11 October 2021

K Drama Review: Guardian: The Lonely and Great God 4.2 || 4.5

We've heard good things about Guardian, also known as Goblin. But we're not huge fans of  supernatural stuff so we were concerned that we won't like it. It's always been in our to watch list since it has our favorites - Gong Yoo of Coffee Prince, Train to Busan, Seobok, and Squid Game and Kim Go Eun of Tune in for Love - who are both part of my and Oppa's lists. But it keeps getting bumped down the list because of its genre. A few weeks ago, however, Oppa started suggesting that we finally watch it. And I'm glad we did. Yes, there were some things we didn't appreciate but the story and the entertainment value made up for those little flaws. 


Guardian tells the story of Kim Shin (Gong Yoo), a general during the Goryeo period. He killed a lot of the kingdom's enemies to protect King Wang Yeo (Kim Min Jae of The Producers). The king was married to Shin's sister Kim Sun (Kim So Hyun of The Last PrincessLove Alarm and Love Alarm 2). Subsequently, the King, through the manipulation of his uncle Park Joong Heon (Kim Byung Chul of Descendants of the Sun), ordered the assassination of Shin. The King was led to believe that Shin was a threat to his throne because the people might be more impressed with a triumphant general over a king who has never gone into battle. As punishment for his crimes, Shin became an immortal goblin/guardian who can only move on to the next life when his bride removes the sword stuck in his chest. The show is mainly set 900+ years later when Shin finally meets his bride, Ji Eun Tak (Kim Go Eun). The story takes us through how Shin and Eun Tak navigate through their new roles in life and the dilemmas they face as they are made to choose between living together with a constant threat of death or living apart from each other in safety. 

Gong Yoo as Kim Shin/Goblin

For me, the test of whether an actor is really good looking is if he can still manage to look good even when he's outside his comfort zone. And I love how Gong Yoo successfully passes this test with this show. I'm not usually a fan of long-haired guys as I prefer clean cut ones. But Gong Yoo still looks unbelievably good despite his long hair and bloody face during the Goryeo scenes. 

And before you accuse me of focusing only on Gong Yoo's physical greatness, let me tell you that he delivers acting-wise as well. He was already good in Coffee Prince despite all the yelling and abusive behavior. But this show took me to a whole new level of Gong Yoo's acting. He's matured so much from that show from a decade ago. 

Gong Yoo perfected that poker face he would exasperatedly display whenever Eun Tak summoned him. I also loved how his eyes and face clearly depicted his dilemma about Eun Tak - he tried so hard to control having any emotional attachment to her yet he was failing miserably at it. I loved how his eyes betrayed whatever hurtful things he said because his eyes spoke volumes about how he actually cared for Eun Tak. It was so amazing to see Kim Shin so giddy whenever he saw Eun Tak or whenever she said something sweet to him. My favorite would be how huge his smile was when he found out that he was the guy Eun Tak was with in Canada in the future. 

It was great to see how Gong Yoo resolved his dilemma of choosing between death to let Eun Tak live and life to let her die. Although it was very risky, I was impressed with how huge his love was for her that for some time, he believed that the power of his love was sufficient to protect and save her all the time. 

But when his mission became clear to him, Kim Shin did not hesitate to give up his life in order to save the people around him. It was heartbreaking to see him say goodbye from afar to the people he loved before he died. 

And how selfless he was to choose and endure living in limbo just so he can continue to be there for Eun Tak as her rain and snow.  

And while it was great that the Goblin was able to return nine years later, it was still heartbreaking because the people he loved no longer recognized him (or so he thought). And the reunion proved to be short-lived. And the wait to be finally reunited with them proved to be long. But I guess when it comes to people we value the most, the long wait can be endured and adequately rewarded by even a moment of togetherness, no matter how short it is. 

This is definitely my most favorite Gong Yoo piece so far. I'm just amazed at how great he looks and acts! 

Kim Go Eun as Ji Eun Tak

I didn't fully appreciate Kim Go Eun in Tune in for Love. And when I started watching this show, I immediately realized that I have probably misjudged her. I loved her right away in this drama and I knew she was greater than what I saw in the movie. 

