Guardian: The Lonely and Great God

When it first came out, Guardian: The Lonely and Great God, was much anticipated yet controversial. Korean dramas were known to portray near-perfect and unrealistic male characters, e.g. chaebols (rich male heirs), CEOs, extra-terrestrial male-being, etc., you name it. This one was going to take it on a whole new level, our beloved male characters were going to be tall and handsome chaebol (yes, again), grim reapers, and a great deity. Apparently, there's no line they could cross. 

However, this drama was going to be Gong Yoo's comeback after five years hiatus from television drama, and Kim Go Eun was the hottest actress in town at that time, after completing webtoon-turned-series Cheese in the Trap with a stellar performance. So yes, there was much anticipation indeed surrounding the acting performances, which would be a deadly combo if combined with the famous writer Kim Eun Sook. 

Me, you ask? I was already a fan of Kim Go Eun from her performance in Cheese in the Trap, so I would be watching this series, no questions asked. Admittedly, I was also drawn into the premise of the drama. I've always liked sad love stories, but nothing with a crossover to another genre like this. 

Damn, was I hooked! This was the first drama that made me sign up for an account in Soompi and participate in the fan threads. I religiously followed the threads week after week to kill time and wait for the next episode. Long after finishing the drama, I would rewatch it again and again, year after year. 

While it may be true, that the male characters were incredibly cliche and near-perfect, yet the relationships between the characters truly outshined this fact. I imagine how hard it is to make audiences believe in fated love, and this drama did an amazing job to make it so believable. If you take the supernatural out of the drama, as an audience, I would still believe that fate and true love is real. Better again, that they would stand the test of time, and lasts through God-given hardships, if we decide to fight for it. 

I don't care that Ji Eun Tak (the lead female character) was described as a damsel in distress and that Kim Shin was portrayed to be her 'knight in shining armor'. Or if Kim Shin was too perfect to be believable, or that the age gap between them was too much. Love can never be as simple as that.

I guess this is an attempt to review the drama from my perspective. I forgot exactly why I didn't do this before, when I first watched it. Maybe I was too busy. But I'm glad that I got to rewatch it a couple times again after that (okay, maybe more than a couple), because I want to make a review that would do the drama justice. 

Gosh, where to start?

The relationship between Wang Yeo, Kim Shin, and Kim Sun

Let's just say it, the Joseon part of the show was truly mesmerizing. Everything from the production of the scenes, the costumes, the setting of the palace, was beautiful. We have more than a couple of these flashbacks, starting from the introduction of Kim Shin, the warrior, trying to stay alive war after war. He came back to the palace, to face his King, only to be betrayed and disrespected. He walks towards the King, even if his loved ones get killed for it. We don't know yet the reason for this at this stage, but we know he was desperate to reach his King, and how his sister urged him to go forth even if she knew that she'd get killed for it. He was a hero, yet his own King wanted him dead. And we know that Wang Yeo had Park Jeong Hoon on his side. 

The next important flashback that we had revealed even more about Park Jeong Hoon and Wang Yeo. Park Jeong Hoon practically raised him, yet poisoned every one of his families in order to make him King. The previous King (Wang Yeo's brother) was also seen drinking the poison, and in his dying breath, he ordered Kim Shin to protect Wang Yeo and make him marry his sister, Kim Sun.

So now we know, that Kim Shin was only trying to stay alive in order to fulfill his promise and protect Wang Yeo. Yet, the sword that murdered him was ordered by Wang Yeo. It was also revealed later on that when Kim Shin wakes up as a Guardian (Dokkaebi/Goblin), he visited the palace to murder Park Jeong Hoon and Wang Yeo. But Wang Yeo was already dead. 

After that, it was revealed that Wang Yeo actually gets to live to adulthood and killed himself by drinking the poison that Park Jeong Hoon set up for him. He knows all this time that Park Jeong Hoon had been trying to kill him, yet he lets him because of the guilt he felt towards Kim Sun and all of those people he killed. Thus, he was created again as a grim reaper. 

We also know that he actually cared for Kim Sun, and was trying to protect her from Park Jeong Hoon's poison. That's why the childish King Wang Yeo asked Kim Sun to decide between him and her brother, Kim Shin, and why he was furious when Kim Sun chose her brother over him. In his head, he who never knew what love was, loved her dearly and was betrayed.

It's a mistake on his part, because what he doesn't know is that Kim Sun loved him dearly. She only wants Park Jeong Hoon out of his life, and that's why she told her brother to go ahead and approach the king, at the expense of her life. Kim Shin once said, "my sister bravely protected him with her life", and that's exactly what she did. 

