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A kumiho or gumiho (Korean: 구미호; Hanja: 九尾狐, literally "nine-tailed fox") is a creature that appears in the folktales on East Asia and legends of Korea. Korean kumiho shares many similarities to the Chinese huli jing and the Japanese kitsune. It can freely transform, among other things, into a beautiful woman often set out to seduce boys, and eat their liver or heart (depending on the legend). There are numerous tales in which the kumiho appears, several of which can be found in the encyclopedic Compendium of Korean Oral Literature (한국 구비문학 대계/韓國口碑文學).
The old Chinese text Classic of Mountains and Seas, the earliest record to document the nine-tailed fox, mentioned that the fox with nine tails came from and lived in the country called Qingqiu (靑丘) three hundreds miles east, the term meaning "green hill" interpreted as the country or region of the east and was later historically used to refer to the region of Korea at least since the era during the Three Kingdoms of Korea. However, it also must be noted that the name of Gojoseon (called Joseon in the record), the Korean kingdom that existed along with other minor states of the Korean peninsula at the time, was separately introduced in the same record.
This section possibly contains original research. (July 2022)
Kumiho and other versions of the nine-tailed fox myths and folklores share similar concept. All explain fox spirits as being the result of great longevity or the accumulation of energy, said to be foxes who have lived for a thousand years, and give them the power of shapeshifting, usually appearing in the guise of a woman. However, while China's huli jing and Japan's kitsune are often depicted with ambiguous moral compasses, possibly good or bad, the kumiho is almost always treated as a malignant figure who feasts on human flesh. It is unclear at which point in time Koreans began viewing the kumiho as a purely evil creature, since many ancient texts mention the benevolent kumiho assisting humans (and even make mentions of wicked humans tricking kind but naïve kumiho).
In later literature, kumiho were often depicted as bloodthirsty half-fox, half-human creatures that wandered cemeteries at night, digging human hearts out from graves. The fairy tale The Fox Sister depicts a fox spirit preying on a family for their livers.
The most distinctive feature that separates the kumiho from its two counterparts (Japanese kitsune, and Chinese huli jing) is the existence of a 'yeowoo guseul' (여우구슬, literally meaning fox marble/bead) which is said to consist of knowledge. According to Korean mythology, the yeowoo guseul provides power to the kumiho and knowledge (and intelligence) to people if they can steal and swallow one. The kumiho can absorb humans' energy with it. The method of absorbing energy with the "yeowoo guseul" resembles a "deep kiss" (i.e. a kiss using a tongue). The kumiho sends the yeowoo guseul into people's mouths and then retakes it with their tongues. If that person swallows the yeowoo guseul, however, and then observes "sky, land, and people", each observation gives the observer preternatural knowledge. But the person fails to watch the "sky" in most tales, so they get a special ability but not the most important one.
Most legends state that while a gumiho was capable of changing its appearance, there is still something persistently fox-like about it (i.e. a foxy face, a set of ears, or the tell-tale nine tails) or a magical way of forcing; its countenance changes, but its nature does not. In Transformation of the Kumiho (구미호의 변신), a kumiho transforms into the identical likeness of a bride at a wedding and is only discovered when her clothes are removed. Bakh Mun-su and the Kumiho (박문수와 구미호) records an encounter that Pak Munsu has with a girl, living alone in the woods, that has a foxy appearance. In The Maiden who Discovered a Kumiho through a Chinese Poem (한시로 구미호를 알아낸 처녀), the kumiho is ultimately revealed when a hunting dog catches the scent of a fox and attacks. Although they have the ability to change forms, the true identity of a kumiho was said to be zealously guarded by the kumiho themselves. Some tales say that if a kumiho abstains from killing and eating humans for a thousand days, it can become human.
Much like changelings, werewolves or vampires in Western lore, there are always variations on the myth depending on the liberties that each story takes with the legend. One version of the mythology, however, holds that with enough will, a kumiho could further ascend from its yogoe (spirit) state, become permanently human and lose its evil character. Explanations of how this could be achieved vary, but sometimes include aspects such as refraining from killing or tasting meat for a thousand days, or obtaining a cintamani and making sure that the Yeoiju saw the full moon at least every month during the ordeal. Unlike Yeoiju-wielding dragons, kumiho were not thought to be capable of omnipotence or creation at will, since they were lesser creatures.
In popular culture
Works focusing on kumiho include:
Film and Television/Shows
- The 1994 horror film The Fox with Nine Tails
- The 2004 KBS drama Forbidden Love
- The 2006 musical comedy The Fox Family
- The 2007 animated film Yobi, the Five Tailed Fox
- The 2008 and 2009 KBS drama Korean Ghost Stories (also known as Hometown of Legends), Episode 1
- The 2010 SBS drama My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho
- The 2010 KBS drama Grudge: The Revolt of Gumiho
- The 2012 MBC drama The Thousandth Man
- The 2013 MBC drama Gu Family Book
- The 2013 MBC drama Nail Shop Paris
- The 2020 tvN drama Tale of the Nine Tailed
- The 2020 HBO drama Lovecraft Country (TV series): Jamie Chung plays the kumiho Meeh Ji-Ah. In the show, she is doomed to be trapped in a human body until she has killed 100 men, which she does in the throes of passion. The main character, Tic, is destined to be number 100.
- The 2021 tvN drama My Roommate Is a Gumiho
- The 2022 Sony Pictures Horror Movie Umma, in which a tormented soul is seen taking the form of a Kumiho.
