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Bulgasal: Immortal Souls: Episodes 1-2 (Review)

Would you like some blood with your K-drama? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Gory folklore and sumptuous cinematography make Bulgasal: Immortal Souls a compelling tale of curses, fate, and monsters. Who knew a thing could be so bloody and beautiful simultaneously?

 
EPISODES 1-2 REVIEW

With long episodes, and lots and lots of backstory, Bulgasal: Immortal Souls is quite a drama to take a bite of. But before we even get to the story, the question that lingers on my mind is quite simple: how the heck is this only rated 15? It’s the bloodiest thing I’ve even seen in dramaland. The next question is this: I don’t like blood, so why did I enjoy it so much? And I guess the answer is that the blood suits the story, and the story is quite rich.

That story, and its logic, hangs very much on us believing in karma, bad fate, and the monster folklore mentioned above. If you’re ready and willing to get sucked into this world, Bulgasal: Immortal Souls is as frightening and brutal as it is the sort of story that engulfs you.

We start our story near the end of the Goryeo period, where a group of peasants and farmers are traveling through rugged terrain and come in contact with a monster. According to the world of the story, monsters were a physical and actual thing in those days. And in keeping with the folklore, they have names, stories, features, and predictable behaviors. Among those was the bulgasal, known to feast on human blood. (There’s our theme again!)

We meet our hero as a baby in the womb — his mother is a part of the group of peasants who meet the bulgasal. The shaman of the group says the baby is cursed, and sure enough, even though the mother kills herself, the baby is born and survives — but his ill fate is marked by the bulgasal.

The boy is abandoned and feared by all, and barely scrapes together enough to survive in the brutal terrain. When the bulgasal attacks the peasants, though, they’re quick to blame our little boy hero, and have no qualms about killing him to satisfy the beast. They’ve threatened it before, but it comes to a peak pretty quickly — it’s a tense moment, and the sweet little boy is about to die. But suddenly, he’s saved by a gorgeous woman (Kwon Nara) who rushes in and takes the dagger for him.

This same moment introduces GENERAL DAN (Jung Jin-young) who rides up with his men. He’s a breath of fresh air amidst the superstition and violence of the villagers. He saves the boy, takes him back to his home, and raises him as a son.

The boy is named HWAL and grows up to be a fearless warrior (Lee Jin-wook) in the footsteps of his adoptive father. General Dan has spent his career with Hwal hunting down the last monsters in the kingdom, as Goryeo gives way to Joseon. Though the General believes in these beasts and hunts them down, he also doesn’t believe in their power — he doesn’t pay heed to the talk of Hwal’s bad fate, and even lets Hwal marry his daughter SOL (Gong Seung-yeon).

It’s hard to know whether we’re supposed to believe in the cursed fate or not, because both the General and Hwal fight against it. But eventually, it’s too strong to fight. While hunting the bulgasal, Hwal learns that the beast was and is actually the beautiful woman who saved him as a boy.

They have a string of gorgeous, sumptuous, and incredibly bloody encounters — and tons more backstory – but in the end, what happens is that the bulgasal kills Hwal (and his family), and steals his soul. Our soulless hero is now immortal, and it’s a terrible curse. He’s taken on the role of the bulgasal, and lost everything. He’s now the very monster whom he was hunted down by his whole life.

We’re well into the second episode at this point, but the identity change of our hero marks a huge transition in the story. The woman who stole his soul became human, and would be reincarnated several times a human. And now Hwal, in order to avenge his stolen soul and immortal hell, vows to await each of her reincarnations and have his revenge.

With all that backstory behind us, we eventually meet our hero in the early 2000s. He’s clearly been hunting this woman down for centuries, and is now getting quite close. Interestingly, though — and in a way that’s both jarring and awesome at the same time — our focus shifts away from Hwal and onto our heroine.

But there’s a twist, of course. In her 2006 self, the woman is a young girl named SANG-YEON (Han Seo-jin). The clincher? She has an identical twin, SANG-EON (also Han Seo-jin). While the reincarnated ex-monster remembers her fate and each of her past lives, her identical sister knows nothing, and remembers nothing. And yet, because of their shared appearance, she inherits her sister’s fate with her.

