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How to Spend a Spooky Halloween in Korean Style
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How to Spend a Spooky Halloween in Korean Style

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In the US, the month of October is filled with Halloween decorations. Starting from bats, skeletons, ghosts, witches, and more, there are many beings that represent the spooky season. Traditionally, Korea never celebrated Halloween but recently the western holiday started trending among the younger generation. On the night of Halloween, people gather in Itaewon, a district in Seoul known for its nightlife and diverse population, filling up the streets and partying all night long. People dress up similarly to costumes in the US, but there are a few costumes that are uniquely Korean. Just like there are mythical creatures that build suspense and horror in the US, Korea also has legendary beings that have been passed down in history through folktales. Today, we want to share the most well-known mythical creatures of Korea as well as some horror movie recommendations that you can binge-watch during Halloween weekend! 
First Creature: 도깨비- Dokkaebi 
Dokkaebi, also known as the Korean Goblin, is a human-like being that carries a wooden bat around. He is known to be a mixture of a fairy and a monster that has similar features as humans,  instead of having gory and scary appearances. Even though known as a monstrous figure, Dokkaebi has a silly nature and likes to interact with people. Rather than expressing anger towards people, he gets disappointed when people don’t hang out with him. An equivalent character to Dokkaebi could be the European Troll. There are different types of Dokkaebis, such as weather Dokkaebi, object Dokkaebi, wealth Dokkaebi, and more. They each have different superpowers, which they use in favor of humans.
Second Creature: 구미호 - Gumiho 
Gumiho directly translates to a fox with nine tails. Gumiho, who desires to become human, disguises herself as a beautiful woman, seduces a man, and makes him fall in love. If her true identity doesn’t get revealed for 100 days, she then can fully become a human. Although Nine-tailed foxes frequently appear in horror movies, legends describe Gumiho to be harmless to humans.
Third Creature: 저승사자 - Jeoseung Saja 
Jeoseung Saja, also known as the Korean Grim Reaper, is known to be an agent of King Yama(염라대왕) in Buddhism. Yama, the king who weighs one’s good and evil deeds, orders Grim Reapers to guide dead people to the afterlife. Since their job is related to death, people often feared Grim Reapers and created a myth that if they called your name three times, you would be dead. Since the concept is related to Buddhism, religious paintings show Grim Reapers as warriors with bright and colorful clothing. Later in Joseon Dynasty, Grim Reapers were portrayed wearing black clothing with pale skin, since their job is directly related to death.
Fourth Creature: 처녀귀신 - Cheonyeo Gwishin

Poster of Jang Hwa Hong Ryeon Jeon(1956)

The last figure to introduce is Cheonyeo Gwishin, which is a virgin ghost with long hair. Cheonyeo Gwishin first appeared during the male-dominated Joseon Dynasty, where young women were subjected to discrimination and oppression. This often led to vulnerable, young women being unfairly killed or fcommitting suicide, and people believed these spirits with sorrow remained in this world. The most well-known Cheonyeo Gwishin story is the tale of Janghwa and Hongryeon, which is a story of two sisters who died due to a patriarchal society. After their death, the spirits of the sisters wandered around the world as virgin ghosts.

Many Korean films and media use folklore as a medium of horror and fright. Here are some movie recommendations featuring Dokkaebi, Gumiho, Jeoseung Saja, and Cheonyeo Gwishin.

A Tale of Two Sisters 
Featuring: Chenyeo Gwishin 
Where to Watch: Shudder, through Amazon Prime Video 

Based on the folktale JangHwaHongRyeon, the movie A Tale of Two Sisters portrays two sisters living with their evil stepmother. After being released from a mental hospital, Su-Mi reunites with her younger sister, Su-Yeon and they return to their countryside home where they meet their new stepmother Eun-Joo. With the new stepmother in the house, unsuspected encounters arise. The stepmother bluntly tortures Su-Yeon, who looks a lot like her past mother. As the conflict intensifies, suspenseful surprises about the house and the family unveil. Known to be a classic Korean horror movie, the production of A Tale of Two Sisters, especially the overall color scheme and usage of music, forms a scary yet sad, mysterious, and vivid atmosphere.

The Wailing 
Featuring: Korean Shamanism, and Demon Spirits 
Where to watch: Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video

Even though the movie doesn't feature any of the mythical creatures that we mentioned, The Wailing does a wonderful job portraying Korean shamanism and the fear Koreans carry toward unknown spirits. The movie begins when the Outsider, an old Japanese man, comes to a rural village in Korea. With his arrival, an odd skin disease starts spreading, and gruesome murders start happening within the village. Even police officer Jong-Goo’s daughter Hyo-Jin showed symptoms of the disease, and Hyo-Jin’s grandmother reaches out to a Shaman named Il-Gwang for spiritual help. Il-Gwang performs a ritual that is supposed to get rid of the demon spirit from Hyo-Jin but instead intensifies Hyo-Jin’s pain, and this soon brings greater tragedy within the family. 

We know that horror movies are not everyone’s cup of tea! Here are a few media productions that are not scary, but rather entertaining and somewhat heartwarming.

Along With the Gods 
Featuring: Jeoseung Saja 
Where to watch: Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video 

Based on the original digital comic Along with the Gods, this movie illustrates the process of afterlife and reincarnation that Koreans (mainly from Buddhist backgrounds) believe to go through upon death. The movie starts with the death of Kim Ja Hong, a fireman who died while saving a little girl from a fire. Three Grim Reapers take Ja Hong through the seven hells of the afterlife, where his good deeds and bad deeds are examined to evaluate if he deserves to be reincarnated. Throughout the journey, they encounter struggles in convincing the judges of the seven hells to prove that Ja-Hong was a good man. Talking about death and reflecting on life, this movie reflects Korean culture accurately and also has some tear-jerking moments. 

Guardian: The Lonely and Great God 
Featuring: Dokkaebi, Jeoseung Saja 
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video 
 
The drama Guardian, which gained phenomenal popularity when it was released, is a modern-day twist to the story of Doakkebi. A loyal knight of the Goryeo Dynasty Kim-Shin is betrayed by his king and gets a sword stabbed in his heart. Still having the sword stuck to his heart, he becomes a Dokkaebi and lives for 900 years protecting people with his supernatural powers. 900 years later, in modern-day Korea, he meets Ji Eun Tak, his Dokkaebi bride who could take his sword out for him and allow him to vanish in peace. However he falls in love with Ji Eun Tak, and the drama depicts the struggle the Dokkaebi goes through in making his choice to live or die. 

Tale of the Nine-Tailed 
Featuring: Male Gumiho 
Where to Watch: Rakuten Viki

While the traditional Gumiho is a female, in the drama Tale of the Nine-Tailed Gumiho is a male character. Being a contemporary version of the folktale, Nam Ji Ah, a television producer, gets in a severe car accident but is saved by a mysterious man Lee Yeon, who is actually a Gumiho that has been living for several centuries. Being suspicious about the guy who saved her, Ji Ah goes after Lee Yeon with the intention of casting him on her TV show. Meanwhile, Lee Yeon is on the search to find the reincarnation of his first love from centuries ago. 
 
We hope these films and stories would add some suspense to your Halloween weekend! What about dressing up as a Korean mythical character this Halloween? 
 
Happy Halloween!