Photo: ‘Squid Game’
If you asked me weeks ago if I’ve ever seen ‘Squid Game’, I’d probably look at you like you have three heads. Now, three weeks after its premiere on Netflix, it’s all anyone’s been talking about. I’ve heard friends, peers, even strangers really, who can’t stop talking about this brand new show on Netflix and how it’s a must-watch. And now, after viewing the first two episodes, I can completely understand why.
‘Squid Game’ has a lot going for it that makes it so enjoyable to watch. The performances are all great and the hardcore premise puts a nice spin on the whole “survival games” story that you see in ‘Battle Royale’ or ‘The Hunger Games’. It took 11 years for the show’s creator and director, Hwang Dong-hyuk, to get it picked up by someone and Netflix has definitely proven to be the best place for it to thrive. Now, with millions of people watching, the show has become a global phenomenon and could become the streaming service’s most-watched show ever. It’s bold, it’s tense, and it plays hard with your emotions. Netflix’s ‘Squid Game’ has struck gold.
The Premise of ‘Squid Game’
This 9-episode series follows Lee Jung-jae as Seong Gi-hun, a poor man who’s living with his mother in South Korea. He has accumulated a large amount of debt, scraping by as a chauffeur. After an awful day of winning and losing a large sum of money, Gi-hun gets an offer from a man in a suit while waiting at a train station. The man offers to play a game of ddakji, a children’s game, where he will win money every time he wins. After playing for a while and eventually winning against the man, Gi-hun is given a card with a phone number on it and an offer for more opportunities to play games for cash. Gi-hun calls the number and is soon taken away unconsciously.
When he wakes, he finds himself in a large warehouse with 455 other players, people from different walks of life who are all in crippling debt. They are all told they must win six different games in order to win a large sum of money, but they soon find that loss results in their death. Alliances are made and lives are lost as Gi-hun does his best to navigate through the games and hit it big, while staying alive in the process.
A Metaphor for Class Structure
The whole story is a metaphor for class structure and capitalism, how people will do anything to make some money. Money is what keeps people alive. Of course, ‘Squid Game’ takes that in the literal sense by making the contestants play games that actually decide their life or death. In the first episode, “Red Light, Green Light”, we see Gi-hun and the others play the titular children’s game. At first, the contestants think it’s all for fun and just run for the money. But once someone moves on the wrong turn, they get fatally shot in an instant.
That’s what ‘Squid Game’ is all about. It’s about desperate people who are desperate for money doing what they can to get that money and fix their lives. What makes this show so effective is its willingness to go in-depth behind-the-scenes of our main cast of characters. Our protagonist, Gi-hun, is in severe debt and would do anything for any kind of money, but he mainly wants to use it for family reasons and to pay off gambling debts. Another character, Kang Sae-byeok (played by Jung Ho-yeon), needs money to smuggle her family out of her North Korean homeland. Even the gangster, Jang Deok-su (Heo Sung-tae), is desperate for cash to pay off his massive gambling debts. Every contestant who ends up in the games may have differing values and reasons for wanting the money, but they all make sense and it makes the reality of ‘Squid Game’ more fleshed out and believable.
The Importance of Family in ‘Squid Game’
That’s the focus of the show’s second episode “Hell”. We focus more on the characters’ lives outside of the games and how they ended up there in the first place. After watching these people suffer in their attempts to make things better, it becomes clearly evident why they even signed up for the games in the first place. Gi-hun is a great character to follow because he feels like a real person. As soon as we meet him, you can tell he desperately needs cash. He scrapes by chauffeuring and gambling, freeloading at his mother’s house. What a great first impression, right?
But there’s more to him than that. He has a daughter that’s under the custody of his ex-wife and her new husband, and he desperately wants to be with her. His mother has diabetes and needs surgery immediately, but might not last much longer. The money isn’t just about being rich and paying gambling debts anymore, it’s about keeping your family close. ‘Squid Game’ focuses a lot on family and protecting your loved ones, a narrative that humanizes its main characters.
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With an ensemble of contestants to explore and learn about, the show benefits from having so many people to focus on. The characters are very easy to sympathize with and root for (Sae-byeok has been a fan-favorite already) and you feel the tension knowing that they all won’t make it out alive by the end. ‘Squid Game’ is a psychological journey into what it’s like to be poor in South Korea, akin to how Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Parasite’ explored a similar concept. Poverty is a problem that resonates worldwide, and the idea that some people would do anything for extra cash is a sad truth. But it’s what makes this show so riveting to watch. There’s a reason ‘Squid Game’ has been at the top of Netflix’s charts for the last few weeks, and it’s because it’s an inventive idea that feels new, and that’s refreshing to see. Netflix keeps making hit after hit, and ‘Squid Game’ is a fine addition to the streaming network’s catalogue that every curious reader should go check out.
All 9 episodes of ‘Squid Game’ are available now on Netflix.
Cast and Crew:
Cast: Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, Jung Ho-yeon, O Yeong-su, Heo Sung-tae, Anupam Tripathi, Kim Joo-ryoung, Wi Ha-joon
Created by: Hwang Dong-hyuk | Directed by: Hwang Dong-hyuk | Written by: Hwang Dong-hyuk
Composed by: Jung Jae-il
By Ben Ross
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Ben Ross is a writer at Hollywood Insider. He loves watching films and finding the message behind the art. With a love for movies and television, his goal is to understand as much as he can about anything he watches, and engage with readers about different topics related to the industry. He aims to find work that sheds a light on issues not really talked about and showcase it, feeling that it is important to understand the truth. Together with his readers, he hopes to celebrate beautiful stories in film and explore topics that are worth discussing – a value that defines Hollywood Insider.