The bulgasal finally locates and attacks Sang-yeon and her family. The beast slaughters Sang-yeon and her mother, and Sang-eon barely escapes. However, she now believes in the fate that her twin was always talking about, without any idea of the past lives and actions that caused it. She lives in hiding until her adulthood (where she’s played by Kwon Nara).

Again, the narrative shift at this point in the story is quite interesting. We all but forsake Hwal in favor of the twins and their utter terror of the bulgasal, and it’s hard not to be on their side (even though we agonized with Hwal just a few scenes ago). However, earlier on, we do learn briefly about Hwal’s struggles as a monster that was once human. Though he promised his father not to feast on human blood, he fails most terribly, and has become a fearsome bulgasal himself.

If it feels like the story has been incredibly detailed and drawn out at this point, that’s because it has. But more than the typical drama backstory, the history of our characters is crucial because it’s re-lived in the present day.

As we settle into the 2021 timeline, we meet General Dan again (as a detective), as well as several minor characters from Hwal’s (human) youth, and it doesn’t take much of this to realize — and appreciate! — the tightly woven tale of fate we’re going to get. I really love it!

It’s not easy to make characters (and echoes of past characters) feel so incredibly vivid and alive, but Bulgasal pulls it off. The past timeline echoes in creepy and amazing ways, and I love the pattern the drama has set up. Fate and karma take the lead in terms of themes, but there’s also the twist of fate, too.

The fact that Sang-yeon reincarnated this time as a twin throws the whole game. Hwal is hunting her based on her face — how he’s been able to locate her through history — but as Episode 2 draws to a close, we can surmise he’s actually hunting the woman who looks like his mortal enemy, but is anything but. I smell conflict, and it’s going to be epic!

Bulgasal certainly had the longest, bloodiest, and most complicated backstory in a while, but despite all the time spent in the past, none of it feels wasted. I’m completely taken with the concept of seeing our characters as they echo through time, and how their fates are rewritten. So blood and gore notwithstanding, I’m definitely pulled in by the characters and the rich conflicts.

Also, it’s lovely to have Lee Jin-wook back on the screen. It’s been a long time, and a longer time since any of his projects were this watchable, so I’m one excited fangirl. And he’s great here, of course, making us believe in his tortured fate, bloodlust, and endless pain. As a contrast to that, we have Kwon Nara, and those eyes that it’s easy to get lost in — she can somehow convince me equally that she’s a terrible soul-sucking monster, and an innocent and terrified young woman, so props to her.

Finally, the drama is just absolutely gorgeous in terms of cinematography, colors, lighting – all of it. It’s a high-budget production that looks it to every inch, but it also effectively pulls you right into the folklore, the setting, and the heart-pounding terror of being hunted by monsters and fate alike. With Hwal and Sang-eon poised for their first meeting in the 2021 timeline, things should get even more interesting. In short, I need a pillow to hide behind, and more episodes to watch.

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Convenient that the human ex-monster reincarnated as a Korean and not as something else a few thousand miles away.

Separate from the confusion we should expect about the ML not knowing which twin is/was the monster, should we expect the actual ex-monster to have reincarnated again and show up as a little kid?

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It doesn't seem so as before she died, she said that was her last reincarnation.

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I think she said she wasn't going to reincarnate again. But what I'm confused about is doesn't the surviving twin have Hwal's soul? The bus driver monster said he sensed it on her. The twin aspect makes this super confusing, but I'm thinking the lead that we're following can't be completely untouched by the main conflict.

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Yeah, in so many particular involving multiple lives, everything seems tied into a supposedly universal belief system that should involve all humanity, but every important life or adventure happens only in Korean or China or Britain or Norway or Maine. I suppose it would not be any fun if "two souls fated to fall in love" from a Viking saga never meet because the next dozen reincarnations are Chinese or Indian peasants and a few others lived their lives in South America or Southern Africa.

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Omg! I just remembered about a story I once read where it is nearly impossible for 2 fated souls to meet each other again in reincarnations due to right placing and timing. Don't remember anything other than this fact about the story and now I'm frustrated.

