20 January 2024

K Drama Review: Gyeongseong Creature (2023) 4.7 || 4.5

And we finally found a drama we both loved! It was a no-brainer that we were going to watch this show, which had Park Seo Joon who is on my Oppa List and Han So Hee who is definitely part of Oppa's Noona List that just needs to be updated. We had our reservations though because it is a period drama with some supernatural element to it. Definitely not our usual straightforward K drama. But we knew it was going to be a great one right from the first episode. Despite our concerns, we were able to sit through three episodes at a time, which helped us finish watching everything real quick. Of course it also helped that it only had 10 episodes that only lasted one hour each. And while we have some criticisms, this show is definitely worth watching. And we can't wait for season 2. 


Gyeongseong Creature is set during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the spring of 1945 at Gyeongseong, said to be present-day Seoul. It tells the story of a wealthy pawnshop owner, Master Jang Tae Sang (Park Seo Joon), an apathetic rich guy who appears to only care about his money. 

Tae Sang's otherwise peaceful world turns upside down when he's arrested by Police Commissioner Ishikawa (Kim Do Hyun of Reborn Rich, Hot Stove League, and Guardian who was superb in this show!). The arrest was allegedly because Ishikawa suspected Master Jang of having an affair with his wife, Lady Maeda (Claudia Kim/Kim Soo Hyun). But turns out that Ishikawa really wanted Master Jang (known as the master of information/connections in their community) to find Ishikawa's mistress, Myeong Ja/Akiko (Ji Woo), who has gone missing. Ishikawa threatened Master Jang that if he's unable to find Myeong Ja, he  would have to give up his pawnshop. 

This mission leads the desperate Master Jang to team up with a father-and-daughter sleuth tandem of Yoon Chae Ok (Han So Hee) and her dad (Jo Han Chul of Juror 8, Reborn Rich, Hometown Cha Cha Cha, Jirisan, Vincenzo, Romance is a Bonus Book, and The Producers), who were trying to find Chae Ok's mom who went missing 10 years ago. Master Jang would help Chae Ok and her dad find Sachimoto (Woo Ji Hyun of SKY Castle), an artist whom they believe drew and saw Chae Ok's mom, and in turn, the Yoons would help Master Jang find Myeong Ja. 

What seemed like simple cases of missing persons, lead to the discovery of a mysterious and horrific operation inside the Onseong Hospital, where Japanese scientists and doctors were conducting horrendous human experiments which even involved the creation of a monstrous creature formed by injecting a combination of the najin parasite and anthrax on humans. The story takes us through how Chae Ok and Master Jang team up to fulfill their missions while also unearthing and trying their best to solve the dirty, evil, and problematic secrets inside Onseong. 

Park Seo Joon as Master Jang Tae Sang

Park Seo Joon's quite known for loud/arrogant characters - Itaewon Class, What's Wrong with Secretary Kim, Fight for My Way, and She Was Pretty. Sure, he had low key roles in Parasite and Record of Youth (and Jinny's Kitchen) but characters with strong personalities are really his trademark. So he was definitely the perfect choice for the role of Master Jang. 

But what sets Master Jang apart from all the characters Seo Joon has played in the past is that the arrogance here seemed more natural. It had purpose. He was not being mean just for the heck of it. It goes deep into his painful past and how he needed to be that way in order to survive and keep his promise to his mom that he'll keep on living. 

Yet despite looking cool 99% of the time, Master Jang also gives us a glimpse of the anxiety he felt over losing everything he worked so hard for. And while Chae Ok detested him for being so bossy, her dad's description of Master Jang was perfectly accurate - Master Jang may look tough on the outside but he is actually a very good man deep inside. The apathy/indifference was just a coping mechanism to help him survive. 

Master Jang definitely gave me one more reason to love Park Seo Joon even more. 

Han So Hee as Yoon Chae Ok

We definitely missed Han So Hee whom we last watched on Soundtrack # 1. She's still as pretty and as great as ever just like in My Name, Nevertheless, and The World of the Married. Her character, Chae Ok, closely resembles her feisty and mysterious character in My Name. But I loved how Chae Ok gave Han So Hee a lot of opportunities to showcase how versatile she is as an actress. 

