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Netflix’s Latest Korean Thriller is a Harrowing Tale of Monsters and Men

Can it become the next Squid Game?

Han So-hee in Gyeongseong Creature
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The title of Netflix’s latest thriller may hint at a grotesque monster lurking in the dark, but it doesn’t take very long for the true monsters to emerge. It’s 1945 in Manchuria, a region of China occupied by Japan, and the imperial army has been hard at work on a series of gruesome human experiments. As enemies close in on a compound hidden in the north, troops are forced to dispose of years of work: papers detailing their studies, as well as the bodies they experimented on. These efforts to protect their secrets are stomach-churning enough on their own — but the leader of this division, the mad scientist General Kato, is hiding something even worse.

To help turn the tide in WWII, Kato and his employees abduct local women, feeding them parasites that warp their bodies into monstrous creations. He won’t let one setback in Manchuria stop him from continuing his work, either. Once his men set their compound ablaze, he packs up shop and relocates to Gyeongseong, known today as the capital of South Korea.

It’s against this grisly backdrop that Gyeongseong Creature serves up a slice of compelling historical fiction. Like so many stories in Korean media, the series uses its eponymous monsters to explore the less-discussed realities of Japanese tyranny. Gyeongseong Creature weaves elements of romance, horror, and political intrigue throughout its historical remix. And while all those themes aren’t perfectly balanced, it’s an addictive series all the same.

It’s clear that Netflix is still chasing the perfect storm that was Squid Game, and Gyeongseong Creature may not reach those same heights. But with the help of some of Korea’s biggest stars, it’s sure to make its mark either way.

Park Seo-joon (The Marvels) stars as Jang Tae-sang, a charming rogue who survives Japanese occupation by playing both sides and dealing in information. This gets him into hot water, however, when a Japanese general asks him to track down his Korean mistress. Tae-sang has until the end of spring to locate the missing courtesan. If he fails, he’ll lose everything he’s built — and get shipped off to the imperial army for good measure.

Fortunately, Tae-sang isn’t searching alone. When an amateur sleuth named Yoon Chae-ok (Han So-hee) blows in from Manchuria in search of her mother, her interests align with Tae-sang’s. Their contentious partnership is not-so-subtly primed for romance — but first, it will lead them to Ongseong Hospital, the new base for Kato’s operations.

Much of Gyeongseong Creature’s action unfolds in the depths of this facility. As Kato’s experiments grow more powerful and the body count steadily rises, Tae-sang and Chae-ok’s quest gets infinitely more complicated. It will fall on them to uncover the horrors going down at Ongseong, and to discern monster from man — before it’s too late.

In Gyeongseong Creature, not everything is as it seems.


It’s not hard to see why Netflix threw everything it had behind Gyeongseong Creature. The series is a melting pot of some of Netflix’s greatest international successes. It’s got the gore of shows like Sweet Home and All of Us Are Dead, the sociopolitical messaging of Squid Game, and the heart-wrenching chemistry you’d find in any romance worth its salt. It’s also managed to recruit a staggering cast in Park, Han, and Squid Game’s own Wi Ha-joon. On paper, it’s the perfect show, which might explain how it managed to secure a coveted two-season order from Netflix before Season 1 even finished airing.

In practice, however, Gyeongseong Creature gets bogged down in its sprawling story. The bulk of its action might be set in the darker corners of Ongseong, but the series frequently zooms out to capture to upheaval on the streets of Gyeongseong. It’s just as concerned with depicting the grounded horrors of Japanese occupation as it is in exploring its metaphorical consequences. This doesn’t exactly make for an easy binge, especially with each episode averaging about 70 minutes.

That said, Gyeongseong Creature can’t be faulted for jumping head-first into such a thorny period of history or for finding the moments of beauty that make such a harrowing journey worthwhile. It’s not for the faint of heart, but Netflix’s latest K-drama is one worth watching, especially for fans of pulp, horror, and history combined.

Gyeongseong Creature Part 1 is now streaming on Netflix. Part 2 premieres on January 5.

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