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I liked it too. I'm still not convinced about Kwon Nara's acting skills, she hasn't really needed to do much for now. The cinematography is breathtaking. I don't think it was bulgasal who slaughtered her family, it looked like it might have been the other Monster hunting his soul. And i'm guessing that will be Lee Noon's role?? Anyway, interesting opening episodes

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Yes, even I think it wasn't Bulgasal's doing, cause we didn't saw the face! And bulgasal seemed to be still searching them, uk coming back at that home!

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Agree about Nara’s acting specially the scene where she was killed by Hwal I kept looking at her expressions, it’s not the look of someone being killed and that scene bothered me, I never found her a good actress, i hope her acting won’t make the drama annoying for me, she’s not a lead material GSY is a much better actress than her.

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I thought she was fine overall, but I agree that in the shoulder scar death scene she basically showed no reaction beyond slightly rolling her eyes when he stabbed her.

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Very unsure about this one. Mainly because I’m really not connecting with anyone other than Gong Seung Yeon. Everyone else seems very confident about pretty ridiculous things, and wholly submerged in said ridiculousness.

I like fantasy, I like worldbuilding, all of the elements are here but… No one worth rooting for. Just one incredibly grim dude with a vendetta, a vampire who seemed pretty reluctant and reincarnates into the world’s surliest teen, and a sister who instantly gets half her family killed because she’s whiny.

I hope it improves and it is very pretty, but when the only conflict is supernatural and no one has relationships with anyone else, it’s hard to know why I’m watching.

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I tend to get disappointed with many fantasy kdramas. Let's keep our fingers crossed that we get an emotionally rich story with amazing fantasy worldbuilding. :)

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The one story I hope there isn't going to be a romance between the two leads. Still highly entertaining and am enjoying the grey morality of each character. Tiny bit confused about the Kwon Nara's Bulgasal's motivations but there is certainly time to get more backstory.

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What I got from their story is that they are in a vicious cycle. It's unclear who the original Bulgasal is but they keep holding a huge grudge against each other. Once one of them resolves their grudge it leads the other to hold the grudge. Thus reversing their roles. As to why she saved him, that is probably to make him suffer.

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I think the scene I was most confused about was when she was standing underneath the tree were an attack had previously occurred, as if she was investigating the attack. But then the reveal of her being Bulgasal didn't make that scene make sense any longer. Ep 4 cleared up my confusion because there are more people in the grudge-cycle than just the two of them.

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Based on EP3 there might have been a past love line but then again I'm not sure if the vision they showed at the end was from the past or future. This is my theorizing but potentially Nara and Jinwook were lovers in a very distant past before she became a Bulgasal. Something must have happened or someone double crossed someone and she was cursed to become a Bulgasal and he owed her a soul. Or maybe they've both been alternating as the Bulgasal chasing each other for the soul to become human. Currently the wife and father in law have been reincarnated as people who have ties to Nara and I'm willing to bet the blonde kid was the blind son with the bleeding eyes. So all the past characters have been reincarnated except the other soldier who didn't like Jinwook in the past because of his low birth or whatever and also the villagers. I don't think we've met most of them yet. Willing to bet most of them will be enemies.

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Yes it certainly appeared like they were spiraling in a bad cycle with each other, though the addition of Dark Hole from Ep 4 adds to the complexity of all the grudge-holding.

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I really liked the first episode, and definitely felt for our ML. Persecuted his whole life, hated and feared. It’s a great setup. I imagine the woman that died saving him as a child was the bulgasal’s twin? Or descendant?

Also do we know that he fed on human blood after becoming Bulgasal? I thought it implied he fed on the horse instead. And the hiding of the face when our FL’s family gets killed to me says it’s likely another monster that did the deed. I’m looking forward to seeing more reincarnations as I’m a huge fan of a bunch of those actors. I didn’t think the second episode was as strong as the first one, as I didn’t make me care about our FL quite as much in as little time. But it’s early so I’m willing to hang on and come along for the ride.

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I had the same question about feeding on human flesh- I don't think he has. It looked like it at first, but as the camera panned out, it was a horse.

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In episode 4, he said something about there is another like him, a bulgasal.

