Netflix’s newest experimental series “Hellbound” is here and here is my review of it
If you told me I’d be writing such an article a week ago I would have called you crazy. I would have never imagined writing such a title for this specific kdrama, but here we are and I am here to rant.
The series had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, when the first three episodes were screened in ‘Primetime’ section on September 9, 2021, becoming the first-ever kdrama to do so. Hearing this made me even more excited because it meant the drama had to be THAT good to make it to the festival.
Needless to say, I was thoroughly underwhelmed and was left disappointed after watching whatever that ending was. If the ending had been a bit different, I think I would’ve definitely reacted differently. Some people are already comparing this to “Squid Game” which I think is totally unfair and undeserved, “Squid Game” had a clear message, a mostly concise script and stunning visuals, “Hellbound” lacks two of those things.
Note: This is a subjective review. Take it with a grain of salt.
“Hellbound” boasts a star-studded cast and the director behind the massive hit that was “Train To Busan” so it was only natural to assume such big names attached to the project meant it would be amazing, it isn’t.
What I liked
Before I begin discussing my issues with it, I want to point out that the series isn’t completely awful, it is disappointing, that’s for sure, but it’s because I had high expectations. This doesn’t mean its the worst thing on the planet. I don’t mean to say its the worst kdrama I’ve watched this year, because it is not.
Among the things I liked about the drama was how it portrayed actual humans’ reaction to a possible scenario such as this occurring in real life. That part was handled well until the very end, how people try to manipulate it for their advantage, how social media magnifies the issue, how influential corrupt people use this for their advantage, and the few people who are willing to look beyond the obvious to help out those coming from the other side.
The way social media is used in the drama also struck a chord with me. You can see a direct critique of society with the tackling of such outlandish ideas and I really liked that. If you don’t watch kdramas regularly, this part particularly will leave you impressed, but if you watch a lot of kdramas then you know that “Hellbound” is not the only kdrama that did well exploring how social media shapes the narrative behind ‘social justice,’ immediate gratification and mob mentality. I think it definitely had a clear message but everything aside from what it attempted to say about religions and cults falls through.
The second thing I loved was the performances. O.M.G, everyone was marvelous, the casting was one of the main reasons I was so excited for this and no one disappoints. Everyone gives it their all and help you feel immersed in the drama despite the ridiculous premise. Won Jin Ah specifically gave what I’d call her best drama performance to date.
Let us discuss the drama and my issues with it
The justification behind the angels who take lives
“Hellbound” makes zero effort to explain the so-called ‘angels’ whose job is to appear out of nowhere and completely drag and beat a person near death before they strike them with light leaving a crisp corpse.
It is hinted that the narrative behind them was shaped by Jin Soo but that idea quickly crumbles in episode 5.
At first, I was okay with that angle not being properly explained, however, after the drama ended that way, I was left confused and utterly disappointed.
So it is hinted that the angels are doing god’s work. Most of the people presented to have done crimes end up being punished by those angels which leads to the natural conclusion that the angels are a way for God to tell humans to cool it down and behave well. This is a very interesting idea and an idea worth exploring because you can take it in so many interesting directions. Not only does the drama make zero effort to elaborate on that idea, but the writers also make zero effort to explain who and why they get punished like that. The method is unnecessarily violent and you’d assume the person must have done something to warrant such a reaction from those creatures.
This particular plot point issue is amplified when in the last episodes it is revealed that a child was given the decree which was very dumb, to begin with. The angel tells the child they will be damned in hell… how? What? Why? Its a newborn child… what are you talking about?
This entire scene alone helped me see clear cracks in the script and the finale put the nail in the coffin. The rebirth of the mother’s character just destroys all meaning the drama wanted to make with its approach, its almost like Netflix saw the finale and they were like ‘nooooo, there has to be a potential season two, edit it,’ that final scene alone was infuriating and the more I think about it, the more disappointed I become.
So now, these ‘beings’ just kill and violently attack people at random not because there is a divine purpose behind it but… just because? I don’t know what to tell you.
The screenwriters could’ve spun this idea to become sort of magical beings who carry out missions, they could have done so much with it but then they ridicule their entire premise, and for WHAT? And not only that, but now, the people they killed can come back to life….
Some people get their decree so far in the future while others get it in mere hours or days, how and why? There was so much that needed proper explanation. If they didn’t want to bother with that, they shouldn’t have ended it like that.
The death of Jin Soo- an awful mistake
So, in episode 3, I can confidently say the good parts end and the bad parts begin.
The death of Yoo Ah In’s character was so out of the blue and unjustified. The leading man who was keeping this drama glued together dies mid-way, why? The entire arc of his character could’ve been so much better had they taken a different approach.
Firstly, Jin Soo kills a man, he burns him to death, then he goes around telling the police officer he doesn’t understand why he’s going to be damned to hell. So either he’s a narcissist and a psychopath conman trying to become a cult leader or he’s deeply mentally troubled and delusional. Either way, the entire last conversation Jin Soo and the police officer have completely destroyed his character.
Jin Soo is portrayed as a man who rejects wealth and goes out of his way to rescue and help people, subverting our idea of cult leaders. You can tell he’s not in it for the money because he lives in a goshiwon, but then, for him to go around and kill a man but claim he doesn’t understand why he’s damned to hell… doesn’t add up, two vastly different character arcs are at play here. Who thought of this? He seems to be deeply aware of his surroundings and the implications of his actions so for him to say ‘I don’t understand why this is happening to me’ is very odd to hear.
Jin Soo shouldn’t have been killed off in the 3rd episode, you can clearly tell they wanted to shock the audience with this for the sake of the shock value not because it makes sense. His death should’ve been a spectacle and should’ve been the thing that makes people question the validity of the new religion. He should’ve been explored as a character but instead, we get this very ridiculous plot line about a newborn child who will be damned to hell for whatever reason.
Two contrasting ideas- why?
The script feels like its a two-act type of drama. This isn’t a terrible idea at all and something that would’ve definitely worked had there been more effort put into the second part, but it ended up being such a mess.
The first half feels like it was written by someone and the second feels like it was written by another person, I didn’t know there were two screenwriters but it felt like there were when I watched the second half. I could see two contrasting presentations and ideas at play here and each one appears to be headed towards a different direction.
There is so much wasted potential in this drama.
The CGI and the streamer
For a Netflix project that is led by a huge production team, you’d expect “Hellbound” to look better. The CGI was okay at best and the quality of the angels who rarely appear on screen is bad, at times, its a bit funny because the CGI doesn’t look convincing at all.
There have been many people discussing the character of the streamer which was very very difficult to watch. He was my least favorite part of the show and I swear to God this dude had more screentime than Yoo Ah In. Not only was his lengthy scenes unnecessary but they were very difficult to sit through. I had to fast-forward through his scenes because of that.
“Hellbound” has been on my radar for about 4 months now, hence this article. I might sound a bit too harsh but its because I cared, I wanted this drama to be so good so bad but it turned out to be utterly disappointing. The biggest annoyance is the fact that the idea is amazing, I hope in the near future, another person decides to remake this into a proper dram because there is so much you can do with it.
So these are my thoughts on Hellbound, so what about you guys? did you like the episodes? let me know what you thought in the comment section below.