Warning: This article contains discussion of subjects including mental health issues that some may find distressing.


New Netflix limited series The Bequeathed is a K-drama of two halves. Created by Train to Busan director Yeon Sang-ho and directed by Min Hong-nam, the South Korean drama is an atmospheric, paranoia-inducing thriller in its first three episodes that evokes the creeping, ambiguous dread of K-horror.

But in search of a twist, and powered by an insensitive misrepresentation of mental illness, it delivers a second half that lacks punch, cohesion and pushes an ending it doesn't at any point earn.

The series begins with Yoon Seo-ha (Kim Hyun-joo) swiping through photographs of her husband leaving a motel with another woman when she receives a call from the police notifying her that an uncle she's never had any kind of relationship with has died. Little goes right for Seo-ha as she navigates an exploitative job and unsatisfying marriage, yet despite their estrangement, her uncle has left her a valuable tract of burial land.

It's not a piece of land of that we see physically much of, but as her uncle's death turns into a murder investigation, it becomes central to the swirling agendas that filter through The Bequeathed's bloated six-episode run.

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A curiously festive mood settles on Seo-ha's uncle's funeral, until it's interrupted by a shambling, slack-jawed figure with a vacant look and jittery manner. He introduces himself as Yeo-ha's half-brother, Kim Young-ho (Ryu Kyung-soo) before grabbing her and screaming that he has just as much right to the family burial ground as she does.

Had The Bequeathed kept its focus around the initial death and fashioned a gloomy thriller about a suspicious death linked to a development project, it might have made for an interesting story, especially as Min Hong-nam's direction is an expert lesson in pacing and creating a brooding tension. Yet, as the bodies pile up around Seo-ha and Young-ho is repeatedly cast as the culprit while also portrayed as troubled and mentally ill, The Bequeathed sags under the weight of its numerous clichés and stereotypes.

Kim young-ho sitting in front of a table with candles and trinkets on it
Ryu Kyung-soo as Kim young-ho in The Bequeathed. Jeong Se Hyeon/Netflix © 2024

Most of the clichés in Yeon's script are handled ably by Min, but once Young-ho starts stalking his sister, smearing her door with chicken blood and chasing her down in the street, the series peddles the same tired and harmful tropes about mental illness and violence that we've seen all-too frequently in film and TV.

It's hard to pin down exactly what Young-ho's depiction is supposed to portray. Ryu's performance is ambiguous and often melodramatic, while Yeon's script is so slipshod that most elements of the story lack definition. Given Young-ho appears to suffer some form of auditory hallucinations, the best guess is that Yeon has tried to resurrect some clichéd version of schizophrenia.

It's a characterisation that sits uncomfortably with the realities of mental illness and disability, especially as Yeon's script falls apart in later episodes and increasingly relies on making Young-ho appear increasingly erratic and violent to distract from the clumsiness of the series's second half.

Disability is rarely depicted with sincerity – misrepresented, instead, for the sake of drama, with little to no regard of its effect on the disabled community. South Korea, in particular, has recently started to reckon with the concept more regularly. In some cases, that's done with sensitivity, such as how mental illness is explored in Daily Dose of Sunshine. At other times, it's portrayed with a reprehensible lack of regard for the subject, as in The Good Bad Mother and Extraordinary Attorney Woo.

Where The Bequeathed sits on that scale, however, is uncertain.

There is no doubt that Young-ho's depiction as an aggressive, often violent schizophrenic is an ugly and lazy characterisation, and one that deserves to be consigned to the bin. Perhaps worse is the fact that for much of its run time, The Bequeathed threatens to say something about how easily we suspect the mentally ill or assume them to be violent. Both Yeo-ha and the police insist that Young-ho is the murderer, despite a shrinking pool of evidence.

Young-ho may be violent, but he's also the victim of violence, suspicion, and ableism. It reflects what we already know about mental health: that those with serious mental illness are less likely to commit acts of violence than those without, and more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. Yet, none of this feels like a definitive statement. Rather, Young-ho's mental health is constantly used as a tool for misdirection; a loud, aggressive monster in The Bequeathed's pseudo-horror telling that neither makes sense nor works.

Perhaps that is why The Bequeathed is so disappointing. In its fumbling narrative and clumsy writing, Yeon somehow backs himself into a corner in which the show could have had something real to say about the very thing it portrays. Yet, the series ends on an unearned bait-and-switch, that only deepens the frustration that, in 2024, we are still seeing this kind of lazy trope – one that both grossly misrepresents the realities of mental illness and damages the disabled community.

The Bequeathed's insincere representation of mental illness is just one of many issues that afflict this rote, wasted opportunity of a thriller. After a promising start, it falls flat under a string of clichés, an out-of-nowhere twist, and a bloated sense of itself. But most disappointing is, much as the series quickly runs out of ideas, Yeon – who also created Hellbound – lacks the imagination, the insight, to do anything but latch onto tired tropes to create a crime-driven creature feature which appears to demonise mental illness.

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article, please contact Mind. Mind provides advice and support on a range of topics including types of mental health problems. Call 0300 123 3393 or visit www.mind.org.uk.

The Bequeathed is available to stream now on Netflix. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


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