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Mama Fairy and the Woodcutter: Episode 1

I’m a sucker for out-of-control silliness, so I had high hopes for Mama Fairy and the Woodcutter based on the teasers. Thankfully, it’s every bit as wacky as I’d hoped, and I mean that in the best possible way! But woven throughout the absurd humor is a thread of heartfelt earnestness that promises to tug at our heartstrings. So as long as the show manages to strike the right balance, I think we’re in for something pretty magical.

EPISODE 1 RECAP

One day several hundred years ago, a group of beautiful fairies came down from Heaven to bathe in an enchanting spring in the forest. One of the fairies realized that her winged dress had gone missing, preventing her from returning to heaven with her friends.

Suddenly, the fairy sees a woodcutter nearby, and we get a very fast montage of him carrying her away from the spring and marrying her. They seemed very much in love, and had two children together. One day, the woodcutter left for a trip, leaving behind a charm embroidered with a butterfly.

In the present, a man who looks very like the fairy’s husband wakes from a little nap in his psychiatrist’s office, roused by the sound of his doctor on the phone. DR. LEE throws things at him until he gets up, and he whines that the medicine she prescribes for his insomnia isn’t working.

The man, JUNG YI-HYUN (Yoon Hyun-min), leaves the office grumpy, with nothing stronger than a bottle of melatonin and an admonition to rest during his Chuseok holiday. He senses something strange as he leaves, but he doesn’t spot the person that’s recording him with a wrist-mounted camera.

Yi-hyun heads home and settles in to listen to some relaxing music with a cup of coffee. A repetitive trill has him stomping to the door to open it with an annoyed “HEY,” surprising his roommate and teaching assistant, KIM GEUM (Seo Ji-hoon), who forgot his key and the door’s passcode. Again.

Geum wants Yi-hyun to go home with him for the holiday, and he cheerfully refuses to take no for an answer. He starts packing for Yi-hyun, who finally relents if only to keep Geum’s grubby mitts off his underwear, insisting that he’s only going because Geum won’t leave him alone about it (though he’s busted by the bottle of whiskey he’s already bought for Geum’s mother).

Three hours outside of the city, Yi-hyun is sleeping so hard in the car that he’s snoring. He wakes with a powerful craving for coffee and requests they stop when he sees an old wooden sign advertising a coffee shop nearby. After passing a creepy village decorated with totem poles, they stop at the Fairy Cafe, which is empty except for a tiny old woman (Go Doo-shim) behind the counter.

Yi-hyun gives the flower in the old woman’s hair the hairy eyeball (there’s a Korean saying that crazy people put flowers in their hair) as she asks them what kind of coffee they want. According to the sign, the coffees have weird names like Deer’s Tears and No Princess, and the guys start to look a little freaked out.

Suddenly, a hand taps Yi-hyun on the shoulder, making him and Geum scream. Behind them are another couple of odd-looking people, an ajumma and a man with long hair, who tell them with annoyance to take their time, it’s fine, they’re just tired and in pain but they can totally wait forever.

Geum decides that the Black Water coffee sounds the least silly and orders it, and the weirdos behind them gasp that they’re certainly brave. Yi-hyun wants to change his order, and a cat flies out of nowhere to land on the counter right in front of Geum. It sits up like a dog and meows at Geum as the flower barista starts to make their coffee.

While they wait for their drinks, Yi-hyun and Geum agree that this place is super weird, and the people are even weirder. Yi-hyun keeps griping, completely missing Geum’s hints that the flower barista is coming with their coffee.

She serves it in bowls, and Geum is impressed with the delicious aroma, but Yi-hyun whines that there’s a fly in his coffee. The flower barista plucks the fly from the coffee, blows on it to dry its wings, and hands Yi-hyun back his bowl. He’s disgusted, but she reassures him that the fly will be fine. LOL!

When they finally leave, Yi-hyun can’t stop grousing about the bizarre cafe and its inhabitants, but Geum is more concerned with the fact that the road seems to be taking them in circles. To make matters worse, there’s no phone or GPS signal, so after going ’round and ’round for a while, they stop to regroup.

They spot a pile of painted rocks that looks familiar, so they hike up the stone walkway beside it. Geum thinks they might be near his house, and as they hike, he notices the full moon rising. He tells Yi-hyun that his mother says a full moon means ghosts and spirits will visit the human realm, which does nothing to improve Yi-hyun’s mood.

A bit further along, they come across a beautiful hidden spring. The flower barista is there, and Geum wants to ask her for directions, but Yi-hyun notices that she’s preparing to bathe in the water. They turn their backs, but Yi-hyun takes a peek… and instead of the elderly flower barista, he sees what appears to be a young woman stepping into the spring.

Geum trips on a rock, alerting the bathing woman. She turns, revealing that she’s not only young, but she’s also incredibly beautiful. She runs at the guys, glowering furiously, then uses a rock to catapult herself high into the air.

