Exploring Korean Dramas: My Girlfriend is a Gumiho

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Mi Ho’s naiveté of the 21st century is counterbalanced by how cool she is at other times.  Gumihos have super strength, so no one can push her around.  She’s learned from Dae Woong how important it is to pay for one’s food, so when some hooligans refuse to pay and cause a scene at Mi Ho’s local chicken joint, let’s just say it doesn’t end well for them.

It’s why Dae Woong and Mi Ho are a perfect fit: her alienation from modern society lends her a sweet silly element that fits in well with how dorky he is, and she cares for him because, for all of his bluster, he didn’t abandon and looked out for her when many others might not have.  Her wide-eyed joy at the modern world suits his geekiness.  But when it comes to serious or dangerous situations, Mi Ho’s the one who can protect the timid Dae Woong.  She’s got all the qualities of a “strong female character”: combat prowess, super abilities, ancient knowledge, but they’re just one side of her otherwise bubbly and at times vulnerable personality.

"attack"One of the best things about My Girlfriend is a Gumiho is also how it reclaims the titular mythological creature from its patriarchal roots.  Gumihos are like sirens or Lamias in Western culture: man-eating demons whose stories exist in part to shame women into behaving a certain way.  In the show Mi Ho is blatant about her desires without being brazen.

Her actions will seem like nothing to us, because for the most part kdramas are much more chaste than what we’re used to seeing on American television.  But if anyone is the sexual aggressor in the relationship it’s Mi Ho.  Yet, it’s not played as wrong, just as a fact of their personalities (and for humor at first, when Dae Woong still thinks Mi Ho might eat him).  The show even edits Gumiho mythology, exploring how rumors that Mi Ho ever wanted to eat men’s livers were exaggerations or even fabrications.

The show becomes rather dramatic late in its arc, but as the stakes are life and death it’s justifiable.  For a while amidst all the cute (and seriously, the cute, I’ve got a real smile back on my face) it’s easy to forget the supernatural element to the show.  That returns full force later to provide the primary conflict.  Given that in My Girl (an early Hong Sisters show) and most other kdramas, the main source of tension is something like “I must lie to my grandfather and ruin my own happiness to preserve his feelings even though he’s kind of a jerk,” magic causing trouble in Gumiho is easier to swallow.

The dramatic elements only take up a small portion of the show; most of it is full of light, funny sweetness.  The Hong Sisters have a trademark sense of humor that they often turn on the tropes of their genre; they’ve employed many themselves, but they can have a laugh about it.  Meta commentary on television and other fannish things abounds in Hong Sisters dramas, particularly the more recent ones.  In one scene from Gumiho, for example, two characters try to sort out a real-life romantic quandary, and look to media cliches for reference: running to stop a wedding, secret siblings, and the like.

contemplative mi hoWith such moments Gumhio is a cheery, often goofy, sweet, and seriously cute show.  If you’ve got a fluff itch and to ease it you’d like something well written, funny, and a little supernatural as a bonus, then look no further than My Girlfriend is a Gumiho (available on Hulu and Netflix Instant).

Kdrama tropes to watch out for: Although many of the tropes present in Gumiho are there for parody, it has a glaring one that few kdramas seem to shake: noble idiocy.  The term, coined by the lovely ladies at Dramabeans, refers to when one half of the leading couple sacrifices him or herself for the other, but over a dumb reason.  Usually they’re trying to protect the other from a painful truth, but although their intentions are good they’re being stupid.  If you truly love someone you should also trust them more than anyone else, and so if you’ve got a problem you really ought to share it with that person, rather than hiding it for their sake.  Relationships are partnerships, people.

One member of the leading couple often disappears to spare the other pain, though half of the time that pain is something like, “your mother is blackmailing me to leave because she doesn’t think I’m good enough for you, and I’ll go along because family is important, even when they’re being evil.”  Many Americans might find this hard to swallow.  We don’t have the same unwavering respect for our family’s elders in our country.  We’re more likely to get angry, go off, and do what we want (which I’ve begged characters in kdramas to do countless times, to no avail, alas).

The good news is that, although noble idiocy rears its ugly head in My Girlfriend is a Gumhio, it’s much better handled.  It only lasts for an episode or two, and when Mi Ho succumbs to it, she’s been manipulated and given partially false information by a third party.  It still makes one wonder why she doesn’t just share her troubles with Dae Woong (perhaps because she’s always tried to shield Dae Woong from the supernatural stuff that freaks him out), but at least we don’t have to put up with it for long.

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