Fast forward to when Grim Reaper (aka Wang Yeo), attained his memories as a punishment, and he said to Kim Shin, "I have received love, but I didn't love anyone back. For that, I am deeply sorry." By the end of this drama, we know that Kim Shin realized that his thousand years of resentment and hatred toward Wang Yeo was only secondary, compared to the actual meaning of the sword stuck in his chest. He realized that the sword was there, and he was there, stuck in time, to fulfill a promise he never gets to keep, which is to kill Park Jeong Hoon. 

And dearest Kim Sun, born again as Sunny in this life, had to endure much pain and heartache again because of Wang Yeo. She naturally loves him again, albeit reincarnated as a different person. When she retained all her memories by the kiss of the grim reaper, she confirmed to him that he is Wang Yeo while all her love, longing, and pain from her previous life were coming back to her. What the grim reaper doesn't know as he was trying to erase the painful memories from her, was that she was able to keep all her memories. 

That was why in this life, she was able to choose for the both of them, that she couldn't be with him. It was his punishment after all. She also gets to keep her promise to her brother that she will be happy in this life. Super tragic, I know. All those regrets, longing, resentment, and love left unsaid. Embodied in the ring Kim Sun wore the day she died. 

"To the one who thought that oblivion would bring me peace of mind, The moment our eyes met. I knew that you retained your memories as well. Hence, in this life, we’ll have to live in each of our happy endings. We have to ignore this tragedy. I pray that in our next life, the wait will be short and the meeting will be long. That we won’t need an excuse to see each other. And that we’ll be entitled with our own dearest names. So we could greet each other when we accidentally run into each other. I hope our love is always the correct answer. I pray that we can meet like that." - Kim Sun 

Almighty's reason for Kim Shin's tragic fate

As we were understanding more about Kim Shin, and why he was the Great and Lonely God, we would start to feel as if he was in a cruel game of destiny that the Almighty was playing. In the course of the series, the Almighty is portrayed multiple times as a white butterfly, and that he was able to "borrow" Deok Hwa's body, and another child's body. 

There was also the God of Birth and Fertility, portrayed in this drama as a grandma and a beautiful lady in red. Both deities met a few times, and honestly, I still don't know what key that the grandma/beautiful lady holds in the story. Other than telling Eun Tak's mother to plead for her life in her last moments, selling the ring to Wang/Kim couple, protecting Eun Tak when she met the grim reaper at age nine, and telling Kim Shin about Eun Tak's fate to die if she doesn't pull the sword, she really doesn't play a key role in the plot. 

However, I guess the writers needed someone to be a plot pacer for the Almighty's intentions, someone who can understand what He's trying to do, yet still be on both couples' sides. If you see it this way, she played a damn important role. 

In the center of it all, Kim Shin's tragic fate in the hands of the Almighty, will be what attracts so many audiences towards the story. We can't help but empathize with him. Here he was, a warrior of Goryeo, a hero, yet he was betrayed by his own King. And now, he was reborn as the great Guardian, living a life of eternal suffering and punishment, from the blood of thousands he killed in the war, and his own blood, resentment, betrayal, and unfulfilled promises. All of that was embodied as the sword stuck in his chest. 

So he lives as an immortal, unable to kill himself and forget the death of his loved ones. The only way he can be free of it all is to have his bride pull that sword out of him. And so he waits... 

There's a twist to that story though, one that the Almighty's set so cruelly. They have to fall in love in order for her to grab the sword and pull it out. It seems like they have to want each other to live and be happy, and only then will she be able to grab the sword.

On top of everything, in this life, Ji Eun Tak (the bride), was born as a missing soul. This means, she was never meant to be born in the first place, and as she was born as his bride, she was meant to die if she doesn't fulfill her destiny. There was this scene in the drama, where Eun Tak was weighing all the options, "What if I just die, and I'll see you in my next life? What if I pull out the sword, so that you don't have to wait alone for another bride to show up? What if we die at the same time, so we won't each have to live with heartbreak?" 

It just seems so heartbreaking to me that fate brought them together to fall in love helplessly, and yet another tragic fate was waiting to keep them apart. 

When Kim Shin and Grim Reaper finally realized that Deok Hwa was actually the Almighty, they confronted him and Deok Hwa said, "Almighty simply questions. Fate is the question I throw. It's up to you to find the answer."

Kim Shin and Ji Eun Tak's fated love

This is the hardest part to write, for what do we know about fate and love? Kim Shin, created his own bride, when he saved the life of a human who was pleading, not for her life, but for her baby. His bride was fated to be able to see the sword stuck in his chest and pull the sword out, among her ability to see ghosts, summon him when she blows out a candle, and make him feel if she was ever in danger. From his perspective, he didn't even know that the baby would be his bride. 

