The Cast of Netflix’s ‘Hellbound’ Talks Bringing the Webtoon to Life
After Squid Game, Hometown Cha Cha Cha and My Name, Netflix is bringing another Korean drama to our screens: Hellbound. The highly-anticipated series is helmed by master director, Yeon Sang-ho—the mind behind the smash zombie movie, Train to Busan. Yeon worked on the original eponymous webtoon and is known for his occult thriller, now he’s trying his hand in bringing the Hellbound universe to the screen.
The series tells the stories of otherworldly beings—called executioners of hell—who appear out of nowhere to issue a decree and condemn individuals to hell. With the supernatural occurrence causing great mayhem, a new religious group, The New Truth gains influence among the public. However, a few people become suspicious of its activities and begin investigating its involvement in the mysterious events.
Hellbound was invited to three international film festivals including the Busan International Film Festival prior to its Netflix release and made history as the first Korean series to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
As it drops on Netflix on November 19, Tatler caught up with the cast and director during a roundtable discussion to talk about how they are bringing the popular webtoon to life.
Director Yeon is one of South Korea’s most well-known directors. What were you most looking forward to working with him?
Yoo Ah-in: It was indeed a pleasure and a very enjoyable experience on set to have worked with South Korea’s best director. Before we started shooting and before I got to start working with him, we all have different images of hell and what kind of world would be created through Hellbound so I had very high expectations of how director Yeon was planning to bring to life his universe—that is probably going to be something very close yet far away in each of our minds.
Kim Hyun-joo: When I met director Yeon through his previous productions, he is a master at creating a universe that’s very unique so I think I was quite biased because people who tend to be talented in creating such universes tend to be very close-minded sometimes and adamant about their opinions. And also when I searched online and saw his profile image, it actually made me think that way even more. That’s quite a picture that he has there online. (laughs) However, after getting to meet him and experiencing working with him, I realised that he’s a very fun person to talk to and also a very smart creator.
Yang Ik-june: Just because we’re dealing with a quite heavy and serious subject matter, it doesn’t mean that our experience on set also has to be heavy. The director and I think he did this on purpose. He was the clown on the set so he really made the environment and ambience enjoyable. Although the actors were portraying very heavy, intense roles, we were always able to work in a healthy environment. I think the director created what I would like to call a healthy tension. And it allowed for all of the actors to really get into our roles, almost a beautiful nervousness if you will. From start to finish, it was a very enjoyable and healthy experience.
Park Jung-min: This is the second time I was working with director Yeon and it’s a very enjoyable experience to work with him on set. I also love having conversations with him because I get to peek into his ideas and stories which are just so amazing. He also talked to me about Hellbound before I got into this project, and I’m just really happy and excited that this actually became a live-action series. I’m also thinking that because he has so many ideas, would he actually be able to put all of them on screen before he dies? I really envy him for his ideas and imagination.
Won Jin-ah: I think a universe like Hellbound can only be pulled off by director Yeon. So I’m just really lucky and I’m very honoured to have this chance to be part of the project. I think the whole idea was very crisp, fresh, so I was so excited to be part of it. And the series is very serious and dark but the ambience on set was very joyful. So after only after we saw the results, we were reminded that it was actually a very dark piece.
South Korean productions have always had global recognition but especially so recently, thanks to social media and of course, Netflix. How does the cast feel about your following up to the success of shows like Squid Game and My Name and what do you think you’ll bring differently to the table?
Director Yeon: I’m very happy that Korean content is getting so much attention across the globe. And I think I’m very lucky that Hellbound is being released amidst this craze about Korean content. I try to get all the traits and characteristics and creativity of the entire cast and crew onto the screen. So I hope you enjoy the series.
Yoo: It’s true that Korean content is being enjoyed by many audiences around the world in a very diverse and expansive manner. And as an actor, I feel that it’s very encouraging and it really empowers us to create even more. I’m sure that when you all saw the trailer for Hellbound, it just goes to show that we have a completely different look, feel and mood and tone compared to the other productions that you mentioned in your question.
And although I’m sure that a lot of you will enjoy it and really love our series, I truly hope that it will not just be a short fad or instant sensation but a piece of work that will be loved for a very long time, something that people will talk a lot about and maybe hopefully have a lot of different interpretations about.
Kim: I agree with what Yoo has just said and also as an actor, I am very grateful that Korean content is being showcased to so many people around the world and that you are all showing us great love and support. However, I do admit that it doesn’t feel as real and I feel like I will just continue to focus on what I am currently working on, just as I have always been doing so I don't feel like there have been any changes to me personally.
Yang: I just want to say that Korea has always created great films and series. However, with the arrival of a platform like Netflix, I believe that the creators in Korea were able to enjoy the benefits of scalability, unlimited stories, and sometimes budget and casting. All of it has been made possible through a platform like Netflix compared to the other outlets especially I believe that Netflix truly helps create and express their imagination to no limits.
