Squid Game Review

 By Natalie de la Calleja Orozco; double published in the BEE3 Magazine

Green Light… Red Light! 

“무궁화 꼬찌 피엇 소리다” (Mugunghwa Kkoci Pieot Seumnida), probably the most famous phrase from Netflix’s new hit show. I’m sure you have already heard about this brand-new Korean drama called Squid Game, which has officially become Netflix’s most watched show after drawing 111 million views since its release; this has catapulted its popularity, and as a result, has become world-wide phenomenon. Squid Game is part of the Korean wave, which encompasses the global awareness of different aspects of South Korean culture including entertainment such as films, television (k-dramas) and music (k-pop). Known examples would be the movie Parasite, the k-pop groups BTS and BLACKPINK and now Squid Game. 

Squid game, created by Hwang Dong-hyuk, is a k-drama in which 456 indebted players participate, and whomever survives all the games, wins an incredible amount of money. 

In the first episode we meet our protagonist Seong Gi-Hun (Lee Jung-jae). A strange man offers him money in a metro station if he wins in a game of “Ddakji”, but if he loses the man will slap him. After a few rounds and multiple slaps, Gi-Hun wins the money, and he is given an odd card with a phone number. He ends up in the Squid Game with 455 other people who are in debt as well. We also discover the Pink Soldiers and the Game Master, who keeps talking about these mysterious “VIPs,” speaking exclusively with an unknown person on the phone, in English. The Pink soldiers, on the other hand, are guards who wear masks with shapes on them, and these shapes represent their ranking on the game’s hierarchy: circle masks represent the lowest ranking, who ought to “only speak when they are spoken to” by their superiors; triangle masks are in the middle of the hierarchy – they are armed soldiers; square masks are the bosses, they keep the triangles and circles in check at all times. 

The players must participate in a series of popular children’s games: “Red Light, Green Light”, the Dalgona honeycomb candy (Ppopgi) challenge, tug-of-war, marbles, glass bridge and lastly, the Squid Game in which determine the winner, with all the other 455 players facing horrendous death. 

After playing “Red Light, Green Light,” the players find out that this is a brutal and coldblooded life-or-death situation and that the only way to make it out alive is by winning. 

During his competition journey, Gi-Hun makes acquaintances, thus making alliances throughout the games; however, he also makes enemies and will have to face them. Among these characters are Kang Sae-byeok (HoYeon Jung), Cho Sang-Woo (Park Hae-soo), Oh Il-nam (O Yeong-su), Ali Abdul (Anupam Tripathi), and many others. Who will win and make it out alive? 

Squid Game – as I mentioned before – has become a worldwide sensation due to various factors such as the rising popularity of Korean culture in western media or the high-quality production, but one of the most important factors is the topics that the show tackles: socio-economic inequality, capitalism critique and many more. The most relevant theme is clearly debts, which is what the games revolve around. Household debt is an actual – and grave – problem in South Korea, which is explored through the contestants’ narratives of their financial stress. Gi-Hun is a clear example, after a mass layoff at his workplace, he became a gambling addict and tried to solve his problems by borrowing from loan sharks, but it eventually doesn’t work out for him. 

A capitalism critique can also be noticed in Squid Game; the competition is organized by wealthy individuals who consider the games “a distraction” from their lives, entertained by the atrocious deaths of hundreds of people who came into the game in despair, hoping to resolve their lives by paying their humongous debts. 

Migrant workers is another topic in this series, with the character Ali Abdul who is originally from Pakistan and demands his months of pay from his employer. While he is a very honorific, hardworking, and humble man, he is still discriminated and looked down upon. 

Gender discrimination and misogyny can be seen as well. For example, the character Han Mi-nyeo (Kim Joo-ryoung) uses her sexuality to join a male team, but inevitably ends up begging to not be left behind. They underestimated her. This is especially relevant in South Korea, where there is still a clear gender pay gap. 

Lastly, North Korean defectors: Kang Sae-byeok is a North Korean defector who aspires to win the money so she can help her mother cross the border and take her brother out of an orphanage. This represents the length that the North Korean defectors can reach in hopes of a better life. 

This show has emphasized all these subjects in heartbreaking ways that deeply impact the viewers, making us realize the gravity of some of these issues in our society, without sugar-coating anything. In fact, all these problems are tackled in a raw and graphic way, showing us extreme violence and misery. 

Regarding the filmmaking, Hwang began working on the script in 2008 and finished the first draft in 2009. There were struggles with the casting until Netflix picked it up a decade later. The director suffered so much stress from writing and directing the series, that it caused six of his teeth to fall out. 

The production with a budget of $21.4 million was spectacular, with very well constructed colorful, child-like sets and outstanding visual effects. Although I have to say, that if you can’t handle goriness or graphic scenes, you might not enjoy this show. 

On the other hand, whilst 16+ year old people watching the series are aware of what’s happening, capable of following the complex storylines, and handling bloody scenes, kids are not. The Netflix show is adapted for 16-year-olds and up, however, younger children have started to watch the show, which is not exactly child friendly. Kids have started to replicate the Squid Game at playtime during recess at school. The games themselves are meant for kids, but they’re mimicking the show’s version of the games, which translates to hitting the losers. A Belgian school called “Erquelinnes Béguinage Hainaut” has already warned parents of this behavior due to rising concerns after children punished the losers by doing exactly that. 

Overall, in my opinion, this show is extremely well done and very meaningful. It’s a show that keeps you hooked; I sometimes couldn’t wait to see what would happen! I haven’t y heard many bad critiques about the series so far and would definitely recommend it! However, I don’t think it’s suitable for young kids, as it’s likely that they won’t understand the meaning behind it and will be exposed to gory and explicit scenes. So, I recommend that if you’re under the age rate, ask a responsible adult if you can watch it, and watch the show with them.  

Squid game has become one of the most iconic Netflix series and it’s absolutely worth watching.