I’m a sucker for clever fairy tale re-tellings. Particularly cross cultural ones where people adapt well-loved stories to their own culture. My Girlfriend is a Gumiho is a K-Comedy that completely re-imagines one of my favorite fairy tales in a new (and hilarious) way.
Cha Dae Woong is a self-centered, superficial, and spoiled college student and wannabe actor who has been misusing his college tuition money to pay for his stunt-man training and acting classes. Through a series of mishaps he accidentally releases a Gumiho, the Korean word for Nine-tailed Fox, from a painting at a shrine. In the process he also badly injures himself to the point where he is about to die. The Gumiho, a beautiful young woman , repays the forced favor he did her by healing him with her fox bead.
From this point on Dae Woong learns the hard way that if you do a Gumiho a solid she’s going to act like any stray and stick around for a while demanding to be fed, and upsetting Dae Woong’s previously self-centered lifestyle. There are ups, downs, twists, turns and “aww” moments aplenty in this romantic comedy but perhaps what I love the most about it is the message it sends about love and sacrifice.
The main characters genuinely attempt to put each other’s needs first. It is awkwardly (and begrudgingly) at first, but eventually there is a learned concern for the other person’s well-being, and the “dying to self” that seems to be curiously absent from the relationships in other romantic comedies where one person ends up being the “wrong one” who needs to change. Here there is mutual development of respect and affection framed in some truly hilarious mishaps, and some textbook K-Drama moments.
Also, like other K-Drama’s there is a chastity aspect that becomes a part of the story which is something that most Western romantic comedies seem to miss. Instead the show thrives on building the emotional and personal relationships between the two characters through acts of service, and bearing with their personal flaws while growing as individuals both together and apart. Despite the wacky circumstances the relationship is one of the most healthy relationships I’ve ever seen depicted in a romance. Another great example of this is the ridiculous but sweet relationship that develops between Min Sook, Dae Woong’s aunt and the Director of the Action School who continuously underline the necessity to love even the embarrassing and funny parts of your partner.
With all that I love, I do have some things that I’m meh on regarding the show. It is a bit slow moving at parts, not because there is filler necessarily but because it sets a goal a few episodes in and then has to meet that goal, which feels a little bit like they gave themselves too much time to tell the story. There’s also a necessary but rather flimsy pseudo-villian/not villain sub plot in the background, he has use to the story, but his reasoning for antagonizing the main characters and his attempts to thwart Mi Ho and Dae Woong seem a little weak or random. At certain points I found myself asking why this guy wastes so much of his time before he learns certain key things that happen pretty late in the story line. Even after that I still felt he was a bit weak, as a character but really he’s not super present in the show he fades in and out as necessary to move the plot along.
On the other hand, I would say the true villain in this show is Hye In, Dae Woong’s initial romantic pursuit. You might recognize her as a small side character from Boys Over Flowers (one of the F4’s paramours who loved pottery?). In this show she has a more central role, but man oh man does she have the catty, jealous, possessive, conniving, selfish and at certain points just plain mean girl persona down. She has a realness to her in both Boys Over Flowers and My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, which is a testament to her acting talent as they are basically two completely different characters.
The fun part about this show that I’ll leave you to figure out on your own is which fairy tale is this story modeled after? You will get an answer as the show basically tells you eventually. Still, half the fun is following Dae Woong and Mi Ho on this funny, super romantic tale about sacrifice, the search for humanity and true love.