My Roommate is a Gumiho (2021) Final review and comments

As a whole I haven’t minded the series and more often than not, it’s been a pleasant entertaining distraction for two hours each week. Despite the creeping sense of foreboding in the final act, the happy ending was never in doubt considering the consistent fluffy tone all throughout.It’s no great masterpiece nor does it make claims to be. The fantasy elements are practically minimal. It’s only purpose is to provide a platform where the question of what constitutes humanness can be played out in a romantic comedy contextualized at a university. The shows says nothing new or anything especially profound. Certainly nothing that hasn’t already been said and reiterated by hundreds of television shows since the invention of television. Still it’s a good excuse for a parade of attractive and likeable young adults to grace our screens. Even if it lacks originality, it doesn’t lack cute. However this is a show best watched without too much thinking or dissection. I’m also reminded why I don’t watch rom coms too often.

Towards the final act I became acutely aware of the limitations of the genre and the storyline. To be frank I’m left wondering if this project really needed the usual 16 episodes. There’s a lot here that feels like padding even if occasionally some scenarios provide some measure of comic relief interspersed with what often feels like confected angst. And this is coming from someone who’s ordinarily a self-professed angst junkie. If an ahjumma like myself can figure out the mountain spirit’s scheme the moment it’s set into motion, I don’t know why a 999 year old mystical fox who has lived among humans can’t. Maybe what the drama is saying is that he has wasted his entire life watching the wrong television shows and reading the wrong books.

First up the bouquets. Hye-ri is well cast as the central female figure. Often the show relies on her congeniality to sell the character. Still there’s a lot to like. Lee Dam is an affable, good natured university student who is discovering romance for the first time after having a gumiho encounter and moves in with him while strenuously resisting the call to be drawn into the dragnet of a love triangle that’s not really meant for her. All that’s fine for the most part. She’s well-meaning and wants to help Woo-yeon in his quest to attain his humanity except that she really has no idea and her schemes backfire and it’s a cringefest. Her exploits in Episode 14 left a particularly a bad taste in my mouth and the humour landed on me like ton of bricks. In Episode 15 she somehow naively believes that if Woo-yeon doesn’t do or say anything “bad” he will attain his humanity sooner. I’m not sure how she came to that conclusion especially if she’s supposedly a student of history and that the show spends so much time proving otherwise. I imagine that it’s calculated to be cute and hilariou except that she ends up looking and sounding silly.

There’s something oddly disingenuous about this drama which purports to be about being true to oneself. It makes a mystery of things that shouldn’t really be mysteries. Not for Woo-yeon I shouldn’t think. Others have accused him of being bland, I’m of the view that his overall trajectory to achieve humanity is unconvincing. He’s supposedly suffering existential ennui which apparently accounts for his disinterest in human affairs and yet he lives cleanly, reads widely and publishes his own historical accounts as if it matters. His cynicism comes off mainly as aloof boredom. While the cloak of ignorance sits more comfortably on Dam’s shoulders, it doesn’t seem to do the same for Woo-yeo especially if indeed he hasn’t just come off a time machine. It’s partly his status as a long-lived mystical being and his supposed claims to being a repository of knowledge from the ages gleaned through actual experiences with historical events. Sadly the show doesn’t do very much with any of that once he inadvertently falls for her and takes up the history professorship at her university after he makes a futile attempt to erase her memories. Instead he stalks her around campus jealously watching her interact with other men confused about his own feelings. He is a supernatural being that possess super power that’s relegated to being a tsundere male lead and not much else. For his own good it seems, he is pushed into a love triangle that’s meant to give him insight and desperation to act. The rom com elements limit what he can do and ultimately don’t mesh comfortably with the perfunctory fantastical ones which are supposed to be mediated by him. That is to say, a character like his sticks out like a sore thumb. Rather than selling that interplay, it feels like Woo-yeon in his own show and occasionally intersects with Lee Dam’s story. He doesn’t really belong in her world, not even as her professor. The only time that things make sense for them to be in the same space is when they cohabitate. Outside of his home, their romance feels out of place… unnatural and force fed. I’m increasingly of the view that their dynamic would be better served if their relationship had remained platonic. For Woo-yeo to be both the ageing being and to be a rom com boyfriend is achieved because of the visuals between the leads not through the storytelling. The lingering sense of uneasiness never quite leaves the room. The prolonged secrecy surrounding probably didn’t help. That’s why I think the first half of the show is better than the latter half ie. the bits before they officially become a couple.

It is a credit to her acting skills and perhaps the writing of the character that Kang Ha-na pulls off Hye-sun with such aplomb. Her performance is comparably on another level. Because of her and Kim Do-wan who is also a fine actor, this is one of those times that the secondary romance seems to be doing all the heavy lifting in the final act while the primary one flounders around waiting for the resolution. Working in their favour too is the fact that they both actually belong in Lee Dam’s context as fellow students who have justification to be in her world.

To be even more controversial than I already have been I will also add that this is why I also think the Seon-woo’s trajectory is actually somewhat more interesting even if he gives the impression that he’s an obstacle in the path of true love. Whatever one thinks of him as a potential mate for Dam, he has a growth arc that makes far more sense in a rom com about the cutthroat world campus life. He doesn’t have to be quite the scumbag he was portrayed at the start but he at least has a down-to-earth quality that matches Dam’s girl-next-door demeanour. Rather than Seon-woo being the intruder, the gumiho is the perennial outsider even when Woo-yeo and Lee Dam become an openly campus couple. The uneven power dynamics can never entirely be balanced.

Overall this is a watchable, occasionally funny and good natured drama that attempts to put a modern K spin on a very old story. It tweaks the edges of the template laid down by the much beloved Beauty and the Beast although I’m far from being convinced that the darkly fantastical elements of the original translate well into this webtoon adaptation.