The first time that they met, Ji Eun Tak had her suspicions that he was Goblin/Guardian. She only knows that she was fated to be the bride of Goblin. She only realized her ability to summon him by blowing out a candle on the third time they met. It's only natural that she asked him whether or not he's the Goblin. For all those questions, he denied who he was because he was skeptical of her. He thought, she doesn't even see the sword, which means she might not be his bride. But things start to change when he opened that door to Canada, and she followed close behind him.

After that incident, they keep meeting again and again as their relationship developed. With much bickering and little fights, she slowly found out that he was the one who saved her mom's life. Shortly after that, he found out that she could summon him if she was in danger. The high schooler Ji Eun Tak, kept playing this push and pull game with him. I think she secretly wants him to tell her she's pretty, likes her for who she is, instead of searching for this bride, whom she didn't know yet the significance of. After she found out that the Goblin needs someone who can see something 'painful' on him (TLDR; the sword), she knows for sure that she was his bride. 

At this point, Kim Shin, who was supposed to be leaving for a new country, was starting to be mellow and sad because he had to leave her behind. Coincidentally, Ji Eun Tak lost her home and was starting to get desperate for help. So she decided to confess to him that she can see the sword. 

The plot now depends on Kim Shin, as he decides whether he wants to keep her close so that he can die in the risk of falling in love with her and hurting her or if he truly wants to live and be happy with her. The obvious dillema was that she was the key to his demise, yet she keeps making him want to live. Kim Shin knew his was in deep trouble, as he realized how deep he has fallen in love with her. 
An object needn’t be large to hold great mass.
That girl, as tiny as a violet.
That girl, drifting in the sky like the petals of a flower draws me to her with a force greater than the one exerted by the earth.
In a single moment, I fell and rolled toward her without a rhyme or reason, just as Newton’s apple did.
With a thump. With a thump-thump. My heart bounced from the heavens to the earth in a dizzying pendular motion.
Such was the moment I’d first fallen in love.
—  Kim In-yook,  “The Physics of Love” 

We go into the next plot when Kim Shin decides in the hotel room, that he would die, and that he would love her if she needs him to. This is where I think Kim Shin was not being entirely fair to Ji Eun Tak. So far, all she know is that he will become 'pretty' when she removes the sword. All the while Eun Tak was studying, he kept telling her to draw the sword. 

But when she finally decides to do it, the consequences unbeknownst to her, he said "just one more day". As Kim Shin struggled through his decision, Ji Eun Tak was confused about his behaviour. Some days he can be happy with her, and some other days he looks profoundly sad. Upon this confusion, she decided to write a contract, binding his word to promise that he would come as the first snow and be with her. 
"Every moment with you shined. When the weather was good, when the weather was bad, and even when the weather was good enough. I love every moment of it." - Kim Shin
That was the start of something, the moment when Kim Shin was truly being honest with himself. Just when he started to be vulnerable, he decided that it was time for him to die. This was clear to us, because when he gave Ji Eun Tak all those gifts before taking her to the buckwheat field, Ji Eun Tak asked if there was love in any of those gifts, to which he denied. Fortunately for us, Ji Eun Tak was not  able to pull out the sword because I said, Kim Shin was only beginning to be honest with himself, and most importantly, with her

After that, Kim Shin used this opportunity to tease her. What he didn't know was, Ji Eun Tak felt really bad that she couldn't be useful to him. She confessed this as they were walking home after her wedding gig. She told him that all this time, being a bride to him means that somehow they could be like a family. They embraced and comforted one another, and somehow at this moment, maybe Kim Shin felt a true longing to always be by her side, and he felt a sudden pain from the sword. Ji Eun Tak was able to hold the sword and moved it a little, before she was pushed by Kim Shin. 

While Ji Eun Tak was relieved that she was proven to be his bride, Kim Shin was worried that his time was close. By this time, Kim Shin decided that he wanted her to live a full life, and that he hoped to never tell her that he would die if she ever pull out the sword. Unfortunately, a deity warned him that Ji Eun Tak would die if she doesn't fulfill her destiny. At the same time, Ji Eun Tak found out from the Grim Reaper, the consequences of pulling out the sword. She was sad and angry, that all this time, Kim Shin kept her close by because he wanted to die. So she left..

"That day, the missing soul, walked in his tears for a long time.."

