“I found it very silly, yet at the same time very lovely.” -Shin Woo-yeo
Although this line was uttered by Shin Woo-yeo (Jang Ki-yong), AKA the Gumiho in tvN’s latest webtoon-based series My Roommate is Gumiho, to describe his love interest and main protagonist of the show Lee Dam (Lee Hyeri), it is actually a fairly spot-on description of the drama as a whole — up to a certain point, that is.
My Roommate is a Gumiho, which literally translates to “Frightening Cohabitation” from Korean, is a romantic comedy and fantasy drama with a familiar premise. Shin Woo-yeo, a 999 year-old nine-tailed fox, must become a human before he turns 1,000 years old. In order to successfully transform and avoid disappearing completely, he must find another human to help him turn the fox bead inside his body blue.
When college student Lee Dam accidentally bumps into Woo-yeo while attempting to walk her drunk friend Do Jae-jin (Kim Do-wan) home, she swallows Woo-yeo’s fox bead. To keep the bead safe and eventually remove it from Lee Dam’s body to turn himself into a human, Woo-yeo asks her to move in with him. Upon Dam’s agreement to be the gumiho’s new housemate, the two soon begin to have feelings for each another, leading to complications and several twists and turns of fate in Woo-yeo’s quest to finally become human.
Note: This review contains spoilers.
Overall, the drama at first presents a highly familiar combination of overdone drama tropes that already put its plot at serious risk of running out of places to go later on (spoiler alert: it does). Concept-wise, the elements that make up My Roommate is a Gumiho at its beginning place the show at something like a combination of Tale of the Nine-Tailed and Because This is My First Life, with a hint of True Beauty. Rather than having a completely original premise, the show instead recycles previously used premises and attempts to combine them in a unique and unexpected way to create something fresh and new.
And it does that, albeit only for the first chunk of episodes, in large part thanks to its goofy tone and comedic scenes aided by playful sound and visual effects. The writers center much of the comedy in the show around misunderstandings between characters, especially between Dam and Woo-yeo, who both literally come from different worlds, circumstances, and time periods. While their age difference is certainly questionable (Dam is 22 and Woo-yeo is 999, although physically appears to be in his early thirties), it still works as a comedic device.
The same goes for Do Jae-jin and Yang Hye-sun (Kang Han-na), previously a gumiho but now human friend of Woo-yeo. They eventually become the secondary couple of the show, and their repeated misunderstandings, most often due to Hye-sun’s lack of knowledge of idioms, grounds the comedy of the show through its end.
When My Roommate is Gumiho is funny; it is laugh-out-loud funny. On top of the misunderstandings between characters woven into scenes to create unexpected comedic moments, the show’s creators also layer cute and playful sound and visual effects over characters’ reactions to emphasize them and sprinkle in even more humor. Between cartoon emoticons to signal a character’s disgust, shyness, anger, or even hunger, as well as blinking noises in step with an actor’s own rhythm of blinking to emphasize their reaction to a shocking or confusing moment, the slapstick comedic elements are undoubtedly a highlight of the show.
However, by the drama’s halfway point, the fluffiness and lightheartedness begin to fade dramatically, and comedic scenes are mostly used to hide the show’s questionable logic and inexplicable fantastical elements. It is obvious that Dam and Woo-yeo will end up together by the end of the drama, but the path to get there is shaky, odd, and ultimately underwhelming.
Just prior the midway point, Woo-yeo reveals to Dam that he knew how to remove the bead the entire time after it begins to visibly suck away her energy to the point of serious threat. With a kiss, Woo-yeo removes the bead to save her, and her life returns back to “normal,” except for the fact that she has not forgotten about Woo-yeo, and is still in love with him. It then becomes questionable how the writers will continue the show with the bead and the main couple essentially left out of the mix for the next few episodes or so.
