Squid Game | More Than Just a Silly Game for Children
A review of Netflix’s newest hit show: Squid Game
South Korea’s entertainment industry and streaming giant Netflix have been enjoying a symbiotic relationship, and it is through this that we get to savour diverse content in our singular subscription. In early 2021, reports had it that Netflix planned to invest a mighty US$500 million in South Korean movies and series. Their wide-reaching popularity is unmatched and can be attributed to their intriguing plots and storylines, usually distinctive from the many American/British shows that tend to flood our screens.
The latest addition to Netflix’s South Korean catalogue is thriller-drama Squid Game, written and directed by Hwang Dong-Hyuk. To those of us with little to no knowledge of South Korean culture, the title seems rather odd – but it is indeed a childhood game that has significance in the show. With such a harmless name, the show could not be more opposite. It is a spectacular mix of Black Mirror and Battle Royale.
The show’s set design presents a deceptively innocent ‘arena’ for these game players – it’s polished and rather Kafkaesque. Game venues within are frequently pastel or brightly coloured, giving off a calming aura to the environment.
It isn’t all fun and games, as the trailer signals to us with the first game of six in the series ‘Red Light, Green Light’. A giant moving robot that emulates a little girl detects any movement when she turns around, and this immediately triggers a rifle shot to the player. Blood splatters onto a nearby player, who is understandably terrified. What follows is a stampede of players realising what they signed up for, and consequently a massacre (of over 200 people in a few minutes). The robot girl is memorable, and definitely nightmare fuel.
Squid Game isn’t for the faint of heart; savage violence takes place throughout the show. But the use of violence is highly effective besides just being a mere consequence of losing the game. It is thanks to how explicitly it is depicted that we can feel the fear of the players every time they enter a new game, and yet we are not able to keep our eyes off the screen. The sheer ruthlessness of the Front Man who runs the game is clear, and his power over the players is amplified.
Guns are always loaded and ready to target any player who loses in an instant.
If you’re willing to sit through the violence and gore, Squid Game delivers so much more than just physical brutality. It takes its time to flesh out characters’ stories – and not just the protagonist Gi-hun’s at that. This is almost always alternating with the actual games, so you’re not just watching one consecutive stream of people getting killed, avoiding fatigue.
Out of all this though, the realism of the show is the true horror of it all. The whole set-up preys on the players’ vulnerable and fragile states, as they all have one thing in common: massive debt. With 45.6 billion won (roughly £40 million) at stake, awarded to the singular winner, it goes without saying that this is their main motivation to keep pushing ahead.
When has money as a motive ever turned out well though? The huge amount of prize money sounds appealing, but keep in mind many of these people, including our protagonist, are in the positions they’re in because of their poor financial decisions. Gi-hun has his gambling addiction, and in the first episode, we see him spend money the moment he gets it, rather than paying off his existing debt.
It’s something we see happen in our society in real-time, and thus when the players choose to go back into the game after the majority voted to end it, following the ‘Red Light, Green Light’ bloodshed, we can empathise with their decision since it might just be their last hope.
Their decisions in the games, although we might not always agree with them, are a result of regular people put in a deadly, high-stakes situation. You might even shed a tear when you see some of them in their last moments, either in a calm state or in sheer terror of what is about to befall them, in both cases knowing they have no escape. In this instance, the performances of Jung Ho-Yeon (her debut) and Lee Yoo-Mi shone through.
Another highlight was indeed the score. Famous classical pieces are played every now and then, but they don’t sound soothing in the context of the show, rather a signal of doom. Even without these, the score made the show gripping and frankly even more captivating than it already was. I may never hear The Blue Danube the same ever again though.
Unfortunately, as much praise as I can give Squid Game, and declaring that despite feeling tortured by some of the sights I had to witness I cannot wait for a potential season 2; I do have to criticise the show’s ending. Given how riveting the 8 episodes prior were, the finale just left me feeling unsatisfied. The final ‘battle’ was not particularly exciting to watch, as compared to the other five games.
The very final scene was frustrating, to say the least, and was clearly done to only open the doors for a subsequent season. Additionally, not giving away too much, some of the acting of non-regular cast members later in the show seemed more like satire, but it did not appear this was the intention of the director. It was off-putting especially compared to the standout performances of the main cast throughout.
Squid Game is an addictive watch, with so much packed within its 9 episodes. At points it feels slow-moving, but picks up when it needs to. The South Koreans have delivered a Netflix hit once again, providing a sinister twist to childhood memories.
A thought-provoking series, It brings up questions over morality and ethics, and also leaves you constantly asking yourself what you would have done in the players’ positions. It would be interesting to see what direction they decide to take for a subsequent season, and what would be the focus then. Do you need to watch it immediately? Absolutely.
Written by Pui Kuan Cheah | Illustrated by Tara Mulliss
Summary Set in South Korea, Gi-hun, alongside 455 other players, are lured into a high-stakes game arena where they face the ultimate fight for survival. In the form of six childhood games, they form bonds and enemies, but only one can come out as the winner of the 45.6 billion won prize. They quickly find out that these aren’t just any ordinary childhood games, but ones that have bloody twists that literally mean life or death.