Edited by Yang Young Jun
Translated by Cho EK
Dark, violent, and pessimistic. Some scenes are even uncomfortable to watch. Yeon Sang Ho, who gave us a glimpse at a hopeless world through his previous works like The King of Pigs and The Fake, returned with Hellbound.
What would happen if we knew the date and time we would die, knowing that we would be in severe pain when the moment comes? There will not be a perfect answer to this question, but there’s one thing that will happen for sure: there will be chaos. Netflix’s Hellbound tells a story about supernatural events that cause great mayhem and enable a religious group to grow in influence. However, a few people become suspicious about its activities and investigate its involvement in mysterious events.
In a cafe in Seoul is a man looking nervously at his cell phone. At 1:20 PM, the man breathed a sigh of relief. However, violent tremors begin to shake the earth, and he is soon chased by otherwordly beings that come out of nowhere. He then faces his brutal death in front of a large crowd.
When the terrible murder occurs in broad daylight, people’s attention turns to the chairman of the New Truth Society, Jeong Jin Soo. This is because he claimed that those who received the decree were bound to Hell for their sins. The belief spreads wildly among people, but there are some who do not believe his claims: detective Jin Kyung Hoon and lawyer Min Hye Jin. Therefore, to prove his theory, Jeong decides to live-stream Park Jeong Ja’s death to the public. Soon, the public demonstration of her death sends people into a fury and gives the New Truth Society immense social power upon the distressed citizens.
Hellbound is intriguing because it focuses its narrative on its characters rather than the supernatural creatures like gods or monsters. Director Yeon Sang Ho uses the first three episodes of this show to give his pessimistic perspective on the conflict, despair and madness in this chaotic world.
The existing social system instantly collapses after the public demonstration. Under the doctrine of the New Truth Society, people are divided into two camps, the righteous and the unrighteous. When a person receives his or her decree and becomes a “sinner,” it is natural for the person and their family to suffer regardless of the severity of the person’s wrongdoings. Moreover, society justifies using violence against the so-called sinners in the name of God’s will. Those who resist the organization, such as the female lawyer and the male detective, also face social contempt and violence, making the city look more like Hell itself.
However, Hellbound is not just a work filled with pessimistic views on humanity. After the first three episodes, the drama tells a story of hope through the characters who continue to believe in humanity despite these hopeless circumstances. It is impressive to see Yeon Sang Ho’s message in the end through Min Hye Jin and Bae Young Jae’s lines that are different from what is written in the original webtoon.
The actors played a big part in making the show come to life despite its unrealistic settings. Yoo Ah In, Kim Hyeon Joo, Yang Ik Jun, Park Jung Min, and Won Jin Ah all did a fantastic job, but personally, there are two characters that stand above the rest. And they are Jin Hee Jung and Park Jung Ja, played by Lee Re and Kim Shin Rok. Park Jung Ja’s final expression, who faced a tragic end after leaving all her children behind, was more than heartbreaking. Plus, Jin Hee Jung’s tearful smile while watching the death of the murderer who killed her mother gave me goosebumps because it was just so real and raw.
If you ask if Hellbound is for everyone to enjoy, the answer tilts toward “no” because there are so many bits and parts that can make you uncomfortable. First of all, director Yeon Sang Ho’s dark perspective on humanity or the show’s overall gloomy atmosphere may drive you away. Secondly, there are many outright offensive scenes, including the notorious physical violence scenes and the live-streaming scenes of the arrowhead organization. Thirdly, there are some scenes that just don’t make any sense and will make you tune out of the show. However, as this is only a matter of personal preferences, it is solely up to you to see if the series is worth watching or not.
Unlike the original webtoon, the drama Hellbound ends with a wild cliffhanger. It is still too early to judge whether this will be a good choice or not, but there would be a season 2, it is certain that it will receive some global attention. As the success of this work has laid a cornerstone for its expanding worldview, we can’t wait to see what will happen in the next season.
Verdict: A grim landscape of Hell drawn by Yeon Sang Ho (8/10)
Editor Yang Young Jun: There is at least one good part in every movie or TV series. A media geek who isn’t picky with genres.
Translator Cho EK: I’m a big fan of Korean dramas and movies.