Disney+ K-drama Blood Free: Ju Ji-hoon, Han Hyo-joo lead sci-fi series that looks like it’s dumping its big ideas already

Lead cast: Ju Ji-hoon, Han Hyo-joo

Disney+ action-sci-fi Blood Free is the latest Korean series to dip its toes into dystopia.

Leading the show is Moving star Han Hyo-joo as the entrepreneur behind a cultured meat corporation that revolutionises global food production, and Ju Ji-hoon (Kingdom) as her tough-as-nails bodyguard.

The series opens with a product launch presentation put on by Blood Free, a corporation that has successfully developed a lab-cultured meat product that does not require the slaughter of animals and has managed to capture a 72 per cent share of the meat market in a short time.

Following a holographic presentation of their exploits to date, CEO Yun Ja-yu (Han) takes to the stage to present their latest innovation. The side doors of the conference room open and servers wheel in meals of cultured fish. She also makes that bold claim that they will successfully create cultured grain products within the next six months.

Shareholders in the room are delighted but it is a different story outside, where protesters are split into two groups: the environmentalists supporting Blood Free and the agricultural workers against it.

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On her way back to the office, while Ja-yu’s car is stuck in traffic, a body lands on her roof. She escapes with only minor bruises, but the dead man is revealed to have been an agricultural worker negatively affected by Blood Free’s innovations who intended to do her harm.

This is not the first time Ja-yu’s life has been put in danger, and soon her company is put in jeopardy when it is hacked by a group known as Citizen X, which demands a ransom of 80 billion won (US$58 million).

Given all these troubles, Ja-yu’s team feels that she needs a full-time bodyguard, and the top applicant for that post is Woo Chae-woon (Ju), a former soldier with extensive skills and experience.

Han Hyo-joo as Blood Free CEO Yun Ja-yu in a still from Blood Free. Photo: Disney+

Chae-woon passes all the interview tests, which include several elaborate VR stages, with flying colours, but what Blood Free does not know is that he has ulterior motives for getting close to Ja-yu.

He used to be the bodyguard for former South Korean President Lee Mun-gyu (Jeon Kuk-hwan), who lost his grip on power when he lost his legs during a terrorist attack. He believes that someone within a small group of powerful figures is responsible, and Ja-yu is one of those suspects.

Like much other Korean sci-fi screen content, Blood Free puts its social and scientific themes out front and centre as the series begins. But once the aggressive exposition is out of the way and the story takes over, those themes are quickly relegated to the sidelines.

Ju Ji-hoon as bodyguard Woo Chae-woon in a still from Blood Free. Photo: Disney+

This will be disappointing for viewers who are drawn in by the show’s sci-fi concept. We do live in a world in which a growing population is putting more pressure on available arable land, and in which people are increasingly grappling with the moral and environmental implications of killing animals for food.

While certain scientific advances could alleviate some of these problems, they would also give rise to other issues, namely economic ones, as the countless people involved in global food production would have their livelihoods greatly affected.

Blood Free touches on all of this within its first few minutes, but throughout the rest of its opening pair of episodes, the show does not seem terribly interested in expanding on these themes or threading them in a more compelling way to the narrative that unfolds.

Han Hyo-joo as Blood Free CEO Yun Ja-yu in a still from Blood Free. Photo: Disney+

Furthermore, the show also falls into the disappointing pattern of Korean sci-fi series that open with grand ideas only to quickly boil down into insular stories.

The threat to Blood Free is initially shown to be a global one, but by episode two it becomes clear that not only is it domestic, it is probably coming from within the small group of confidantes that form the core of Ja-yu’s company. Suddenly, a big story begins to feel very small.

From writer Lee Soo-yeon, the show is an improvement over her previous Disney+ sci-fi series Grid, but it falls well short of the charms of her signature show Stranger. So far the characterisations are dry, the narrative lacks a compelling hook, and the sci-fi and social concepts feel like they are only there for show.
Jeon Kuk-hwan (left) as former South Korean President Lee Mun-gyu and Ju Ji-hoon as bodyguard Woo Chae-woon in a still from Blood Free. Photo: Disney+.

Even if Blood Free is not going to be an epic tale about where humanity may find itself in a few years’ time, at the very least it should be a bit more fun than this.

Blood Free is streaming on Disney+.


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