The greatest thing about Go Eun as Eun Tak was how cute and adorable she was. She was hilarious everytime she pestered Shin like when she requested for a boyfriend or when she told him she'll marry him. 

With her positivity, you wouldn't even guess that she went through a lot of misfortunes in her young age - her mom dying when she was 9 and her aunt abusing her as she lived in poverty. I totally felt her pain when she lamented why she never gets the chance to harvest what she's planted in life. It was heartbreaking to see her suffer every injustice all because people thought badly of her and how prejudiced they were against her because she was poor. 

I super loved her breakdown scene when Kim Shin disintegrated into ashes. She displayed just the right amount of grief without overdoing it. That made her pain more relatable. And I found it extremely brilliant that she thought of writing about Kim Shin in her notebook, knowing that her memories of him would be wiped out the moment he perishes. 

I was happy that Eun Tak got her little reunion with the Goblin before she passed away. And just like the Goblin, I liked how very decisive she was about choosing to save other people even if it meant sacrificing her life. 

I would have to say that I'm now a Kim Go Eun fan. I'm grateful that I got another chance to reevaluate her through this show. 

Lee Dong Wook as The Grim Reaper and Yoo In Na as Sunny

Although I've occasionally seen Lee Dong Wook when Oppa watches Sea of Hope, this was my first time to really focus on him. And I totally loved what I saw. This show has spoiled me with great looking actors who can act really well at the same time. 

Oppa thought Dong Wook's acting was quite stiff. But I had no problems with it whatsoever. I felt that the role called for it. It seemed natural for a grim reaper to act that way. 

The most endearing thing about the Grim Reaper was probably his bromance with the Goblin. I loved how they started out as competitors, outdoing each other's tricks. But gradually, they went on to love and care for each other. Between the two of them, I felt that the Grim Reaper gave so much more to the Goblin - he refused to report Eun Tak as a missing soul although he also wished for the Goblin to finally get his rest and he helped the Goblin evade the plans of the goddess of birth and fate (Lee El) to kill Eun Tak by telling him beforehand whenever he got her name card. The Grim Reaper helped the Goblin a lot even if he had to defy his superiors. 

I loved the confrontation scene between the Grim Reaper and the Goblin when the former's identity was finally revealed. You would normally expect some heavy fighting since it involved a confrontation between a king and a general. Yet, the two did not engage in theatrics. They simply gave us pure and natural acting. More than their anger and desire for revenge, I totally felt their pain and sadness from the betrayal. It was so heartbreaking to hear the Goblin tell the Grim Reaper that the saddest thing about it was that the king was actually loved by the people around him. I'm just glad that the two got their chance to rekindle and strengthen their friendship when the Goblin returned nine years later. 

I loved how the Grim Reaper was mostly stoic but he never held back when he felt things. Especially with Sunny (Yoo In Na of You are the Best). I loved how awkward he was towards her and how he exasperated her. His tears when he saw Kim Sun's portrait was so seamless and effortless. I totally felt his sadness with every tear he shed. 

And let me just say that Yoo In Na was great here. Although she grew on me in You are the Best when she stopped yelling, I loved how appropriate her acting was throughout this show. Appropriate meaning, she gave exactly what the role and scene called for. Nothing more, nothing less. I liked how Sunny tried her best to come to terms with the crazy situation she was in even if she was probably extremely weirded out by the whole thing. And that great sacrifice she made of leaving to avoid further hurting anyone. 

I was happy that although they had to be separated for a long time, the Grim Reaper and Sunny were rewarded when they were made to move on to the afterlife together. That was a very poignant moment for me. And the bigger reward was how they met again in their next lives. 

Yook Sung Jae as Yoo Deok Hwa

Although he was not a main lead, I would need to include Yook Sung Jae (Reply 1994) as an honorable mention. Initially, it felt like Deok Hwa, the Goblin's nephew, was merely included for some funny stuff. However, he showed great depth when his grandfather (Kim Sung Kyum of My Name is Kim Sam Soon and Ireland) passed away. It was also an interesting twist that the Almighty sometimes possesses his body to help the Goblin and the Grim Reaper. 


