The “gumiho,” a shape-shifting nine-tailed fox, has solidified its position as a character that symbolizes captivating beauty, replacing one of the best-known royal concubines of the Joseon era, Jang Ok-jung , more widely known as Jang Hui-bin.
Born to a middle-class family, Jang worked as a lady attendant in the palace and eventually became a consort of King Sukjong, the 19th king of Joseon.
The tales of Jang, with a love triangle between the king and Queen Inhyeon, the palace intrigue and her dramatic rise as the mother of Joseon’s next king inspired many screenwriters from the 1960s to the early 2000.
What fascinated creators across generations was her beauty.
Jang was the only palace lady whose look and beauty was so depicted in the annals of the Joseon Dynasty.
According to historical records from the reign of King Sukjong, countless courtiers advised the king to keep a distance from Jang and lead state affairs without falling for her beauty and charm.
Another courtier, Kim Chang-hyeop went so far as to say the king should straighten things up to deflect criticism of his favoritism for Jang.
Fittingly, actors who play Jang Hui-bin in period dramas are often hailed as the most beautiful woman of their respective generations.
Oscar-winning actress Youn Yuh-jung as well as top stars Jeon In-hwa, Kim Hye-soo, Lee So-yeon and Kim Tae-hee are among those who made their name in Jang Hui-bin-themed TV series.
As the popularity of historical dramas has withered away with the rise of romantic comedies and spectacular crime thrillers, Jang likewise began to disappear from the entertainment industry.
But, the iconic character symbolizing dazzling beauty persists in the mythical gumiho.
Adapted from Korean folktales where the creature seduces men by transforming into a beautiful woman, the gumiho has been showcased by many broadcasters in their own interpretations.
Shin Min-ah played Gu Mi-ho, a charming 500-year-old nine-tailed fox who wished to become a real human, in SBS’ “My Girlfriend is Gumiho” in 2010.
Public broadcaster KBS revealed its own fox character, played by Han Da-gam, in the horror series “Grudge: The Revolt of Gumiho,” also in 2010. It was a perfect, sensual woman, whose beauty and elegance were undeniable.
Meanwhile, some modern interpretations of gumiho have not restricted themselves to only being a woman.
In 2020, local broadcaster tvN’s “Tales of the Nine Tailed” reinterpreted the legendary story and showcased male gumiho Lee Yeon, played by Lee Dong-wook, living in 21st century Korea.
The cable channel also premiered the rom-com series “My Roommate is a Gumiho” in May 2021, featuring the odd love story of a 22-year-old female university student and 999-year-old male gumiho Shin Woo-yeo.
According to the production teams of tvN, both gumiho -- Lee Yeon and Shin Woo-yeo -- were described as men of great beauty who could seduce almost any woman they encounter.
“Look at his looks and stunning visual. Anyone would fall in love with Lee Dong-wook. No wonder, he is the most handsome gumiho ever,” an online commenter said on a YouTube video of “Tales of the Nine Tailed.”
“If actors play a role of gumiho in their careers, I guess their beauty is proven even by the industry insiders,” another comment read.