Hellbound - it's not Squid Game

It might seem like the Korean show Hellbound, streaming on Netflix now, is trying to ride on Squid Game’s coat-tails, but it’s a different beast, and a far better cultural indictment than Squid Game. It’s a 6-part series by Yeon Sang-ho, who also wrote and directed Train to Busan. The premise is simple: an “angelic” apparition will appear to someone and prophecy the day and time that they’ll be sent to hell. Then at that day and time, monsters will appear, brutally beat the ever-living shit out of the person, then incinerate their body in a glowy light.

There’s a religious organization called The New Truth that is trying to warn people about these “demonstrations” and a radical faction called the Arrowhead causing and capitalizing on the social unrest. The pace of the show is pretty sedate, but what emerges is a complex portrait of the interaction of religious and cultural life. It is thematically similar to The Leftovers, but with brutal monsters. The issues here are examined with more subtlety and complexity than I’m used to seeing in Korean media.

The acting is top notch, the characters are well drawn, and the violence is gut wrenching. This show pulls no punches. And really some incredible technical camera work. There is one action sequence in episode 5 filmed with a handheld camera that I have no idea how they pulled off.

I haven’t watched the final episode yet, but the series is worth a look.

Yay. I have it on my list, but am trying to guard against a post-Squid Game coat-tails letdown. :) I didn’t really expect it to be comparable in any way, but Squid Game just stuck with me.

Thanks for the review. I’ll probably start tonight.

I watched the first 2 episodes so far. A bit slow for me. The gore was nothing bad at all…used to a lot worse…maybe it gets more intense later on? Interesting premise and so far it’s keeping me intrigued.

My kid has been writing screenplays for a few years for fun and the main one is a story where a demon-ish animal creature kills only bad people…pedophiles, terrorists, etc. So, she’s totally interested in this show but hates blood…so she makes me explain each episode to her like it’s bedtime storytime.

I have also watched the first two episodes. It’s a simple premise, but so far I like what they’re doing with it. Sort of reminds me of the story Hell is the Absence of God by Ted Chiang, without actually being anything like it, really.

Curious to see where it goes.

Fantastic short story. Read that one in the “Stories of Your Life and Others” compilation. Great read.

And yeah, the general idea of this series reminded of that story almost immediately.

I found Hellbound to be MUCH better written than Squid Game, and I also thought the casting was pretty spot on. An intriguing premise, and they really didn’t give anything away even through the final episode. 2nd season should be interesting.

I don’t think I can get past the goofy hell gorillas. Maybe they’re drawn from some touchstones in Korean mythology that I don’t understand, but they look so aggressively silly to me. The bad CG doesn’t help.

I also have a hard time squaring the slow talky pacing with the histrionic acting style. That’s a cultural thing, of course, but for some reason, it feels out of sorts here. Maybe the actors aren’t good? And after the first episode, the main characters seem like caricatures, so that might be part of it. Forlorn everyman detective, his rebellious daughter, sexy boy band cult leader.

It all feels very made-for-Korean-TV to me and I bailed after one episode. :(

-Tom

I think I’ve slowly grown accustomed to it, but, I’ll admit, when I first started watching foreign TV and films with the advent of Netflix, Korean offerings were hard to take seriously because of that very thing.

I’m trying to think of one that wasn’t as over the top.

Maybe The Call (movie) which I enjoyed quite a bit.

That movie (which is great) is not one I’d call particularly restrained.

My memory is hazy. I guess I have gotten used to the exaggerated (to our eyeballs) acting.

I really enjoyed The Call, the Korean horror version of Frequency, a guilty pleasure of mine.

Oh my God! That was my reaction as well. They look super anime CG, and that’s not a compliment. I struggle every time they come on the screen and I’m expected to take them seriously.

That said, I like neon skull helmet guy streaming on “TeenTokTV.”

Finished this last night. I really enjoyed it. I also liked how three episodes focused om how it all began and then they jumped ahead and did the final three telling a different story.

I thought the CGI monkey monsters were fine. That they were treated consistently as just giants who doled out quick and deadly violence and then disappeared worked for me. They could have gone all in and spent many more minutes on goofy, otherworldly monster interactions, but I thought the simple way in which they did their thing with various changes from one “demonstration” to another did what it was supposed to do: build a sense of dread and then put an exclamation point on the violent punishment (or whatever the reason for the decrees).

