Some experiences in life I don’t covet, thank you very much, and being scared witless is one of them. I jump when a lizard crosses my path, go weak in the knees at the sight of blood, and get nightmares for weeks if I chance upon a trailer for a ghost story while innocently channel-surfing. I don’t need to see the images; just the creepy music alone is enough to make my hair stand. Horror is just not my thing.
But the other day (as part of fansubbing duties) I watched my first Korean horror drama — a sageuk at that — and found it so entertaining I just might become a convert. Scary has never been this hysterical.
The first episode of Hometown of Legends (2009) opens with a battle fought with swords and explosives. Many men die and I suspect it’s from inhaling and being blinded by all that fake smoke. Incredibly their bodies lie intact around the battle scene; no one is missing a finger or toe. Shouldn’t the force of the explosions blow even a giant to smithereens? Not here. Cackling crows and a misty forest complete the surreal scene.
Along comes the Grim Reaper aka He With Face Powder An Inch Thick. Imagine a kabuki performer and you get the picture, except our Grim Reaper’s eyes are more panda-like. With a theatrical sweep of his hand, he summons the spirits of the dead to their feet and they duly and gracefully leave their earthly bodies. All are dressed in white because apparently that’s the de rigueur attire for the netherworld. Don’t be dropping any kimchi on the clothes, gentlemen.
One of the dead soldiers does not arise like the rest, so the Grim Reaper has to resort to unevenly mixed red paint which he sends flying in a crooked trajectory through the air. That jolts the soldier and he jumps up with more speed than the other men before him, thus betraying the actor’s inexperience. His face no longer bloody, he now looks a lot less handsome than when he was lying there sans breath.
The soldier refuses to accept that he’s dead and keeps muttering “No, no way” like a broken record, which makes us want to slap him silly; anything to make him shut his gob.
In the distance the Grim Reaper’s two young assistants arrive, with faces just as white and eyes just as black, and they walk with their arms folded across their chests, like brides. The Grim Reaper leads the way and all the dead men follow, waddling like penguins. Don’t blame them since their spouses aren’t there to correct their gait. Suddenly smoke and
red ink blood rise from a pile of plasticky-looking rocks for no other reason than to remind us that this is a horror drama.
As he follows the procession, the spirit of the soldier keeps whining “No, no way, I’m not dead.” The irked Grim Reaper makes a mental note to ask for a transfer to another department in Hades and then he hurls the soldier’s body down the hill. There, now you are truly dead, so shut up.
The ground shakes and that same pile of rocks emits more smoke, scattering a flock of sparrows which had made their home inside the rocks. A wooden cross with what looks uncannily like English words suggests that the rocks could be a makeshift tomb. The words are faint but I think the epitaph reads “In Repose Here Lies…” Or maybe it’s “Touch My Rocks And You’re Dead.”
The body of the soldier is now draped over a decaying trunk (don’t ask how it got up there) and the sparrows immediately zip over to feast on it. The Grim Reaper cringes and we notice his black lipstick is smudged at the corner. The soldier yells “No!” again.
Suddenly the soldier’s teeth become fangs and his fingers talons; he now wears the same ghastly lipstick as the Grim Reaper. His hair looks like it hasn’t been combed in ages, which makes him mad because he has always cared about his appearance. So now his eyes are all piercing red and blood is spewing from his mouth and flowing in rivulets down another decaying trunk. Very cleverly the blood forms the words “Bloodsucking Wraith” and we realize that’s what the soldier has become. It’s also the title of this episode.
(I should scream or pass out when the soldier transformed into a vampire, but funnily it did not feel at all frightening. The whole time I was thinking: This feels a lot like Strongest Chil Woo, that wacky 2008 drama with the fake horses. The same cheapo CG effects. The same dirty hair.)
The scene shifts and we now see our wraith bent over what looks like an unusually large coconut husk. On closer inspection it is a dead fake boar (or a fake dead boar). The wraith is drinking the blood of the carrion, but it must obviously be foul-tasting because his face turns blue and he lets out an angry roar and rushes off, perhaps to rinse his mouth with Listerine. But no, the only way to rid his mouth of the boar’s stink is to drink more blood, this time from a pretty maiden.
