Why is 'Hellbound', the new viral Korean Netflix show, being compared to 'Squid Game'?

The dark South Korean drama has received rave reviews and is currently the most-watched show on the streamer

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If you're up to date with your Netflix show rankings, you'll have noticed Hellbound, the new South Korean drama that's currently the streaming platform's most-watched non-English series, ahead of the record-breaking Squid Game.

According to top10.netflix.com, the new website launched by Netflix on which it shares weekly viewing metrics, in the week beginning November 15 to 21, Hellbound had already been viewed for more than 43.8 million hours, compared with 38.6 million hours for Squid Game.

The dark and violent sci-fi show, from the mind of creator Yeon Sang-ho – the man behind cult favourite Train to Busan – is already receiving rave reviews after it dropped on November 19, and has a 100 per cent "fresh" rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

According to The Guardian, it is "better than Squid Game" and "will still be talked about a decade from now".

What is 'Hellbound' all about?

The show is set in an alternative universe where an apparition randomly appears to pronounce the impending death of people who've committed some form of crime. The sentence is then carried out on a specific date and time by three smoky Hulk-like beings who appear out of nowhere, literally tearing apart the damned and torching them to a crisp, sending them to "hell".

The puzzling appearance of the supernatural beings soon leads to conspiracy theories as large-scale pandemonium ensues. The fear and confusion empowers a religious group, New Truth, whose leader claims to have intimate knowledge of the beings, insisting it's God's way of meting out judgment. Doubters are violently attacked by a radical group, the Arrowhead, who take on the mantle of vigilantes and who are egged on by a masked internet star who pronounces his own witch-hunts from a gaming chair.

In this mayhem, we are introduced to some of the show's main characters: Detective Jin Kyung-hoon (played by Yang Ik-june), who is struggling to reconcile with his teenage daughter after the murder of his wife; lawyer Min Hye-jin (Kim Hyun-joo) who tries to help a damned woman and becomes the target of New Truth and Arrowheads; and Bae Young-jae (Park Jeong-min), a TV station producer who desperately seeks answers after a loved one is damned.

South Korean heart-throb Yoo Ah-in plays Jeong Jin-soo, the charismatic leader of New Truth, who may or may not have the answer to the baffling occurrences.

What are the reviews saying?

On Rotten Tomatoes many critics praising the show for its philosophical tone, while presenting it in a Marvel-style action flick, albeit a more violent and bloodier version.

"This highly bingeable series is not about the terror of the monsters, but what would happen next – how so many people would lose their minds and sense of self, especially if such a literal force of wrath were rationalised as vengeance for our sins," Nick Allen writes for Rogerebert.com. "The terror here is people, the opportunists, cult leaders and blind believers who follow fear to the point of shaming others, hating others, destroying each other for the goal of earning God's mercy. Yeon’s series mixes this grounded horror with thoughtful discussions about how we define a sin, and what we as human beings are deserving of from such a God."

The Guardian's Stuart Heritage points out similarities between the show's themes with current events.

"There are nods to internet culture – most noticeably in the Arrowhead, a QAnon-esque group that frequently appears to scream hysterical frenzy-whipping claptrap directly on to a live stream," he says. "Hellbound is a truly exceptional drama wrapped in only the lightest of genre thrills."

Will there be season two?

Director Yeon, who created the show from his webtoon, a digital comic series, which was first released in 2002, says the second season will follow the same timeline. Speaking to Variety, he said he hasn't had the time to discuss season two with Netflix.

"Because Hellbound is based on the original webtoons, my partner Choi Kyu-seok and I have decided that the story afterwards will be told first through the webtoon and, as for whether we would want to turn that into another live-action series, that’s something that we will need further discussion on," he said. "As you know, we have only just released Hellbound season one and so we didn’t have any time to discuss that issue with Netflix. So I would say this is something we need further discussion on."

Of course, the show's shocking ending and success all but ensures it won't be long before a new season is announced.

Updated: November 29, 2021, 1:50 PM