This article is spoiler free for those who haven’t finished the series.
In a world full of remix culture, everything seems to be reboot after reboot. However, one of my favourite things about Korean dramas are their innovative plots and constant plot twists. You can rarely walk a straight line where this genre of television is concerned and even the most cliched romances have that one final knife in the back at the end. Though despite this, promotional reviews where the topic is a K-Drama are scarce in the Western media sphere. At least until now. The global phenomenon ‘Squid Game’ has swept its way through internet trends and media outlets, nobody can get enough of it! Taking top honours as the most popular Korean series, this show is insanely popular on social media and I’m sure you too can hear that tune for ‘Red Light, Green Light’ in your head right now. So, unless you’re completely off the grid, or in another dimension entirely, you must have heard of the new collective obsession that dropped September 17th. Statistically, ‘Squid Game’ has not only broken all Netflix records, but is the #1 show in 90 countries. So, if you haven’t already watched it, your next question might be why? What is all the hype about?
Firstly, this thriller combines pure murder with playground nostalgia, which in itself is an intriguing concept. The story is set in the city of the Seoul where the most fraught people, riddled with debt, are lured into a cryptic game with a cash prize of 45.6 billion won (translating to £28.2 million). The 456 contestants that are recruited are cohered into blindly accepting an invitation to compete for the prize that would change their lives. Plus, the rules seemed simple enough: play these children’s game and win. However, while the prize is tempting, the stakes are apparently deadly. Elimination affectively means immediate death, but the contestants realise this a little too late. The execution of violence is heavy and relentless, right off the bat. It’s an absolute blood bath by the first episode and already the show has captured your attention just from the gore and mayhem. Then as the games roll on, there are even more twists and turns for the contestants and viewers to navigate. Each game is so finely calibrated that they elicit maximum tension, and you have no idea who’s going to win or lose.
Then comes the players themselves, who a lot of us have since become attached to. Given the competitive setting, there’s enemies, there’s allies and there’s characters who you would give up everything for had you been in that game yourself. I’m talking about you, Abdul Ali. The characters are a huge contributing factor to the show’s charisma as there’s a ton of complex people to unpack. Each one comes riddled with their own motives, and personalities that it’s hard to get bored watching such an assorted set of people compete for their lives. When literally everything is one the line, there’s no telling what they might do. The main character of the show is gambling addict, Seong Gi-Hun, who is constantly on the run from loan sharks while desperately trying to provide for his daughter and his mother who he currently lives with. Despite his awful life choices, he’s an easily loveable character who you want to win. Though, the main female character Sae-Byeok (constant 067) has quickly become a prominent fan favourite and for argumentative sake is often classed as the protagonist when considering her sheer popularity. Plus, her back story is the one of the most heart-wrenching reveals.
Additionally, while placing these characters in a synopsis full of action and thrills, there’s an interesting question regarding morality and how far one would go to win (or in this case just survive). Writer/director Hwang Dong-hyuk has tapped into the subversive theme of class divide and rehashed it at a time where audiences might be more receptive. This idea of the rich using the poor for their own sadistic entertainment is a particularly protruding premise of this show, and although this has been done previously in dystopian works there’s something about the way this production is executed that makes it a stand out. So, while it’s visually exhilarating, it’s also sentimental which has proven to be a winning blend considering the show’s amazing reception.
Overall, what I found most interesting about this show was the way it cut through all cultural barriers and streaming clutter and become a complete sensation. I’ve watched K-Drama’s for a while now and for me it’s been quite rare to find someone else who enjoys this genre of television so watching “Squid Game” burst into the public consciousness just baffled me entirely. It’s the perfect demonstration of how unpredictable internet sensations can be in such a dizzying abundance of content. Though, it’s worth every bit of hype and I urge you to watch it just from that ending cliffhanger alone. There’s already so many different theories surrounding season 2 which hopefully comes sooner rather than later. That being said, if you watch the dubbed version, just be aware that you’ll be watching a completely different show. The issue with a lot of dubbed series is that the English voice actors are absolutely awful at portraying emotion and are nowhere near successful at conveying the character’s true reaction. So, just be wary of that factor. Subtitles never hurt anyone before and make the show much more enjoyable than the dubbed.