Hell is Other People: Episode 1
The adaptation of psychological thriller webtoon, Hell is Other People/Strangers are Hell, kicks off to an unsettling start as a young man suddenly finds himself with a colorful cast of creepy new neighbors. If you’re a fan of the spooky, this is the perfect drama to ring in the Fall season with hints of mystery, murder, and ghosts! I am pretty excited so hopefully you’ll join me on this dive into the disturbing world of the scariest monster of all… humans.
EPISODE 1:”Eden Goshiwon”
While a typhoon rages, our hero — who will be later identified as YOON JONG-WOO (Im Shi-wan) — cautiously sneaks down a darkened hallway. He narrates that he wrote a story while living at the goshiwon and that he used to believe the outside world was the worst. However, he came to realize this place was the true hell.
Darting into his apartment, Jong-woo is alarmed to find a message on his laptop: “I was waiting for you.” The hallway is empty, but as soon as Jong-woo eases his door shut, menacing footsteps echo down the hallway. Before he can breathe a sigh of relief, however, something falls off his desk and the noise alerts the person in the hallway.
Next thing we know, Jong-woo is thrown through his door and dragged away by an unknown figure. Looking up at the faceless silhouette, Jong-woo’s voice-over wonders what he did wrong to end up here… just as the figure pulls back and strikes.
We back up an undetermined amount of time and find Jong-woo alive and well, on the bus to Seoul. When they arrive, he pulls out his suitcase only for another passenger to yank theirs out, slamming into his. Panicked, Jong-woo unzips the front pocket and sure enough, his laptop screen is heavily cracked.
After a short call from girlfriend, MIN JI-EUN (Kim Ji-eun), where Jong-woo barely gets to say “hi” before she hangs up to meet with a client, he heads over to get the laptop repaired. He balks at the claims of a $300 job, but reluctantly agrees to a reduced $180… only to hear from another repairman that he could’ve gotten it done for much cheaper.
On his way out, Jong-woo is attracted to a promotional dart game offering a top prize of a brand new laptop. Unfortunately, he lacks skill and even after multiple tries, he walks away with nothing more than an armful of tiny dolls. Jong-woo’s next task is apartment hunting and as he turns down progressively cheaper (and smaller) rooms, it’s apparent just how strapped for cash he is.
While taking a lunch break, Jong-woo flicks through listings on his phone, lighting up when he finds one for a mere 190,000 won a month, no security deposit required. (That’s about $190. Is it me, or does that just scream murder house?) He quickly sets up an appointment and rushes over. The sight of Eden Goshiwon is enough for Jong-woo to consider leaving, but after lugging his suitcase all the way there, he heads inside.
The interior is in even worse repair than the exterior and Jong-woo grimaces as he wanders down the hallways. The landlady, EOM BOK-SOON (Lee Jung-eun), cheerfully greets him. Bok-soon chatters that a lot of people have moved out due to the impending redevelopment in 6 months and Jong-woo assures her he has no plans to stay long.
She presents the room and it’s by far the smallest and dingiest Jong-woo has seen. Still, he wonders why the price is so cheap and Bok-soon laughs nervously. She admits that the previous tenant committed suicide but is quick to clarify the man didn’t die in the room. Jong-woo steps back into the hallway and bumps a passing tenant.
The man, AHN HEE-JONG (Hyun Bong-shik), snaps at Jong-woo and then gripes that Bok-soon should turn on the AC. As he lumbers away Bok-soon snits that Hee-jong will be moving soon so Jong-woo needn’t pay him any mind. As Jong-woo follows her back to her office, he senses someone watching him, but when he turns there’s no one there.
Jong-woo agrees to rent the room and Bok-soon hands over the keys. He fumbles with the lock as the tenant across the hall, HONG NAM-BOK (Lee Joong-ok), looms in his doorway. Jong-woo’s greeting falls on deaf ears and Nam-bok disappears back inside. Yet another resident, BYUN DEUK-JONG (Park Jong-hwan),appears at the end of the hallway, cackling that Jong-woo is trying to open the wrong door.
Jong-woo scoots down the the next door and the lock easily gives way to his key. He slips inside as Nam-bok resumes looming in his doorway. Jong-woo takes in his dismal surroundings from his creaky bed and smelly pillow to the grimy window and stained walls. He resigns himself to the next 6 months, assuring himself he’ll save up and move out soon enough.
He answers a call from his mother and it’s clear he hasn’t been honest with her as she assumes he’s staying with a friend. He hangs up when there’s a knock on the door and he opens it to find his grumpy neighbor, Hee-jong. Hee-jong growls at him to answer calls outside and Jong-woo can only stutter an apology, realizing the walls are very thin. Annoyed, Hee-jong orders him to stay out of sight.
