The 2020 tvN series Tale of the Nine Tailed (구미호뎐/Tale of The Nine-Tailed Fox) is an overall enjoyable series with a charming cast. But it falls short of being the fantastical epic romance it seemed set out to be.
Lee Yeon (Lee Dong Wook) is a gumiho who gave up being a mountain spirit in order to search and wait for the reincarnation of his true love Ah Eum (Jo Bo Ah). In doing so, Lee Yeon leaves behind his younger half-brother Lee Rang (Kim Bum) and the mountain unprotected, causing Rang to develop a grudge toward him.
Fast forward to the present day when Lee Yeon encounters TV producer Nam Ji Ah (Jo Bo Ah) who he soon believes is his true love finally reincarnated. But his work for Taluipa (Kim Jung Nan) in killing supernatural beings that threaten the mortal world, a dangerous threat that reemerges and his younger brother’s grievance throw a wrench into his quest to truly reunite with his love.
Tale of the Nine-Tailed is an interesting premise that plays on what many may be familiar with in terms of Korean folk legends. It can help, but certainly not necessary to have a basic familiarity with gumihos and the like. Seeing how the series twists those familiar themes can be fun in and of itself.
But as a narrative, Tale of the Nine-Tailed walks a narrow tightrope. There’s no question the series’ main focus was on Lee Yeon’s love story, yet the writing was strongest for most every other plot during the series. When the clear endgame deals with whether or not Lee Yeon can live happily ever after, that can end up being a little bit of a problem. Devoting so much time, yet not enough foundation for what should be a sprawling epic of a story hinders the series from reaching its full potential.
That in turn affected those subplots that actually did get substantial development, but never enough to truly hit their marks. The series played out more like a series of smaller vignettes rather than a full, cohesive epic.
The series’ most engaging stories included Ji Ah’s search for her missing parents, a blossoming romance between Yeon’s best friend Shin Joo (Hwang Hee) and Rang’s loyal sidekick Yu Ri (Kim Yong Ji) as well as every other non-romantic relationship.
The best dynamic was absolutely the one between the brothers Yeon and Rang. The back-and-forth battle unfolded in a way that throws you right into the middle of conflict before slowly, but surely peeling back the layers to reveal a deep and emotional backstory. Most of the series’ most affecting scenes involve the brothers’ relationship.
One missed opportunity is also not having a sort of procedural aspect to the story alongside the overarching plot. Having a case of the week-sort of structure with Yeon encountering different folk characters on missions from Taluipa would’ve added a bit of thrill to the series. And it does so once or twice, but they come across as passing moments with minor involvement in the grander narrative.
The drama actually plays more like a straight human drama filled with selfless people. The characters are very noble and repeatedly motion to put their lives on the line, but with no specific, tangible threat at the time. It gets a little worn out when the series resorts to repeated fake outs and red herrings over the course of the series. Almost every episode even, sort of diluting the potential for truly surprising and climactic moments.
The cast does deliver with the material given to them. Lee Dong Wook is as charismatic as ever as Yeon, playing around with both lighter and more dramatic moments effortlessly.
He and Jo Bo Ah have a solid chemistry. But their best scenes are when they are not in romantic moments and instead in more combative moments which I shouldn’t elaborate on to avoid spoilers.
Kim Jung Nan, Ahn Gil Kang (as Euiong, husband of Taluipa), Hwang Hee and Lee Yong Ji all provide strong support and carry their own, albeit shorter, stories well. Lee Tae Ri also appears and makes another scene stealing performance.
But it is Kim Bum who delivers possibly the most affecting performance in the series. As Rang, he goes through many different emotions. From the cocky, playboy-like persona of a vengeful gumiho to a younger brother with emotional scars that he has not yet had a chance to truly process. It is actually a truly emotional performance. And Kim Bum is able to bring about many of the series’ highlights.
Overall, Tale of the Nine Tailed is a fun series that is an easy watch. A strong supporting cast of characters really grab your attention much of the way. Though our lead couple is by no means unappealing. When it all comes together, it just feels as though there was a lot of potential left on the table. With a chance to become a truly captivating fantasy epic, Tale of the Nine Tailed ends up a fine series that may fade a little bit away soon after the easy watch.