Death's Game

Death’s Game Is All Spectacle and K-Drama WTF-Ness

Dept. of Redemptive Reapings


Based on the webtoon of the same name by Lee Won-sik and Ggulchan, Death’s Game seems to have everything going for it: multiple fanbases to cash in on, an absolutely stellar cast of all my favourite oppas (Seo In-guk, Kim Ji-hoon, Kim Jae-wook, Lee Do-hyun, Oh Jung-se, with Park So-dam playing Death, thrown in for good measure), and an intriguing storyline – Death wants to play a game with an “unfortunate” soul who has decided to take his own life. And yet, its director-writer, Ha Byung-hoon, kind of gets in his own way…

The story centers around Choi Yi-jae, played by Seo In-guk, a down on his luck go-getter who’s been trying to find a steady full time job. After a series unfortunate events, Yi-jae decides that he’s finally had enough, and takes his own life – it’s life he’s afraid of, not death. Only to wake up and come face-to-face with Death herself, played by Park So-dam.

Unhappy that Yi-jae rushed to meet her before she came for him, Death decides that punishment is in order. She’ll transport his consciousness into 13 different people facing imminent death, and if Yi-jae can “save himself,” he will get to live out the rest of that person’s life. For someone at the end of his tether, it does sound like kind of a raw deal, but Death doesn’t really give you a choice, and you just have to try and play her game…

An Unreliable Adaptation

Death's Game

The issues with this series arise when writer-director Ha Byung-hoon takes plot points and dialogue wholesale from the webtoon itself. Mainly because the main character, Choi Yi-jae, is very different from the one in the webtoon. Where the webtoon’s Yi-jae was an unrepentant loafer convinced that the world owes him a living, the one here is a hard worker who just can’t seem to catch a break in life. Perhaps the screen version of Yi-jae is closer to what young Koreans are facing these days, but I don’t think that is necessarily the message that Ha is going for.

It is because of this big difference that places certain character choices at odds with some parts of the story. At first, I had thought Ha wanted to make Yi-jae an unreliable narrator – there certainly were enough discrepancies in the character for that – but as the series progressed, it seems that Ha had other intentions.

It is also worth noting that this seems to be director Ha Byung-hoon’s first attempt at writing and adapting a series, so maybe we can chalk it up to newbie writing mistakes. He does seem to be trying to shoehorn in some pretty big thriller elements into this story. And the results are both dubious and eyebrow raising.

Watch This One for the Oppas

Death's Game

Maybe there wasn’t enough material for eight episodes (the webtoon only has 66 chapters), or maybe the producers wanted something more exciting, this show feels a little like director Ha Byung-hoon’s attempts to differentiate himself from his previous works and refashion himself into an action thriller director.

The action sequences are slick and frankly not entirely incongruous with the show, but Ha has turned a webtoon about one man’s redemption and character growth into a kind of thriller murder-mystery. He seems to be trying to juggle a lot of things at once with these first four episodes. The show will hopefully be saved by the second half where Ha will like employ more of his own characters and plots, but only time will tell.

The acting in this show though cannot be faulted. Sure, I may be biased as I stan for all of these actors, but for the record, I stan for all these actors precisely because I think they’re incredibly skilled and talented. (I’m not just an admirer of a pretty faces!) And the trailers for Part 2 of the series promises exactly what I love about my top two oppas – Kim Ji-hoon and Kim Jae-wook. (If you don’t want any spoilers, I do advise that you do not watch the trailer for Part 2. Also if you’re a fan of Jae-wook’s from Her Private Life, you may not be amused…)

So watch this show for some really solid performances, some pretty fun antics, as well as a smattering of heartfelt moments. What the story lacks in perfect cohesion, it makes up for in spectacle and K-drama WTF-ness. 

Note: If you would like a more insightful and equally fun meditation on life, death, and our life choices, check out Tomorrow on Netflix – a 16-episode modern fantasy K-drama about a man who gets caught up in a misadventure between reapers, while trying to save a man from suicide. 

Death’s Game Part 1 is already available to stream on Prime Video. Part 2 drops January 5, 2024.

Amelia's earliest movie memory is watching Jurassic Park with her dad but having to leave halfway due to a blackout - ah, the 90s. Her favourite TV show is Criminal Minds (it's like a cozy bedtime story) and she hates sitcoms. Since the pandemic, she's been mainlining K-dramas and now stans for Kim Jae Wook and Seo In Guk, so expect some sasaeng level coverage. She's also the resident girl-geek at Geeks in Malaysia. #brieisnotmycarol

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