Hellbound episode 1 (Netflix K-drama)

Hellbound is a brand new horror from Netflix in South Korea. The six-parter is directed and co-written by Yeon Sang-ho. In 2016, Yeon achieved global recognition for his zombie movie Train to Busan.

Yeon’s co-writer on Hellbound is Choi Kyu-seok. Until now, Choi was best known as the writer of the webtoon Awl. This story, about employment rights, was based on true events and became a South Korean tv drama in 2015.

I think it’s more than likely that Hellbound will significantly boost Choi’s career and further cement Yeon’s reputation. I saw the first episode yesterday. To me it seems every bit as strong as Squid Game, yet also utterly different.

Squid Game has achieved international success because it works on two levels. It’s an exciting drama with great actors AND it’s an essay on the myths of meritocracy. After watching the first episode of Hellbound, I hope this horror is going to be a similar blend of story and social comment.

I’m not sure what Hellbound’s message will be. Sin, shame, vengeance and repentance all feature strongly in the first episode. Religious belief and judgement of others are there too. At the moment, it’s too early to work out what Yeon and Choi will say through this story.

(Spoilers coming up, so look away if you haven’t seen the first episode yet.)

Hellbound poster

This horror is called Hellbound because of the supernatural creatures at the centre of the action. They are grey rock-like giants who send people to hell by setting fire to them. I found these scenes grisly and shocking. Whatever you do, don’t watch Hellbound while you’re eating your dinner!

The visitations come as no surprise to the rock-creatures’ victims. Each person is warned of the time of their death by a fiery angelic figure.

A movement called the New Truth spreads the idea that the creatures are messengers from God. The group’s charismatic young leader claims God has arranged these “demonstrations” to teach humans to behave better. He argues that all the victims have done bad things, and that the deaths are divine retribution.

Of course, when someone is killed in Seoul the police must investigate. Episode one introduces investigating officer Jin Kyeong-hoon, played by Yang Ik-jun.

Jin is a good sort of character for any story about punishment. As he says himself, as a police officer it’s his job to catch people who’ve committed crimes, no matter if their intentions were bad or they were trying to save the world.

I guess Jin does not set himself up as a judge. Yet as a father and husband he’s in a very difficult situation. His wife’s murderer was released from prison early, after serving six years. I wonder, how does Jin cope with that on an emotional level? At the moment it’s hard to tell. Jin isn’t the most expressive of people.

I love how Jin and his colleagues maintain a matter-of-fact attitude to the killings. Everyone is talking about God, but the police force have to take an objective approach, treating the first killing in Seoul as a murder case.

I don’t know where Hellbound is heading or what it’s final message will be. I’d love it if the supernatural creatures turned out to be aliens. But I suspect that won’t happen. There’s a very strong vein of Protestant fundamentalist Christianity in South Korea. My guess is that the writers will use Hellbound to address ideas spread by some religious leaders.

Naturally, the only way to find out is to watch the series to the end!

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