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Thanks for the recap! I really wanted to talk about this one. It's absolutely gorgeous. The world building was really well done. I liked the twist with the Bulgasal reincarnating as twins. Given that the bus driver attacked Sang-eon, it seems like she may have inherited the soul or part of the soul? Knowing the cast list, it was pretty easy to recognize the jaw of the monster who killed her family lol.

From what Kwon Nara's Bulgasal said before she died, I'm guessing they had crossed paths in a past life, and he did something causing his soul to be cursed in his next life.

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I agree.

I've only watched the first episode, and plan to watch the second shortly. However, as beautiful as this show is to look at, and as much as I want to be sucked into a fantasy story like this during the coldest time of the year (where I live anyway), I'm also struggling to connect with the characters and relationships so far.

So much time was spent on the worldbuilding and basic foundational plot in the first episode and it sounds like the second was more of the same. If it doesn't shift soon to more emotional connections and conflicts I'll be disappointed.

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Sorry--this was supposed to be a reply to Miranda :)

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I too struggle to connect to the characters. I think they try to squeeze in too much too fast. For instance the scene with the son would be much more powerful have we get to view him coping with family/parenthood life rather than have the son being introduced and kill in what feels like 5min span.

Hoping the Show pacing will improve soon because I want to like this show so badly. Epic fantasy done right is my favourite genre.

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I found the second episode to be better on this front in that I did feel for both twins and although the fine details were confusing--why was the one twin digging through the wall? how and why were they discovered? what does the ML actually want with the girl with the scar and if it's just revenge, how will that make anything better?--but I know I will continue to watch at least the next episode.

Shallow note: I did find Lee Jin-Wook to be hotter with the beard.

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My question is, if the girl who died was the real former Bulgasal, why was the bus driver instead of chasing her but her sister (the alive one) and said something about the smell of her sister’s soul? I don’t quite clear with that part. And the one killed the girl and her mother i believe is Lee Joon’s character. The face though shadowed is quite obvious that it’s him.

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They must have shared a soul. If the sister who could remember was killed by the Lee Joon character, doesn't that mean that he now has her soul and there has our MLs original soul, and the other sister has the matching one???

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THIS is what I'm loving about this drama, it's making my grey cells work a li'l more harder than typical dramas!!

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So this is what I understood from watching the scene - Nara was reincarnated as twins but only one twin got the soul (younger twin) and the other got the scar along with all the memories (older twin). The monsters were chasing the soul not the person with the scar. The older twin didn't immediately feel the monster because she doesn't have the soul but she could identify him since 600 years of memories. I think the whole point of the writer killing off the older sister was to allow the leads to eventually resolve their bad karma once and for all since she was no memory of why she has to run from him and eventually won't be able to answer his questions of why she turned him into a Bulgasal. Which means they'll have to work together to find those answers which will be our adventure. I'm guessing a forced cohabitation arc is coming soon.

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I definitely think we're supposed to assume it's Hwal who did the killing, although it's certainly possible that we'll later be told it wasn't him. Because if it is, even with the convoluted revenge and monster-made-me-do-it narrative we've got going on, it would be hard to root for someone who brutally murdered a young girl and her mother.

My assumption about the bus driver is that he was a monster attracted to someone with a soul so he could possess them. But initially he didn't know for sure which twin's soul he was smelling (there's a sentence I never thought I'd write, lol).

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Since we already know Lee Joon in the cast and is a Bulgasal plus his side profile being shown I don't think the audience is supposed to think that way but Nara is. Then again she is potentially running from everything that makes her skin crawl when her soul senses a monster without knowing exactly which monster she's running from. My question is if suppose near the end Nara returns the soul to Lee Jin Wook will she die or will the older twin's soul magically enter into her body? There has to be some plot point where she gains both the memories and the scar from the past lives otherwise how will we ever know the whole backstory behind Bulgasal Nara? I doubt Lee Joon or the reincarnated Gong Seungyoon will have an answer to that. Another point that just struck me all past reincarnations of Nara have they been killed by monsters like the bus driver? Is that why Lee Jin Wook still hasn't been able to retrieve his soul?

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"Another point that just struck me all past reincarnations of Nara have they been killed by monsters like the bus driver? Is that why Lee Jin Wook still hasn't been able to retrieve his soul?"