While unpacking Jong-woo discovers a glob of gum on his luggage and takes it down the the laundry room. Nothing in the room feels clean and to his horror, Jong-woo finds the bathroom is no better. (Why is there a wad of hair on the hand soap??) He wanders through the showers and then the kitchen — which is surprisingly decent — although he spins on his heel when he realizes Hee-jong is there. Hee.
They cross paths again in the hall and Jong-woo takes particular interest in the notice board until Hee-jong passes. Later, Jong-woo checks the toilets and accidentally opens the stall where Hee-jong is doing business. He escapes to the roof and while his laundry airs out, he happily answers a call from girlfriend, Ji-eun.
He’s excited to inform her he’s found a place and while it’s a bit far from work, her house is nearby. Jong-woo starts to ask when she gets off work, but Ji-eun tells him she has to celebrate her boss’ birthday tonight. Jong-woo’s disappointment is apparent, but he assures her that they’ll be able to see each other often now that they live in the same city.
As soon as he hangs up, landlady Bok-soon approaches him. She tells him that the fourth floor (which used to be for the female tenants) is vacant now due to a fire and warns him to avoid it for his own safety. On his way back to his room, Jong-woo passes Nam-bok’s room. The door is wide open and he can’t help but do a double-take at the porn-collage that wallpapers the room. Nam-bok pauses cutting out yet another half-naked woman to look at him and Jong-woo quickly moves on.
Back in his room, Jong-woo pulls out a pen and starts jotting down a story. As he describes a man walking we see his giggly neighbor, Deuk-jong, shuffling up the street. Deuk-jong pauses to stare at a young woman squatting on a side street. He laughs as he starts towards her and she scurries inside, but he’s interested in the cat she was feeding. I don’t like the way he’s smiling at it…
On his way home, Deuk-jong nervously greets a man with leather bag. We don’t see his face, but the man coldly tells Deuk-jong to be quiet at night. Deuk-jong promises to be s quiet as the dead and the man saunters off. When he gets back to Eden Goshiwon, Deuk-jong runs into landlady Bok-soon. She notices blood and fur on his hands and chides him to clean up.
Upstairs, Deuk-jong hands a roll of duct tape over to pervert Nam-bok, who he finds scratching at his house arrest anklet. The men make their way to the end of the hall and Deuk-jong seemingly addresses an unseen person. “Do you know what’s good about the goshiwon?” he cackles ominously, “Even if someone dies here, no one cares.” He dissolves into giggles as Nam-bok picks up a hammer and lunges towards the unseen person.
As Jong-woo sleeps, a disembodied voice whispers at him to wake up. He jolts awake, and eyes the opposite wall suspiciously. Before he can press his ear to it, though, his phone rings. The caller this time is his friend (?), SHIN JAE-HO, who orders Jong-woo to meet him for drinks and they hang up. Still unnerved by the voice, Jong-woo heads upstairs to investigate.
He finds more gum on the railing, but before he can open the door to the fourth floor, a plastic BB hits his hand. Jong-woo turns to find Deuk-jong stumbling down the stairs, giggling that no one lives on the fourth floor because of the fire. Jong-woo says he heard something from there, but Deuk-jong suggests he probably heard the ghost and disappears downstairs.
Elsewhere, patrol officer SEO JUNG-HWA (Ahn Eun-jin) and her partner respond to a report from the young woman that was feeding the cat earlier. She tells them she’d noticed a weird smell and directs them towards a bag in the garbage pile. Jung-hwa peeks inside to find the cat… dead.
Turns out it’s the tenth dead cat found that month and Jung-hwa deduces from the lack of CCTV cameras in the area, the culprit likely lives in the neighborhood. She recalls a similar case just a few months prior where multiple dead cats led up to the murder of a person, but her partner just sighs that she should go to the dentist for her sore tooth.
Back at the station, Jung-hwa repeats her concerns to deskmate, JO HYUN-HO. She launches into a well-rehearsed spiel about psychopaths and animal abuse and Hyun-ho listens with an amused smile before urging her to go to the dentist. Cut to the dentist chair as an assistant gripes at Jung-hwa for keeping them late at the office.
The dentist, SEO MOON-JO (Lee Dong-wook) arrives and dismisses the assistants. He tells Jung-hwa she needs a root canal and when her eyes widen. They agree to do the procedure next week and Jung-hwa apologizes for keeping him late, guessing he must be close with her boss (who set up her appointment). Moon-jo says they merely know each other through volunteer work and the two part ways.
