Is Bulgasal any good? Episode 1 response

Hooray! There’s a new Korean drama on Netflix. This one’s called Bulgasal: Immortal Souls. It’s hard to say exactly what it’s about yet. Netflix is only releasing two episodes a week. The first one premiered on 18th December, 2021.

From what we know after the first episode, it seems Bulgasal is a 600-year-long revenge story about a man and a woman. He is immortal; she is living through reincarnations. Episode one is set in the winter countryside at the end of Korea’s Goryeo period. It’s the end of the time of monsters. There are a few in circulation, but not for much longer.

I should warn you that there’s a lot of blood and gore in episode one. Watch out for stabbings, battle wounds, self-inflicted sword injuries, hangings, painful cuts and one very shocking birth scene. And yes, it’s bloodier than Squid Game.

The lead male character is Dan Hwal. In episode one he’s played by 40-year-old Lee Jin-wook and 10-year-old Lee Joo-won. The child actor is already an experienced professional and it shows. Since 2017 Joo-won has appeared in 13 television dramas and five movies. In episode one of Bulgasal he gives an utterly convincing and naturalistic performance.

You might’ve seen the elder Mr Lee on Netflix in Sweet Home (2020). He’s been pretty busy since 2000, with parts in 21 dramas and 12 movies. After watching the first episode I can see why Lee Jin-wook was cast as Dan Hwal. His screen presence is commanding and charismatic.

So, is Bulgasal worth a watch? I think it’s going to be a very good series. Initially, I thought the first episode was a little slow in parts. What with all the snow and the struggling to survive, it reminded me of that Hollywood movie The Revenant (2015). But in the end, I realised it’s not fair to say episode one is slow. It’s really like a high budget movie production. The story doesn’t always zip along, but the cinematography is stunning and sumptuous.

Episode one is Dan Hwal’s origin story, so I guess it always will stand apart from the rest of the series. I imagine the tone and pace of Bulgasal will change as the action moves into modern times. I’m looking forward to seeing episode two tonight. So yes, I do think it’s worth tuning in.

One last note. You might be wondering what the word “bulgasal” means. The bulgasal is a monster found in real life Korean folk belief. By which I mean to say, the bulgasal is as real as fairies and Robin Hood are in British culture. The bulgasal wasn’t just made up for the tv show. According to the Encyclopaedia of Korean Folk Culture, the word bulgasal means “impossible to kill.” In traditional belief the monster eats metal and its images are thought to protect from fire and disaster. Bulgasal: Immortal Souls isn’t the first Korean screen production to draw inspiration from the myth. There have been others, including a North Korean monster movie called Bulgasari (1985).

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