Arriving on Netflix tomorrow (November 19th), Hellbound is the latest Korean drama hoping to take the world by storm with an outlandish and violent storyline. Developed by writer/director Yeon Sang-Ho (Train to Busan, Peninsula) and illustrator Choi Kyu-Seok, this 6 part series has been adapted from their own webtoon “The Hell” and features a killer concept – what would the world do if angels began appearing before individuals, informing them of an exact time in the near future when they will be sent to hell? And when that time came you’d be going there in spectacular fashion too, with a group of large smoking beasts coming to beat you to a pulp before burning you to a crisp.
That concept is demonstrated perfectly, and brutally, very early on in the opening moments of episode one. As people go about their business in the city, a man sits anxiously looking at the time on his phone in a busy coffee shop. When it reaches a specific time, a number of ominous rumbles are heard nearby before three large creatures come crashing into the building, not really concerned for the extensive damage they’re causing or the people who get in their way. The man tries to quickly evade the monsters, running outside and through the busy traffic, but they soon catch up to him, unleashing a brutal and bloody attack before holding their hands over him to produce a bright glow that’s hot enough to turn the poor guy into something that looks like it’s been on the barbecue just a little too long. The creatures then disappear back to wherever they came from, leaving the shocked onlookers to upload their newly captured videos to social media.
As impressive and shocking as this opener is, there’s obviously no way that Hellbound can get by for a whole season on just showing us random people get beaten up by otherworldly beasts, so the rest of the first episode is all about setting up the very extensive set of characters who are set to try and understand, or exploit, this strange new change to the world we thought we knew. The police get involved in what is initially being treated as murder (?!) and our lead character is Jin Kyeong-Hoon, a down-trodden detective who is still coming to terms with the brutal murder of his wife while trying to maintain a relationship with his teenage daughter, Hee-Jeong. As the investigation into the ‘murder’ progresses, Jin crosses paths with Chairman Jeong Jin-Soo, the mysterious leader of a cult known as The New Truth, and a lawyer called Min Hye-Jin. Throw in an annoying loud-mouthed vlogger and a vigilante group called the Arrowhead and there’s suddenly a lot going on in Hellbound.
When an angel appears before a single mother of two and announces that she is bound for hell in just a few days’ time, the moral and existential questions posed form the basis for much of what happens throughout Hellbound. The New Truth, keen to spread the gospel of the angels and encourage people to repent for their sins, offers her a life-changing amount of money for the rights to broadcast her ‘demonstration’ (the moment the beasts come for her) to the world. Meanwhile, lawyer Min Hye-Jin wants to protect the anonymity of the children destined to be without their mother and ensure that they receive the broadcast money should it actually happen. The police still remain sceptical that anything supernatural is going on while the loud-mouthed vlogger is busy whipping his followers up into a violent frenzy, demanding that the identity of the woman and her family be revealed, along with the nature of her sins are and the names of those who are trying to protect them all from the world.
After a shocking midway reveal, episode four jumps four years into the future, essentially splitting the show into two parts. The majority of the cast from the first half are gone and we’re also introduced to a whole new set of characters. The world has changed considerably now that demonstrations are a regular occurrence and the New Truth have grown considerably more powerful and influential, as have the vigilante group known as The Arrowhead. But there is now another organisation out there, one that seeks to protect the identities and families of those who are set to go to hell and there are those who have become suspicious of the New Truth and their activities. Another shocking development early in the second half of the show also threatens to unravel everything the world thought they knew about God’s will and the mysterious creatures and the New Truth must now try to do everything in their power in order to keep it all covered up and working in their favour.
As I’ve already mentioned, there’s a lot going on in Hellbound. It often struggles to keep the various threads together but still manages to be an enjoyable watch overall. Like Squid Game recently, Hellbound is pretty brutal and bloody at times, although I personally felt that some of the violence here to be excessive and unnecessary – I’m not sure I really needed to see an innocent elderly woman being beaten to death by a group of screaming yobs with baseball bats and crowbars. There are however a couple of amazing standout episodes, including the finale, which really left me wanting more. And I’ve had to add an extra half to my overall rating, just for having a finale cliffhanger that left me open-mouthed and definitely ready for season two.
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Web developer by day, with a movie and TV watchlist that continues to grow as much as my spare time reduces! My favourite movie is Inception and, despite what everyone says, I do not have a man-crush on Tom Cruise.