The juxtaposition of the children’s games and the brutality of the competition is brilliant. It truly captures the essence of how a society that protects its children, and teaches them what to do and how to behave through fun and games, has really failed its adults when they struggle to cope with the harsh realities of the world
It started in the aughts with the cult classic Battle Royale, and the multi-format franchise Gantz. The Hunger Games popularized it further, albeit with none of the philosophical depth of the aforementioned (absurdism or optimistic nihilism), and no compelling narrative and characters. With online multiplayer games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegroud the genre became even more popular. So what is it about the new Netflix original series Squid Game, the survival thriller that has garnered the most online engagement of any Netflix production to date, and is set to overtake Bridgerton as the most viewed series on the platform, that makes it so special?
The protagonist, Seong Gi-hun, is down on his luck. He is unemployed, floundering in a sea of debt, hounded by its collectors, failing to take care of his aging mother, and on the verge of losing his daughter. He tries to make money in whatever way he can, but the man simply cannot catch a break. He is then approached by a mysterious stranger who offers him money for playing a game of ddakji. When Gi-hun finally wins some money in the game, the man offers him a chance to win even more. Gi-hun accepts the offer and is taken to a secret location where hundreds of players, in similar financial predicaments, compete in children’s games for an impressive grand prize. But there’s a catch, and competition gets very violent very quickly.
Why you will love it
Hwang Dong-hyuk, the creator, writer, and director, of Squid Game credits Battle Royale for inspiration, but his story and take on the genre is much more contemporary, even though his script had been shelved for over a decade. He wrote it then because of his own financial woes, and throughout the story you will encounter his critique of capitalism, and how the current system pits people against each other ruthlessly, all the while claiming some form of fairness exists. The series features some of the most detailed and lovable characters you will see on screen. They are flawed, they are relatable, and most of all they are memorable. The creator is progressive in his politics, and this comes up in how he treats his female characters, the old, and even the one minority character, who is portrayed as pure-hearted. Yet he balances his views very well with the present reality and the motivations of these characters.
The story is a study in human psychology and behavior. At every point you will be able to witness characters making choices that reveal some truth about humans and how they act and think. At the same time, the plot is full of some of the most interesting twists. It will keep you guessing and gripped. And even in places where you outguess the writer, you will enjoy it because of the smart storytelling. The only thing that might bother you is that there are far too many coincidences with this one.
The overall design of the series is unique. The juxtaposition of the children’s games and the brutality of the competition is brilliant. It truly captures the essence of how a society that protects its children, and teaches them what to do and how to behave through fun and games, has really failed its adults when they struggle to cope with the harsh realities of the world. The impressive set design, the costumes - all of it has a distinct quality to it that not only incorporates the children’s game theme, but also transports you to a world that is very different from the one we live in. There is a reason why this one will last in the imaginations of many for some time to come.
Hallyu is here
The South Korean entertainment industry is becoming more popular with each passing day. Perhaps with time its American counterpart will have more contenders in the field, breaking its decades-long dominance in the world of entertainment and culture. Koreans have offered the world excellent films in the past two decades (Parasite’s Oscar win just made it official in a sense). More and more people are listening to K-Pop despite cultural and language barriers. Korean dramas have been a staple for many viewers around the world too, melodramatic and formulaic as they may be. And it all points to the Korean Culture Wave, or Hallyu, sweeping over the planet. Squid Game is the latest offering. Surf’s up.