Tale of the Nine Tailed: 1938 – K-drama Episode 1 Recap & Review

“Somehow, Lee Rang returned”

Episode 1 of Tale of the Nine Tailed: 1938 begins with a return of our protagonist, Lee Yeon. He is, unsurprisingly, in a spot of bother. Specifically, he’s tied up with his hands behind his back. A Japanese officer approaches while his subordinates aim guns at Lee Yeon. Apparently, he’s been outed as the Korean who threw a bomb at Gyeongseong Station.

However, Lee Yeon receives an alarm notification on his phone in the middle of this, surprising all the soldiers who are shocked to see this contraption.

Yeon breaks free from his binds in no time and after some quick quips, is shot in the chest. Of course, this doesn’t deter him, and eventually he turns the tables and points the gun at the officer, shooting him in the head. “I’m Joseon’s Nine-Tailed Fox,” He boasts, defeating all the soldiers effortlessly and leaving one poor soul still standing.

With the help of the poor guy’s shoulder, he manages to shoot his younger brother. But not on him of course, he strikes him right on the end of his cigarette from a fair distance away, telling Lee Rang he needs to stop smoking. How is Rang alive? What’s going on here? Anyway, we’ll have to hold tight and find out.

In retaliation, Rang grabs a makeshift rocket launcher and blasts him to kingdom come. Lee Rang, our little half-fox, half-human trickster is the one who called the officers there in the first place. As the pair start fighting, we cut back in time to see what led to this fateful moment.

A quick recap to the events of 2020 (specifically the first season) explains everything, including Lee Rang and Lee Yeon’s complicated relationship. Their sibling rivalry sees the pair both hate and love one another and at the end of the season, Lee Rang came full circle and they managed to forgive one another, hoping they’ll meet again in the next life. We also have every single episode recapped over here, so if you wanted to take a look feel free to do so!

Lee Rang sacrificed his life but 4 months later, Lee Yeon is not satisfied. He heads back to the reincarnation expert, none other than Taluipa, wanting his brother to come back to life. He promises to do anything for her, which include a couple of little stipulations. One, that he’ll continue to work with Taluipa. The other? Well, his term as the nine-tailed fox will continue until Taluipa says so. It’s an indefinite contract and Lee Yeon proposes a slight adjustment – he continue until Ji-a (his beloved from season 1) dies. However, there’s a problem.

On the Lunar Eclipse, an uninvited guest slips in and changes everything. This strange masked man sneaks in and manages to grab the Guardian Stone. So where is the Guardian Stone now? Well, Yeon is given a watch by the old woman and is told to return before the Hour of the Tiger. And he’s to return through the gateway whence he originally travelled.

Lee Yeon ends up traveling to Year 13 of the Showa Era. 1938 during the Japanese Colonial Period to be precise. It doesn’t take him long to find the masked man, and a chase ensues. The skirmish spills over to Gyeongseong Station, where Lee Yeon sees the tumultuous mood in the streets himself.

Rebels cause a huge explosion, fighting back against the Japanese. Bandits are the real winners here, serving as opportunists and taking what they can. Among those items however, happens to be the guardian stone. These bandits have messed with the wrong guy, as Lee Yeon gets involved and chases them down.

This brings the bandit all the way out to an abandoned cabin – the one from the start of the episode – where his boss happens to be Lee Rang.

Lee Yeon hugs his brother warmly but Rang is having none of it. He does try to see Yeon’s point of view about what happened between them but the history here is fuzzy and it seems like they’re out-of-sync with their timings.

Yeon manages to get his hands on the guardian stone, thanks in part to the bandits handing it over. Unfortunately, as they sit down to eat, all of this is a ruse. Rang has poisoned the water and Yeon quickly passes out.

Another guy who’s a returning character here is the ever lovable Goo Shin-joo. This is Lee Yeon’s right-hand man from season 1 and he also comes through the portal back to 1938. There’s not an extended period of time involving animals but he does have an amusing encounter with Japanese soldiers. He thinks this is all part of a film set. He’s picked up alongside a whole bunch of other Koreans, bundled into the back of a truck. He soon does learn what’s going on but he’s powerless to stop it.

