The Cursed Child
Episode 1 of Bulgasal: Immortal Souls begins with an epic swordfight on top of a bridge. Both men wrestle for power, eventually falling into the water below.
Now, this fight is dwarfed by flesh-eating monsters, who watch as one of the men float lifelessly downstream. At the center of this is the last monster, a creature known simply as Bulgasal. He’s been searching for the one person who can help break the curse and allow him to die, given he’s immortal. That person happens to be a chosen one, someone whom this guy has been searching for for 600 years.
Cutting forward through time, we arrive at the late Goryo period. A whole group of poor villagers crunch through the snow. They happen to be in the presence of monsters though, who feast on the horizon. Jomagu is what one of the women refer to them as, and this woman cradles her baby and steps forward, offering up her baby as a sacrifice to these three-eyed demons. Instead, they crawl away.
She’s convinced that her child is cursed, muttering that Bulgasal is coming for her. Unfortunately, that night while everyone else is asleep she hangs herself. Only, the baby is born first. It should have died with her mother, at least according to the shaman among them; an old woman who claims the baby is cursed.
Cut forward 10 years and that baby becomes a 10 year old that’s shunned by the whole tribe. It doesn’t help that the tribe have been living in poverty all this time and eking out a living in the frozen wilderness. Pal-Bong is among those in attendance, but he goes missing one afternoon, taken by these evil monsters. That’s the fourth attack in the past year, and Gu-Bong was there this time to witness it.
Unfortunately this bad luck is blamed on the cursed boy with no name. They believe that Bulgasal has come to the mountain to find him. That night, another attack occurs. It’s a bloodbath, with a strange red-robed man arriving and presumably the culprit for killing all of Pal-Bong’s family. “It is here. It has come all the way to this village.” The old shaman rages when she sees what’s happened, deciding they need to take drastic measures before everyone in the village dies.
The tribe launch a witch-hunt to find and kill the boy. They chase after him, all the way to a frozen lake. As he steps out onto the ice, it gives way and the boy plunges into the icy water below. This poor boy; the child that no one loved or cared about is left to die… or is he?
When the boy opens his eyes, he finds himself safe and awakening in a cave. However, just before the tribe can kill him, a strange woman steps out from the woods and covers him, taking the killing blow from these maniacal men. Just before things escalate further, a soldier trots out from the shadows and questions just what they’re doing.
This General offers a kindness to the boy, deciding to name him Dan Hwal. Hwal means rebirth, so it’s a pretty fitting name. As the tribe watch on in shock, the general decides to take the boy with him. The shaman warns that this will be a bad omen and the only way to break that will be to kill the boy. He takes no notice and rides off.
This leads along nicely to the early Joseon period. We’re 17 years later and Hwal is a vital part of the army. In fact, in their hunt to destroy all the monsters, he’s the focal point of this well-sharpened blade. Despite the soldiers chanting his name after battle, he’s still regarded suspiciously by the other high-ranking officials. Part of this comes from their fear of him.
The only one who doesn’t fear him is the General. Unfortunately he’s been struggling to have any children, with his wife’s recent attempt ending prematurely. It’s heartbreaking to see, and Hwal is the one to bury the body and honour the babe’s memory.
Now, Hwal also has a son of his own, A-Chan, but he happens to be blind with visible blood stains against his bandages. Hwal sees this, remembers the shaman’s words and immediately realizes the curse of Bulgasal is real. In order to stop this and free them of this plague, Hwal decides to leave and hunt for Bulgasal himself. He’s also going to take A-Chan with him.
After an ambush on the road, Hwal remains more determined than ever to track down the evil spirit. Only, Bulgasal comes to him that night. It’s an absolute bloodbath and even worse, A-Chan is killed in the ensuing conflict. Blood stains the floor, his wife is dead and Hwal is left to drown in his own grief.
As he lays with his son, a red-robed woman appears behind him and plunges a sword into his back. Hwal’s eyes immediately begin glowing as it appears that Bulgasal has possessed him.
The Episode Review
Wow, what an epic opening episode! Bulgasal: Immortal Souls feels like a proper epic fantasy drama. Much like Goblin managed to instill some of that with its flashbacks and prophecy about an immortal cursed being all those years ago, so too does Bulgasal. There’s some really well-worked scenes here, great visual design and some sweeping vistas that really show off the beauty of Korea.
There are also echoes of Arthdal Chronicles here, although unlike that politically driven fantasy, this one feels much more geared toward dark fantasy concepts and the supernatural. Hwal’s introduction across the opening 30 minutes are absolutely perfect.
If this is a sign of what we’ve got to look forward to over the weeks, then this definitely looks like a must-watch weekend drama. Where Jirisan failed to capture those epic vibes, could Bulgasal be the one to rekindle that for the latest tvN weekend drama?
It certainly seems so based on this showing and with Disney+ faffing around with their streaming times for Snowdrop (which appears to be the International market’s direct competition with this), it looks like Bulgasal has taken an early lead. Whether it will stay that way however, remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure though, this is one epic k-drama!