*some spoilers ahead*
The hit drama Gu Family Book finally ended its run this week. I wasn’t really invested to begin with since I happily only dove in mid-way and got caught up reading Dramabeans‘s awesome recaps. And by the last few episodes, I was glad I made that decision. The show’s clunky set-ups, static frames and recycled sub-plots really started to show at the seams by the final stretch.
After spinning its wheels for a good chunk of its run, the plot used an incredibly jarring time-jump to provide its fanservice-y ending, nevermind that it felt like you’re watching a totally different show for the last 10 minutes. So, this is how a fantasy-laced sageuk wound up with an ending in modern-day Seoul. This is how its everyman (okay, half-man) scrappy outsider hero morphed into a Lamborghini-driving chaebol! I don’t know about you, but what I’d been waiting for was that the hero completes the journey the show sets up for him (and which he even spells out very plainly in case anyone missed it), like reclaiming the family’s inn, restoring his family’s honour, and finding the damn book the SHOW IS NAMED AFTER. But no, we get Kang Chi taking a bubble bath and picking out suits.
If you were looking for subtlety, nuance or complexity from this show, you’d be disappointed. I wasn’t expecting any of that and was pretty content with the things that the show right: its great setting (a swash-buckling world forest spirits, magic, ninjas!), likeable characters, and above all for me at least, the emotional beats of its tragic romances–milked to the max by the deployment of some devilishly effective soundtrack balladry, which I lapped up like a hungry puppy. And hey, it was rarely boring. But, but…Lamborghini?!
It had a great cast too. And let’s not pretend that the show’s two cutie pie leads (Lee Seung Gi and Suzy) were the only reason to hang in there after awhile. They are the embodiment of the sort of chaste, youthful romances that thrive in k-dramaland when its leads have as much squeaky-clean appeal as these two. They had a lot to do in this drama, physically–running, shooting arrows, swordplay, embroidery, cooking, crying, lots of crying–and to their credit LSG and Suzy huff and puff gamely and sell it like no tomorrow. Alas, LSG’s dimples can only do so much.
Unfortunately, their romance felt like amateur-hour compared with the Wol Ryung/Seo Hwa story which was sweepingly epic enough to deserve a series of its own. The fault lies squarely on the writer’s shoulders. You’ve got a major problem when the show’s central romance was overshadowed by one that ran its course in its first two episodes! (That was also aided by truly beautiful cinematography, which incidentally, also flew out the window by the end.) Sadly, these early characters provided the drama’s few moments of danger, thrills and depth.
What would’ve filled out the plot some, maybe even given it some weight if not consistency, is if the drama had stayed the course of the hero’s quest instead of abandoning it in favour of cutie pie/amateur hour romance. In that sense, there wasn’t that much hope for a good ending since my expectations were low. But still, I draw the line at LAMBORGHINI.