Jong-woo meets up with Jae-ho and listens distractedly as Jae-ho gripes (*cough* brags *cough cough*) about running his own company. Jae-ho asks about Jong-woo’s day but barely lets him say anything before cutting him off to ask why Jong-woo isn’t living with Ji-eun. He orders Jong-woo to call her and groans when Jong-woo explains she’s at her boss’ birthday dinner.
We learn Jae-ho is the one that offered Jong-woo his job and he promises to hire Jong-woo full-time after the internship. He suddenly asks what Jong-woo will do if Ji-eun wants to marry him and breaks up with him because he can’t afford it. “Would you mind?” Jae-ho asks tactlessly, “Lots of my friends…”
He trails off when he notices Jong-woo’s expression and gripes at him for frowning. Jong-woo awkwardly replies Jae-ho’s been saying weird things, but backpedals when Jae-ho gets annoyed and drops the issue. Jae-ho’s face breaks and he laughs that he scared Jong-woo and they step outside to smoke.
Jae-ho warns Jong-woo to work hard, saying he passed up a lot of candidates with better backgrounds because he likes Jong-woo. Jong-woo grins and nods along but as soon as Jae-ho walks away he mutters that he can’t stand Jae-ho’s bragging. He looks up to see two men brawling and worries that they should break it up.
Jae-ho sighs that he should keep his nose out of it, but as he watches one of the men whaling on the other, Jong-woo flashes back to a similar scene during his military service and it sends him screaming into the fray to yank the man off the other. The police arrive to handle the rest and Jae-ho, unaware or unconcerned with how shaken Jong-woo is, suggests they go for another round.
Politely excusing himself, Jong-woo tries to walk away, promising to treat Jae-ho next time to make up for it. Jae-hoo yells after him, ordering him back and loads him into a taxi and throws him money for the fare. On the way to Eden Goshiwon, the driver comments on the evil nature principle and starts to bring up the phrase “strangers from hell,” but Jong-woo just rolls his eyes.
When he arrives at the goshiwon, Jong-woo is greeted by the soft-spoken man with the leather bag. We finally see his face and will come to know him as YOO KI-HYUK (Lee Hyun-wook). He asks how Jong-woo feels, likening the hallway to a long tunnel you can’t escape. Jong-woo insists he can get out and Ki-hyuk smiles that he’s more interesting than he looks. Inside his room, Jong-woo hears a thud from upstairs, but chooses to ignore it. As he leaves the room, he doesn’t notice the small hole in his wall from which an eye is watching. Eep!
In the showers, Jong-woo meets Deuk-jong again, but interestingly notes he’s not stuttering now. Afterwards, he heads to the kitchen to make ramen and is joined by prickly Hee-jong. Hee-jong orders him to make enough for both of them and then warns him to be careful, noting that the resident from room 313 (aka pervert Nam-bok) had been watching Jong-woo make ramen from the doorway.
Additionally, Hee-jong warns him not to add any eggs to the ramen and Jong-woo cracks one in the sink to find it bloody. Hee-jong grumbles that landlady Bok-soon makes a big deal about providing eggs, but they’re always inedible. As they eat, Hee-jong tells Jong-woo that everyone here is crazy and that he’s moving out next week and urges Jong-woo to do the same. He warns Jong-woo not to get close to anyone, particularly the person living next door (the person peeping through the hole?!).
After cleaning up, Jong-woo returns to his room and Deuk-jong stops him at the door. He’s giggling and stuttering again and Hee-jong steps out of his own room to bark at him to be quiet. They return to their rooms, but the noise brings pervert Nam-bok into the hall and his continued staring finally riles Jong-woo to snap at him. “Right at that moment, all my stress from the day gushed out towards this man,” Jong-woo narrates, “I shouldn’t have done that.”
Nam-bok says nothing and Jong-woo goes into his room and slams the door as the camera pulls back to reveal a large knife behind Nam-bok’s back. That night, Nam-bok shuffles outside Jong-woo’s door, questioning whether or not he should kill him as Jong-woo sleeps. Across the hall, Hee-jong sits in his room, anxiously holding his own knife. When he finally sets it down, he notices a plastic BB.
More whispers echo in Jong-woo’s room, asking “Do you want me to kill you now? Alright, how should I kill you? Honey. Tell me.” The doorknob jiggles and Jong-woo wakes up. He steps outside, but there’s no one there and he cautiously steps up to the apartment next door and the pushes the door open to reveal a dark room completely soaked in blood.
