The small town of Saju faces its own personal reckoning through violent murders, an underground cult, and one mastermind criminal at the center of it all in Netflix’s crime horror South Korean show ‘Hometown.’ Jo Kyung-ho, responsible for an unforgivable terrorist attack in the 1980s, returns to attention when his sister, Jung-hyun’s, life gets turned upside down following her niece Jae-young’s disappearance. Furthermore, as Detective Choi Hyung-in looks into the case, it leads him to a series of killings where the victims all come across a mysterious tape recording.
Thus, Choi and Jung-hyun must weave through an intricate web of intersecting mysteries to get to the bottom of the truth and save their town from spiraling into descent. Paralleling its central antagonist, Kyung-ho, and his complex character, the narrative employs convoluted timelines, blending the past, present, and future to depict the bigger picture. However, the same leads to a storyline that remains hard to follow and raises several questions. If you’re looking for some answers, here’s what you need to know. SPOILERS AHEAD!
One July night in 1999, a young schoolgirl, Kyung-jin, falls victim to a ghostly woman in white with water-wrecked skin and dies in a mess of blood in her home’s bathroom. The next morning, when the Police arrive on the scene with Detective Choi Hyung-in and Lee Si-jung heading the case, they find Kyung-jin’s mother’s dead body, with several stab wounds but no murder weapon. Shortly after, Kyung-jin’s classmates receive a mystery package outside their broadcasting club room with a tape recording inside.
One of the girls, Jae-young, recently moved to the town with her aunt and grandma. However, few people know that she is the daughter of convicted terrorist Kyung-ho, who carried out a nerve gas attack on the Saju Train Station, killing hundreds. Once Jae-young learns about Kyung-jin’s cruel fate, it elicits a strong reaction from her, and she leaves the school with a ride from Hwan-kyu, her family restaurant worker. The same day, Jae-young goes missing.
As such, Choi begins looking at Jae-young’s case as well, which leads him to an Academy whose learning technique tape was left for Jae-young and her friends. Meanwhile, Jung-hyun, desperate to find her niece, breaks into Hwan-kyu’s house, where she finds eerie ritual items and a symbol painted in blood. Weirdly enough, Jung-hyun had seen the symbol before in her youth when she and her 1987 magazine club friends wrote a story about seven deadly spots in Saju. As such, Jung-hyun reconnects with an old friend, Min-jae, after news of Young-sub’s death. Furthermore, the two find an old cassette from their youth.
However, after watching the cassette, chronicling random footage of a bloody circle on a wall, Jung-hyun realizes the tape has scenes of a creepy woman that none of her friends can remember. Furthermore, Detective Lee’s wife, Kyung-Joo, turns out to be another of Jung-hyun’s friends and reveals that since they watched the cassette the first time, she has been having the same nightmare of the woman for years.
Soon, Kyung-joo’s husband gets injured in the line of duty, putting him out of the field and dampening Choi’s spirits, who tries to retract from Jae-young’s case. Around the same time, Hwan-kyu turns himself in and confesses to Jae-young’s murder. Still, Choi and Jung-hyun realize the man is lying and continue pursuing Jae-young’s case. As such, both come to learn about a cult brewing across Saju, with an enigmatic Guru as their leader.
Jung-hyun also discovers that Jae-young had been in contact with Kyung-ho before her disappearance, which pushes her to visit her brother in jail. During their talk, Kyung-ho reveals his hypnotizing powers and tells Jung-hyun that he used her friends and her to carry out the terrorist attack all those years ago.
As the murders continue to wreak havoc across town, leading to the death of Lee and his wife, Jung-hyun investigates her magazine club’s past and gets kidnapped by the Youngjingyo cult. While under their hold, Jung-hyun realizes Jae-young is alive and among them. Yet, Jung-hyun’s investigation into the cult only lands her in trouble and puts her in the path of Senator Im In-Gwan. Meanwhile, Choi decides to interview Kyung-ho for answers but learns a sinister secret about his dead wife, Se-Yoon, who is also Jae-young’s mother.
