Reviews – Netflix K-Dramas: Squid Game, Run On, My Name, & Hellbound

Squid Game. Overall Rating: 9/10. The Korean Drama That Hooked American Viewers by Using Cliffhanger Bait.

What can anyone say about it at this point that hasn’t already been said?

It was good. I enjoyed watching it. The aesthetics, the acting, the music, the plot – everything was stellar. The violence was nicely balanced with the quieter scenes of character development. The stakes felt real. The motivations that drove people to such desperation all seemed believable. Everything gelled.

I can’t give it a 10/10 because it didn’t… end. Entire story lines were just abandoned, storylines left dangling in the wind. Clearly it’s meant to be continued, but I still like a satisfying to conclusion to each season of a show. So… I had to knock a point off.

If you are one of the few people on the planet who haven’t watched this global sensation, then I recommend you go watch it.


Run On. Overall Rating: 7/10. Getting Your Footing in Life is Easier When You’re Hot.

Ah, rich people problems. Are they even… real problems? This show will not answer that question for you. I don’t think this show appreciates you even asking that question. In fact, this show would prefer you not think too hard about any of its major plot points, thank you, and please refrain from using your brain while you enjoy these attractive faces on the screen.

I enjoyed watching Run On. It didn’t offer anything new (other than finally giving Shin Se-Kyung a role she seemed comfortable in). The romance is average. It was super sweet, mind you, and the actors have decent chemistry, but it’s nothing to write home over. There are better shows about a girl winning over the heart of an awkward man. There are better sports shows. There are better shows about the movie industry. There are better shows about rich, entitled children standing up to their rich, entitled parents.

Originally, I had intended to give this a solid 8/10 and stick it on my recommended list… but the second I sat down to review it, the rating quickly dropped. Because there are a lot of issues with the story line, if you pause long enough to think about it. What is the message? What… is this show saying about life and love? It seems to want to say something, but just didn’t mumbled through the thesis. So… no. It’s just so-so and thus deserving it’s 7/10.


My Name. Overall Rating: 9/10. Pretending a Snowflake Can Cause You Physical Damage for 8 Hours Straight.

Did anyone believe that the leading lady could kick someone’s ass? I wasn’t even convinced she could give someone a stinging slap, let alone step into an underground MMA ring. Maybe it’s something about Han So-Hee’s gently rounded face that makes it impossible for me to believe this story.

Some actresses can pull off the illusion of strength and some can’t. Kim Da-Mi from The Witch and Itaewon Class? I believed she could kick my tail. Kim Ok-Vin from The Villainess? Same. Jun Jong-Seo as the crazy chick from The Call? Yup. Ha Ji-Won can kick all their tails combined. Bae Doo-Na and Lee Si Young, too.

Han So-Hee, however… is a gentle ballerina, a flower petal, a snowflake. I like this actress, but I didn’t like her in this role. I was, however, willing to overlook it because everything else about this show was spot on my exact brand of tea.

I mean… look at her grip on that knife!

Though My Name did not give us a believable protagonist, it did offer up one of the most convincing villains of all time. Chang Ryul playing the feisty fighter working his way to the top of the Dongcheonpa was golden. His performance was so unhinged, so enjoyable to watch, that I quickly forgot about my qualms with the casting the second he was on screen.

I totally believed this dude would get a neck tattoo and chop a guy’s arm off while taunting him. This is excellent casting. Seriously, he saved the entire show in my opinion.

Was the overall plot a melodramatic vengeance fantasy, with little to no attempts to be convincing or believable? Yes. And I love that. Was the romance good, at least? Eh, not particularly, but the love story hit home more on the second viewing. Should I even watch this series, then? Yes. Of course. It’s not very long, with only 8 episodes, and there’s lots of fighting and cops chasing after gang members and whatnot. This show doesn’t have anything to say, really – there’s no message or cultural critiques or unique insights into humanity. It’s just a fun action show. Good cinematography, great acting, very good action sequences, enough twists to entertain you as you unfold the mystery. I loved it.

Plus I was gay for the villain (the other one, not the neck tattoo guy but the head of the mafia who takes our orphan girl under his wing). He was clearly gay for the girl’s father, too. And he was just… yum. A slinky, cruel, calculating monster. Villainous perfection. That mob boss can do whatever he wants to me.


Hellbound. Overall Rating: 8/10. What If It’s All Meaningless?

Hellbound was another show that I had to change my rating for as I thought about how to review it. When I originally watched it, it was a solid 7/10 (the first chunk maybe rating around 9/10 – then quickly losing me as it switched focus for part two). But this show lingered in my mind. The implications of this show were… vast. And it made you think about humanity, and how we are culturally conditioned to believe certain things without proof, and how this can be both good and bad depending on the circumstances. So, I rounded it out to a solid 8/10. It’s worth it cause it makes you think.

