Kdrama review: Tale of the Nine Tailed

This fall and winter I’ve been really into foxes, and tvN’s Tale of the Nine Tailed fits right along with that interest. A nine-tailed fox is a mythologic creature who can take human form and also often eats people. Thankfully, there’s not any people eating in this show, though the characters sometimes joke about it. Nine-tailed foxes are originally from Chinese culture, but Korean culture has them, too, and they are called Gumiho. My Girlfriend is a Gumiho is also a great Kdrama involving these foxes.

Tale of the Nine Tailed is a romance much in the vein of Twilight or the more recent Kdrama Goblin. It’s a love story between a human woman and a nine-tailed fox, who once was the god of a mountain, but still has plenty of super powers. His lady love is a present day woman who is the reincarnation–because Kdrama–of his first love from 600 years ago, and for whom he ended up giving his mountain god status. Although as usual I found the story dragging at the end–really don’t get into the sentimental–on the whole it was a good watch and some scenes that were quite brilliant. The music wasn’t that memorable, but the red umbrella/sword was, as well as the few scenes in which we get to see our hero with his fiery fox eyes.

Lee Yeon, the fox, is played by Lee Dong Wook whose fame soared after playing a memorable dead-panned grim reaper in 2017’s Goblin. This show and Goblin are really the best acting I’ve seen from Lee and I’m especially impressed by his stage presence here. He carries the show well, instead of sucking the energy off the screen as in previous works. He was very good at the action scenes and the writers didn’t use that to full capacity, but what was there was excellent. The red hair looks great on him and it really makes his excellent eyebrow acting stand out. Not everyone can move their eyebrows well. It’s a talent.

Jo Bo Ah (Monster) who plays producer Nam Ji Ah and the reincarnated love, impressed me in this as well, but only because I didn’t have high expectations for her. She’s grown in her acting talent, but I think still has far to go. Both leads are good, adequate actors, but not quite great yet, and perhaps they just haven’t found the right role. They also had almost zero chemistry, which is just not good in a show based around said romance. Chemistry is hard to fake. By the last episode, I was badly wondering what the story would have been like with different leads, even though I really like Lee as the fox.

That all being said, neither lead tanked or did a bad job, really, it’s just that it’s so easy to compare them with a long list of better actors. Among the minor characters, though, there was much to love: Kim Beom (Boys over Flowers) looks much as he did in 2019, just with a little more weight. He plays Lee Rang, Lee Yeon’s half-brother who is only part fox and does a standout job with emotional impact. The brothers’ relationship is really the core relationship of the show as Lee Rang struggles with feelings of abandonment and his older brother tries to assure him he is loved.

The romance to watch in the show is between two foxes in human form, veterinarian Goo Shin Joo played by Hwang Hee and Russian female fox Ki You Ri played by Kim Yong Ji. Both actors were great and full of a lot more expression than the lead couple. They also had a great back and forth banter going on which is often what makes for great onscreen romances. Goo should get his own lead role and Kim should always wear blue contacts as she looks beautiful with them on.

Like a lot of these kinds of tales, the story itself was somewhat muddled, the mythology purposefully murky. There’s a being who guards the gate between the world of the living and the dead, and there’s rules about this and that and crossing over and so on that are cast aside when not needed by the storyline. The writing kind of failed in the end as the expectation was built up that the Lee brothers would come up with some awesome, fox trickery to save the day. That didn’t happen, and much like in Goblin, the hero coming back didn’t really make sense to me no matter how cleverly done. But, hey, it’s fantasy, maybe it doesn’t have to make sense. The very, very end bugged me as it turns our hero into a liar, but it’s a fun scene.

As far as the bad guy, he was a snake called Imoogi played by Lee Tae Ri. Overall, the villain was far less creepy than he (spoilers) or she was built up to be. Again, it was the acting that did. Some actors are naturally full expression on their face. In this, anyway, Lee Tae Ri was not, and it just didn’t work as far as making the Imoogi someone to be feared. (Spoilers) Jo Bo Ah did far better with her piece of the villain, but just didn’t hit the high mark for me.

Although I enjoyed Tale of the Nine Tailed, it would be fun to see it retold by a more resourceful writer and director. So much screen time passes with little to nothing happening, which is a shame, because the happening stuff is really happening! My favorites scenes were almost all with the fox and the granny gatekeeper between the worlds, the fights between the fox brothers, the fight between fox and his friend, a bear in human form, and the awesome moment where the fox reaches between worlds or dimensions to grab a button off Imoogi’s shirt. More of that, please, and less of wasting characters like Nam Ji Ah’s parents who were nonentities by the end. All of the memory scenes of the past were great as was the fox’s crazy hair.

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