I think that’s why so many great new productions were made possible. Those works that you mentioned are all reaping the benefits of this scalability that I just mentioned. And I think that Netflix has successfully created an environment where the creators and Netflix can have a win-win relationship, and I personally hope to appear in many more Netflix series.
Hellbound marks Yoo’s comeback to the small screen since Chicago Typewriter after working on many award-winning movies in the past few years. Can you tell us what it feels like to be back to doing dramas again?
When it comes to my attitude on the filming set or the way I give my performances, it’s not very different from shooting for film or a drama series. So I would say that I don’t feel particularly different because I’m returning to the small screen after quite some time. However, I do have high hopes, and I really look forward to being able to meet the audiences worldwide through a Netflix series. And of course, it being a series of episodes, gives more screen time than films. So I hope that a lot of fans worldwide will look forward to and enjoy watching me on the screen.
Train to Busan is one of the most successful Korean films of all time. Did you feel any pressure when doing Hellbound especially since the series will be shown to over 190 countries globally?
Director Yeon: I actually didn’t feel much pressure compared to my other works. I know it could be nerve-wracking like taking a test to have your work shown to the audience. But I try not to feel that way because I really enjoyed the entire process. I tried to lay a platform where the cast and the crew could really unleash their full potential and creativity. I’m very thankful that this happened and I’m very satisfied with the results so I don’t have that much pressure.
How do you feel about taking on the role of Jung Jin-su? Are there any similarities or differences between your past roles?
Yoo: First of all, there were definitely a lot of lines so that was very challenging. My character is someone who puts meaning onto these supernatural events and someone who has to explain them based on his own logic and lead the people in that turmoil. And so I focused mostly on how to really express and convey this. This person has a level of charisma that’s not over the top or excessive.
How about you Kim, how different is this role from the previous ones you’ve done?
Kim: I think a lot of people wonder and ask me these questions because I have played lawyer figures in the past quite often. But I want to say that an occupation is just an occupation, they have all been different characters. And as for this character, her uniqueness would be that she’s put in a lot of very fearful and dramatic situations compared to my previous works. The one thing I tried to focus more on is the story as it’s a very unrealistic story.
In a way, I felt that if I wasn’t cautious, I might create a character that is rather too idealistic in her own right. And so I wanted to make sure that even though she does have those ideal ideas about her, I wanted to make sure that there was harmony—someone who was idealistic and at the same time very grounded, so I focused more on not so much on showing the strength that my character had but showing the vulnerabilities.
Won, what are you most excited about this series?
Won: So-hyun is a character who experienced a tragedy so she feels a lot of confusion. She feels very desperate. But this is something that’s very unrealistic so it was very challenging for me to put myself in her shoes and think about what I will do if this happened to me. I had a lot of discussions and conversations with director Yeon and I tried to approach the character, thinking about the feelings, the agony I would feel if I lose someone that I love. I kept asking myself what would I feel and what would I do if someone I love is lost? So I try to put myself in her shoes and I try to fully immerse myself into the character and at the shoot.
Yang, this is your first time working on a project involving supernatural features. How did you immerse yourself in the Hellbound universe?
Yang: I actually have experience with a CGI scene that I did it back in Japan. It was a comedy where I had to kind of act like I was getting shot with bullets and the bullets were later on added through computer graphics. But this time, when I was told that I would be working against these immense supernatural beings, I was actually really looking forward to the moment when my character would be coming face to face with them. I wanted to challenge myself to do this as well.
I have always been a fan of the fantasy and sci-fi genre and I can confidently say that I spent about three years watching and obsessing over Lord of the Rings. However, when I was coming to face to face with these supernatural beings, they’re not really monsters, right? They’re just literally supernatural beings so they’re no match for me. And very thankfully on set, the actors that were acting out the executioners did an amazing job in creating an overall ambience with their facial expressions—their eyes and the overall environment—to really make it conducive to the actors, almost to a point where I felt like they were actually really cruel. That helped us a lot in immersing in our roles. And of course, as you know, they’re very huge in terms of size so I also think that I kind of channelled my immediate response to the overwhelming size of the executioner as well.
The director did an amazing job creating an environment where we can all really get into the roles and immerse ourselves. And I’m a person who’s very imaginative, I have a lot of thoughts going on in my mind. And I was able to create a fun yet fearful image as I was working with supernatural beings so I would say that it was a very enjoyable experience. I wanted to have more hands-on scenes with these supernatural beings but I didn’t get to do that much this time.
Director Yeon, what made you decide to produce the live-action version of the Hellbound webtoon?
Director Yeon: When I started off this project with illustrator Choi, we were just trying to have some fun thinking about these different worldviews. And when we started translating this into a series, I wanted to guarantee that the tone and manner of the original webtoon will be directly conveyed onto the screen and Netflix actually really like the webtoon, the worldview and the message so they were being very supportive that’s why everything was possible.
Hellbound premieres on November 19, exclusively on Netflix.