When we first started watching this show, I immediately thought of how much it resembled Hotel Del Luna. How the past transgressions of the leads were punished but these were mitigated because of their good intentions such that instead of being banished in hell, they were both punished with immortality. Living humans from a very, very distant future were key in reversing their punishments. When they were younger, these saviors were once rescued by the leads. The saviors were both snappy and snarky and were both perfect matches for the sarcastic leads. Both shows had grim reapers although the one here would be the better looking one. And of course both had ghosts and old ladies who were deities. Although I would have to say that the ghosts and creepy scenes here were not as gory as the ones in Hotel Del Luna (special mention to the loan sharks' vehicle getting split into two and the weird things that happened to Sunny like a phone ringing when there was no one around her or someone invisible catching her as she slipped on the footbridge or the drunk guy pestering her flying around as if he were kicked by someone invisible). The story about the past in this show was also chopped/presented in a better manner such that a big chunk of the story was already laid out in the beginning and only surprising twists were added later on. 

Oppa also pointed out similarities of some scenes between this show and Game of Thrones and Gladiator. Eun Tak's scar felt quite Harry Potter-ish too. But don't get us wrong. We didn't really find anything wrong with these things because the show still felt very original. Just thought we'd point them out. 

What got me hooked to the show right away were Go Eun's cuteness, the humor, and the snappy dialogues. I loved the banters between Eun Tak and the Goblin and the Goblin and the Grim Reaper. I would have to admit though that they eventually felt exhausting and contrived. The subsequent episodes seemed to have lost the organic feel of their relationships. I found out though that after taking a bit of a break from the show, I learned to appreciate these elements again. And they were back in full form when the Goblin returned nine years later. 

When Park Joong Heon reappeared, I was scared that the show would get too gory. I was really scared of his purple tongue. Fortunately, his comeback didn't last long. 

Some things in the show did not make sense to me. Like how the Goblin could even afford to let Eun Tak out of his sight knowing that she could die anytime. And how the Almighty waited too long before auditing the Grim Reaper for all his transgressions especially when he leaked info to the Goblin about Eun Tak. I also didn't know why the Goblin thought it was appropriate for him to take revenge on the Grim Reaper. Technically, he was no longer the king who killed him. It wasn't clear to me either why it took the Goblin nine years to return. Was it the only time Eun Tak summoned him by blowing a flame? 

The ending was a bittersweet one for me. Yes, it was happy because they were all reunited. But the process to get to that point was a sad one. I felt bad for the Goblin who was left alone again after enduring nine long years in limbo. Yes, he had a taste of happiness when Eun Tak recognized him again and they got married. But she had to be taken away from him right away. And while I was grateful that the Grim Reaper was there to be by his side for the next 30-40 years, the Goblin had to endure saying goodbye again when the Grim Reaper and Kim Sun had to move on to the afterlife together. I guess we should be happy that the CEO (Jo Woo Jin of Seobok and 1987: When the Day Comes) and probably Deok Hwa were there to keep him company too. I just hope his next life with Eun Tak would be a longer and happier one with less complications. 

Overall, the story was different. I liked how the show managed to come up with something interesting despite the supernatural stuff it had to incorporate into the story. Yes, there were points when the drama would get into a bit of a drag with numerous dramatic scenes where the Goblin and Eun Tak simply looked at each other without saying anything. While it helped portray a more loving relationship between the two, people who are not huge fans of overextended dramatic scenes might not enjoy it. But whatever flaws the show had, the superb acting skills of the actors definitely made up for it. And I found that for me, this drama is best viewed with food and sufficient sleep. :)

And, oh, if you need another reason to watch this, Jung Hae In (Tune in for Love, Something in the Rain, One Spring Night, D.P., Reply 1988, and Prison Playbook) had a cameo here as Eun Tak's oppa. 

Oppa says...4.2.

Noona says...4.5.