Netflix just hit the jackpot some weeks ago with the release of Squid Game, a show that finally revealed to the mainstream the amazing quality of Korean audiovisual productions. The Asian country has produced some of the best films and television shows in recent decades, but they were often shrouded in obscurity and known only to the most ardent cinephiles.
Thanks to Squid Game, now everybody knows that there’s some truly incredible content for all audiences coming from South Korea. Netflix, which has anticipated this by investing heavily in Korean productions for the past few years, is ready to harvest the benefits. Hellbound is just the newest Netflix production coming to the streaming platform. And just like Squid Game is filled with high-stakes drama and some truly captivating moral conundrums that will fuel conversation among the viewers during its six-episode run.
Hellbound is directed by Yeon Sang-ho, famous for being the director of the fabulous zombie movie, Train to Busan. The show is based on a webtoon created by Sang-ho himself way back in 2002, and he has found the opportunity to take the story to a new level, thanks to Netflix.
The show stars Yoo Ah-ni, Kim Hyun-joo and Park Jeong-min, and tells the story of a group of people as the world faces the visitations of strange creatures who appear in front of people, telling their time of death. When the time of death arrives, another set of strange creatures arrive and execute the victims in gruesome manners. These strange events coincide with the rise of a cult that teaches that only those who commit sin will face the creatures.
Hellbound doesn’t waste a lot of time setting the mood for the upcoming story. From its opening minutes, it is clear that this is a story that will expose some of the darkest examples of what humanity can achieve. By this point, Yeon Sang-ho is an expert filmmaker, and it is clear that he knows how to stage brutal violence but also how to achieve the climatic drama apex that will make that violence matter. The director goes all in and takes every opportunity of the resources at hand to convey a society that will crumble with any sudden movement.
From a technical viewpoint, the show is quite solid. It makes heavy use of CGI in order to put some of the most fantastic aspects of the story on screen, and while the quality of the CGI isn’t the best, it works. The fantastic creatures might look goofy in some of their appearances, but Sang-ho never stays too long with them or their nature. He’s more interested in how humanity reacts to this frightful event. The result, of course, is sadness, death, and betrayal. This is the typical stuff that you can expect from human beings.
The story is also well presented. Sang-ho lets the actors be the main focus of the piece, and the mystery surrounding the happenings stays always in the background. This might annoy some people looking for answers, but the point of the story is that some things that happen to us can never be explained, and there’s no other alternative but to keep on living the best we can.
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Yoo Ah-in does a perfect job as the leader of the cult that is taking advantage of the strange happenings in order to gather influence. The actor has been known for being quite stoic in some of his performances. Here there’s no difference, but that behavior is there only to hide something deeper happening inside. The revelations surrounding his character are some of the best in the show.
Kim Hyung Joo also does a great job as a battle hardened lawyer trying to help people the best she can. Her arc is quite interesting, although her character might be the least compelling in the show. Not because of Kim’s performance, but because the story does something with the characters that take her on some tangents instead of keeping her in the middle of things. Park Jeong-min, also does a great job during his appearances and makes an impression as the more unique character in the group. The secondary actors also pull their weight, but there is nothing outstanding or unique on an acting level. It’s very straightforward when it comes to acting in Korean TV shows.
The series also enters into the subject of organized religion in Asia and, of course, the bad experiences Korea and other countries like Japan have had with cults and their charismatic leaders. You can feel that there’s a disdain for this type of faith from the show. This might clash with some more orthodox viewers in the west, but it also opens up the discussion to see how different cultures in the world approach the concept of God and Hell.
Hellbound might be the best Netflix horror show of the year. Time will only tell if there’s a second season, but even if this is a one time only thing, it is compelling and short enough to warrant a watch.