Tale of the Nine Tailed 1938: Episodes 1-2
In a year full of K-drama sequels, Tale of the Nine Tailed 1938 feels more like a campy Wild Wild West-themed do-over than a continuation of our previous story. This is mostly because our favorite nine tailed fox travels back in time to 1938, a period when most of the Season 1 plot is irrelevant. In the past, he’s reunited with his younger brother, and our story sets us up for an epic bromance, which was — let’s be honest — the best part of the original.
Our sequel opens in media res, with LEE YEON (Lee Dong-wook) bound and staring down the barrel of a Japanese soldier’s pistol. Unfortunately, in all his centuries roaming the earth, Yeon never bothered to learn Japanese, so he bumbles through trying to use an app on his totally-out-of-time-and-place cell phone to translate the soldier’s questions. When that doesn’t work (because navigating a touch screen while his hands are tied behind his back is difficult), he breaks free of the ropes and easily fights off his human opponents.
Then, using the shoulder of the last-soldier-standing to steady his rifle, Yeon aims his gun at a man in the distance who’s casually lighting a cigarette. That man is LEE RANG (Kim Bum), and Yeon is none too pleased with his younger brother’s smoking habit. He shoots the cigarette right out of Rang’s mouth, and Rang, annoyed by Yeon’s brotherly advice — “Quit smoking, you punk!” — retaliates by blasting Yeon with a rocket launcher. Looks like Yeon is going to have a long way to go to repair his relationship with his brother… again.
You might be wondering, how exactly did Yeon wind up in 1938, at the height of Japan’s occupation of the Korean Empire? Well, thankfully, our story rewinds to approximately four months after the events of Season 1. We see Yeon make a deal with TALUIPA (Kim Jung-nan) and resume his previous work of protecting the living — under the condition that Rang would one day be reincarnated, and that Yeon would be allowed to die when his wife, Jia, dies. So, of course, when a man wearing a red and white mask steals the crystal that maintains the boundary between the living and the dead, it’s Yeon’s job to retrieve it.
There’s just one little problem — the Masked Man escaped through a door that transported him to 1938, and after following the man to the past, Yeon has a mere 16 hours to locate the crystal and return to the present time. Should be a piece of cake for a nine tailed fox, right? Except in chasing after the Masked Man, Yeon is distracted by a familiar face — a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Yoo-ri — and gets caught in the middle of a bombing and Korean independence protest outside Gyeongseong Station.
In the chaos, the crystal is picked up by a thief, and after an epic chase on horseback — accompanied by a catchy OST and a lot of impractical rifle spinning — Yeon follows the thief to his hideout. There, Yeon is reunited with his brother because, as it turns out, the thief is a member of Rang’s gang of bandits. Yeon is overjoyed to see his brother, but Rang isn’t exactly overflowing with brotherly love. This is why, when the opportunity presents itself, Rang drugs Yeon’s drink, frames him for the Gyeongseong Station bombing, and turns him over to the Japanese soldiers. Ahhhh… there’s the bromance I so adored in Season 1!
Now that our story has caught up with itself, the Masked Man abruptly returns and stabs Rang in the back (literally) — and just when it seemed like Yeon was getting through to his brother! Although Yeon doesn’t have much time before the door to the present closes, he can’t leave Rang to die, so he scoops up his brother and follows Rang’s instructions to carry him to Myoyeongak. At the gisaeng house, Yeon meets DONG BANG-SAK (Young Hoon), an eternal being who promises to heal Rang if Yeon brings him Uturi’s sword, the only weapon capable of killing Bang-sak.
Luckily, Yeon knows exactly where the sword is located because, in 1938, Yeon himself was in possession of it. The Yeon of 1938 was also heavily medicating his broken heart (RIP, Ah-reum) with opium, so Yeon easily steals the sword from his former self — well, until 1938 GU SHIN-JOO (Hwang Hee) sounds the alarm and forces Yeon to go head-to-head with a younger version of himself.
Meanwhile, the comatose Rang has an out-of-body experience and wanders around Myoyeongak as an unseen spirit. He witnesses Bang-sak drain the youthfulness from a young girl, turning her into a child-sized ajumma. When Yeon finally returns to Myoyeongak with the sword, Rang possesses the child-sized ajumma and warns Yeon that Bang-sak is a leatherback turtle, one of the Ten Longevity Symbols. Together Yeon and Rang chant a rhyme that reveals Bang-sak’s true form, and Yeon uses Uturi’s sword to cut the weak point in Bang-sak’s neck. When Bang-sak disintegrates into hundreds of glowing orbs, one enters Rang’s body and heals his injury. I don’t quite follow the logic here, but I’ll accept it because, well, magic.
Although Yeon saved Rang, he missed his deadline to return to the future, but the 1938 Taluipa reveals that there’s a way for him to reopen the door. The information comes at a price, though, and she will only tell him the secret if he retrieves the stolen Legendary Pipe, which is powerful enough to blow up an entire mountain. And so, Yeon and Rang begin their next adventure on a train, where a Japanese passenger is rumored to have the pipe. Rang and his bandits have a well-timed plan to steal the pipe, but neither Rang nor Yeon account for the presence of RYU HONG-JOO (Kim So-yeon), a mountain god with a massive crush on Yeon that’s borderline delusional. She takes the pipe from Rang’s bandits and offers to give it to Yeon — if he marries her.
