Edited by Young Jun Yang
Translated by Kim Hoyeun
Everyone has the experience of trying to untangle a knotted necklace at least once. It’s truly frustrating when it doesn’t come off, but the pleasure of finally untangling it is exhilarating. This is exactly how I feel when I watch tvN’s Bulgasal: Immortal Souls (hereinafter as Bulgasal). What is it about this drama that makes us wait every weekend without being able to get out of its tangle?
In the winter near the end of the Goryeo Dynasty, a boy with a curse from Bulgasal was born. Everyone tries to kill him, but a mysterious woman appears and dies instead of him. This child, raised by General Dan Geuk, is named Dan Hwal and grows up to be the most outstanding “monster hunter” in Goryeo. While chasing after Bulgasal to break the curse passed down to his children, Dan Hwal faces a shocking truth. The mysterious woman killed instead of him was the immortal monster he’s been pursuing all his life. Despite his efforts, Dan Hwal became the new Bulgasal and endured hundreds of years in pain. He has only one goal; to take revenge on Bulgasal that took everything – his family and soul – from him.
The material itself is very intriguing. The question “what if the relationship and karma of the past life continue to this life?” is unfolded within the story of a man exempted from death chasing after a woman who repeats reincarnation for 600 years. And this is more than enough to stimulate viewers’ curiosity. Perhaps this is why Bulgasal gives a different vibe even when it revolves around the cliché of “a relationship between an immortal and a mortal being” that we’ve already encountered many times before. Moreover, the fact that the monsters that appear in our traditional folk tales, such as Dueoksini, Turozson, and Gusunsae, show up in the story and that they’re also entangled in the bridle of “past lives” and “reincarnation” adds to the charm.
However, there is a regret that Bulgalsal has failed to unravel this interesting material as smoothly as expected. First of all, the development of the first half is quite frustrating. There is not enough explanation for the basic backstory of the drama. A good example will be “the curse of Bulgasal.” And to make things worse, not that many explanations are provided in the coming episodes as well. Additionally, except for Dan Hwal, most of the characters have lost their memories of their previous lives. So this “nobody knows anything” situation became the reason for the dragging plot. Of course, many questions were answered starting from episode 8, but many viewers would have left the show by then. Another regret is that the attempt to combine numerous genres, including thriller, fantasy, romance, and comedy, in one work only resulted in a distracting storyline.
Nevertheless, why do we find ourselves getting addicted to this drama? The answer to that is the chemistry the character presents. Yes, the material is fun, but the most interesting things are the relationships between the characters and the charms of the cast. First, Dan Hwal and Min Sang Un’s relationship is the so-called “hate-like romance.” There’s a strange thrill in seeing the anger of Dan Hwal that has continued for 600 years changing slowly after meeting the kindness of Min Sang Un, who forgot all about her previous lives. Here, Lee Jin Wook and Kwon Nara‘s acting prowess and looks and the warm atmosphere felt when the camera zooms in on the two also increase the romantic vibe. The entangled “bromance but not bromance” relationships of Dan Hwal, Nam Do Yoon (Kim Woo Seok), and Ok Eul Tae (Lee Joon) is also worth taking note of.
It’s not just Dan Hwal and Min Sang Un that got entangled due to their past lives and karma. The family that Dan Hwal lost in the past is all next to him again. Dan Geuk, his stepfather who treated him as a human even after becoming a Bulgasal, is now former detective Kwon Ho Yeol. Dan Sol, Dan Geuk’s daughter and his wife, has reincarnated as Min Sang Un’s younger sister Min Si Ho. It’s a little heartbreaking to see Dan Hwal, the only person who remembers the past lives, looking at them dearly yet holding himself back from being nice to them. Everything became more complex and exciting as the past lives of Ok Eul Tae, “the man of the black hole,” and Nam Do Yoon took off its veil.
It certainly is a pity that Bulgasal took too long to finish its “warm-up.” In an era where there is a lot of content to watch, like nowadays, slow-paced dramas have only a slight chance in the competition. So it makes me wonder why the drama spent too much time building up the story. I came this far after getting addicted to the attractive characters and actors’ passionate performances. And I’m just glad that the drama has picked up the pace as of episodes 8 to 10. One thing I pray now is this – no anticlimax ending with such alluring material and characters!
Verdict: The charm of the character more than makes up for the disappointment of the narrative (7/10)
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 Kim Hoyeun: If you are a fan of K-drama, K-movie, and K-pop, I am your guy. I will continue to provide you with up-to-date K-entertainment news.