This girl is drawing water from a well and she senses a presence, but when she turns around there’s nothing. She hurries home and the wraith follows, running and then suddenly turning around, like a playful monkey. It’s rather cute actually.
When the girl arrives home, the wraith pounces on her with a roar. He then flashes his fangs (the guy is beginning to behave like an annoying show-off) and we are startled, because we thought a vampire’s fangs should be a sickly yellow but no, his are so dazzling white we want to know at once what whitening treatment he used.
More roaring (from him) and screaming (from her) as the wraith sucks his victim dry. The roaring changes to moans and from the way the man is holding the girl and thrusting, it looks like he’s raping her, fully clothed. With so much blood coursing through his veins, you can’t blame him for being excited, can you?
We now learn the reason for the man’s preferred nourishment.
A flashback shows the Grim Reaper telling the soldier that if he sucks the blood of unsullied virgins during a full moon, he will become human again upon devouring his ninth victim. The soldier, who looks strangely feminine with all that lipstick, asks if that is the only way and the Grim Reaper replies in the affirmative. He omits to mention that unsullied virgin blood leads to excessive roaring and grunting; let the man find out on his own how beast-like he is becoming.
As the man, hair now combed and tidy, is walking away from his victim’s house, he passes a group of men. Their leader looks like the Grim Reaper’s kin because of the same panda eyes. He stares at the wraith, but our show-off flashes his meticulously manicured (and speckled!) talons as if to say, “Buzz off.”
The men run to the victim’s house and discover her body, with a single small hole (like a bullet wound) in the neck. That makes us wonder how the wraith managed to suck her blood without his rubber fangs (plural) puncturing her skin.
The men, who seem like village vigilantes, realize the man they had passed earlier could be the murderer so they scramble after him. Sniffing the air like a wolf, our vampire senses them coming. He smirks and then runs off.
What ensues is a display of Schizophrenic Animal Behavior (aka Extremely Bad Acting).
Like a one-man freak show or a dad entertaining his toddler, the vampire cocks his head to the side like a kitten, bares his teeth like a baboon, prances like a monkey and roars like a lion. As if to demonstrate his (half-assed) pugilistic training, he conjures up a cloud of smoke with his fists and sends the men staggering backwards. And then he flies off to a tree and watches, with a smirk again, as the men carry the victim away. Since he can fly, we wonder why he had to run from the men earlier. And, if he’s immortal, why he has to dodge arrows. Isn’t he already dead?
Next scene is the morgue (okay, it’s just a room but morgue sounds more impressive). The victim’s body has been brought there and a fast-talking palace official is berating the leader of that group of men we saw earlier. How can you let the vampire slip away again? he screams. The other man screams back and says he will nab the vampire at all cost because the bloodsucking jerk killed his sister.
Posters with a likeness of the vampire (which doesn’t look at all like the vampire) are posted everywhere in the kingdom. Anyone who can capture the wraith gets a large reward.
Meanwhile the VP (Vampire Pursuer), who is intent on avenging his sister’s death, slays an innocent chicken. Apparently arrows dipped in poultry blood can send bloodsucking wraiths back to the netherworld. Or maybe it’s just cheaper than slaying a pig or a cow.
The scene now shifts to a woman remembering the day of her matrimonial rites. On that day her groom had looked like a man about to have his tooth extracted. When night fell, he staggered into their bridal chamber, toppled on the floor and mumbled “Choah” which wasn’t her name.
Choah happens to be a lady attendant in her husband’s household and the subject of frequent anatomy studies by him.
One night after particularly intense research, she fusses that he is still keeping his wifey by his side even though he had promised to kick her out. I’ll get to it, the philanderer says. He then hurries home and somehow a presence seems to be following him, which suggests that our wraith must have momentarily lost his bearings because that be a man, you silly, not an unsullied virgin!
Then we see another man (no idea who) creeping up to another maiden’s room and they engage in much heaving and moaning. The woman goes to sleep and our wraith enters her room. He hovers over her, hisses like a snake (there’s no end to his animal impersonations), flashes fangs and talons appropriately, sniffs at her and apparently detects the smell of a man’s bodily fluids on her. So he leaves in disappointment.
