First Impression Review: Fierce, Yet Good-Natured Competition Power “Physical: 100,” Netflix’s Potential New Korean Hit

Physical 100 Korean Series Netflix Review

No spoilers.

Netflix looks to have its next big Korean hit with reality-competition series Physical: 100 (피지컬: 100). One hundred contestants from various fields in top physical shape compete in a series of grueling challenges to be the last one standing. And to claim the honor and 300 million won cash prize.

In the opening moments of the series, Olympic athletes, bodybuilders, soldiers, first responders, models, influences and everyone in between assemble in a cavernous room filled with plaster busts of their chiseled torsos. Each one representing not only their spot in the competition, but also as examples of the human physique. Of which these 100 contestants hope to exemplify as the best.

It’s hard of course to be able to introduce 100 different people. But Physical: 100 carefully points us to potential stars as well as build up endearing underdogs as well.

Physical 100 Korean Series Netflix Review

Rivals, friends, comrades, families, couples and even revered idols admire and size each other up before an Orewellian-like voice with a pulsating eye on a big screen immediately throws them into their first, sort of warm-up challenge. Quest 0 has the competitors hanging from an apparatus suspended from the ceiling with the aim to be the last one standing. Or hanging, in this case.

Completed in two separate rounds, half of the competitors in each, this first challenge is an excellent way to not only help us meet these 100 competitors a bit more, but also set the stage for the competition itself. As the series opens, much is made of each of the competitors’ bodies and the idea of the perfect physique. But this challenge shows that the competition won’t merely be about physical strength, but mental strength as well. Along with some strategy too.

Physical 100 Korean Series Netflix Review

This first battle of endurance emphasizes how these 100 competitors are all equals, regardless of gender or background. And it helps to expand on the varied personalities and backgrounds each of them have.

The results of this Quest 0 dictate how the first official challenge (Quest 1) is set-up. And that first “death match” sees the competitors in one-on-one face-offs, eliminating half of the field by the end of it.

Quest 0 was absolutely a taste of what’s to come as this first challenge has competitors needing to be the last person holding a ball at the end of three minutes. Battling in two “arenas,” one with a mud pit and the other in a park-like playground, the first face-offs included in Episode 2 really highlight what may end up being the magic of this series.

Physical 100 Korean Series Netflix Review

The competitors definitely do not hold back. And the face-offs are legitimately exciting to watch. There are fierce, rough and hard-fought battles. But there is a strong sense of sportsmanship. Almost like a simple, friendly competition and good-natured fun. Competitors congratulate each other and cheer each other on, no matter how down and (literally) dirty they get.

Physical 100 Korean Series Netflix Review

And this all seems to be because of the discernible Korean touch. A Korean flair that is added to familiar western ideas and formats. Netflix did the same with the reality dating show format with Single’s Inferno. And here on Physical: 100, it’s shades of Survivor or The Challenge that can be spotted.

Physical: 100 takes those formats and uses distinct Korean storytelling to give it that unique twist. Whether it’s in the casting (which is absolutely on point) or the direction, there is really something very Korean in the way it is all presented and executed. Again, anyone familiar with Korean television whether variety programs or scripted dramas, Physical: 100 applies sensibilities from those genres into what would otherwise be a western format.

Director Jang Ho Gi does an excellent job of presenting the large scale this series has. Something that definitely tops what is seen on the aforementioned western formats. Large, cavernous sound stages are filled with elaborately designed battlegrounds. One competitor even comments how it all looks like a real-life Squid Game. And there is a cinematic touch to the presentation, including a pitch-perfect soundtrack, that only elevates the thrilling atmosphere that the competitors already help to establish.

The differences Physical: 100 has from its western brethren might feel odd or at least very different to fans of those series. Perhaps, too different for them to get into this series as much as their favorites. But Physical: 100 is done in a way that feels as accessible as it feels uniquely Korean.

Physical 100 Korean Series Netflix Review

Physical: 100 has all the makings of being Netflix’s next big Korean hit. These first two episodes waste no time in getting into the action to show why. Both are able to show how even a reality series can be character-driven and good-natured alongside its exciting, fierce competition. And the fascinating presentation is something that you don’t normally see on TV, especially from Korea.

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