As she comes down, she chops Geum in the neck with her hand, his head whacks into Yi-hyun’s, and both guys go down unconscious. Belatedly, the young woman recognizes them and wonders what to do.

When Yi-hyun wakes up some time later, he and Geum are sitting the car again. At first Yi-hyun thinks Geum is dead, but he’s just sleeping in an odd position due to his injured neck. And even stranger, the tower of painted rocks by the path has now toppled over into a heap.

The guys eventually get themselves to Geum’s mother’s home, and Geum can’t stop thinking about the pretty young woman from the spring. Musing on how an old woman turned young, and how they woke up in the car, he’s decided that the woman must be a gumiho (a fabled nine-tailed fox that seduces men and eats their livers).

Yi-hyun growls that he was calling her a fairy earlier, and he jokes in annoyance that Geum must also have grim reapers and goblins living in his neighborhood, HA. Being an intellectual, Yi-hyun launches into an unnecessarily detailed explanation of the phenomenon of mass hallucination.

Lucky for Geum, they’re soon called to dinner, which ends Yi-hyun’s confusing lecture. Geum’s mother goes on and on about the bottle of whiskey Yi-hyun brought for her, and she decides to get up right then to put it on the shelf with the rest of her prized liquors. Yi-hyun tries to get her to sit and let him do it, but he ends up pulling her ajumma pants off, WHOOPS.

After the kerfuffle settles, the guys follow Geum’s mom to the village’s Chuseok celebration, where Mom’s friends ask if the pretty lady with Geum is his wife (Mom: “That’s his male professor…”). Well, Yi-hyun is pretty. It’s obvious that Geum’s mother has been inflating his accomplishments in the big city, since the villagers think he’s going to be a professor soon, but Yi-hyun doesn’t rat him out.

Yi-hyun is distracted by a villager selling corn dogs, and Geum spots the beautiful woman from the spring a distance away. Both of them see her a few minutes later, and Yi-hyun goes over to ask what she did to them this afternoon. She pretends she has no idea what they’re talking about, which upsets Yi-hyun, but Geum just politely apologizes for interrupting her bath.

Yi-hyun asks why she was an old lady when they first met her, accusing her of drugging them, and that makes her angry. She whirls on him to snap, “You only believe what you see. What a shame,” but he demands to know the truth.

A man she calls MASTER GU (Ahn Gil-kang) comes over to tell the guys not to gang up on FAIRY SEON OK-NAM (Moon Chae-won), but Yi-hyun retorts that she’s the one who attacked them. His wild gesturing with his corn dog flings ketchup all over Master Gu’s shirt, which Master Gu interprets as an act of war.

He brandishes a fist at Yi-hyun, who hoots that Master Gu doesn’t look one bit scary. Master Gu swings at him, but Geum steps in and takes the punch. Ok-nam tells them all to stop, and when she touches Geum to see if he’s okay, he jumps like he’s been electrocuted. Yi-hyun leads Geum away, but Geum turns back to watch Ok-nam go, wondering if it’s the full moon that makes her shadow look as if it’s dancing.

The guys head back to Geum’s mom’s house and start drinking, which just makes Yi-hyun more belligerent as he challenges Master Gu to come punch him if he dares. He slurs that he hates Geum and the people from his hometown, just before passing out. Classy, dude.

Still at the celebration, Master Gu brags to the two weirdos from the coffee shop, Fairy Oh and Park Shin-seon, about his “fight” with the weasels who were bothering Ok-nam. He tells them to let him know if anyone bothers them, but Shin-seon stage whispers that nobody has “bothered” Fairy Oh in three hundred years, ha.

Master Gu asks what she wished for, and Fairy Oh says she wished for the same thing as always — to find the woodcutter who stole her winged dress. Oh, did the same thing happen to her? Shin-seon sighs that she and Ok-nam are awfully persistent, but Fairy Oh just pulls out a plastic recorder to serenade the moon.

In the morning, Yi-hyun is gobsmacked that he slept through the night for the first time in ages. Geum asks if he wants coffee, and by the time his mom has breakfast ready, they’re back at the Fairy Cafe.

The flower barista meets them at the door to tell them that the cafe is closed for Chuseok, but she invites them in for coffee anyway. She tasks Yi-hyun with grinding the beans while Geum pets the ginger cat that’s already found his lap.

After viciously grinding the coffee like it owes him money, Yi-hyun asks the flower barista if the toilet is the old-fashioned squatting kind, but she just tells him to see for himself. The bathroom is a wonderland full of flowering plants, and Yi-hyun decides it’s good enough to use.

As he does, the extremely loud sound of his urination seems familiar to the flower barista. She remembers hearing that exact sound every morning, six hundred and ninety-nine years ago, but she decides that she must be imagining things since she can barely remember her husband’s face anymore.

