Pandemic Diary July: Goblins, Kings, and No Zombies

July was packed with personal self-care. I found a new therapist and said goodbye to my old elliptical machine.

I hilariously tried to stop the elliptical from squeaking with a series of lubricating products, beginning with olive oil (which has worked for years, for the record) and escalating to white lithium auto grease, whatever the hell that is. This purchase involved me standing in a parking lot waiting for “curbside” pick-up and being asked what kind of car I drive. I do not have a car. In the end, the squeaks got worse and a new elliptical was purchased.

So some mental and literal squeaks got oiled out in July.

While New York City continued to do its part to stay home where possible and keep infection rates down, the rest of the country lost its freaking mind.

I went to Manhattan for the first time since March for an absolutely annoying doctor’s appointment so I could have an absolutely necessary doctor’s appointment later. Besides living mask free while under anesthesia for a period of time, my life still remains pretty much locked down all the damn time.

After the rough time I had in June, I went searching for comfort from familiar K-drama actors this month and then stumbled into a pocket of really problematic romance narratives where lack of consent and surveillance was uncomfortably centered. I watched so much this requires two separate blog posts.

I also signed up to take Korean language classes starting in August. So. I’m in deep.


I kicked off July with a k-drama error of epic proportions.

I meant to watch Kingdom, a period, political, zombie show everyone’s been talking about. But I accidentally watched The King: Eternal Monarch.

There were no zombies which was very confusing at first. This should have been the first clue I had started the wrong show. The King was a time-traveling romance and mystery by the writer behind Mr. Sunshine and Goblin (Guardian: The Lonely and Great God). Think Doctor Who with more smooching and guns and less emotional investment. <sad trombone>

Lee Gon (Lee Min-ho) is the monarch of the Kingdom of Corea who becomes King when his uncle, Lee Lim (Lee Jung-jin) murders Lee Gon’s father, the current King. Lee Lim escapes capture. Lee Gon figures out he is able to cross between parallel worlds. Once he crosses over to the Republic of Korea, he finds the woman who he’s been searching for his whole life, Jung Tae-eul (Kim Go-eun). Ever since the day of his father’s murder, he’s had her ID badge for mysterious reasons. She’s never heard of him and thinks his ideas about parallel universes are made up and he’s crazy.

Eventually she succumbs to his charms (I did not) and learns that there are people in both worlds who look identical but with very different personalities. For instance, the King’s main bodyguard Jo Yeong looks exactly like her goofy pal Jo Eun-seob (Woo Do-hwan)

While some may tune in for the romance, I found Lee Min-ho to be too stiff and dull. I never quite understood what was special about their “fated” relationship. They stared at each other until it was love. It quickly got tiresome. Yet, I stuck it out because the mystery of how and why people were crossing into parallel universes was intriguing. But that lacked in pay-off in the end.

Lee Lim’s nefarious plans and the inevitable crash between the worlds was semi-compelling until it got incomprehensible. Even on a good day time travel can make things get confusing narratively, but by the end I was not quite sure what was going on.

More importantly, I did not care what happened to anyone except a somewhat neglected side character Kang Shin-jae (Kim Kyung-nam), who is Tae-eul's bff and has had a crush on her since high school. He was a handsome, sad one and I would have been much more interested in a romance with him.

This was a big budget production with slick special effects and beautiful sets and costumes, but it was ultimately a very pretty vessel lacking in substance. And no zombies.


I ended up watching Goblin afterwards and found I had similar problems with the high stakes, barely explained romance there too.

Here, Ji Eun-tak (Kim Go-eun) is a school girl who can see ghosts and her life is miserable. She is told she is the goblin's bride and then she meets the goblin (Gong Yoo). He's been wandering the earth for 939 years waiting for someone to put him out of his misery. Turns out his bride can pull the sword plunged into his chest and it will release him. But he's not sure Ji Eun-tak is his bride. So they ended up spending a lot of time together because she can magically summon him by blowing out a flame. While he is very rich, he ends up with a roommate who it turns out is a Grim Reaper (Lee Dong-wook) who has been trying to collect Ji Eun-tak's soul since she was born. This makes for some awkward times when Ji Eun-tak also moves in.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy a “fated love” narrative, but I think character has to drive that and not just magical nonsense. Here, the I-zapped-my-magic-into-your-mother’s-womb-and-accidentally-created-my-future-bride scenario is not enough to convince me of a deep-seated love between a 19-year-old and a 939-year-old who otherwise share very little in common.

Goblin and bride have an antagonistic dynamic, but based on nothing. It's not witty, sexy repartee that builds to a frisson of chemistry and love. It's sniping, that leapfrogs to "love" leaving me a bit whiplashed in the process. Give me fate plus something meaty. Their personalities or dynamics need to build off of each other. Insta-romance without richer characters is wholly unsatisfying and here with the age difference there’s an undercurrent of cringe.

Yet, Goblin has a dynamic duo at its core. Goblin and Grim Reaper are a comedy buddy team made in heaven-hell-the afterlife. They are roommates and one runs hot, one runs cold, comedy ensues. While the bromance is fun, a queer romance would have been much better. It ends up with more of a teasing sibling energy and at least a sincere and emotional connection, which is more than I can say for the central romance. They've been wandering the earth for a long time and kind of get the epic sadness that the other carries. 

The comedy functions far better than the romance. Grim Reaper is sarcastic and there's a lot of tongue-in-cheek aspects to the show. I also enjoyed the bureaucracy and organization of death and the afterlife. So much paperwork.

But Goblin also showcases some of the worst designer knitwear in the history of cozy Korean winter dramas. At some point, it just feels like a cacophony of ridiculous and loud Charlie Brown sweaters have just overtaken any plot. There is a Burberry yellow sweater vest that is, without exaggeration, a crime against humanity. As someone deep into crocheting during this pandemic, a bad color choice will get you every time. I cannot take a serious scene seriously if you’re wearing a vest made of lemon curd.  

At some point, this show became Lord of the Rings for me: an overlong mythology that outstayed its welcome and I just wanted to push everyone into a volcano.