Another pleasant surprise in the world of Korean drama this Summer is the KBS drama, Grudge: The Revolt of Gumiho (Gumiho: Tale of the Fox’s Child/구미호: 여우누이뎐), a thriller set in feudal Korea.
Gumiho refers to the Korean legends of the nine-tailed fox (known as a gumiho/kumiho), who depending on which legend, can transform into a beautiful woman that seduces men to feast on either their liver or heart to survive.
Grudge puts a new twist on the legend, depicting the gumiho as a mother, Goo San Daek (played by Han Eun Jung), who was one day away from turning into a full human.
As the gumiho, San Daek meets a man whom she makes promise to never tell anyone of their encounter in the forest for ten years. Unbeknownst to him, keeping this secret for ten years will break the curse and allow San Daek (and later, her daughter) allow to be full humans. Transformed into a human, San Daek and the man fall in love (not knowing she is the gumiho) and have a daughter, Yeon (Kim Yoo Jung, Powerful Opponents).
When the man spills the beans the night before the ten years are up, San Daek knows she and her daughter are in danger of being discovered and she whisks her daughter away to a nearby village to find protection.
They end up in the home of a wealthy family, the head of which maintains two wives and three children. The only daughter of the family is sickly and a local medicine man in the nearby caves tells the master that his daughter will live only after he sacrifices another young girl, who ends up being Yeon. The master takes San Daek and Yeon for this very reason.
The master’s daughter, Cho Ok (Seo Shin Ae) is a spoiled, selfish little girl, throwing tantrums, ordering her nanny around, and without a conscience. An attitude maintained by her own mother.
With the arrival of San Daek and especially Yeon, Cho Ok feels neglected and wants the attention all on herself, including from the son of the local magistrate. Unlucky for Cho Ok, the young master only has eyes for Yeon, which absolutely incenses her to the point that she wants her killed.
The threads begin to intertwine, and as Yeon nears her 10th birthday, San Daek does everything to make sure they are safe and struggles to explain her dark secret to her daughter.
Without any knowledge of the gumiho legends, Grudge easily presents the story in a way that anyone can jump in. The production helps to differentiate the series from similar thriller and horror projects by employing traditional Korean drama formula with film-style visuals.
The series is as much a thriller as it is a family and romance drama. The first episode heavily focuses on laying the groundwork for the legend while the episodes that follow keep the mythology at a minimum, instead focusing on the familial and romantic melodrama. This works in the series’ favor, allowing for the uninitiated to easily follow along without getting lost in unfamiliar Korean tales and tradition.
As this is my first full period Korean drama, I was not sure what to expect, but the setting and traditional Korean dress mixed in with the martial arts and acrobatics provide for stunning and engaging visuals.
The story poses the questions of What makes a monster, a monster? Could humans be even worse than the beasts in the forests? The audience quickly takes to San Daek and Yeon in their struggle to survive, especially in the face of such angry and hateful humans around them.
But the best part of the series has to be the excellent performances by the two young actresses who play Yeon and Cho Ok, Kim Yoo Jung and Seo Shin Ae. At their young ages, both absolutely command the screen with two drastically different characters and they are amazing to watch.
So for a thrilling Summer adventure, Grudge: The Revolt of Gumiho is a great bet.