South Korea has long had a prolific film and television industry, but the West is only just catching on. With Parasite (2019) and now Squid Game on Netflix, everyone is growing obsessed with Korean cinema with its unique style and compelling storylines. To celebrate its enormous success, let’s delve into a review of the latest Netflix hit, Squid Game.
Squid Game on Netflix: Korean Success Story
Squid Game, a Netflix series created by Hwang Dong-hyuk, was released on 17 September this year. In just 10 days it became the platform’s most watched show in 90 countries. In fact, it marks the first Korean release to ever reach the top of the US charts. With the majority of viewers hailing from outside of Korea, it also dispels the myth that young people refuse to read subtitles. Although it is possible to watch the series dubbed in English, most opted to watch in the original Korean and read the translation in the form of captions.
The plot of the series is straight out of a horror film, but great care is taken to make it psychologically compelling. 456 people with serious financial issues are persuaded to partake in a series of games for a huge cash prize. Most of the games are straightforward kids games, with several being unique to Korean culture. If they complete the game successfully, they stay in the running to win a huge sum of money. If they lose, however, they are fatally eliminated. As the game goes on, it becomes apparent that there can be only one winner.
The series has had success the like of which is rarely seen, with the concept and the aesthetic of the show leaking into mainstream popular culture. This Halloween, hoards of people dressed up as the characters, sporting the creepy masks of the gun-baring guards, or the prisoner-esque tracksuits worn by the competitors.
While there’s only one season with 9 hour-long episodes, there’s also a digital game platform called Roblox where the fun can continue. Many also choose to rewatch the series almost immediately after finishing it.
The series has an intensity to it which is so rare in bingeable Netflix shows. Usually, the platform is a great way to unwind and watch something light. Squid Game, however is anything but light. It’s horrific in parts, with a captivating character arc for each of the central players. It’s extraordinarily well-paced, at times moving slowly but always offering just enough to keep the intensity on max. Each episode will have you grinding your teeth, wanting to look away. There’s also usually an emotional denouement. Sometimes making you deeply sad (I’m thinking of one episode in particular), shocked, or even (rarely) relieved.
Granted, it’s a compelling concept for a series. But why is it so hugely popular now? What is it about the show that captures the spirit of life today?
The pandemic might have something to do with it. The themes of being confined in a space, unable to leave, with your day to day activity being determined by an authority figure, are all familiar to us now. A few years ago, we might not have been able to identify so strongly with the plight of the characters.
There’s also the morbid link of loss of life. While they begin as a group of nearly 500, this whittles down day by day until only a handful are left. In a similar way, we’re all accustomed now to seeing the daily death toll of Covid-19 announced on the news. And, just like the virus attacks the elderly and the weak, the vulnerable are the first to go in the various battles of strength and agility we see in Squid Game.
The Financial Crash
The financial difficulties of the players and the need for money being so desperate that it leads them to risk their life and even kill, is also a compelling subject point in our day and age. Having lived through several recent recessions and having to deal with mass job loss and the collapse of small business, our society is acutely aware of the challenges of debt and hardship and how it can push you over the edge.
Overall, we’ve developed a keener taste for the dystopian since the pandemic hit. The dark subject matter, and the fight for survival we see exhibited in Squid Game is something we’ve become more attracted to in light of our bleak circumstances.
But all this gloominess aside, it’s likely that millions tuned in to watch Squid Game simply because it’s a brilliantly made series, with solid writing, a fascinating premise and superb acting.
Squid Game on Netflix
If you’re one of the few that hasn’t binge watched the series yet, hopefully you’re now persuaded to watch it ASAP.
If you’re looking for content on Netflix with a similarly bleak vibe, check out Best Dystopian Movies on Netflix for inspiration.