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 – Nevertheless

I just finished Nevertheless and… I liked less of it than I expected.

Listen, friends, I went to art school. So there were certain expectations I had going in. I expected a lot of partying (which we got, more or less) and a lot of emotional relationship rollercoasters (which we got). I expected lots of art of the middle-tier level, cause honestly only about 10 percent of art majors go on to become professional artists. Does this invalidate art school in any way? Of course not. Lessons learned while pursuing your interests cross over into all fields. I was pleasantly surprised to see the studio filled with a bunch of rather boring bust sculptures and a few welded creations of various skill level. Regardless, students were constantly in the building working at odd hours, sometimes throughout the night. They say art and architecture majors put in 2X the work outside their already extremely long official classes and that is no exaggeration. Creating art takes time.

There were a lot of things I had hoped to see but didn’t. School cafeterias. Cramped dormitories. Tiny cheap apartments elaborately decorated with a hodge podge of items – hand me down furniture, half broken shelves, beaded curtains, posters, mismatched pillows, the typical first apartment scene. There is nothing quite like the glorious disaster of your first apartment, and art majors can make any hovel into a truly unique and fun hobbit hole. Unfortunately we really only got to spend time in the leading female’s apartment, which was very spacious and swanky. But due to the global pandemic, I am willing to overlook location choices at this time.

There is a whole vibe to art majors. Here are some pictures from my years as an art major…

Nevertheless captured most of the overall vibe of art school, kinda. The unique, casual fashion choices. The close knit group of student-friends who practically live at the studio. The concern over what’s next always looming, the insecurities about the future constantly needing to be drown out with booze and dancing and kissing and long hours making art work.

So what’s my problem with Nevertheless?

My main problem?

The main couple.

I absolutely did not care for either character – or actor – and found them insufferably boring, one dimensional, and annoying. The girl reminds me of Seo Hyun-Jin, who I’m not a fan of. It was uncanny really, and I actually had to stop the show to look it up on my phone to see if the actresses are related. It’s not that they look alike – it’s that they behave alike. The same weird style of flirtation. The same awkward wooden physicality. I have never really understood the dynamics of the romances with Seo Hyun-Jin and I didn’t understand this romance either.

The male lead just reminded me of one of those goldfish with really big eyes. Kinda pretty I guess, but not a lot going on in the brain pan. I did not see the appeal. (*update – I recently watched Love Alarm and was startled to see this catatonic lover boy can indeed pull out some facial expressions when so required! Just… not in this show). Though to be fair, these two secretive people seemed perfect for each other – both enjoying their clandestine romances and using their cold shoulders to keep people at arms length. We got a lot more “skinship” and booty scenes than your typical Korean drama in this show. The lead couple really only looked happy when they were making out – though still they seemed so busy being beautiful it felt more like a photoshoot than a natural occurrence of body chemistry and desire.

After the third episode, I just started skimming their sections entirely because I did not care. Was it because my first week back at work had been a stressful, hellscape and I just wanted to escape into a blissful alternate reality? Perhaps. But I don’t think I will like these leads even if I go back and watch it when less stressed out. You can’t cut it with a table knife, you can only spread it around.

With that said – the less ended up being great! By that I mean outside the main couple, the side couples were awesome.

There were several and I found each of their stories adorable and engaging.

Can you spoil a very short romance drama by saying people get together? I’m never really sure and I would hate to ruin the few enjoyable moments of this otherwise dreadfully “Meh” drama with spoilers. But then again… it was a “Meh” drama so really any encouragement to watch this show should probably be mentioned here.

So… spoilers? I guess. Not really, but whatever.

Let’s start with the best side-couple, our ladies in love. When you’re given rainbow crumbs, you gotta eat them, I guess… cause how else will they know you’re hungry? We’re hungry! We’re starving! Give us more gay characters in mainstream dramas, please.

These girls had been friends for years and over time their feelings had changed. Though they were both noticing the difference between their emotions for each other, they both experienced it differently – and processed it differently – and I really appreciated the differences between their characters. They were refreshingly not stereotyped either.

These were two ladies who couldn’t seem to stop touching each other. As it happens with many people who develop feelings for each other out of a friendship, jealousy of an “intruding” party was the catalyst for change.

I loved this couple. Was I annoyed by how little romantic skinship we got between the two compared to every other couple in this show? Yes. Yes, I was. Deeply. But was I also happy on how much physicality, flirting, and gayness we got from this couple? Also yes. Yes, I was. Extatically. At least they let them cuddle and frolic and hold hands and hug and confess feelings and be openly in love.

We also had the wild-child girl with the multi-colored hair who enjoyed being young and sexual, but could not resist the stoic guy with the deep voice. I love couples like this – with clear similarities but also opposite personality types. They’re always such to watch.

This couple also had the sexiest kiss scene, in my opinion – when our funky gal was wasted and made a move on our quietly nurturing hottie.

There were a few other couples scattered throughout the art major friend group. We even got to enjoy the adorable cohabitation romance of the graduate students. All in all, the side characters stole the show.

Overall Rating – 4/10 (side couples story lines 9/10). Worth it for the Side Couples.