Eventually, the time comes for the Youngjingyo cult’s big plan, wherein they attempt to recreate Kyung-ho, their evident leader’s terrorist attack. The cult plans to do so by gathering people who were indoctrinated through several cassettes spread around town and releasing nerve gas upon them. Although Choi and Jung-hyun attempt to prevent the attack, they fail, leading to death by mass suicide. Moreover, in transferring Kyung-ho from prison to a psychiatry ward, the man manages to break free. Worse yet, after exposure to the mind-controlling tapes that lead Kyung-jin, Kyung-joo, and others to murder, and worse, Choi himself starts hallucinating the ghostly woman and others from her cult.
Hometown Ending: Who is The Ghost Behind The Killings?
While the show remains ripe with mysteries, the ghostly woman who jumpstarts the story’s narrative events presents the first and perhaps biggest mystery of them all. As the plot progresses, it becomes clear that the woman is a hallucination that drives victims to kill someone they dearly love before committing suicide themselves. Furthermore, given the tapes found in every victim’s home, the tape’s involvement in these murders becomes glaring as well.
The tape, spread around by the town’s most prestigious Academy, appears to be a brain-enhancing technique tape but holds a series of eerie sounds inside, like reverberating bells and whistling noises. Through Choi’s investigation, we also learn that the Academy is actually a part of the bigger Youngjingyo cult and passed that tape to Kyung-jin under their leader, Guru’s orders. After Kyung-ho’s identity as Guru comes out in the open, it becomes easier to decipher the ghostly woman’s identity as well.
Years ago, Kyung-ho went to Japan for his studies and returned in 1987 with a baby, Jae-young. Shortly afterward, the man carried out the nerve gas attack on October 6th, forever sealing his family’s ostracised fate and his own behind prison bars. However, the night before the attack, a woman, Se-yoon, Choi’s wife, visited Kyung-ho’s family restaurant to get a glimpse of the kid, subtly conveying her relationship to Jae-young, her daughter.
While Se-yoon was married to Choi, the couple separated when she lived in Japan for a while after she underwent a miscarriage. Nevertheless, she eventually returns to her husband, only to meet her ultimate demise shortly after. As it would turn out, Se-yoon was at the train station on the day of the terrorist attack for some inexplicable reason. As such, after the attack, Choi received a call from the hospital about his wife’s death following a critical condition.
Or so the story goes for Choi. In reality, Se-yoon, well acquainted with Kyung-ho, was with the other man on the day of the attack. Although scant few people knew it, Kyung-ho and Jung-hyun were actually adopted by their family after spending their childhoods in the abusive halls of One Family Welfare Center, an orphanage run under future Senator Im’s command. As such, Kyung-ho and Se-yoon had known each other for a long time, given their shared hometown.
On the other hand, Choi, from Incheon, only moved to Saju for his wife’s sake after a car accident left him partially amnesiac. Even though Choi forgot about his case leading up to the accident, Se-yoon never did. Back then, Choi used to be a part of a force that abused their power by torturing people for information or blackmail. After witnessing the condition of one of their victims, Jo Kyung-ho Sr., Jung-hyun, and her brother’s father, Choi quit the team right before his accident happened.
As such, Choi, the only officer with a conscience and knowledge of the events, remains oblivious to them as the team buries the case. Nevertheless, Se-yoon remembers everything and, on the day of the terrorist attack, decides to decide to bring it out in the open. As a result, her father strangles her to death by the lakeside while Kyung-ho, who had advised her against the same, watches. Therefore, after the incident, Kyung-ho utilized footage of Se-yoon on the day of her death to create his mind-controlling tapes.
As a result, anyone who watches the tapes gets haunted by Se-yoon’s ghost, who drives them to insanity until they mistake the person they love the most for Se-yoon and kill them, in the same vein as Senator Im killed his daughter.
Who Is Jae-young’s Father?
In an unforeseeable twist, a mystery about Jae-young’s genealogy shifts near the show’s end from her mother’s undisclosed identity to a question about her presumed father, Kyung-ho’s relation to her. Ever since Kyung-ho returned home with his daughter, it was assumed she was his kid and was raised the same by Kyung-ho’s family after his imprisonment. On the other hand, Choi, always portrayed as childless, remains so because of his wife’s death, who previously miscarried their kid. As such, one man has a kid but is barely a father to her, while the other lives with the loss of a child he never had.