We then jump back to the moments where the opening of episode 1 left off. The fateful time arrives and Lee Yeon realizes he needs to head back home with the guardian stone. However, the strange masked man shows up and stabs Rang in the back. Yeon is not happy and promises to repay this betrayal ten-fold. Rang is in a bad way and asks Yeon to take him to Myoyeongak.

In the midst of all this drama, we cut across to Eun-ho, a reporter for Seonwoo Daily. She’s captured by a man named Jung Dae-seung of Jongno. However, Ryuhei Kato, a powerful Japanese Government General, shows and reveals that actually Eun-ho’s family are incredibly wealthy and influential and as a result, Dae-seung’s tendon is cut.

Lee Yeon takes his brother to Myoyeongak, where he runs into a guy called Dong Bang-sak. He’s fabled to be the one with the longest life span in Eastern tales and Yeon tries to bargain with him, wanting him to help Rang out. Well, for now Rang will have to make do with being a ghost. While he wanders around the area, Lee Yeon strikes a deal with this demon. Specifically, he needs to bring the guy Uturi’s sword. If he can do that, then he’ll save Rang’s life.

Lee Yeon doesn’t have long though. He has around 9 hours or so before his time to return is up. So who is this fearsome warrior holding the Uturi sword? Well, it’s none other than Lee Yeon himself. Yep, the much younger version of him is here and Yeon admits this is not a good time for him. In fact, he’s addicted to smoking opium.

Lee Yeon sneaks in and tries to grab the sword, but the alternate version sees him. Yeon is clever and pretends there’s a mirror, tricking his alternate self. This works too and the one from this time period goes to sleep again. Our Yeon heads outside, where he’s hit by a whole bunch of villagers. Among those who show up happens to be Shin-ju.

Rang notices that this horrible demon, Dong Bang-sak, doesn’t just take the lifeforce from people, he actually sucks it out and distorts them completely. Rang is shocked and remains dead-set on telling Yeon the truth about what’s happening. However, Yeon is in his own trouble when his younger self shows and the pair fight.

Yeon manages to stop him, distracting the guy with a picture of Ji-a (Ah-eum) on his phone. After finding an opportunity to knock out his younger self, Yeon takes off and hurries back with the sword.

Yeom returns to Dong Bang-sak but he’s convinced that the whole game has been rigged since the start. There were 44 marbles before their game but Yeon realized that all of them had Uturi’s Sword written on, explaining why he took a while to check them. Yeon can’t kill the demon though, and that’s thanks to the fact he has Rang held hostage with all his stooges keeping an eye on him.

As Yeon continues, he manages to thwart this demon by chanting that he’s a turtle and needs to give up his head. He can’t escape the chanting and as a result, reverts to his monstrous form and reveals a weak spot on his neck. Yeon defeats his foe, Rang is restored, along with a lot of the people whose lifeforce was stolen.

However, the gate of time closes and Lee Yeon is stuck back in 1938. Despite being locked in the past, it seems everyone is on a collision course for the future, where big mysteries and further adventures lie in store.

The Episode Review

One of the bigger surprises for a renewal in 2020 came from Tale of the Nine Tailed, a so-so adventure that suffered from a distinct lack of chemistry between the main leads. The actual story was quite intriguing but the similarities to both Alchemy of Souls and Goblin could not be understated.

However, 1938 switches things up with a fun, vibrant adventure that whisks us off to a completely different time period with a focus that seems much more geared on a past historical fantasy adventure rather than attempting to blend romance and fantasy together. So far, the result is a pretty fun and enjoyable opening chapter. Of course there are still big question marks here, like the implication of time travel and what it means that Yeon has seen his younger self and interacted with him. That feels like a massive cause for a headache if you think too much about it!

However, the show does really well to ease us back into the characters’ lives, with brief flashbacks, some cleverly woven expository text and a lovely tone too, which promises a lot of fun over the episodes to come. If this is a sign of what season 2 has in store for us, it could well defy a lot of expectations!

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You can read our full season review for Tale of the Nine Tailed: 1938 here!


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