I loved her banters with Master Jang. Her tender moments with her parents. And her dramatic scenes - especially her breakdown scenes when she found out mom (Kang Mal Geum of Thirty-Nine, The Silent Sea, and Squid Game) was the creature, that her parents were trapped inside the hospital, and that heartbreaking final moment with mom, which I'll talk about later. 

And while the show had a great cast, Han So Hee just really out acted everyone. Her portrayal of Chae Ok was the most heartfelt of all and everyone else paled in comparison. Yoon Chae Ok is just further proof that Han So Hee is truly a brilliant actress. 

Master Jang and Chae Ok

It was definitely not love at first sight for Chae Ok and Master Jang who were always bickering, fighting, and even pointing guns and knives at each other. But the chemistry was there from the start - even in their fight scenes which all looked credible. They didn't feel choreographed at all. 

But when the two began falling for each other, there was just no turning back. How can you not love Master Jang who saved our feisty damsel in distress on the rooftop as he shot the soldier who was about to shoot Chae Ok then how he heroically came out of the shadows to reveal himself and to apologize to Chae Ok for being late. *sigh* Or when Master Jang was rambling about how Chae Ok had to escape first before finding her mom, Chae Ok simply hugged and thanked him. *double sigh*

But my most favorite scenes were probably strong and independent Chae Ok's vulnerable moments like how she asked for Master Jang's help when she found out that her mom was the creature. I loved how Master Jang was the perfect person to be there for Chae Ok, having experienced losing his mom at a very young age. 

I liked how romance in this drama was low-key. Chae Ok and Master Jang didn't need to formally announce that they were together. No declaration was needed because you can see it in how they looked at each other. Even that simple scene where they linked their arms together spoke volumes of how they felt about each other. 

And while Chae Ok and Master Jang lived in a crazy and supernatural world, I loved how they were grounded. Yes, they dreamt of seeing a free Joseon together. Yet they knew that losing the other was always a possibility. And the bittersweet way they acknowledged that was heartbreaking - by promising that the one who'll survive should remember the one who passed on forever so that he/she may never be forgotten. 

And I loved how they kept things real. No excessive drama. They talked about things. Like how it was going to be difficult for them to stick together after Chae Ok assassinated hospital director Ichiro (Hyun Bong Sik of 1987: When the Day Comes, Narco Saints, Our Blues, and D.P. Deserter Pursuit). Chae Ok could have taken your typical K drama route of just leaving Master Jang without any explanation because she didn't want him to be in trouble. But she chose to speak with him and make sure he understood how things were going to be if they stayed together. 

With all the things Chae Ok and Master Jang went through, I'm confident they can survive anything that comes their way. Even death and separation won't change how much they love each other. 

The Connections and Relationships

One of this show's strengths, aside from having a superb cast, is how beautiful and organic the relationships were. 

Of course, top on the list is the staff of Master Jang's House of Golden Treasure. You just love how strong their bond is that you don't want anyone of them to die. I loved how Mrs. Nawol (Kim Hae Sook of Hospital Playlist 1 and 2 and Start-Up) was like a real loving mother to Master Jang - how she begged him to go to the hospital after he was stabbed, how dramatic she was after he escaped the hospital, etc. There's something so commanding about her presence that you'd drop everything to listen to her. 

Then there's Mr. Gu (Park Ji Hwan of 1987: When the Day Comes and Our Blues) who may seem clumsy but who actually gets the job done when needed, no matter what it takes. The assistant Beom O (Ahn Ji Ho) might not have been as prominent as the other staff members but I know they loved him just the same. 

And then we have Master Jang's relationship with the people of Gyeongseong. Yes, I'm sure most of them didn't think highly of him in the beginning. They probably thought he's like your modern-day loan shark who was just after their money. But I loved how all of that changed when Master Jang's apathy was completely replaced with compassion when he heroically rescued the merchants who were jailed for helping the hospital prisoners escape. How he struck a deal with Ishikawa to release everyone. And the nice thing about that? It wasn't just about patriotism. As Master Jang put it, it goes to the core of being human. 

