Guardian: The Lonely & Great God is quite simply one of the best Korean dramas ever made. Armed with excellent cinematography, crackling chemistry between its main cast and one of the best soundtracks in this medium, Guardian (often referred to as Goblin) is a wonderful journey from start to finish and a must-watch for fantasy fans.
The story is a little complicated so I’ll do my best to condense this down without revealing any spoilers. The main crux of drama takes place in modern Korea but we actually start in ancient times. Kim Shin is an unbeatable General in wars he’s thrown into by the young King who’s jealous of the formidable warrior. After killing everyone Kim Shin holds dear, the King then kills Kim Shin in a fit of rage. However, he comes back to life as a Dokkaebi (Goblin), an entity possessing immortality.
900 years later, Kim Shin awaits his bride who’s fabled to remove the sword wedged in his chest and bring about the end to his endless life. After saving a dying pregnant woman who’s supposed to die, offsetting the balance of fate with a disgruntled Grim Reaper, this pregnant lady gives birth to a young girl called Ji Eun-Tak.
As fate would have it, Eun-Tak grows up able to see ghosts and is commonly referred to as “Miscellaneously Omitted Person” by this same Grim Reaper who just so happens to be Kim Shin’s best friend. With Kim Shin destined to be joined with Eun-Tak, the former is able to summon the Goblin every time she blows out a candle.
Believing herself to be the Goblin’s bride, this 19 year old is whisked up on an unforgettable journey of love, heartache and laughter across 16 unforgettable episodes.
With echoes of the past life bleeding through, the early episodes work to build up each of our main characters, who are joined by the mysterious Sunny who rounds out this quartet. There’s also a number of supporting players who lend their voice to this one too, including Duk-Hwa whose family have been indebted to the Goblin for years.
There’s also a mystery deity in a red dress called “Birth Grandmother” too. Although the drama doesn’t explicitly tell us, Koreans will recognize her as Samshin, the Goddess of childbirth and life.
The story does sag a little around the midway point though, taking a little too long to get to the crux of the drama. There’s a lot of will they/won’t they surrounding Kim Shin’s fate but as this one moves into its third act, the pacing does get a lot better. It’s also during these middle portion of episodes that an abundance of flashbacks are used to pad out the run-time.
However, the chemistry between the actors is absolutely off the charts so it’s easy to look past this. Whether it be the budding bromance between Kim Shin and the Grim Reaper, the doomed romance between Reaper and Sunny or even the romantic angle between Shin and Eun-Tak, every single relationship is given a decent amount of time to grow and evolve over the course of the show.
There’s a lot of bittersweet moments leading up to the ending too, which will go down as one of the best finales of any Korean drama to date. No spoilers here of course but this one is worth persevering with during the slower chapters to reach this incredible conclusion. Be prepared to come with a pack of tissues though – this is one heartbreaking drama.
In fact, heartbreak and humour both go hand in hand here, with Goblin managing to perfectly balance both its romantic and comedic elements. The best moment of comedy comes midway through the show, as Shin and the Grim Reaper walk with shopping while the main theme “Round and Round” plays in the background.
This scene alone solidifies the friendship between the two males, their dedication to Eun-Tak and pays homage to an earlier scene involving Eun-Tak in trouble.
These nods to the past are a constant motif through the drama, with some cheeky wordplay and dialogue linking back to earlier scenes too. Without spoiling too much, Goblin bears some resemblance to Crash Landing On You, globe-trotting across to the gorgeous backdrop of Canada for parts of its run-time.
Much like Switzerland, the show creators have really done their homework with this one, scouting out a beautiful location which feeds back into the visuals in general, which are fantastic and easily some of the best work done in Korean dramas (at least up to 2016 when this was released anyway!)
Because of the money spent on this drama, Goblin features an awful lot of product placement. Alongside the usual array of Subway of BBQ Chicken name-drops, the show features beauty products, watch brands, drinks, food and even hotel chains as a way of financing the project. Given the excellent work done with this one, it’s perhaps understandable but it can also be a little distracting at times too.
Guardian: The Lonely & Great God is a wonderful Korean drama all the same, graced with some incredible acting and a fantastical script that pulls absolutely no punches. There’s a whole range of different emotions you’ll feel while watching this one, ranging from heartbreak, joy and shock through to laugh out loud humour and mystery.
Despite a few pacing problems, Guardian: The Lonely & Great God is a fantastic Korean Drama and a must-watch for anyone looking to experience the best this medium has to offer.
Verdict - 9.5/10