Image: Netflix

A Korean Odyssey review

A Korean Odyssey (also known as Hwayugi) is a romantic, fantasy drama, starring Lee Seung Gi as Son Oh Gong, an immortal monkey spirit, and Oh Yeon So as Jin Seo Mi, a woman with second sight, who turns out to be no ordinary human but Sam Jong, who is destined to save the world. A Korean Odyssey is a modern, Korean adaption of a classical, Chinese story – Journey to the West – which was published during the 16th century and has been subject to many television and film adaptions.

In the original story, Son Oh Gong must go on a pilgrimage with Sam Jong, who is a monk, protecting Sam Jong from demons who want to eat him, as it’s said that those who eat Sam Jong will become immortal. Son Oh Gong is a mischievous character and so, in the original, a golden headband is used to control him, constricting round his head when Sam Jong chants a special mantra. However, in this adaption, Sam Jong is a woman, and a golden bracelet, which is provided for Sam Jong by Ma Wong (the bull demon king), makes Son Oh Gong fall in love with Sam Jong so he must protect her from demons that want to eat her, rather than eat her himself. Being indebted to Ma Wong, Sam Jong must help Ma Wang collect points, so that he can become a deity, by defeating demons. And now that Son Oh Gong is reluctantly in love with her, he must also help Ma Wang.

The drama follows Son Oh Gong and Sam Jong’s demon-catching missions, with a great calamity that Sam Jong has been prophesised to save the world from, looming ahead of them. Gradually, Sam Jong falls for Son Oh Gong but is aware that his love for her comes from the bracelet and so she worries about the day when her mission to save the world will be complete, and the bracelet will become ineffectual, his love for her disappearing.

I would definitely recommend this drama to those who enjoy fantasy and romance

I really enjoyed this drama because it had a good balance of romance, fantasy and humour. I loved the chemistry between all the characters, particularly between Sam Jong and Son Oh Gong, even though Sam Jong’s character could have been developed a little further. The whole cast was well-chosen, and they all conveyed their characters successfully, creating a lasting impact. It would be very hard to pick my favourite character, as they were all so well-crafted – although, of course, Son Oh Gong has to be one of them as Lee Seung Gi did a great job of presenting the mischievous and childish side, as well as the ‘don’t-mess-with-me,’ side of his character. An interesting point to consider, is that the character of Oh Gong was originally going to be played by Park Bo Gum. However, I think he wouldn’t have been as suited to the role as Lee Seung Gi was, and as able to portray the arrogant attitude of Oh Gong.

The drama cleverly drew from the original story but arguably ‘K-dramatised’ it, through the larger focus on aesthetically-shot scenes and the romance. This contrasted with the Hong Kong TVB adaption (1996) of this story, that I watched when I was younger, which focused more on the fighting of the demons and the taming of Son Oh Gong’s spirit. The fighting scenes is an area in which A Korean Odyssey could have done better, by making it more dramatic (especially at the end), although perhaps, this was restricted by the budget.

The Korean version and the TVB adaption of this well-known Chinese story are very different to one another and it’s very interesting to see how this version has added in new characters and fitted it into a modern-day setting. A lot of these new characters were effective in creating humorous moments, for example, Lee El, as Ma Wong’s loyal and blood-thirsty secretary. If you have seen both dramas, you will be able to see that even the main character Son Oh Gong is portrayed quite differently, with the TVB version emphasising his character as being a mischievous monkey, whereas the Korean adaption presents him more as an arrogant immortal.

Warning – you’re probably going to wish you had a guardian angel as awesome as Son Oh Gong

You can’t review a Korean drama without considering the soundtrack! Although I don’t think I would have liked some of the songs as much if I hadn’t watched the drama, the tracks were perfect for it and I have grown to really like them. I now like to listen to the playlist to reminisce over the drama! My favourite tracks are probably ‘When I Saw You,’ ‘Always You’ and ‘If You Were Me’ – the music just sounds so good and is very suited to the characters and the scenes.

In conclusion, I would definitely recommend this drama to those who enjoy fantasy and romance. This exciting adaption draws you in right from the beginning and is sure to make you both laugh and cry. Warning – you’re probably going to wish you had a guardian angel as awesome as Son Oh Gong (or even just his soft-toy side kick Lok Gong).


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