I also loved Chae Ok's relationship with her dad (who surprised me with how well he can play a meek and subdued role like this one). I loved his confidence in Chae Ok and how he freely allowed her to face her own battles. And how he loved her fiercely - sacrificing his own life and letting Master Jang go in his stead to save Chae Ok because for the first time, he saw a future for his daughter. And how loyal he was to his wife. Yes, she's turned into a monster. But he still went against all odds to be with her, to honor his duty to be her husband until the end. If loving someone who was now a monster both literally and figuratively isn't true love, then true love probably does not exist. It was so heartbreaking to see him sing their song to lure his wife to him. 

Of course we have Chae Ok's special relationship with her mom but I'll discuss that more later. 

And then there's the little team that helped Chae Ok and Master Jang when they were first trapped in the hospital - Sachimoto the hospital artist, Mr. Oh (Im Chul Soo of Vincenzo, Crash Landing on You, Mr. Sunshine, and Reply 1988) the cleaner who was looking for his missing brother, and abused soldier Choi (Kim Yoon Woo) whom Chae Ok saved when he was about to commit suicide. Yes, they were very few but they were extremely loyal and brave. Thanks to them, Chae Ok and Master Jang managed to escape the hospital a couple of times. 

And finally, we have the members/sympathizers of the resistance movement led by Master Jang's friend Jun Taek (Wi Ha Joon of Squid Game 1 and 2, Romance is a Bonus Book, and Something in the Rain) and pub owner Young Chun (Ok Ja Yeon of Big Mouth) who played huge roles in helping Master Jang succeed in his missions. 


First, let me talk about the things that didn't work so well for us. 

The set, specifically the Gyeongseong community. It looked like a made-up set/theme park. I felt like this was a wasted opportunity to showcase the historical background of the drama. 

Then we have inconsistencies/loopholes here and there. The show had the tendency to prioritize drama and convenience in storytelling to suit their needs over being more realistic. Like how the cleaning supplies room where Master Jang and his team hid in the hospital was never searched. Or how no one could escape the creature except Master Jang. How there was a fire near the area where Master Jang and Chae Ok were first arrested in the hospital but without showing us how the fire was contained, the fire somehow never got to that room. Or how everyone could talk and fight aloud or were able to have their sweet and tender moments to hug and comfort each other despite the danger that surrounded them. It's as if they didn't have any sense of urgency. And of course, how the main leads seemed to be capable of self healing like how Master Jang could still break into the hospital despite being stabbed. Yes, artistic license may be argued here but I'm pretty sure there's a way to reconcile the need for entertainment without sacrificing the quality. 

I was also not a huge fan of scenes inside the hospital. It was like a never-ending cycle of breaking into the hospital, getting caught, and escaping. Unfortunately, we can't really do anything about it because most of the things that were central to the story happened there. And of course, they all had to go back there in the end. 

But don't let these things deter you from watching this drama because it has so much more to offer than the stuff I listed above.  

The show did a great job in balancing diverse themes and genres - history, romance, comedy, drama, action, horror, thriller, mystery, and supernatural, among others. If you tend to avoid supernatural and period dramas like us, don't worry because we still found the show very captivating. 

Yes, there were extremely gross and violent parts especially the scenes where they conducted medical experiments. They all seemed negative, dark, and grim. And the creature who looked like a human dinosaur. Oppa said, and I agree with him, that it might have been better and more visually appealing if the creature was just a normal-looking super human with super strength so it won't look too scary. But I liked how all the dark parts were in stark contrast with how seemingly bright Gyeongseong was on the outside with nice looking shops like the House of Golden Treasure. Deep down, however, everything was just as bad and oppressive. 

While the show didn't really focus heavily on the resistance movement, I liked how it touched on the varying degrees of involvement people have on the movement. Some are born woke like Jun Taek. Some need triggers that will finally push them to help like Master Jang whose motive might not have been entirely helping set Joseon free. And how fighting physical battles is not the only way to show patriotism.  