Yeah, some of the over-the-top Korean acting was there (The police chief was unnecessarily unhinged at all times), but as I said previously, I just try to accept that and enjoy the rest.

I really want a season two to answer some very basic questions!!! But, if it never comes back, I liked what it had to say about oragnized religion and how powerful a tool fear is. Something that appears to win above all other tactics in today’s climate.

I finished it yesterday and agree. I thought it was pretty good and the CGI monsters didn’t really bother me. What I really liked about it is the series’s active disinterest in establishing any kind of justice framework for what’s going on. There’s no comeuppance here. Bad dudes get away with it. Bad things happen to decent folks for no reason. In media, supernatural elements are often used to establish an ethical playing field: good vs bad vs grey. Superheroes vs supervillains and maybe a moral conundrum about power. Good vs bad magic. Here the supernatural elements are used to undermine any of that. It’s really clever to have zero ambiguity in what’s happening: a spectral face condemns someone to hell and a specific time, and then hell monkeys appear to carry out the sentence in a brutal fashion, leaving a charred corpse in their wake. You can’t handwave that away and the show goes to great pains to reinforce “This is what’s happening.” Then it goes to great pains to say “There’s no reason for it… or is there?”

The thematic resonance with The Leftovers is very strong, though the function of the cults in both are interestingly contrasted. In The Leftovers, the Guilty Remnant are trying to speed along the collapse of civil culture, or at least to acquiesce to its inevitability–to get people to accept the nihilistic truth. In Hellbound, the New Truth is trying to hold civil culture together by feeding them a big lie. The implications are potentially super interesting and I’d like to see where Hellbound goes from here.

Nice comparison. I keep wanting to go back to the Leftovers. I am certain I missed a lot.

And yeah, bad shit happens. There’s no grand plan. It’s terrifying that it could seem random when really it is just life playing out. That’s how religion keeps a stranglehold on people. Without the safety net, I think many would be paralyzed with fear so they make excuses for their religion that can make no sense or chalk it up to a great mystery that only HE can see and it will be made clear to us once we meet him…when that information is completely useless.

Finished it. Pretty good, some interesting stuff. Liked the ending, good setup for season 2 if that ever happens.

I thought it had an interesting take on religion, basically, the cruelest and most violent people are the ones who are sure they know god’s mind and god’s desires. At no point did someone point out, “hey, if you’re beating an old lady to death, or snatching a baby from its mother, then maybe you’re not actually all that righteous”, but that tracks pretty well to real life as far as I can tell.

And the upper echelon of the New Truth knew they were lying; even the original chairman. When proof that their creed is garbage is going to come out, do they think, “hey, I guess we better admit our error and beg/pray for forgiveness”? No, they think, “how many people do we have to murder to stay in power”.

I finished this up a week or so ago and I have to agree with Tom about the the long slow talkie parts. It just seemed like it was padded as a lot of these Netflix shows seems to feel. It didn’t help that we were watching Midnight Mass at the same time and it had the same problem for me. Just too drawn out.

That being said I really enjoyed Hellbound. I agree the monsters were pretty dorky looking but the violence they inflicted was so heavy and brutal their appearance was always intense.

One thing I found interesting was for some reason I thought SK was mostly Catholic but per Wiki they actually have a majority of no religion and Catholicism is only 8%, Protestant 20% Korean Buddhism 16%. I was just trying to understand more of what is driving this show because as mentioned before it seems a pretty clear indictment of organized religion.

We finished this last night and after some uncertainty following the first episode, it quickly got its hooks into me. We’d just come off Don’t Look Up so any histrionics seemed quaint in comparison! The muscle monsters were pretty daft looking and I think they could have done more with less, perhaps not showing a damn thing apart from the aftermath would have been more unsettling…? I don’t know but it wasn’t an issue for me overall. I think I was more surprised in the final episode where several characters try to stop them. Do you really think hitting one with a chair is going to hurt it?

Man, I was really wanting more by the end though! I’m intrigued to know where it goes next, a lot more so than Squid Game. I loved Squid Game but I think I preferred the slow burn and mystery of this, and particularly the subject matter and how they explored it.

I was very surprised to hear this:

It was released on Netflix on November 19, 2021, and became the world’s most watched Netflix series the next day, surpassing Squid Game released two months prior.

Heh, coincidentally we watched Midnight Mass just before Hellbound and I thoroughly enjoyed that too despite similarly not feeling it after the first episode. I can understand folk not enjoying the slow talk though, but, as a slow person, it made a refreshing change for me! :)