Both Yi-hyun and Geum are a little mesmerized as they watch the flower barista make their coffee, and the delicious taste of it conjures actual butterflies to flutter around them. She shows them her coffee bush and tells them that she roasted its beans just this morning.

Geum bounces over to help her water her plants, but he’s taken aback when she’s suddenly young again. All Yi-hyun sees is Geum blushing in front of the flower barista. He looks down to see the cat drinking his coffee and he yells at it, calling it by name.

Startled, the flower barista asks how Yi-hyun knows the cat’s name when she’s never told him. She also wants to know how he found the spring yesterday, and Yi-hyun counters with a question about how she transformed in front of their eyes.

She takes the flower from her hair and holds it out to him, suddenly young again. She thinks of her prayers to send her husband back to Earth, and to let her recognize him when she finds him. She narrates that a human’s life goes by in a flash, and that she was stranded on Earth when she lost her winged dress, so she’s been waiting for her husband to be reincarnated.

She runs to her room to get the clothes that her husband used to wear, belatedly realizing that she hasn’t washed them in nearly seven centuries. She takes them back to the main room anyway, only to find that the guys are gone.

The cat explodes in a burst of sparkling light and becomes a young girl, SOON-YI (Kang Mi-na). Soon-yi glances at a large egg sitting on a sideboard, and she shrieks, “MOM!! Oppa is coming out, the egg is cracked!”

As they drive full-speed back to Seoul, Yi-hyun declares that Ok-nam must be a gumiho. He says that there’s no scientific explanation for her, or the huge egg that cracked when Geum barely even touched it. HA, no wonder they ran away.

The egg is currently a source of intense interest, surrounded by Ok-nam, Master Gu, Fairy Oh, and Shin-seon. Ok-nam tells them about Yi-hyun’s familiarly strong urine stream and the way he knew Soon-yi’s name without being told, and how he even showed up at the Fairy Falls, which not just anyone can find.

Fairy Oh reminds Ok-nam that two men came to the falls, which creates a problem. Shin-seon tells Master Gu that he should transform into a pigeon again and go look for them, teasing him since he’s apparently very bad at flying. Ok-nam says that she’s the only one who can solve this mystery, which is a relief to the others, who get nervous at the idea of visiting the big city.

Unfortunately, Ok-nam has no clue where to start looking, until Fairy Oh says that she saw a parking sticker for Yiwon University on Geum’s car.

Inside, Soon-yi types intently on her laptop, her tail, fur, and whiskers popping out as she writes a steamy story about a young master watching his muscular servant chopping wood. Ok-nam accuses her of having lustful thoughts again, chastising her daughter for letting her tiger features show. She tells Soon-yi to pack, because, “I may have found your father.”

A vendor at a coffee kiosk on the Yiwon University campus refuses to sell coffee to customers unless they bring their own cups, to save the environment. The customer insults her coffee as she walks away, and with a quick gesture by the coffee vendor, suddenly a huge rock appears in front of the customer and trips her.

Ok-nam, in her elderly guise, arrives with Soon-yi in cat form. She gives the vendor, a minor deity named JO BONG-DAE (comedienne Ahn Young-mi), a note from Master Gu. It explains who Ok-nam is and says to take good care of her, so Bong-dae gives the “cute tiger” a sausage and asks what Ok-nam is doing in the city.

Before she can explain, Ok-nam spots Yi-hyun approaching with Dr. Lee, so she hides. Yi-hyun is telling Dr. Lee that he saw something that can’t be explained scientifically, something like a ghost or a gumiho. Dr. Lee says logically that environmental phenomena can distort the human imagination, but when Yi-hyun tells her he saw an old woman become young, she laughs that that’s just her department dean after a round of skin treatments, HA.

They stop at Bong-dae’s kiosk for coffee, and Bong-dae and Dr. Lee have a quick Alpha Female Glare-off, which Dr. Lee loses. Bong-dae is obviously flirting with Yi-hyun, speaking banmal and bending over to show off her tush, and when he tells her honestly that her coffee is terrible (but cheap!), she just laughs heartily.

A tiny leaf falls into his cup, and when he sees it, he thinks it’s a moth and screams bloody murder. LOL, he’s such a priss! Bong-dae looks around, and we see Ok-nam crouched on the roof of her kiosk, having dropped the leaf into his coffee in a fit of jealousy, hee.

Soon-yi thinks that her mom should just go up to Yi-hyun and tell him she’s his wife. They continue spying on Yi-hyun and Dr. Lee, who wonders if Yi-hyun’s insomnia caused him to see things. Yi-hyun tells her that actually, he slept pretty well after drinking Ok-nam’s coffee.

