K-dramas always bring something new to the table, and even when they are boring, they do it innovatively. The Bequeathed is the story of Yoon Seo Ha, who inherits a funeral home and finds herself at the center of an inexplicable mystery that seems hell-bent on killing her and everyone connected to her inheritance. True to the K-drama style, the interpersonal relationships between characters are complicated and trauma-laced. Seo Ha’s father abandoned her at a young age, and Seo Ha had to grow up with a mother who was willing to let her daughter be in the vicinity of a predatory man, as long as they had a roof over their heads. Seo Ha’s father cared for her, but he had another family, and that was clearly his priority. In the present day, Seo Ha is in a dead-end job where her employer deliberately fails her to take advantage of her situation. Meanwhile, her husband is cheating, so even though Seo Ha did not know anything about the funeral home a day before, it became her lifeline to get out of a terrible situation. She also discovers that her half-brother may not be sane, but his intentions are impossible to read. Is he trying to protect her, or is he the reason she is in danger? Additionally, it wouldn’t be a true Korean thriller if the investigators did not have a dark past themselves. These are not complaints, but observations about the better parts of the series. In all honesty, it is amazing how these intertwine with the actual mystery and give the audience a truly shocking plot twist at the end. But the reason this show is being categorized as ‘boring’ is because of the investigation itself. It had its moments, but the thrill was far from consistent.
In any thriller, it is the investigation that forms the crux of the story. The final reveal may be the one that gives the audience a rush of adrenaline, but the investigation is also supposed to keep you on your toes. It shouldn’t feel like something one has to compulsorily sit through to get to the end. The Bequeathed fails in that regard.
To point out the positives, the actors are fantastic. Kim Hyun Joo, who plays Yoon Seo Ha, does not bother with the ‘all-suffering’ face, and it feels like a welcome change. Usually, when women are shown to be aware of their husbands’ infidelity in dramas and have no option but to deal with it, the actors playing them adopt a stoic face meant to convey dignity in a hopeless situation. But Kim Hyun Joo has that all-knowing look in her eyes, and one can sense the words threatening to spill out from behind her silence. The reason this comes to our attention is because she actually puts on that all-suffering look with her predatory boss. Watching her exhibit different emotions in equally dead-end situations was like a breath of fresh air. It was too little, but it was something. On the other hand, while Ryu Kyung Soo conveyed the disorientation of Kim Young Ho rather well, his character should have been better written. Was it necessary to show him as only being a loose cannon? Why couldn’t he speak more coherently, and if he could not, would it have hurt to include an explanation about his mental health state? There is nothing wrong with his character being used to add to the eerie atmosphere, but one must choose when to pull back and add some more meaning to such an important character. Finally, there are the detectives. The actors are veterans in their jobs and are decently written, so there is nothing there to point out.
The series also dabbles in a fair bit of spirituality, and the fact that it doesn’t capitalize on it more is surprising, considering that The Bequeathed was co-written by the creator of Hellbound. The series is based on a webtoon, which we haven’t read and can’t speak for how true the screen adaptation has been to the original story, but it is unignorable that someone on the team did not have a grasp on the plot. The screenplay felt a little erratic and not composed enough to lead up to the ending it did. Either that should have been worked on more, or the series needed to be two episodes shorter. But coming back to the original point, the audience always loves it when an element of spirituality or ominosity is added to a thriller. It gives greater depth to the culprit and a look at the circumstances that could have created them. Perhaps it also feeds into the audience’s natural inclination to classify things as black or white so that they don’t have to feel sympathy for an antagonist who couldn’t have been anything but evil. Alas, that was neither recognized nor used by the show’s writers.
The final reveal at the end was proof that the writers’ dared to do something different. From the webtoon’s author to the writers of the series, they caught hold of an interesting mystery, but the execution seems to have suffered due to too many cooks in the writing kitchen. That is the only thing that needs to be fixed. It is worth imagining how good this drama could have been had the investigation been as interesting as the reveal at the end.
While watching The Bequeathed, an Indian show comes to mind titled Kohrra because of the eerie atmosphere and whose investigation is similarly mingled with human stories, which form the crux of the plot. Yet, the latter knew how to keep the pace even, and that is why it held one’s attention despite too many subplots connecting haphazardly. If only “The Bequeathed” had known how to do that. Looking at the talent in the writing room, one is forced to consider whether this wasn’t a project they actively cared about, and that is why it had such a fate. Either way, this year is giving us the second season of Hellbound, so there is that to look forward to.