help her seek justice for her death. The magistrates who were supposed to be leading the town died of unknown reasons which were comically revealed to be because of Arang’s pestering of them to find the truth about her demise but technically the town was being reigned by a tyrant – Lord Choi.
Resigned to the idea that he will not help the feisty ghost, he ended up obliging after learning that it could uncover the trail to his goal of finding his mother when he saw the hair pin he last gave his mother worn by Arang. Kim Eun Oh used his position as magistrate to investigate about Arang’s death and has done improvements in running the town where people were bound to the fright Lord Choi has brought them about.
The new magistrate soon learned Arang’s previous life’s identity who turned out to be the previous magistrate’s daughter Lee Seo Rim. She was supposed to be engaged to Lord Choi’s adopted son Joo-wal but she went missing and was believed to have eloped with a low born man. Eun-oh and his men stumbled on Seo-rim’s cadaver one day and when Arang learned of his ill-fated death she bargained with the Jade Emperor of the injustice she got. With the help of the shaman she devised a way to personally visit the Jade emperor by trapping the Grim Reaper – the Angel of Death and forcing him to accompany her to the Jade Emperor. She got what she wanted and was given a chance by the Jade Emperor to live for 3 full moons and has to find out the truth about her death, if she will fail to do so, she will be sent to the deepest recesses of hell.
So then Arang became human again and helped Eun-oh to track the mysterious cause of her death and the connection of her mother to her. The magistrate also soon fell in love with her but knowing her short lived pardon to stay she can’t return the favour even if she was feeling the same way. Joo-wal was also smitten by Arang, but was forced not to pursue it because of him serving his adopted aunt who was in reality the magistrate’s mother but was possessed by a fallen heaven fairy – Moo-yeon.
Moo-yeon was also revealed to be the Grim Reaper’s sister who harboured secret love towards her brother. In her discontentment of things she cannot do because of heavenly status, she escaped Jade Emperor’s realm and possessed human bodies to survive on earth. Only Moo-yeong aka Grim Reaper can stop Moo-yeon with her vile powers but his attempts has not been successful so he asked Eun-oh to help him, who was torn in choosing his mother and the woman he loved.
In the end, Eun-oh and Grim Reaper defeated Moo-yeon and was able to save Eun-oh’s mother’s soul. Together with Arang, they embarked on her assignment to seek who killed her, and in doing so, he also learned of the truth that his life was also borrowed from the Jade Emperor. It was revealed that Lee Seo Rim gave her life to protect Joo-wal and in the end Joo-wal became a Grim Reaper and Kim Eun Oh and Arang were reincarnated to continue on their fated love.
The one-sided love of the magistrate, the too-late-reciprocated-and-realized-love-for-Joo-Wal-to-Lee-Seo-Rim/Arang, and the restricted-by-full-moon-love-of-Arang-to-the-magistrate illustrated a heart piercing and yet understanding kind of love that I greatly appreciated because for a change, I saw characters not ending up twisted because of the love they so wanted to have. Instead, they respected whatever emotions they are feeling and they are getting, and for that reason I found the romance in this drama compelling. Whatever they said about “letting love go, and if it returns, it was meant for you” was achieved by the main players of the love entanglement.
It was an incessant shower of disappointing sighs as I groped my way to finish Arang and the Magistrate. Halfway through the drama, it was still bland and bleak with a plot not coherent to the characters or shall I say, the characters were all good but the story moves in literally a mysterious way, that I ended up mystified and wanting to know why it kept withholding the covert truths indispensable to the movement of the plot. But then alas! On the 13th episode it became lucky and started showing signs of promise.
Although Arang and the Magistrate showed languid episode movements, it sustained a convincing closure that has made it escaped a drama disappointment tag. The main characters vibrant portrayals attributed to my not giving up on the drama, that being said, it helped that there are not that much characters to munch, and them being effective to their personas has helped the drama survive its slow-footed premise.
It has a light villain shock so the thrill and driving point relied on the main characters’ do or die choices. The myriad nexus of the story arcs and the paranormal conflicts crept blindly relying on a climactic conflict that salvaged the slow evolving drama. The casper-ish elements catenated the central theme which focused on the yin-yang-yearnings of the human heart.
Arang and the Magistrate was able to evade an almost drama fury on my end. It was a safe drama, period. It goes down to the point of how you manage to end something, no matter how unsure and average the narration of the story was, as long as you give a decent ending that would suffice. I really applaud the characters… I liked the concept but how they thread on the bridge to get to the other side could have been better if they wove a straight yarn and minimize the holding back of what should have happened. I was able to predict what will happen eventually, but I stayed with it because the dragging storyline in the first half was compensated by the fast-paced-surprise-after-surprise second half. Had they made it consistent it would have felt better considering the stellar performance of the cast and the richness manipulation of the folklore from where the story was derived.
Safe, fun and feisty, I still recommend this as a Korean drama to watch this year. -jediprincess