The Korean Odyssey
Why the Monkey King rules the world
‘Korean Odyssey’ (Korean: 화유기; RR: Hwayugi) is an utterly splendid confection of classic Chinese literature by way of ‘The Journey to the West’, the best flavors of fan fiction, the struggles of being human. The screenplay was written by the Hong Sisters, managed by Dragon Studio (www.studiodragon.net). I really need to find more of their work. The studio that manages them has a site with many lovely looking stories.
Still, this review is about the world and characters in ‘Korean Odyssey’. When I first started watching it, I wondered if it was related to Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, but it’s very much a modern version of ‘Journey to the West’. As I’m writing this, I think about Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ and how it is mostly the journey of one man, about Odysseus’ experience and goals, more than that of the community around him. Whereas ‘Journey to the West’ is about a man and his companions fetching something important for the community.
‘Korean Odyssey’ blends both individualism and the value of community. It might not mean anything, but when Google translate pronounces 화유기, it sounds like Saiyuki. ‘Saiyuki’ written by Kazuya Minekura, published by Enix, was a splendid anime popular with the yaoi crowd that I hung out with. ‘Saiyuki’ is much closer to the source novel. As I watched ‘Korean Odyssey’ I tried to map the characters between the two stories. Jin Seon-Mi is clearly a match for Sanzo. Both are the human appointed with the holy task, both are a bit bad tempered, both have a bit of jewelry on the Monkey King that controls him. In ‘Korean Odyssey’ that bit of jewelry is the geumganggo, which is definitely an update on the crown worn by Son Goku in ‘Saiyuki’.
The rest of the characters are much harder to map to the older Japanese Saiyuki or to the Chinese source novel. Like the geumganggo, everyone is an update, a modern and original version of timeless. I don’t want to give spoilers, but at the same time I want to tell you about all the splendid scenes. The characters are so endearing, even the bad guys have a complex charisma, an element of any one of us might have done what they did. Of course, we all think we’d do no such things. Even when we do commit grave errors in life, the temptation to deeply believe we’re a priestess, not an evil spirit can be a really strong temptation.
I’d also like to address some of the spoilers that are out there. The consensus seems to be that the characters didn’t get their happily ever after. In western worldview, there is a life, and if one is good, one goes on to golden streets and perfect joy. In the world of ‘Korean Odyssey’, ‘vanishing’ takes one to a waypoint between lives. There is no final end point. This is an important part of understanding how the story works.
That’s kind of how life actually is. So there are two major questions/plot lines in this story. One is does the world get burned to ash by human greed and fear? The other is if Son O Gong will find his feelings for Jin Seon-Mi are real, or not. I shall completely confess that I cared more about the second question than the first. The world we live in in 2022 is dry brush tinder and too many leaders think real estate is meant to be gained by conquest, so I found Jin Seon-Mi and Son O Gong’s feelings so much more comforting and enthralling.
When I was looking for reviews before I started investing in the show, it seems that some people did not find the main couple’s relationship full of chemistry, but oh man, I so did! I have written and read a lot of romance and I know the tropes of flirting and slowly building up. So many romances stories rely on the idea of a ‘match made in heaven’ or some other magic way to make the characters like each other. In real life, magic isn’t any realer than happily ever after. With O Gong and Seon-Mi the brilliant Hong Sisters decided to have a more realistic take on it. Both of the characters come from a background of not being accepted or highly esteemed in their communities, of being feared and rejected. Both of them dealt with that by becoming independent and more than a little rude, while still being soft and gentle inside. They were both wounded and protective of themselves, and of each other, while not being open. Neither of them had great communication skills. This is so much more realistic than just swooning into each other’s arms. The chemistry between them is realistic and powerful. I believe she’d give her life to save him and he’d devote his life to finding and protecting her.
The more I think about this story, the more I love it. It’s a powerful literary statement that is changing the course of my own art and self expression. So while we have the powerful central couple, there is the devotion of the Devil King to his love and the lengths he’ll go to save her. The love of Jade Dragon for PK, sibling love between PK and between Winter General and Summer Fairy, but perhaps saddest and most striking is the willingness of Asanyeo to be anyone to get love.
Just the point -
Son O Gong rules the world because he’s the Monkey King. There is no better person to be by his side than Jin Seon-Mi. This is a fantastic story and I recommend you watch it! It’s on Netflix. The soundtrack is on Spotify.
About the Creator
I write a lot of lgbt+ stuff, lots of sci fi. My big story right now is The Moon's Permission.
I've been writing all my life. Every time I think I should do something else, I come back to words.
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