The plot of Hellbound is relatively simple. A mysterious entity shows up to various people in the world, announces the exact time in which they will die and be dragged to hell, and then makes good on that promise. Huge creatures appear out of nowhere, violently beat you to pulp before killing you, and then just as suddenly disappear. The creatures were awful, by the way – the CGI was sadly lacking, presenting us with these gummy looking children’s’ toys that only seemed threatening due to the performances of the actors pretending to die. But the horror of it, of knowing you were not only going to die – but had been judged and sentenced – is quite an uncomfortable topic. The general public’s fervent desire to cast these people into the roles of “wrong doers” was obvious – they had to deserve it, surely, or else what does that say about the nature of the world? About the afterlife? This series leaves you with uncomfortable questions about the definition of hell, about the unknown things in the universe, about what it means to die or have your life and all your decisions judged by outside and unknown forces. Most of these questions were not answered, either, which works for me… for the most part.

Once again, I am left wondering if the dangling questions were left there with the intention of a second season. Like Squid Game. As you may or may not know (depending on how much of this blog you’ve read), I am not a fan of second seasons in Korean Dramas. In general, I find what I most like about K-Dramas is their ability to complete a storyline. The threads of various storylines and characters in one show all pulling together for a tightly connected plot is one of the reasons K-dramas are awesome. They know what they are and they know where they are going.

But Hellbound was already presented as two different short stories within one larger frame. The first half of the series focusing on one group of characters, and the second half on another. Both stories were interesting, though I found the first more compelling overall.

Anyways, I liked it. I liked it for it’s horrific implications. I liked it for its nihilism. It reminded me of the ending of Revival by Stephen King – a shocking, surrealistic nightmare vision of the afterlife which to this day still haunts me. Humans put a lot of stock into certain ideas – into religions – into how our lives fit into the universe. Souls, afterlives, reincarnations, supernatural beings who navigate our destinies… it’s meant to both comfort us and disquiet us. “Be good or else.” It appeals to our desire for balance and justice. “They might not suffer in this world for the terrible things they’ve done, but they’ll suffer in the next.” A show like this could not be made in America. We can only pick holes into religion in a playful or ridiculous way – ways that are clearly entertainment only and not meant to trigger any real examinations of our spiritual beliefs. The Good Life, Supernatural, Lucifer, and such. Even more drama-heavy shows, like The Leftovers or Midnight Mass, leave room for comfort in beliefs. Hellbound doesn’t bother to try to comfort you. It just kicks you when you’re down and says, “Makes you wonder, huh?”

What can I say? I like the existential dread.

Review – Itaewon Class

Itaewon Class. What a strange love story to Capitalism, am I right?

Here is how I imagine this drama was pitched between the writer and the studio executive.

Executive: “So what have you got there? You said it’s a revenge story set in the food industry?”

Writer: “Oh yeah. It’s gonna be great. We’ve got this stubborn, solitary guy who doesn’t need anyone’s approval, he’s just gonna go his own way and do what’s right. Stick to his principles. Never budge an inch.”

Executive: “Like a John Wayne type?”

Writer: “Teenage John Wayne.”

Executive: “But better looking than John Wayne.”

Writer: “Much better looking.”

Executive: “Who does he want revenge against?”

Writer: “A CEO of a worldwide food company. This guy is just super rich and powerful, so it’s gonna be hard to get revenge, ya know?”

Executive: “He’s gonna get his revenge by becoming rich too, right?”

Writer: “Of course. That’s how justice works.”

Executive: “It’s how product placement advertising works too. Sounds like a win!”

Social taboos unveiled in hit South Korean drama Itaewon Class ...

Itaewon Class had all the elements of a quality fairy tale K-drama: A strong archetypal hero with impeccable values and a heart of gold who rises over adversity, meets his goals, finds loyal friends and allies, and of course discovers true love. There was a nice sized cast of diverse characters with unique plot lines and motivations. I was interested in the fates of everyone I’d been introduced to, good and bad. It was far better than the majority of K-dramas I have seen in the past year and not bothered to review.

And yet it had serious problems. The last few episodes really fell off the gas pedal and the plotline slowed down considerably. Ironically, the most dragging episode was the finale – which had a preposterous amount of exciting things happening and somehow managed to muffle all the energy of the climax. And worst of all, in my opinion, there was the problematic underlining theme of the entire show. It’s what I like to call the Capitalist Dream, the lie we all tell ourselves: If you just work really, really hard then you can achieve anything. Entry into the golden palaces of the 1% is possible for anyone willing to work overtime. This idea has tucked the poor into bed since the dawn of time, soothing their anxieties about class inequality with a little fairy tale about how some people sneak into the castle… and get the prince to fall in love with them… and that could be you.

So, yeah, there were issues. But I still highly recommend this drama. It’s 16 episodes, which is a nice length for a series. They managed to fill each episode with enough plot that we didn’t have to over indulge in excessive flashbacks, pointless walking or staring scenes, or other fillers. It was lighthearted and funny at times without being silly or cartoonish. I especially enjoyed the spunky, quasi-sociopathic lead female. And who doesn’t love a good revenge story?

Itaewon Class – Overall Rating: 8.5/10. Feel-Good Capitalist Propaganda.

More – about characters and themes below. SPOILERS GALORE so watch the show first, my dear readers.

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