Nam-bok rushes him from behind and strikes him on the back of the head. Jong-woo collapses into bed and is met with flashes of the other residents, a man from his military service smiling, and the darkened figure that attacked him at the top of the episode… and then he jolts awake to voices in the hallway.
Jong-woo steps into the hall to find Hee-jong smacking Deuk-jong around, demanding to know what he took when he was in Hee-jong’s room. Deuk-jong cries that it wasn’t him and then laughs, “What will you do if it wasn’t me?” The BB gun clicks from the other end of the hall and the men turn to see… Deuk-jong? They’re twins??
Enraged, Hee-jong starts towards the other Deuk-jong but soft-spoken Ki-hyuk exits the room to the left of Jong-woo’s and suggests Hee-jong calm down. Hee-jong tries to force his way past, but Ki-hyuk snatches his wrist with a menacing grin as the other tenants look on. Jong-woo’s voice-over narrates, “They already knew… that this place… is hell.”
Whaaaaaat even is this show?! I tentatively love it? Psychological thrillers are really my jam so even though I spent most of this hour scratching my head, I enjoyed every minute of it. I like Jong-woo, who is a very subdued character and I suspect that’s to make him more relate-able because he’s our avatar in this bizarre world he’s stumbled into. We didn’t get a lot of exposition as the show was busy trying to introduce all the players, but I’m sure there’s room for that next episode.
For now, we’ve been given quite the colorful cast! Jong-woo’s neighbors are all very unsettling. I suspect even landlady Bok-soon, who seems very pleasant, has her own secrets. She was a little too blase when Deuk-jong returned with blood and fur on his hands (that poor kitty!) and the bloody egg was upsetting. Not to mention, she is the proprietress of this bizarre place. Surprisingly, Hee-jong — who had the most negative first impression — was the one to quickly prove the most likable (and sane).
Nam-bok and the twins are obviously unsettling, but there’s a quiet menace to Ki-hyuk that I find both fascinating and terrifying. To me, at least, he looks like the silhouette that attacked Jong-woo (although Moon-jo fits too, and that is likely intentional) in the opening but he’s not the neighbor in the mystery room belonging to the as yet unknown neighbor to the right of Jong-woo’s. At first I thought the person peering in through that hole was Ki-hyuk, but as we saw at the end of the episode, he lives on the opposite side. Perhaps that room belongs to dentist Moon-jo? But then I have even more questions because he seems to disturbingly normal? Plus, what’s with the fire of the 4th floor and the noises and the weird dream of a bloody room? And what were Nam-bok and Deuk-jong doing upstairs?
As for the characters outside Eden Goshiwon, I am not a fan of either Jong-woo’s girlfriend Ji-eun, who seems weirdly detached? Nor do I have a positive impression of his “friend” Jae-ho, who seemed overly interested in Jong-woo’s relationship with Ji-eun. The one character that I absolutely adore, however, is Jung-hwa! I really enjoyed Ahn Eun-jin as a policewoman in Possessed and I was thrilled to see her pop up here! I already love her dogged detective-ing, even as it exasperates her co-workers. I don’t care to have a romantic element in shows like this that are so rich in plot that it hardly seems necessary but I wouldn’t argue if Jong-woo decided to break up with Ji-eun in favor of a spunky officer.
Aesthetically speaking, I really like the darker, murky tones. It’s not prettified like fluffier k-dramas. You can see Jong-woo sweating, which really accentuates the underlying tension of the show, and the camera work is really interesting. I can tell it’s adapted from a webtoon from the sharp transitions and I really liked the top-down shot of the goshiwon rooms when Nam-bok was lurking outside Jong-woo’s room which highlighted how close they all were and I felt Hee-jong’s anxiety as he sat in his room with his own knife, listening to Nam-bok muttering to himself as he paced just a few feet away. I understand Hee-jong so much better after his little heart-to-heart with Jong-woo and then that glimpse into his private self. It shows just how unnerved he is to live here and genuinely fearful of his neighbors to the point where his aggression now is very apparent as a defense mechanism.
I do wonder if there’s an element of Jong-woo’s story at play which makes me question whether certain things are real, such as the opening… but only time will tell. Needless to say, I’m fascinated with this premise and have some vague White Christmas vibes because everyone is sketchy as all get out and I am here for it!
- Premiere Watch: The Great Show, Hell Is Other People
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- Meet the neighbors from Hell in OCN’s mystery thriller
- First script read for OCN’s Hell Is Other People
- Lee Dong-wook to join Im Shi-wan in OCN thriller, Hell Is Other People
- Im Shi-wan heads back to work following discharge from army