When Yeon rejects Hong-joo’s marriage proposal, a battle royal breaks out on the train as Yeon, Rang, Hong-joo, and the Japanese agent they stole the pipe from all try to retain possession of the powerful artifact. The whole fight on top of the train is rife with bad CGI, and thematically the gunplay and accompanying OST felt like an American western, which brings me mixed feelings. While the chaotic skirmish between swords, guns, and even bigger swords was certainly an entertaining series of scenes, the overly prevalent western genre feels misaligned with this particular period in Korean history.
The rooftop train battle ends with Yeon in possession of the pipe, and when he returns it to Taluipa, she tells him that the door to the future will reopen in 29 days — during the next lunar eclipse. She also sadly explains that Yeon’s actions in the past will have no impact on his future, meaning Yeon can’t save Rang from the tragic fate that absolutely wrecked all of us during Season 1. So Yeon decides to make the best of his remaining time in 1938 and be the big brother he never got to be. And first up on Yeon’s big brother bucket list is a clothing shopping spree. While Rang’s glow up added nothing to the overall plot, watching him go from scruffy cowboy to a dapper bad boy with a sexy undercut was totally worth the detour from our regularly scheduled programming.
After spending some wholesome time with his Rang, who is still totally suspicious of the cell-phone-carrying-Yeon-from-the-future, Yeon tries to track down the Masked Man. For some reason he asks Hong-joo to put her ear to the ground and tell him if she hears anything about a man running around in a red and white mask. In exchange for whatever information she digs up, Yeon has to — wait for it — judge a beauty pageant in her stead. Say what now?
A completely disinterested Yeon attends the Miss Joseon beauty pageant where he’s reunited with SUNWOO EUN-HO (Kim Yong-ji), the Yoo-ri lookalike. Eun-ho is a reporter and the daughter of a wealthy and influential family with close ties to the Japanese. But considering Eun-ho was the one who threw the bomb outside Gyeongseong Station that instigated the anti-Japanese protest, it appears she’s secretly in support of Korean independence. She’s also recently made friends with CHUN MOO-YOUNG (Ryu Kyung-soo), the man behind the mask. While his motives still remain ambiguous, his cryptic words — accompanied by equally disjointed flashbacks — suggest he has a personal vendetta against Yeon.
The beauty pageant, which nearly bores Yeon to tears, turns into a horror flick when the winner transforms into a — for lack of a better word — zombie that goes on a killing spree. Yeon figures out that the pageant winner was infected with a parasite while getting primped at the beauty salon, so he and Rang go get jobs at the salon to suss out the source of the parasite. Cue: slow-mo flower boy montage in lieu of a proper interview.
The brothers do a little sleuthing, and eventually the indigenous god who put the parasites in the salon’s shampoo reveals herself. As a god of wood stoves, she couldn’t get with the changing times. But the mastermind — and the supplier of the parasites — was none other than Moo-young, who, for some to-be-determined reason, captured the zombie beauty pageant winner and boxed her up for a rainy day.
With another case closed, Yeon and Rang take a leisurely night stroll around town. Finally, Yeon is reunited with present-day Shin-joo, who followed Yeon through the portal to 1938. Poor Shin-joo has had a rough time since arriving in the past, what with him first becoming a prisoner and then narrowly avoiding being a guinea pig for Japanese biological weapons. His little side adventures were quite humorous, but I’m glad all three of our boys have reunited, especially since there’s no telling what our villains have in store for them.
I’m not quite sure we can call Moo-young a villain just yet, though. I mean, sure he stabbed Rang and nearly killed him, but I suspect his motives are going to fall into a gray area. That would allow room for a redemption arc, which seems supported by the fact that Hong-joo and Moo-young appear to be friends. Hong-joo is a bit crazy, which makes her unpredictable, but surely she wouldn’t hug a man out to kill her dream guy, right?
Instead, I think our true villain will be Eun-ho’s brother-in-law RYUHEI KATO (Ha Do-kwon) and whatever demon he’s aligned himself with in the Japanese government. Not only is this a given based on what we’ve seen of his character, but it seems appropriate for a villain of this time period to be a Japanese nationalist.
Although, if I’m being honest, I’m a bit disappointed with how the drama has (so far) utilized the setting and time period merely as an excuse to dress our beloved brothers in stylish historical garb, and put rifles in their hands for them to trick flip. As mentioned earlier, this is a pivotal point in Korean history, and while I don’t mind that the story is infused with action, humor, and fantasy, a good bit of the costuming, soundtrack, and action sequences feel extremely westernized and decidedly un-Korean. Is it entertaining? Absolutely, but I hope as our story progresses it’s able to find a happy medium between quality and fanservice.
Not going to lie, though, I’m totally here for the fanservice, so I should probably stop being so nitpicky and just enjoy the bromance and eye candy. Lee Dong-wook and Kim Bum are an absolute delight on screen together, and their relationship 100% deserved its own spin-off season. Let’s just hope this season ends on a happier note.