I loved how this drama kept us guessing until the end on who the bad guy really was. Initially, I thought it was just a battle between doctor Director Ichiro and scientist Lt. Kato (Choi Young Joon of Our Blues, Vincenzo, and Hospital Playlist 1 and 2). Kato created the creature but Ichiro was harming people too. In the end, however, it seemed like Lady Maeda, the master who controlled everyone like puppets, was the meanest of them all with how manipulative and cunning she was. I'm not sure if she liked Master Jang romantically but I was sure she wanted him to bow down to her like everyone else. And I'm so happy that he didn't. 

Some might find the scene where the creature/mom saved and protected Chae Ok inside the hospital cheesy and mushy. But I'm fine with it. That was proof that family and love conquer all. That was a very powerful scene for me - mom remembered Chae Ok, nitrogen didn't knock her down at that moment, and she created branches to keep her away from the soldiers. With everything happening around the world today, that scene was a fitting reminder that good, no matter how long and difficult it may take, will always defeat evil. 

I found the hospital escape plan brilliant. That was a tricky one to execute given how the master planner (Master Jang) was inside the hospital and the people tasked with executing it (Mrs. Nawol and company) were outside. But with the help of the Gyeongseong community they did it. I loved that street party that allowed the prisoners to escape in their own rickshaws. 

The show also did a good job in building things up like when it kept us guessing on who drank the najin potion. And that cliffhanger ending in episode 9 when the creature attacked the soldiers who were hurting Chae Ok. 

As a drama set at a time when Korea was occupied by another country, it was very apt for the show to touch on the topic of betrayal - how when people are pushed to the edge, they have to make the difficult decision of choosing between being loyal to the people they love and saving themselves. I liked how the drama presented this angle - Lady Maeda trying to lure Master Jang to her side by exposing everyone's betrayal like Mrs. Nawol ratting on his mom, Mr. Gu exposing his dealings, Beom O being Lady Maeda's spy, and Jun Taek claiming that Master Jang was part of the rebellion. But Master Jang was super spot on when he said that their colonizers left his people with no choice but to be disloyal, to lose their morals, and to have broken spirits. How we always need to go back to the root of things and never settle with analyzing simply what's visible to us or just what's on the surface. There are deeper reasons that push people to be the way they are and unless they're inherently evil and made their choices wholeheartedly without coercion, then we can't really blame them. I super loved how powerfully Master Jang stood up to Lady Maeda. 

And in relation to that, I appreciated how the show tried its best to show us the sad and harsh realities of war/occupation. How it of course victimizes and oppresses the colonized. And how it creates a delusional superiority complex on the part of the colonizers. As Chae Ok said, how can her country's oppressors be proud of gaining power when they did so by oppressing other people. Although that episode in our history happened many decades ago, that greed and dangerous desire for power are still before us. Will we ever learn?

Chae Ok's final scene with Master Jang was heartbreaking. How she acknowledged that mom was also hurting then she begged her to stop and not to hurt Master Jang, whom she loved. What a bittersweet confession! And how she told Master Jang that the cherry blossoms have lost their flowers and so their time together must end as well. How horrible it must have been for her own mom to hurt her and cause her death. But thanks to mom, it appears that Chae Ok would survive. Only downside was that she seemed to have ingested the najin to gain back her life. And while season 2 would allegedly go to the present, I'm still curious about how things would turn out if Chae Ok returned post-war and I surely won't mind watching more of that. 

And since his short-lived reason for living was gone, Master Jang was back to his arrogant ways, as expected. But then again, we already know him by now. There's that big hollow feeling that all his toughness outside can never hide. And in the bigger scheme of things, although Kato and Lady Maeda still survived, Master Jang and company succeeded. Joseon was free. The war was over.

This drama gave me so many things to think about. But my biggest takeaway of all is how like the creature, we all have monstrous sides/streaks. But love is so powerful that it can control and even overcome the bad stuff. And how true love will allow the people around us to accept our ugly parts and bring out the good in all of us.  

Oppa says...4.7.

Noona says...4.5.