Good question. I have a feeling all (most of?) her past lives have met gruesome ends. That soul she harbors must be too tempting for the monsters to ignore, lol. I wonder, however, with such a soul, how would any of her past incarnations have been able to make it to adulthood. Then again, in the current timeline, I wonder if her life had not been in danger until recently. Sang-eon seems to have been living a normal teenage life up until we see her in the drama. And when did her older twin actually keep herself to her room? So, maybe it's only at a certain point that monsters are able to pick up on her special soul.

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Maybe she got lucky and didn't meet any past life monsters. I think all the monsters they killed back then some of them got weaker during subsequent incarnations. Or maybe only specific monsters chase her soul. The person that was following the younger twin in the car was Lee Jin Wook I think and she told her twin he asked to see her scar does this mean he can't see her soul and can only recognize her by her appearance and scar? If that is true then I want to know why he can't feel her soul when other monsters can.

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😆

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Just an opening week review? But I know I'm going to need a lot of help on this one.

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Right? If @missvictrix thinks it’s this great, can’t she be chosen to do regular recaps?

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I know. The one drama that I actually want to read recaps for and speculate about.

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This would be a better drama to cover than Moonshine to be honest but that's just a personal opinion.

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I watched this while i had covid so i may have not been focusing all that well, but i did enjoy it. There was some confusing parts which i hope will sort themselves out tho as we go on.
Like other i disagree he has had human blood. He definitely fedon the horse in the past, and i don't think he is the one who killed her family as we didn't actually see who it was. He strikes me as someone who wants to keep his humanity as much as he can, so if he promised his adoptive father he wouldnt consume human blood, i think he sticks to that vow.

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Shows like this make appreciate the iron souls of people who work in emergency wards. Endless, relentless, often pointless slaughter of human beings, with an occasional pause for torment and misery, and then more slaughter. And none of the characters seem willing to take advice from anyone who understands how to stop it. I'll give it another shot in episode three, because hopefully we'll get some characters who survive more then ten minutes.

I'm relying on this review to try to follow the supernatural plot. It made very little sense. Lee Jin-wook is always charismatic to watch. Kwon Nara is less so, particularly as she blips in and out of the Goreyo scenes and obviously isn't wearing the same "war and famine" make-up as everyone else.

My greater fear is that we are going to have another "unstoppable immortal guy/helpless mortal girl" relationship, like in Hwaguyi and a couple of other recent dramas, in which the length of the format starts reminding us that the female lead, however she is touted, is just a Mcguffin for the male lead to save and fight over while the side characters do more interesting things.

Really, though, who is going to be the antagonist in this drama? Random monster mooks? How did Sang-Yeon KNOW she was on her last reincarnation? What difference does it make if this was true? And what actual role in the drama is the hapless Sang-Eon going to play? She hasn't show enough strength or skills to survive more then a few minutes once another monster shows up. Is she going to be baggage for Hwal to carry around for the next dozen episodes?

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I think another creature killed Sang-yeon and the mother. I don't believe it was our male lead. I do have questions about the whole twin situation, but I'll wait and see how the show answers those questions.

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The creature that killed them was a Bulgasal but not our lead it was the second lead.

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Yeah, I guess it was obvious to all of us that it was Lee Joon. We were all able to recognize him, even in shadow. :)

Unfortunately, our female lead doesn't have that advantage, so she will have reason to fear Hwal.

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I wrote this above but our female lead doesn't know who she's running from or why so she may fear Hwal or she may not if her soul doesn't see him as a threat.

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Was he wearing the dreaded Dark Hoodie of Horror? It is almost as common as the Truck of Doom and the Black Hat of Criminal intent.

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Black hat of criminal intent hahahaha

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My only question at this time is this:

For anyone that knows Korean folklore/cryptids...is Bulgasal a known entity or made new for this show?

I had tried to look up any possible history/lore on it and came up with zilch. 😕

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@Lily left the valley: This WP entry seems useful as it refers to a mythical dog called bulgae that chases souls: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulgae

Bulgae is defined as “ fire dog (불 개)” . Bulgasal is spelt in Hangeul as 불가살 so as you can see, there is a definite commonality between the two words.