After this plot point that has brought the drama to a screeching halt, the writers begin throwing all sorts of tired, tropey elements at the wall in an attempt to revive both Woo-yeo’s and Dam’s romance and the entire second half of the drama. From a mountain spirit (played by Go Kyung-Pyo) threatening to completely destroy Woo-yeo’s chances at turning into a human or being with Dam, to Dam and second male lead Gye Seok-woo (Bae In-hyuk) suddenly becoming fated lovers via a red thread, to Woo-yeo becoming Dam’s professor in order to “keep an eye on her” at school, none of these plot points ultimately stick.
Instead, they usually last for only an episode are two. The first half of the show originally thrived off of its fast pacing, but by the second half of the series, that fast pacing becomes its demise. Any new plot point or conflict is most often introduced at the beginning of a new episode, then resolved by its end. While this element keeps the show moving along at a solid pace, making each episode for the most part easy to watch, it also makes the plot of the drama feel as though it is both dragging on and running completely dry.
As expected, this leaves the writers with no other choice but to take the main storyline between Woo-yeo and Dam down an entirely predictable path. At the end of the show, while Dam thinks things are going well in her finally-solidified romantic relationship with Woo-yeo, Woo-yeo begins to disappear as his 999th year is about to run out. In one of the final scenes of the drama, Woo-yeo rather predictably dies trying to save Lee Dam from an oncoming white truck before he has the chance to turn his bead blue. In an underwhelming moment a few scenes later, he returns as a human, revealing that because he saved Dam and proved his humanity, his bead finally turned blue and saved him from disappearing forever.
While the main narrative between Dam and her “Sir,” as she refers to Woo-yeo for most of the drama, goes completely south in the most underwhelming of ways, so does the forced storyline between Dam and Seon-woo. By billing, Seon-woo isn’t even the true second male lead, but the writers certainly make a heavy attempt to push an unnecessary second-lead-syndrome storyline with his character.
As Dam and Seon-woo are suddenly connected by a red thread of fate at the hands of the mountain spirit, resulting in cheesy, coincidental moments between the two, Seon-woo’s storyline becomes a painfully obvious attempt by the show’s writers to give the character the Han Seo-jun (of True Beauty) treatment. This results in a rather forced, extraneous narrative between Seon-woo and Dam that ultimately leaves Seon-woo heartbroken and alone, but with hardly any emotional payout for viewers to grasp onto and mull over (unlike with True Beauty‘s Han Seo-jun).
As Dam wrestles between Woo-yeo and Seon-woo, and a mixed bag of tropes, Kang Han-na and Kim Do-wan completely pick up the slack and even steal the show as the secondary couple of Hye-sun and Jae-jin in the latter half of the show. Kang Han-na is expertly hilarious as Hye-sun as she navigates her own fish-out-of-water narrative of going to college and being a human in the modern era for the first time. When Hye-sun and Jae-jin are unexpectedly partnered up for a dating project in their communication class, their awkward moments together as a result of their differing backgrounds and misunderstandings with one another ultimately lead them to become the show’s fan favorite pairing.
Much of the second half of the show focuses on one particular misunderstanding between the two characters, in which Jae-jin is mistakenly led by Hye-sun to believe that he slept with her after getting drunk at a class outing. By the end of the show, and to both characters’ hilarious surprise, Jae-jin finally finds out that the mix up was a result of Hye-sun not knowing the idiomatic meaning of the expression “slept together,” and that they rather only slept in the same room together on that drunken night.
As My Roommate is a Gumiho progresses through its disappointing ending, it loses its magic, which is both ironic and fitting. While viewers may find magic in the show’s most non-magical characters, like Hye-sun and Jae-jin and even Dam’s best female friend, Soo-kyung (Park Kyung-hye), it is unlikely that they will fall for the the actual magic that the show attempts to present in Mr. Gumiho himself and his forbidden relationship with Dam. Sometimes, as in this case, the magic is merely in the ordinary, and is much better off staying that way.
(Youtube. Images via tvN.)