Now the wraith is outside the room of our lady, the one who was a-weeping earlier, whose flesh her husband despises, preferring Choah’s instead. So the wraith creeps in, goes through that whole flash-and-scare routine (seriously, the chap needs to understudy Dracula so that he won’t be an embarrassment to vampires everywhere), and as he swoops in for the kill, sees a solitary tear rolling down Milady’s face.
He springs back and stares at her in wide-eyed astonishment, as though she has just turned purple or something. He touches her tear and studies it like an anthropologist examining a fossil, except that anthropologists do not normally gape in that idiotic way.
Suddenly Milady grabs him and cries out, “Father!”
The wraith hears everything that she is dreaming: her mom hugging her, the two of them weeping. His mouth still open (and you wish a bee would just fly into that unsightly orifice), her anguished “Father! Father!” ringing in his ears, the wraith scoots off.
His hunger for blood unquenched, the vampire stands on a tree branch and cracks begin to form on his face. He must have some blood or his face will start dissolving! So he searches for his next victim and she happens to be a woman who is kneeling and praying for her ill father. Said woman also happens to be the first one who can act convincingly in the episode, so it’s a real bummer when she exits the stage just like that, one bleeding hole in her neck.
We return to Milady who is cleaning a prizeless vase. A snake slithers out of the vase, causing her to drop the vase and break it. Her mother-in-law scurries in and is outraged that such a precious family heirloom is now in pieces. As punishment Milady has to kneel outside for hours on end, even in the rain. Of course she collapses and of course our wraith is watching her from his perch on the roof.
Pouty and impatient Choah wants Milady out NOW, so she devises a plan to drug the latter so that a man can enter her room and rape her. That should be reason enough for Milady’s hubby and parents to banish her to a far-flung land, or to silence her forever.
Meanwhile the wraith, back in his cave hideout, can’t stop thinking of Milady’s plight, so he flies to her. For miles this time, way up in the sky. So now he has become a migratory bird. Interesting.
Inside Milady’s room, as she lies there deep in sleep, he gazes at her, his mouth closed (thank goodness!). He hears footsteps and quickly hides in a corner. A man enters the room, the one who is here to carry out Choah’s devious plan, and begins to undress Milady. Our wraith sees and gets mad, so he pounces on the scoundrel.
Unfortunately, because he takes his own sweet time flashing fangs and talons for maximum theatrical effect, he loses the opportunity to kill the man. Milady’s husband, who is in cahoots with Choah, pretends to shout frantically about an intruder, so the household is in an uproar. That gives the hired rapist a chance to slip away, and he does so with approving nods from Milord.
The half-dressed and half-awake (but thankfully still unsullied) Milady is accused of fornicating with her lover and is whipped senseless. The wraith watches impassively from outside. (Unless he is in full-blown bloodsucking mode, the guy is like a log of wood. Overacting and underacting. That should allow him to go places as an actor.)
We next see the rapist coming out of hiding from a room, but the wraith jumps on him. When Choah and Milord emerge from their celebratory tête-à-tête, they are greeted by the sight of the headless rapist. Choah collapses in a swoon. “What a befuddling occurrence,” Milord says, in a surprisingly unruffled manner, his head rolling from side to side. He and the wraith must have been taught by the same acting teacher.
The wraith rescues Milady and flies off with her. On the flight back to the cave, his face bears the expression of one nursing tummy cramps. Such a grimace does not augur well for their future, methinks, but maybe his arms are just aching. When they arrive, a solitary bat swoops into view and we suddenly remember this is a horror drama, not a comedy. Damned misleading signals we’ve been getting so far!
As Milady lies injured on the ground, the wraith goes about nursing her. He dons a farmer’s garb and goes searching in the mountains for medicinal herbs. He wades into the brook and tries to catch a fish and it’s soon apparent that his fishing skills are nothing to shout about.
Meanwhile Milord’s family has decided that to protect their family’s reputation, they must stage a fake funeral for Milady. Milord also tells his parents that he wants Choah as a permanent fixture in his chambers, preferably unclothed. Do whatever you want, Sonny Boy, his parents say.
Milady is nursed back to health and she tells her savior-whom-she-does-not-know-is-a-vampire that she wants to return to her husband’s side. Even if it means death? he asks.