Also interesting that there is an ancient dog breed by the same name which has been near extinction.

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Thank you for the references!

Now I'm wondering if this is a type of biped variant of a hell hound that takes place or a reaper or something?

*bounces out to read about the dog*

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You might be on to something!🤔

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Yay! Thank you for this. 🤓

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Ok...now that I've read all the comments, I have to ask...

Am I the ONLY person that is dying to know the backstory of the Bulgasal/shaman link (especially after the young modern day twins fled to the home of what I'm assuming was the shaman sister's current reincarnation?)

Is the twins reincarnating going to be a theme in their backstory? Did the one sister become a shaman because the other became the Bulgasal?

I HAVE SO MANY BACKSTORY QUESTIONS!

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This was a weird one. A lot of self fulfilling prophecy in this one. He became a monster because they called him one often enough. I'm not sure I like it yet, but we shall see.

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This is not gonna end up as a love story between Lee jin wook and nara, right? Right??

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I loved the first two episodes.
Feels like the 2021 film Cloud Atlas meets Goblin/Tale of nine tailed/Kingdom...
I like the idea of looking for each other to kill, not to fall in love again.

But I guess no recap or we-cap or open thread for this drama either...?
I know everything drama isn't recapped but no recap for The Red Sleeve and this... (there was a drama hangout once for RS... but still)
Putting a high value on only low rating/less buzzwothy dramas seems like DB's policy...

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Oh I meant to say "2012" film...

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Is this getting recapped after all? The article says that it is an opening week review only, yet I see Bulsagal in the currently recapping section. Or will it get an open thread or drama hangout?

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We're going to do weecaps for this since everyone seems interested~

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Yay thank you!!! ^^

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Yayyyyy!
Thank You!!!

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Adding my thanks as well! 🤗

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Finally got caught up! The first episode was epic and long. It felt like a movie. Seriously. Haven't seen so much blood in a while. I didn't know it would have creepy, horror elements too. I looked up the writers and discovered they're the ones behind The Guest. So that makes sense now.

I'm excited about the folklore/fate parts of this story. I was anxious for the present, but seeing the past was crucial. I'm glad General Dan has been reincarnated!! His final few scenes with Hwal were surprisingly touching.

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I have to agree with some commenters that the first eps is too bogged down by exposition. It's good, but I can feel the entirety of 78 minutes passed by slowly. The second eps though, is very much engaging despite us meeting some of the characters for the first time.

I don't know how I could be misinformed at the beginning, because I thought this would be an epic love story with immortal characters. Which, definitely not my preferred genre. But apparently this was an epic revenge dark fantasy tale, which just right up my alley. I'm still not sure what the goal of this drama is, what would be the endpoint of this tale, but somehow the not knowing only made this journey so much more thrilling (at least for now). Sometimes it's nice to watch something less predictable.

As for the specific of our story, I found it interesting that the surviving girl is "the wrong one", the one who doesn't remember the past life, the one with no scar, and presumably, the one whose soul is not Hwal's. (Or do the twins share a soul because they are twins? Hmm...) She has no preconceived reaction about this mystery surrounding Bulgasal, despite all the precaution her sister told her. Which makes her more capable of making an unexpected decision that would fulfill the shaman's hope of stopping the bloody cycle of this curse.

As for Hwal, I'm still not sure how I feel about having a lead that is literally the scariest monster out there. Is his restraint to not kill human as food enough to make up for his blood lust and desire for vengeance and his casualness about committing another act of violence?

On that note, I wonder if the hazy recollection about Sang-un's family's killer is merely a way to show how traumatic everything is for her, or whether there is a possibility that Hwal is actually not the one committing that murder despite the sister's claim that it was Bulgasal chasing her? I mean, Hwal seemed to be reconsidering things after his epiphany about his tangled karma with the red-clad woman, so him massacring the whole family just didn't sit right with me. (Besides, it would be much easier to swallow if Hwal restricted himself to kill just the bad human, instead of anyone who stood in his way.)

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Everytime I see the name General Dan, I just want to shout Hey Lieutenant Dan!

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