Stuart Heritage of the Guardian newspaper thinks Hellbound is “insanely good” and better than Squid Game. He says, “It might currently find itself swept up in Squid Game’s wake, but I guarantee that, of the two, it’s the show that will still be talked about a decade from now.”
Stuart Heritage is a professional reviewer with a lot of experience, so I won’t dispute what he says. I’ve watched both series and have to agree that Hellbound has the more complex story structure. But I wondered, after reading Heritage’s review, did I enjoy Hellbound more than I enjoyed Squid Game?
Out of the two shows, I think Squid Game is my favourite. There are three reasons for that. Firstly, I really like Squid Game’s main protagonist Seong Gi-hun. He’s a gambler and a wastrel, but he’s also a fundamentally decent person. When things get difficult his true character comes out; he tries his best to help those around him.
Secondly, Squid Game’s colour palette is very bright and clean. Maybe that’s a silly reason for preferring a programme, but I got no pleasure from Hellbound’s rather grey and grimy appearance.
Thirdly, both shows have strong underlying themes. I like Squid Game’s better because it’s more universal than Hellbound’s.
Squid Game’s theme is economic inequality. Participants are saddled by such impossible levels of debt that they’re prepared to die while competing for a cash prize. Their personal financial circumstances blind them to opportunities to take power through unionising. And the game itself highlights the myth of meritocracy by showing examples of corruption, trickery and discrimination. There’s also the very real fact that when opportunities are limited there can only be a few winners.
Hellbound is about the perils of theocracy, particularly theocracy run by those who see God as a harshly judgemental deity. It shows the problems that develop when society is divided into sinners and non-sinners. Those who identify as pure mistreat the sinners horribly, and fail to see that they themselves sin in doing so.
Puritanism, shame culture and rigid religious dogmatism are widespread problems. It’d even be true to call them universal issues. But in many societies one can walk away from a religion or from a judgemental person. It’s almost impossible to leave economic inequality behind. That’s why I think Squid Game’s theme is more universal than Hellbound’s.
I like Hellbound a lot. I hope that along with Squid Game it’ll attract more viewers to South Korean drama. Be warned though, both shows are bloody. There’s a high body count in Squid Game and some grisly scenes. Overall, fewer people die in Hellbound but the deaths are more graphic.