So she returns, but as she enters the compound of the house, she hears gasps of “Ah, ah” and giggling. It’s Milord and Choah doing their bit to populate the kingdom. Clumsy coupling over, the two discuss the fake funeral and Milord’s plan to make Choah the new lady of the house.
Walking unsteadily back to the forest, the tearful Milady is met by the wraith. His expression is coy, as if saying, “I knew you would come back.”
But as they are walking back to the cave, they pass VP and his merry men. A chase ensues. The wraith grabs Milady’s hand and runs, forgetting that he has a faster mode of transport. But when she stumbles and falls and he himself gets shot by VP’s poisoned arrow, he has no choice but to scoop her up and fly. And hey presto, the VP follows them up the sky! I knew it, the guy is otherworldly!
VP is no match for a vampire, alas, so the couple return safely to the cave. To convince us that the poison is spreading fast through his body, the wraith groans loudly and frequently. It sounds very much like Milord’s moaning earlier when he was enjoying Choah.
After learning from her injured savior that a certain flower on a cliff is the only antidote for the poultry poison, Milady climbs up the cliff (without a rope, wow!) and manages to pluck the fake flower.
Back at the cave, she chews the flower and then spits it out (yikes!) and applies the mashed-up petals on his wound.
Plucked from death (I thought he was already dead when the story started but never mind), the wraith sits out in the sun and he and Milady have a little chat. She tells him about her dad being killed for alleged treason and her mom being taken away with her whereabouts unknown to this day.
If you do not stop hoping, you will surely see your mom again.
I wish I can recover the silver dagger that my mom gave me.
It’s a full moon again, so the wraith rejects the food Milady has prepared and instead leaves mysteriously. His target this time isn’t a virgin, it’s the two bastards who caused Milady so much suffering. So he kills them and hangs them up as Exhibit B (Exhibit A being the rapist he had beheaded earlier).
The wraith returns with Milady’s silver dagger, but she sees that it is bloodied and so are his hands. Did you injure yourself getting this back for me? she asks.
Since he was taught at a young age that love and honesty are conjoined twins, he decides it’s time to reveal the truth. So he transforms, with much grunting and snorting and with his face turning blue first, into a vampire before her eyes. She recoils in shock, unable to believe the saucer-sized rings around his eyes.
Does all this daunt you? Does this face of mine really scare you?
And I roll on the ground, clutching my sizes, howling, “NOOOO! You’re not in the least bit scary, haha!!”
The wraith tells Milady that today is the last day for him to devour the blood of his ninth victim. If he misses today, he will forever wander the earth as a half-beast, neither human nor spirit.
I want so much to be a person like you, he tells her, his forehead so furrowed it’s like someone used Milady’s silver dagger to carve three deep lines on him.
They sit in silence for a long time and then she gets up abruptly and walks off. But he comes in front of her and she stops. Then he turns his back to her, as if offering her a piggyback ride. She leans close and hugs him from behind. It’s all so very
He then turns around and slowly kisses her. Obviously neither one has ever kissed or been kissed, so it’s just a chaste peck. He needs to go find his ninth virgin now, so they hug tearfully and he asks her to wait for him. Just one more day and he’ll be human again.
But guess who is lurking on the mountain? VP, of course, with many soldiers to bolster his search. So the wraith runs back and grabs his love, telling her they must leave now.
In the ensuing chase, Milady deliberately shields the wraith from VP’s arrows and is shot instead. The wraith flies off with her but mid-flight he is shot as well. After flying for a while, he loses strength and they are forced to land in a heap. He pulls the arrow from his flesh and then says, matter-of-factly:
I can’t fly any longer.
Somehow that line cracks me up like no other line in the episode and I fall off my chair again, laughing till the tears are rolling down my face.
What glorious farce, what a truckload of fun.
The episode ends (and I shan’t reveal how) and I wipe away my tears (of mirth). What have I been missing all this time avoiding the horror genre?
This opening episode of Hometown of Legends is the zaniest thing I’ve watched in ages. Did the writer and PD intend for it to be so comical, cheesy even? Did they ask the cast to act horrendously so that the bad acting becomes more reason for us to laugh our heads off?
Oh, who cares. Bring on Episode 2!