REVIEW: Gyeongseong Creature

Continuing my obsession with South Korean silver screen productions, I recently watched Gyeongseong Creature from Netflix, a retelling of late WW2 Japanese occupation of South Korea and the horrific actions of Unit 731. Starring Park Seo-jun (Parasite), Han So-hee (My Name), Claudia Kim (Marco Polo), and Choi Young-joon (Bloodhounds), Gyeongseong Creature is an action and emotion-packed story about generational trauma that mixes WW2 history with monster horror.

In Gyeongseong Creature, Jang Tae-sang is the wealthiest man in Gyeongseong, and manages The House of Golden Treasure–a very illustrious pawn shop–in occupied South Korea. he can find anything and anyone, for a price, and remains ambivalent to the Japanese occupation, refusing to take any part in his childhood friend Kwon Jun-taek’s rebel force’s actions to take back Gyeongseong. Yoon Chae-ok and her father are sleuths, earning their living the last ten years finding people, all while searching for her missing mother. A lead on her mother has brought them to Gyeongseong, and to Ongseong Hospital, and to the horrors that Japanese Unit 731 are creating in its depths.

What writer Kang Eun-kyung and director Chung Dong-yoon have done really well in Gyeongseong Creature is merge the horrors of WW2’s worst occupations, the trauma those occupations brought on the people, and a believable horror science concept. Not too dissimilar to the themes you would find in a show about German-occupied Belgium or Netherlands, Gyeongseong Creature really focusses on the indomitable spirit of run-of-the-mill people amongst the horrors of some of the worst conflicts in human history. And while, in human history, the horrors are almost always people, in this show the horrors are created by the villains of modern history and are very much monstrous.

While I’ve mentioned in previous reviews of Squid Game and All of Us are Dead that South Korean film acting approaches vary quite significantly from the Western ones I grew up with, with what I would view as serious scenery chewing being enjoyed and respected in their local markets, it landed quite well in Gyeongseong Creature, for me. It made scenes have more significant weight, where with the WW2 backdrop and historical trauma in play, the actors showcasing that pain meant something. Park Seo-jun delivers his part as the affluent, cool, and very aloof character at first, who both changes as a person and in the eyes of the viewer as the show reveals the plot, really well. That cool, nonchalant character is definitely a character trope in South Korean film that I am growing to enjoy more and more. Han So-hee’s badarse sleuth character is also delivered well. She can fight, she doesn’t put up with Jang Tae-sang’s bullshit, and she is driven to find her mother to a maniacal degree. Her intense, full on, delivery of this character makes her my favourite in the show. I also loved the supporting cast, especially Kwon Jun-taek and the staff at the House of Golden Treasure.

These characters, and many of the other supporting characters, also deliver plenty of grey morality that I think grimdark fans will enjoy. They ask questions about what you would do under torture. Who would you betray and could you be forgiven for that betrayal in the context of history? What you would do if you were a soldier in an invading force? If you were wealthy, would you risk it all to help people less fortunate, or would you let them be ground down under the occupier? As the obvious and to-be-revealed villains of the story are generally quite one-dimensional, it’s these supporting cast characters that really deliver what our fans are after.

There were definitely also a bunch of scenes towards the end where I was ripping my hair out and shouting at the TV with frustration at some of the monster actions (not the character’s, funnily enough). The creature’s powers and fighting moves are well documented throughout the episodes, but as the stakes get higher and the bodycount makes you wonder if the hospital has sucked in all the Japanese soldiers in the Asia Pacific region, the creature seems to go from lightning fast to molasses slow when you need a main character to survive. It then forgets some of its most powerful moves when you need the Japanese forces who couldn’t stop it previously, to stop it for a moment to further the story. Sometimes, I swear, I heard the spirits of a thousand Star Wars stormtroopers shouting out, “You see!? It isn’t just us!”

I would highly recommend fans of Western WW2 and horror crossovers use Gyeongseong Creature as a means to expand your horizons. We aren’t really taught much about the broader Asia scope of WW2, but some of the worst horrors of WW2 were committed in the unrelenting heat and rain, and brutal winters (in the north), of Asia (eg. the Japanese killed 20 million people during WW2 in China). War history or horror fan, definitely check out Gyeongseong Creature.

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.