Content Warning: this article contains spoilers
Squid Game (2021), the current Number 1 in Netflix’s Top 10, is a Korean drama television series that is becoming more popular by the day. Released just last month, Squid Game has been rapidly catching the attention of people all around the world, earning its place as the most recommended show on Netflix right now.
In just one season (so far), this series tells the story of 456 everyday people who all have one thing in common: they’re bad with money… and most of them are in deep debt. Having lost everything, these 456 people grab the chance of winning 45.6 billion won (South Korean currency). Though at first winning this money seemed like an easy task, one by one each character learnt it certainly wasn’t… and they learnt this the hard way. Agreeing to play a series of popular Korean childhood games, the players quickly learnt that they were not in fact playing for fun like you would as a child, but for survival. Because each game had a twist. If you failed, you died. It’s as simple as that.
Intense and suspenseful, this series keeps you on the edge of your seat with its psychotic and gruesome twists and turns. Watching this series is like riding a roller coaster for the first time, you just don’t know what to expect but you’re still certain you’re going to be thrown about a bit. With this being the case, this is the first television series that has been raved about this much for a while now. It’s causing a stir on social media, with people sharing their varied opinions on different platforms, and even coming up with possible theories for the different ‘easter eggs’ littered throughout the show. Many have tried to solve the show’s mysteries, but these won’t be confirmed until season two (hopefully) is released.
Though 456 characters are present at the start of the series, a small group of characters are focused on. Following these characters’ journeys with the life-or-death games they are part of, backstories are also shown in detail to gain connections with these very people. The stories of why these characters have all ended up in the same place fighting for the prize money (and their lives) keeps you gripped, as well as the games themselves… leaving you on the edge of your seat, cheering certain people on, and secretly hoping some people would fail the games.
It is interesting to see the reasons behind why certain people go to such lengths to get this money, and why they would risk their own lives to do so. The main character, Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae), lost his job and began betting all his money away; he owed a lot of money to the bank, and just as much money to a gangster he borrowed from. At the start of the series, his life is threatened by said gangster before he then finds out he won’t be able to see his daughter if he doesn’t have a stable income, and also that his mother is seriously ill and in need of money for her medical bills. Life just gets on top of him, burying him under, and so he takes a big leap at the chance of winning this money so all his problems will be solved.
His childhood friend Cho Sang-woo (Park Hae-soo) has the police after him because of him being involved in forgery and other money crimes… therefore not being the perfect, put-together man his family thought him to be. He needs the prize money too, and decides to play the games to get it. Kang Sae-byeok (Jung Ho-yeon) has a brother in an orphanage and a mother stuck in North Korea, so she needs to risk everything to get this money so they can be together again.
Although sometimes uncomfortable to watch, with the recurring violence and death, it has a storyline with multiple dimensions and no plot holes. Instead, there are side storylines that keep the viewer guessing as they watch the plot thicken. One main question that comes to the forefront of the mind when watching this show is the question of humanity and morals. It gets the viewer judging what these people are doing for money, and if this prize is really worth other people’s lives. These questions are raised because of many character’s personal choices when playing the games; not only are the players being ‘played’ by whoever is in charge of these gruesome games, but the characters ‘play’ each other and use each other to their own advantage, not caring who dies in the process. It’s as though the prize money they so desperately want has driven them crazy, clouding their judgement as to what is right and wrong. It is not just the chance of dying in each game that keeps each player in the show on edge either, but it is also the fear of other characters making it harder for them… or even killing them for their own gain. This develops the plot further, adding to the thriller and suspense of the show, as characters are just as unpredictable as the games themselves.
All of the players of these games are very ‘human’, with them being flawed in varying ways from one another. At the end of the day they are all just everyday people with their own struggles, and the actors portray this perfectly. The acting style is very ‘raw’, yet dramatic at the same time… though who wouldn’t act dramatic if you were trapped in a series of childhood games that threaten your life? This is what makes it even harder to watch, as each character knows that any wrong move they make can end up being their own death… and the show is not fazed about killing important characters, so the audience never know what to expect. Each actor suited and executed their character perfectly, with brilliant acting that was harrowing in the scenes that were hard to watch.
Not only did the acting draw you into this addictive Korean drama, the whole creation of the show did… with the lighting, sound, set and everything in between. Juxtaposing the deathly and dangerous situations, the sets were almost always bright and vibrant just like how children would like it. Players walked to where the games were held through a brightly coloured maze of corridors with tight turns and going up and down stairs; the hallways always looked fun and exciting to create the important juxtaposition of what was really happening with the traditionally fun games they were playing.
Alongside these creative techniques, the repetition of the music was just as creepy as the sets. Jung Jae-il’s scores were particularly used to create an eerie aura, and the repetition of these haunting compositions really contrasted the colourful sets. But one particular sound that cannot be forgotten is the large robot’s singsong voice in the first game that was held; the popular Korean children’s game Red Light Green Light encompassed a robot-child singing and turning around as part of the game, watching out with a motion detector to see if players moved when she was looking. If they moved, they died. Mix this ‘fun’ game with the sound of machine guns killing the players unexpectedly, and a really disturbing scene is created. This was ultimately executed perfectly in Squid Game.
Not suitable for viewers with a weak stomach, Squid Game is the perfect show for those with an eye for dramatic thrillers with intense twists and turns. It has even been described as a more fierce and extreme Hunger Games, and is slowly becoming a favourite of many.