When Kim Shin found her in the ski resort, she made it clear to him, that she wants death to be as far away from him as possible. She said this in an angry manner, because she was mad that he only kept her close by to use her to die. She realized that he had made up his mind in the hotel, where he said he would love her if she needs him to. So she asked, "did you even love me?" To which he responded, "I was scared. That's why I want you to keep saying you need me. I wish you'd tell me to keep going. I wish for some sort of an excuse that can be considered as permission. With that excuse, I wish I could continue to live with you." 

Damn, he didn't even feel like he deserved to live and be happy. Sad. 

Anyways, after that, she promised him, that she would pretend to not see the sword on him. I guess she thought that they both could be happy together, while Kim Shin knew the bitter truth. Eventually, he told her though, that she will die if she doesn't pull out the sword. This was really tragic to her, but she bravely decided to live her life to the fullest, knowing that he wouldn't let her die. 

The inevitable happens, the big confrontation with Park Jeong Hoon, whom wanders around as a ghost in the past thousand years. At the last minute, Ji Eun Tak realized that Park Jeong Hoon would use her to pull out the sword from Kim Shin, just as Kim Shin realized that the sword was meant to finish Park Jeong Hoon once and for all. 

This is where I should applaud Kim Go Eun for an amazing performance. We see how much she needed him in her life, as Kim Shin turned to dust and ashes. If seen from her perspective, she finally met someone that felt like home, in the nineteen years of her life, she finally found that one person she truly belongs. After losing her mom at a young age, and having a family that hated her, Kim Shin was the one person she felt she needed to live this life. So of course, she would cry uncontrollably. It was so raw that I had flashbacks to my own sobs and cries when my father died. 

As Kim Shin was trying to survive in the limbo, he kept asking God for permission to come to her as the rain, wind, and as the first snow. The contract was not something the Almighty had foreseen, and it was a loophole that allowed Kim Shin to return to her when she was at the age of twenty-nine. 

God, to be Kim Shin. I imagined that he would want to hold her, comfort her, and hold her hands so much when he returned. But Eun Tak's memories were erased of him, as were the memories of others, except for Grim Reaper and Kim Sun. As if his life is not punishment enough. 

Later on, Eun Tak would retained her memories back when she went to Canada to investigate the letter she sent when she visited that country with Kim Shin. And of course, as you were being convinced that both of them will find their happy ending, you start to see signs that things won't go as well as you thought. Eun Tak started to see ghosts again, and Grim Reaper noticed that she meet another grim reaper again at the age of twenty-nine, such as the fate of missing souls. 

On a perfect day such as this, after the wedding, the missing soul finds her demise when she encountered a bus full of missing children who were going to be hit by a truck. At the spin of the moment, in a phone call conversation with her dearest Kim Shin, Eun Tak decided to shield the bus with her own car, and died to protect those children. 

Now, this is where I should applaud Gong Yoo for an even amazing performance. The scene where he met her one last time in the tea room for the dead, was something that stick to me long after I finished the drama. You can't help but to cry for him, and with him. 

"How can it be like this? How can you do this to me? How am I supposed to live without you?"
"Even for 100 years, or 200 years, I'll be waiting for you. You have to come back to me."

We can sense his desperation to cling to her. His pain and heartbreak, the feeling of being torn apart and put back together, only to be broken again. 
"That day, the missing soul, walked through someone's tears, for an endless time. There was no way of knowing whether it was day or night, and time got carried away by the rainfall. It was a very long rainy season. The missing soul summoned her guardian into this world, and left just like that, after leaving him behind. He was the loneliest and most beautiful guardian." - Grim Reaper
After everything, we only want him to be happy, right? We imagine that he has returned, to live an eternal life again, to spend that small yet lasting time with his bride. To think, what kind of love that would make someone willing to live forever (as a curse), in exchange to only a glimpse of time spent with his loved one. The first instinct you would have is to pity him, but then you realized how big of a person he really is, so admirable. He decided to fight for his love at that bookstore, and he goes on even if he knows that the fight will never stop. Every pain and heartache, he can endure again, just as long as he can be with her. 

I mean yes, the whole premise was love and fate, but by all means, it's never without pain and hardwork. And even if our challenges will not be as hard as this fated couple, we know that there will be time when it feels so hard to love someone. After all, love is not a feeling, it is only a mediator of feelings, of pain, sadness, grief, happiness, hate and longing. 

In the end, I fell in love with what they have. They have something that is strange and beautiful, a sorrowful love that stands the test of time. It is something that builds slowly, yet lasting. Their story was beautifully written, and portrayed, which is the reason why this drama will always be my favorite. 

Bonus screenshots to end this long review :) Thanks for reading!


Popular Posts