Takasi Miike is not known for his cinematic restraint. The Japanese filmmaker has made a name for himself internationally (with films like 13 Assassins, Ichi The Killer, and Gozu) in part for his skill in depicting violence enacted on the human body in creative, grotesque, and visceral ways. This talent is on full display in the opening moments of Connect, an upcoming Korean supernatural horror series based on the Webtoon of the same name.
In the opening sequence of the first three episodes screened for audiences at the Busan International Film Festival, we see protagonist Ha Dong-soo (Snowdrop’s Jung Hae-in) kidnapped from the dark streets of Seoul and taken to a makeshift operating room where his eyes are plucked from his face by organ harvesters. Takashi puts the viewer in Dong-soo’s head as it happens, giving us a point-of-view perspective as we hear the squelch of the eyeballs torn from Dong-soo’s skull, nerves left dangling.
This would be the end for Dong-soo, if not for his supernatural ability to heal from any wound, squirming tentacles erupting from any break or cut to stitch his body back together. (I mentioned this was adapted from a Webtoon, right?) Dong-soo wakes up on the dissection table, in search of his missing eyeballs, from which he can still see. He only has time to grab the one from a nearby tray, popping it back into his eye socket before he has to run for his life.
It’s unclear why Oh Jin-seop (Decision to Leave’s Ko Kyung-po) wants an eye transplant, but he ends up with Dong-soo’s missing eye. A narcissist serial killer who has recently begun turning the corpses of his victims into public works of art around the city, Jin-seop is giving strong Hannibal vibes. When Dong-soo begins to catch visual glimpses of Jin-seop’s life from his stolen eyeball, he sets out to stop Jin-seop from killing more people.
It’s an incredibly bizarre and high-concept plot, and it says a lot about Takashi’s specific skills as a visual storyteller that he is able to hold it nearly seamlessly together. However, sometimes the plot strings do become slightly visible. For example, Dong-soo’s connection to Jin-seop is triggered by the playing of a song that was recorded by Dong-soo—yes, he’s a musician—and put up anonymously on the internet. The tune has become an organic viral hit and, when Jin-seop is within earshot of its playing, Dong-soo’s eye recognizes the melody and connects to Dong-soo. However, the song is so hauntingly, beautifully weaved into the story universe, it seems rude to point out its heavy-handedness as a plot device.
You’d think Dong-soo would be at an advantage here, given both the magical eye and the superhuman healing ability, but his social isolation makes stopping Jin-seop difficult. While Jin-seop is a respectable and affluent office worker, Dong-soo lives on the fringes of society. This is exacerbated by the loss of his eye. He wears an eyepatch for most of the first three episodes, and when it is occasionally removed, the public reacts in hyperbolic horror, like Dong-soo is some kind of “Elephant Man” (which, to be clear, would still not warrant this kind of reaction) rather than a very traditionally attractive young man with only one eye.
Dong-soo’s search for Jin-seop is made more difficult by the fact that he doesn’t actually know what Jin-seop looks like, and by the organ harvesters hot on Dong-soo’s tail. They’ve realized Dong-soo has superhuman healing ability, and see dollar signs (er, won signs). Dong-soo would probably be in their clutches almost immediately if not for the help of Irang (Inspector Koo’s Kim Hye-jun), a mysterious and incredibly competent young woman who keeps showing up to save the day.
It’s too bad Connect isn’t premiering in the U.S. for the Halloween season. Centered around a deeply humanist character isolated from society and perceived to be a monster in some way, the show has shades of Frankenstein and other supernatural-tinged creature features. (You know if Frankenstein’s the Creature were around today, he would be posting emo ballads on YouTube.) The series is marked for a Disney+ release in Korea in December, with a U.S. release presumably soon to follow. (In the Soop: Friendcation, a Korean variety show featuring BTS’ V premiered its first of four episodes on Disney+ in various Asian countries in July, and will hit Disney+ in the U.S. this month—a three-month delay. Perhaps Connect will follow a similar schedule.)
Whenever it comes out in the U.S., the delay will be worth the wait. While Connect wasn’t the most affecting TV drama I saw at BIFF (shout outs to Recipe For Farewell and Weak Hero Class 1), the first three episodes were an absolute ride that frequently had people (including me) watching the visceral body horror through their fingers. For TV watchers who aren’t squeamish, Connect has much to offer. Part serial killer detective drama, part supernatural horror, part low-key musical, the genre mashup will have you desperate to find out what happens next.
Kayti Burt is a culture critic with bylines at TIME, MTV News, Refinery29, and Den of Geek. For more pop culture analysis, including K-culture context, you can follow her @kaytiburt and visit her website.
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