In flashback, we see Ok-nam and her woodcutter walking under the falling cherry blossoms. He stops to ask if she’s tired and offer her a ride on his pack. She chirps that her husband is the best, but he says humbly that she’s the best for marrying a lowly woodcutter like him.

After hearing Ok-nam’s sad story, Bong-dae feels sorry for her, but she reminds her and Soon-yi that their kind isn’t allowed to get involved in the human realm. She says that even if Yi-hyun is her reincarnated husband, he’s probably completely different after seven centuries. She warns Ok-nam that if she intrudes in his life, the order management department in her realm might get involved.

Ok-nam thanks Bong-dae for the advice and offers to make her a cup of coffee. Bong-dae scoffs that there won’t be any difference in the flavor, but Ok-nam’s technique is all about creating harmony, which has an almost magical result.

From the look on Bong-dae’s face, the flavor of the coffee is a deeply mystical experience, and she hires Ok-nam on the spot. She even offers her a place to stay if she needs one, but Ok-nam tells her that she already has a place in mind.

At home, Geum babies his plants, even giving them cute little pep talks if they’re wilting. Hungry, he decides to go out for ramyun. Yi-hyun is still obsessed with Ok-nam, to the point that just the sight of his coffee mug irritates him.

Outside, Ok-nam sits and wonders why she can’t see the stars in the city. She uses a wooden wand she borrowed from Master Gu to perform an incantation which calls down a flock of pigeons to cover her as she lies down to sleep.

Geum is stunned to witness the spell and the blanket of pigeons, and he carefully approaches to ask why she’s sleeping out in the cold. She says that the place she’d planned to stay is gone, but she’s fine with the help of her animal friends, and he looks down to see Soon-yi in her cat form happily rubbing her face on his ankle.

He invites them to stay in his room at Yi-hyun’s place, saying that he can sleep downstairs. Ok-nam is reluctant, but Geum takes her bag and gives her a giant grin, so she agrees to stay for just one night.

Inside, she picks up a plant that looks nearly dead, and Geum’s eyes widen to see her looking young and beautiful again. The plant revives, turning lush and green as he watches, and even sprouts a few pink flowers.

The effort seems to tire Ok-nam, who goes back to her elderly guise. Confused and a little worried, Geum asks hesitantly if Ok-nam is a gumiho. She tells him honestly, “I’m a fairy,” gracing him with a lovely smile.

COMMENTS

The original story of the fairy and the woodcutter is a tragic one — a woodcutter tricks a fairy into marrying him by stealing her clothing then “rescuing” her, but he must keep his trickery a secret until they have three children. After they have their second child, the woodcutter decides to come clean, and the fairy takes her winged clothing and her children and returns to Heaven. The woodcutter finds a way to go to Heaven to rejoin his family, but after a while he misses his mother. The fairy gives him a winged horse to go visit her, with the condition that he doesn’t get off the horse at any point during his trip. But he spills his mother’s hot porridge on the horse’s back, it rears and he falls off, and the horse flies back to Heaven, separating the woodcutter from his family forever.

Despite the story’s sad ending, I was really hoping for a show that’s just over-the-top wacky and fun, and so far, Mama Fairy and the Woodcutter is exactly what I’m looking for. There are fairies, gods, and magical creatures all over the place, which tells me that on the one hand, the lore will probably be a hot mess, but on the other hand, it’s going to be tons of fun because you never know what could happen. I love the oddball characters and the magical world that exists alongside the human world. So far the story already deviates from the original, with the fairy being stranded on Earth without her husband instead of in Heaven, but I still expect to see other story components cropping up — I just hope we’re not in for another tragic ending!

I was surprised to see exactly who Ok-nam’s husband was in the first minute of the episode, because maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but I could have sworn this would be a “who’s the husband” drama. But it’s fun anyway, because Yi-hyun is such a bizarre person, claiming to be so scientific and logical but wigging out at the least little leaf or bug. And I enjoy the differences in how Yi-hyun and Geum react to their glimpses of magic, with Yi-hyun desperately trying to find a scientific explanation while Geum is much more willing to just go with it.

Yoon Hyun-min has been a favorite of mine since Witch’s Romance, and while I think he’s equally as good in serious roles as he is in funny ones, the tone of Mama Fairy is right smack in the middle of his comedic wheelhouse, which makes me excited to see more. He’s so annoyingly prissy and negative, yet still somehow adorable, and I can’t wait for Ok-nam to turn his entire world on its axis. I’m equally charmed by Moon Chae-won and Go Doo-shim sharing the role of Ok-nam, and I have no problem seeing them both as different visual aspects of the same fairy. We still haven’t been told exactly why the guys see Ok-nam sometimes as the flower barista and sometimes as the beautiful young fairy, but it seems to be a combination of the fact that they caught her bathing, and her level of energy at the time. Whatever it is, I’m completely enchanted, and I can’t wait to learn more!

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