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Lee Hye-ri in a scene from fantasy romcom K-drama My Roommate Is a Gumiho.

K-drama My Roommate Is a Gumiho: fantasy romcom ticks the boxes, and not much else

  • Jang Ki-yong plays Shin Woo-yeo, the gumiho of the title – a nine-tailed fox from Korean folklore who is 999 years old and wants to finally become human
  • Lingering hugs and long stares by the romantic leads have been the order of the day so far, but the show has yet to provide a strong narrative hook
The cohabitation romcom and the gumiho fantasy romance, two very popular K-drama tropes, are combined in the new series My Roommate Is a Gumiho, the first Korean show produced by streaming giant iQiyi, which made the show with Studio Dragon.

It’s not a completely novel mix, as we’ve seen it done before in My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho, but the twist here is that the gumiho, or nine-tailed fox, a legendary creature found in Korean folklore which usually takes on female form, is a man.

The man in question is Shin Woo-yeo (Jang Ki-yong), a 999-year-old gumiho who has lived through the ages by absorbing women’s energy by seducing them and collecting it in a bead. Yet Woo-yeo, who in the present age is a dashing professor, longs to become a real human.

Enter university student Lee Dam (Lee Hye-ri, or simply as Hyeri). She is trying to escort her drunk friend home one evening when he runs right into a fancy sports car belonging to none other than Woo-yeo. He lets them off, but as Dam tries to drag her friend away she trips and accidentally hits Woo-yeo in the stomach, making him cough up a special bead, which she inadvertently swallows.

Dam wakes up in Woo-yeo’s swanky home, where he explains that he’s a gumiho and that he needs to retrieve his bead from her. He proposes that she stay there while he figures out how to do it. She laughs off his statement, only for Woo-yeo to turn into a majestic white nine-tailed fox.

Part of the reason Dam needs to stay with Woo-yeo is that the bead will feed on her energy, especially if touched by men born in the Year of the Tiger – the tiger being the mortal enemy of the fox. As luck would have it, Gye Sun-woo (Bae In-hyuk), a handsome new student born in the Year of the Tiger, has taken a fancy to Dam.

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What Woo-yeo doesn’t tell Dam initially is that if he fails to remove the bead from her within a year, she will die.

Opposites attract and this adage is never truer than when two seemingly incompatible personalities are thrust into an enclosed space for a prolonged amount of time. Sticking a girl and a boy who don’t get along under the same roof and waiting for the sparks to fly has been a particularly effective formula on Korean TV, resulting in classic shows such as Full House and It’s Okay, That’s Love.

Gumihos, which used to feature prominently in Korean horror films, were often depicted as femme fatale characters who seduce men to devour their livers, from which they draw their energy. In modern Korean screen entertainment, gumihos typically feature in comedy and romance.

Bae In-hyuk in a still from My Roommate Is a Gumiho.

Though Woo-yeo may be a male and more benign version of a gumiho, the show still finds room for a classic version of the character in the shape of fashion lover Yang Hye-sun (Kang Han-na), who used to terrorise the ancient Korean Joseon Kingdom in her search of male livers to consume but has recently become human and ends up helping Woo-yeo by enrolling in Dam’s university and keeping an eye on her.

Speaking of livers, the Korean title of the show, Liver-Spilling Co-Habitation, works as a clever pun, since “liver-spilling” is a Korean idiom for “frightening”.

As a romantic comedy My Roommate Is a Gumiho doesn’t really attempt to break any new ground. The comedy is broad, the female lead gorges on comfort food throughout, and the gender roles remain quite regressive.

Kang Han-na in a scene from the fantasy romcom K-drama.

It’s true that Dam is a callow college student and that Woo-yeo has been wizened through a millennium of experience, but the stark contrast between her childishness and his maturity wears thin pretty quickly. What’s more, Hye-sun, despite her 700 years in this world, is repeatedly, and disappointingly, depicted as a vapid airhead.

Beyond that, the show works as an easy-going confection tailor-made for a younger audience, particularly fans of Lee, known as a member of K-pop group Girl’s Day and for shows like Reply 1988, and Jang, one of the industry’s go-to younger male leads.

Jang mostly gets the easier role as the stoic eye-candy gumiho who possesses an array of superpowers, including shape-shifting, teleporting, levitation and super strength. Lee has to flex more with a wider range of admittedly exaggerated emotions in a spirited performance that doesn’t always work.

Lee (left) and Jang in a scene from My Roommate Is a Gumiho.

Over its first two weeks, My Roommate Is a Gumiho has already ticked several classic K-drama romcom boxes, with lingering hugs, long stares and umbrella scenes already featuring prominently.

But since the show has yet to grab us with a strong narrative hook, the K-drama trappings that give us scenes such as one where treacly K-pop songs play as Woo-yeo sits wistfully waiting for Dam by a gigantic display of flowers in a trendy cafe feel a bit hollow so far.

My Roommate Is a Gumiho is streaming on iQiyi.