- In the 149th episode of SBS's Running Man, the female guests and the female member Song Ji-hyo must collect nine tails on their back to become human.
- In the 7th episode part 2 of the 2nd season of the Tooniverse's animated series Shinbi's Haunted House, The female name Heewon.
- The Fox Sister, an ongoing webcomic started in 2011.
- Story of Miho, a webtoon created by Hye Jin-yang
- The God of High School, an ongoing webcomic started in 2011. The plot involves one of these Kumihos as a powerful deity bent on revenge.
- White Fox, Ami Han in Marvel comics is the last Kumiho
- Inattentional Blindness, a Naver WEBTOON started in 2019 including a Kumiho named No-myeong sent to the human realm to hunt ghosts and find the reason behind 'Mountain energy' being drained by a human girl.
- 구슬의 주인, an ongoing Daum webtoon started in 2021. It is a GL(Girls' Love) story about a human girl swallowing a Kumiho's "yeowoo guseul". Consequently, the Kumiho begins following her around and saving her from the various dangers that the human girl has now garnered the attention of.
- League of Legends: Ahri, the Nine-Tailed Fox
- Overwatch: D.Va (Halloween skin)
- Elsword: Eun, Ara Haan's companion
- Lost Saga: Gumiho
- Metin2: Nine Tails
- Analogue: A Hate Story: *Mute
- MapleStory: The Nine-Tailed Fox is a boss monster, along with three-tailed foxes known as Samiho.
- SCP – Containment Breach: SCP-953, though the entity itself does not appear in the game. The cultural differences between a kumiho and a kitsune were noted, and played a role in its capture. "Nine-Tailed Fox" is also the code name for a certain Mobile Task Force.
- Cookie Run: The Kumiho Cookie (also known as the Ninetales Cookie in Kakao/LINE version) is an in-game playable character that can transform from a marshmallow fox into a beautiful cookie by using double jumps.
- War Robots: Kumiho, a fast robot, has two medium weapon grooves.
- White Day: A Labyrinth Named School: The hallway between the new building and the main building has a ghost that sings and can scare the player at the end of the song. The picture in the ghost collection shows a girl with foxy features and it's believed to be a kumiho because the game takes place in Korea.
- Wicked Fox & Vicious Spirits: Novels by Kat Cho featuring Gu Miyoung, a gumiho, as the main character.
- Dragon Pearl: YA novel by Yoon Ha Lee featuring Kim Min, a gumiho, as the main character.
- Where's Halmoni?: a picture book written and illustrated by Julie Kim, featuring a gumiho who may also be the titular halmoni (i.e. grandmother).
- Fox spirit, a general overview about this being in East Asian mythology
- Korean fox
- Ungnyeo, a bear-woman in Korean mythology
- Korean Mythology, on unsolvedmysteries.com. Retrieved 15 March 2007
- "청구(靑丘)". Academy of Korean Studies.
- Grayson, J. H. (2016). "Son Chint'ae and the Foundations of Modern Korean Folklore Studies". Folklore. 129 (1): 1–17. doi:10.1080/0015587X.2017.1388020. "The term 靑丘 (Kor. Ch’ŏnggu) meaning ‘green hills’ is a historic, poetic reference to Korea...The phrase was used by the Chinese in ancient times to refer to Korea. A Chinese legend states that a meteor called Ch’ŏnggu fell to earth on the Korean peninsula. The character ch’ŏng represents the direction ‘east’ and the character ku/gu means ‘earth’ or ‘land’."
- "海外東經". Classic of Mountains and Seas Original text: 青丘國在其北，其狐四足九尾。.
- "南山經". Classic of Mountains and Seas Original text: 又东三百里，曰青丘之山，其阳多玉，其阴多青藤。.
- "海內北經". Classic of Mountains and Seas Original text: 朝鮮在列陽東，海北山南。列陽屬燕。.
- "Gumiho (The Fox with Nine Tails) - Rotten Tomatoes". www.rottentomatoes.com. Archived from the original on 2013-02-21.
- "Fox with Nine Tails (TV Mini-Series 2004– ) - IMDb" – via m.imdb.com.
- "The Fox Family (2006) - IMDb" – via m.imdb.com.
- "Yobi, the Five Tailed Fox (Yeu woo bi) (2006)" – via www.rottentomatoes.com.
- ""Korean Ghost Stories" Gumiho (TV Episode 2009) - IMDb" – via m.imdb.com.
- "My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho (TV Series 2010) - IMDb" – via m.imdb.com.
- "Grudge: The Revolt of Gumiho | Rakuten Viki" – via www.viki.com.
- "MBC 주간시트콤 천 번째 남자 다시보기". www.imbc.com.
- "Gu Family Book (TV Series 2013) - IMDb" – via m.imdb.com.
- "Nail Shop Paris (TV Mini-Series 2013– ) - IMDb" – via m.imdb.com.
- "Lee Dong Wook And Jo Bo Ah Are Drawn To Each Other In Alluring New Poster For Upcoming Drama". Soompi. September 9, 2020.
- Langmann, Brady (2020-09-21). "The Kumiho From 'Lovecraft County' Is Actually Much Scarier in Ancient Mythology". Esquire. Retrieved 2021-06-16.
- "UMMA | Sony Pictures Entertainment". www.sonypictures.com. Retrieved 2022-04-20.
- "김숙-박소현-권리세 '런닝맨' 촬영중 포착".
- "구슬의 주인". Daum 웹툰 (in Korean). Retrieved 2021-03-15.
- "SCP-953 - SCP Foundation".