Spooky Drama Review: Arang and the Magistrate

Arang and the Magistrate strikes me as a perfect drama for Halloween. It has ghosts, as well as a whole background of mythology that is better than perhaps that of any other drama. We get Shin Min-ah as our perky ghost, Lee Joon-ki as The Magistrate who can see ghosts, Yoo Seung-ho as the Great Jade Emperor with a Mane of Glory, hot Reapers, and Heavenly Fairies. What more could you ask for?

The show begins with eerie music and a crawl of words going up the screen in Korean explaining that ghosts walk among us. Cut to Eun-oh (Lee Joon-ki) in nobleman’s robes sleeping attractively on a rock; then to his servant complaining loudly that he should have been watching out for ghosts while he was pooping. Ha. That about sets the tone for us. This show is alternately spooky and whimsical. Eun-oh is the cantankerous type, and not willing to help anyone unless there is something in it for him. And yet, he knows enough to keep red beans on hand for chasing ghosts away.

Then we see Arang (Shin Min-ah) running through the forest and alternately arguing or fighting with other ghosts as they waylay travelers. She does not remember her past life, but she knows to avoid the Reapers when a magic net comes floating down. She throws peach petals to escape which causes little cuts on both her and the Reaper. Some peach petals! You’d think she wouldn’t mind going with such a hot Reaper, but she wants to find out who she is and how she died.

We get a whimsical feeling from The Great Jade Emperor (in a flowing white costume) playing baduk with the King of the Underworld (in black robes) for the fate of mortals. They are twins although one looks old and the other young. I read that Yoo Seung-ho (G.J.E.) found it awkward to speak familiarly to Park Jun-gyu (K.of U.) because of the age difference.

The G.J.E. has a goat with a flower garden on its back, and when he waters it the mortals get rain. He also keeps Heavenly Fairies around to serve tea. The K.of U. is in charge of the Reapers. The Fairies and Reapers are supposed to always stay calm and forget their earthly connections and desires from previous lives. But the twin gods spend their time bickering and making bargains about the rules of the universe.

Eun-oh is looking for his mother who has gone missing. He can see ghosts but tries not to let on because they pester him for help. He takes shelter from the rain in a convenient forest hut, the same one that Arang uses, and stoically pretends he doesn’t see her as she pokes him with a freezing cold finger! But she rats him out the next day in the town and he allows as how he would help her find out how she died if he were the magistrate.

We get a spooky feeling in the town when we meet Standard Jerk Nobleman with Handsome Son. The S.J.N. has his men beat up a peasant, but the H.S. lets him go free although giving a look that terrifies him. The father brutally mistreats the peasants. He and H.S. threaten each other about something happening during the next full moon, and we see the son later staring at the moon, nearly full. (It looks pretty full to me, just saying.)

It’s funny when the Three Idiot Clerks kidnap Eun-oh to make him be the Magistrate, because the town has had several magistrates who have been found dead – supposedly scared by ghosts – and the king is on them to get a new one. And then the next morning they show up with a coffin because they expect him to be dead too!

And funnier when Arang gets help from Bang-wool, a shaman who has never had proper training but does her best with her grandmother’s Book of Spells. She talks her into stealing clothes in order to look pretty for the magistrate and get him to help her because he is resisting.

As often happens, the humor trickles off halfway through the drama and things slow down. The story becomes more serious and spooky. Very ominous in fact. In the forest behind Jerk Nobleman’s house is a small cabin, where a mysterious woman speaks to Handsome Son from behind a veil. She is the subject of discussions between the Great Jade Emperor and the King of the Underworld and in general, makes life (and the afterlife) difficult for everyone around her.

Join Arang and Eun-oh as they try to find the truth about how she died and what happened to his mother, as well as cope with an evil Fairy. If Arang goes to Heaven she will forget all about Eun-oh, and if she goes to Hell he will forget all about her.  Since she has already died, how can they be together anyway? How have they been manipulated and how will they be judged? How will Fairies and Reapers who break the rules be judged, or people who are possessed or under spells? There are many layers and complications for The Great Jade Emperor and The King of the Underworld to bicker and bargain about.

I hope you enjoy it. Happy viewing!


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