Destinations

Korea’s Deadliest Monster: The Bulgasal

Korean mythology’s deadliest monster is the Bulgasal. Its name literally means impossible to kill. The immortal beast has been the subject of nightmares for Korean children and adults alike for thousands of years. Recently, the monster provided inspiration for the Korean drama series Bulgasal Immortal Souls. And so, here is everything you need to know about the Bulgasal

Bulgasal Folk Story

Description of the Monster

The Bulgasal (불가살) is described in Korean classic literature as a creature that is impossible for mortals to kill. It is a blood-thirsty beast that grows bigger the more metal it eats. And so, as brave knights approach the beast, it slaughters the men, devours their weapons, and grows only stronger.

The traditional description of the deadly bulgasal is a creature that has the body of a bear, the nose of an elephant, the eyes of a rhino, the paws of a tiger, teeth like hacksaws, the skin of a snake, and the tail of a bull.

Traditional Bulgasal

The Bulgasal’s Origin Story

The most common story starts when a monk. At the time, practicing Buddhism was illegal. And so, the monk was on the run, hiding as the result of a government-issued order to arrest all Buddhist monks. He asks his sister for help and shelter and she hides him in a wardrobe.

However, the sister betrays her brother. In order to receive the bounty money, she asks her husband to help her report the monk to the police. But, her husband was a loyal Buddhist and was horrified by his wife’s evil suggestion. So, he killed his wife and let the monk go free. 

While hidden away in the closet, the monk created a beast-shaped object out of steamed rice grains and fed it needles. The little creature grew and began eating all kinds of metal, growing bigger each time.

The monster eventually grew to an enormous size. The government sent soldiers to kill the monster equipt with swords and arrows. But as the weapons were metal, the Bulgasal only grew stronger. Eventually, the soldiers decided to melt the Bulgasari with fire but it did not phase the monster at all. In fact, the Bulgasari carried the fire and burned the village to the ground along with its inhabitants.

To this day, the Bulgasal is said to roam the forests of Korea. However, in some versions of the story, monks succeeded in killing the monster.

Places in Korea 

The Bulgasal myth is a traditional oral tale, that has been passed down for at least 2,000 years. The story takes place during the late Goryeo era and the area surrounding the kingdom’s capital.

Although scary, Bulgasal paintings can be found on folding screens and chimneys in old Korean houses. It is believed that honoring the spirit of the monster protects people against natural disasters and fires.

In fact, several images of the beast can be found around Gyeongbokgung Palace. Including carvings on staircases, bridges, and the foundations of buildings. Inside, they can also be found in murals and various pieces of furniture.

Bulgasal carving on the palace.

Bulgasal Drama

The Bulgasal legend was recently adapted into a Korean drama series.

The drama is listed in English as Bulgasal Immortal Souls or Immortality. It is a dark, suspenseful, and emotional TV show. It falls into the categories of fantasy, thriller, and romance. However it is a bit gory, so the appropriate age for viewing the drama is 15+. 

Scene from Bulgasal.

Bulgasal Plot

Disclaimer: Some spoilers ahead.

The main plot of Bulgasal shows a child that was born to a dead mother. As the child was abandoned by the father, he becomes an orphan. However, the child was adopted by the general of Goryeo who named the boy Hwal. Hwal grows up to be a warrior that kills monsters alongside his father.

But one day, a Bulgasal kills Hwal’s adopted family. In the process, turning him into a Bulgasal, and the monster turns into a human by stealing Hwal’s soul.

From that day on, Hwal searches for the monster for more than 600 years, just to find out that it was reincarnated into twins. Then, the TV show proceeds to show the life of the characters.

Actors

A few of the main actors and other works of them can be found on the list below:

  • Lee Jin-Wook as Dan Hwal (also in Sweet Home, Voice 2, and High Society)
  • Kwon Nara as Kim Hwa-Yeon (Itaewon Class, Royal Secret Agent, and girl group Hello Venus)
  • Lee Joon as Ok Eui Tae (The Silent Sea, Rough Play, and boy band MBLAQ)
  • Gong Seung-Yeon as Min Si-ho (Are You Human, Flower Crew: Joseon Marriage Agency)
  • Kim Woo Seok as Nam Do-Yoon (Twenty-twenty, Produce X 101, and boy groups Up10titon and X1)

Seasons

Bulgasal has one season so far, with 16 episodes. The production companies Studio Dragon and Show Runners released it on December 18, 2021. The original network the show was broadcasted under was tvN, but you can now find it on Netflix.

Conclusion 

Bulgasal is one of the fiercest monsters in Korean mythology. No other creatures are as immortal and as ruthless as the Bulgasal. As Korea is becoming known around the world for its dramas of the thriller genre, chances are we will see more of the Bulgasal in the near future.

Interested in learning more about Korean myths and monsters? Click Here to read about the Korean nine-taled fox, the Gumiho.

🇧🇷 Dani Quintana

Hello ~~ I'm Dani, a Brazilian student living in the countryside of South Korea. I'm happy to be sharing any fun experience here and I hope to be helping other people to find exciting activities around SK!