However, as Kyung-ho puts his cards on the table, information previously assumed to be facts comes under question. By now, it has become clear that although Kyung-ho took sole responsibility for the terrorist attack, he actually had help from Jung-hyun and her friends, whose memories he erased using his hypnotism powers. As such, when the events were unfolding, Kyung-ho had the time to visit Choi’s house after the attack failed to subside his anger. While the attack was part of Kyung-ho’s bigger plan to cultivate victims’ grieving families for his future cult, it was also a way for the man to take revenge on a town that only ever gave him grief and turned a blind eye to his childhood abuse.
As such, Kyung-ho figured, since such revenge wasn’t sating his anger, he should try to take another revenge, one for the death of his father. Therefore, Kyung-ho went to Choi’s house, where the cop was sleeping drunk out of his mind in bed. Nonetheless, before Kyung-ho could exact his revenge, he discovered a crucial new piece of the puzzle. In the house, Se-yoon had left Choi a letter, sharing that she lied about her miscarriage and moved to Japan to keep their baby safe.
Since Se-yoon knew about Choi’s torture squad and their involvement in Kyung-ho’s murder, she knew he would never be safe from the man’s powerful son. Furthermore, she realized her baby would fall victim to Kyung-ho’s anger. For the same reason, she decided to trick Kyung-ho into thinking he was the father of her baby so that she could grow up safe from him. After learning the same, Kyung-ho decided he wanted a different future for Choi and decided to spare his life to drag out his misery further.
In the end, while Jung-hyun and Jae-young remain trapped inside his cult on the heels of another purification day of planned mass suicide, Kyung-ho confronts Choi in his house, divulging the entire truth to him. However, at the same time, Choi is severely under the influence of the mind-control tape, which is making him paranoid and keeping him on edge. Therefore, by revealing Choi’s relation to Jae-young at this hour, Kyung-ho leaves the man with an impossible choice. Choi can either succumb to his mania and kill his most beloved, Jae-young, his daughter or ask Kyung-ho to erase his memory, forever forgetting the truth about Se-yoon and their child together.
Does Detective Choi Die?
Time and again, we witness numerous people succumbing under Kyung-ho’s cassette. Therefore, the idea that Choi would fall victim to the same falls in line with expectations. Still, the man refuses to allow Kyung-ho to determine his future and wills himself to choose his own. Although he tries to put an end to Kyung-ho’s game by simply putting a bullet in his own head, he can’t commit suicide due to a side-effect of the tape.
Yet, if he doesn’t make a decision soon, Kyung-ho will bring Jae-young to their location and force Choi to confront the person he yearns to kill. Nevertheless, Choi refuses to play along. Instead, he empties his gun on Kyung-ho and reports the crime to the police. As a result, the authorities take him away to prison on the charges of murder, putting enough distance and reinforcement behind Choi and Jae-young that the man knows he won’t be able to hurt her.
Meanwhile, Jae-young and Jung-hyun also escape from the cult’s clutches by helping the members see the light and convincing them to rise without throwing their lives away. Furthermore, after Kyung-ho dies, every memory that he has erased returns to the people, including Senator Im, who recalls how he choked his daughter to death. As a result, he’s driven mad by her ghost in a matter of minutes and flings himself off a window. His death offers another conclusion to the pattern of individuals killing their most beloved and then committing suicide.
In the end, Choi remains in prison, where he is occasionally visited by Jung-hyun, who brings him updates about his daughter, Jang-young, who continues living with her aunt. Choi is still haunted by the paranormal, especially the ghost of his own dead wife. As such, he yearns for a release. He has chosen to remember his wrongdoings and live with the guilt by refusing to allow Kyung-ho to erase his memories, something the latter held against him from the start since Choi forgot about his father’s mistreatment. Ultimately, Choi’s mania will likely consume him and lead to his death, something the man can only look forward to in his current state.