I suppose after watching so many dramas that I loved and had such good things to say about, it was only a matter of time before I hit a bad patch. King of Dramas wasn’t a bad show, it just wasn’t what I wanted it to be. But this show failed in ways I didn’t even think were possible. I was straight hate-watching it by the end. Thank you agaggleoffandoms for being my partner in misery and helping me yell at the screen for a few weeks. Without you I wouldn’t have been able to finish this mess.
I think I might be in the minority on this. In fact, I might even lose some followers because of this (what few I have anyway) but somebody has to give this atrocity what for. For the amount of pain I was in watching this, I can give at least as good as I got.
The Scholar Who Walks the Night (SWWtN) is an adaptation of a Korean Manhwa of the same name, and tells a fantasy alternate history of the Joseon period where several generations back the king struck a deal with a powerful vampire named Gwi in order to found and build his dynasty and kill all his enemies. In exchange he promised that the future generations of his family would continue to serve the vampire and provide him with victims. When an idealistic prince and his friend find out about this they make it their mission to remove the vampire and restore human rule, but at a tremendous personal cost.
Kim Sung Yeol is our MMC played by Lee Joon Ki, and you may remember in that my Arang and the Magistrate review I was rather taken with him. He was in fact super delightful and funny and interesting to watch in the afore mentioned show. Arang and the Magistrate was a lot of the reason I watched this. Too bad that it was a superior show in almost every way.
Where AatM was well paced and drip fed information at just the right rate to keep me interested, SWWtN spent episode upon episode talking about the search for a secret plan with no detectible progress, and then after the plan was located episode upon episode talking about how they didn’t know what to do with it now that they had it.
Where AatM had a really interesting internal logic and mythology SWWtN’s vampire mythology was wildly inconsistent and hard to follow. Can vampires feed on animals or do they have to eat humans? Does sun make vampires burst into ash or just severely uncomfortable? This show doesn’t give a shit about these details.
And finally, while AatM had a touching high-stakes romance that progressed slowly but kept me engaged every step of the way, SWWtN shoved its main pairing at me until I got sick of looking at their faces. Unfortunately, when you don’t like either of the main characters it’s impossible to enjoy their romance.
I can’t remember another instance where I disliked the main pairing as much as I did here. Mostly because I thought both of the leads were bad people. Selfish, cowardly and just plain stupid a lot of the time.
Let’s start with the MMC: Kim Sung Yeol is supposed to be over 120 years old during the course of the story. And during that whole time his sole goal in life has been to kill Gwi and avenge the deaths of his family, friends and lover. And yet, there is zero evidence that he has even made an attempt to do so. All he’s doing is looking for a lost plan that he has reason to believe was destroyed a long time ago, and even if it does exist he has no reason to believe that this untested plan would work.
Additionally, at several points throughout the story, he is confronted by the big bad and challenged to a fight, and he just runs away. He also witnesses Gwi killing people, sometimes large numbers of people, and makes no attempt to save them. He just sits on a roof and watches, shaking his head like, “Man, this is just horrible. I sure wish there was a super powered vampire around who could protect the innocent. What a shame.”
If Sung Yeol can’t go toe-to-toe with Gwi in a fight that’s one thing, I’m not suggesting he engage in a fight that is definitely going to kill him. But that doesn’t excuse 120 years of incompetence. There are more ways to handle a more powerful enemy than direct combat and hiding while he gets away with mass murder.
And then there’s the MFC, of course. She was just a victim of incredibly poor character writing. In the beginning she was a woman disguising herself as a man so she could support her family. A clever and resourceful illegal book dealer, interested in stories about the supernatural and smutty books. I can relate. She was budding with potential. And the writers just squandered it.
Not only was she completely unable to figure out that the MMC is a vampire for more than half of the show, in spite of the fact that she is writing a novel about the Night Scholar, a good vigilante vampire roaming the countryside, who she says in her opinion resembles the MMC exactly as she imagined him. That’s not even the most obvious evidence she is given that the MMC isn’t human, and she just…can’t…seem…to put it together. Everything has to be told to her.
At a certain point in the middle of the show the MFC gets damseled so hard that she seems to forget all of the interesting qualities that made her capable of living a life as an illegal book seller and protecting her family. Maybe the writers just forgot that she was supposed to be a badass? She gets outed as a woman, and after a bout of suicidal depression, she seems to lose interest in everything but cooking and housework. The writers give her literally nothing to do but hang around the MMC’s house and be twitterpated.
When she does finally figure out the true nature of her love interest, she suggests, in all seriousness, that they just go ahead and ignore what’s going on in the kingdom and just fuck off to the countryside for…oh, idk 50 years? and he can deal with the Gwi issue when they are done playing house. What?!
I could actually go on about how selfish and useless this character is, but I don’t want to use anymore of the review talking about these two. They were frankly nauseating to watch. The only thing I can say for them, is that they deserve each other. They are perfectly suited in their awfulness.
Wasn’t there anything about this show that was interesting or well done? Why did you keep watching this, you might ask, if you disliked the main couple so much?
I’m glad you asked, imaginary person, actually there was one thing that kept me watching until the very end. One aspect that was so good that I couldn’t drop the show even after it became clear that the character writing had become so inconsistent, the plot so bogged down, that there was no hope for it.
And that was the villain. Vampire Gwi, played by Lee Soo Hyuk was so charismatic, mysterious, interesting and competent (in contrast with our main characters) I spent every episode waiting for his scenes. Seriously, Soo Hyuk is so good here. He is clearly having a blast with his role, and is absolutely spellbinding whenever he’s on screen. He also happens to be a drop-dead gorgeous human. But that’s beside the point.
Kim So Eun as Hye Ryung, the vampire’s servant and calculating politician was also fabulous. Their interplay was so interesting to watch, even if I couldn’t ship them together. And even though the writers managed to ruin her character for me right at the end, the overall character and performance deserves recognition.
The Scholar Who Walks the Night gets a 4/10, and everyone of those 4 points are for the villain characters.
In the end I can’t recommend watching a show only for the villain. It’s a project doomed to heartbreak, when you find yourself wanting him to win, and you know that there’s no way the story will allow that to happen. So in order to save you from the same mistake I made, and as a public service. Here is a bunch of Lee Soo Hyuk as Gwi. If someone wanted to cut together all the clips of the Gwi and Hye Ryung and put that up on YouTube, I would recommend giving that a watch, otherwise stay away from this one: