In this aesthetically beautiful series, 456 individuals who are deeply in debt are forced to participate in a series of childhood games in which the winner takes all.
The survival K-drama shocks with its innovative idea but holds interest because of its razor-sharp writing and appealing ensemble cast.
To begin viewing Netflix’s most current craze, Squid Game, avoid reading or watching anything connected to the smash-hit programme. If you’re reading this, it’s a little ironic, but don’t worry, there will be no spoilers.
Squid Game, which Netflix has billed as perhaps their largest programme yet, has blown the collective minds of millions of fans across the world since its debut. The internet is presently a spoiler minefield; there are memes, conspiracy theories, rants, and enthusiastic conversations on every imaginable online forum digging deep into the Korean programme, and rightfully so. The nine episodes, written and directed by Hwang Dong-Hyuk, manage to leave viewers terrified but still involved in the programme, owing to razor-sharp writing and riveting performances by its ensemble cast.
In an essence, what is the idea of the survival K-drama? We accompany 456 indebted competitors as they participate in a variety of children’s games for a massive financial reward. The participants, on the other hand, quickly realise that the stakes are lethal, and when the organisers speak of an “elimination,” they mean it quite literally.
Squid Game begins with introducing us to some of the contestants, including Seong Gi-Hun (Lee Jung-Jae), a compulsive gambler and driver; Cho Sang-Woo (Park Hae-Soo), a shrewd investment manager on the lookout for fraud; and North Korean defector Kang Sae-Byeok (Jung Ho-Yeon).
The three of them, as well as numerous other characters, notably Abdul Ali, a migrant worker from Pakistan (played by a very lovable Anupam Tripathi), are in dire financial straits, and the game’s cruel, deceptive rules don’t help. It’s a comfort that the show’s subplot, lead by detective Hwang Jun-Ho (Wi Ha-Joon), is also well-written, with several suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat moments.
For many desperate participants, the idea of being out in the real world is more terrifying than the dystopian, violent environment they have deliberately chosen to enter. “I’d rather remain here and die trying than perish out there like a dog,” one participant exclaims in a scene that exemplifies how harsh life has been to them. It doesn’t take long for them to turn on one other, and their night-time fall into violence and anarchy is one of the most spine-chilling moments… and there are many.
There is brutal violence, numerous nerve-wracking moments, and some horrifying disclosures and betrayals, but what elevates Squid Game beyond the typical survival show pattern are the competitors’ rare moments of friendship. One can’t help but cheer them on as they strive to work as a team through a genuinely terrifying game, or when one participant secretly assists another with his assignment thanks to a ridiculous, yet life-saving hack.
Park Hae-Soo as the intelligent Sang-Woo mesmerises, while Lee Jung-Jae plays the simple-minded yet helpful Gi-Hun with ease.
What could have been a routine part with grey shades is brought to life by the actor, who creates a character you can’t help but sympathise with while also being upset with.
Ho-Yeon gives another standout performance in her beautiful first K-drama. If her portrayal of the intriguing Kang Sae-Byeok is any indication, a sensation has been born. The model-turned-actor is incredibly believable and seamlessly transitions into her character. Her moments are some of the best, and her interaction with another participant, Ji-Yeong (Lee Yoo-mi), adds some unexpected emotional depth to the drama.
To make such a strange and cruel idea work, the technical components must be top-notch, and Squid Game knocks out almost all the possibilities. The strangely brilliant pinks, greens, and yellows that decorate the halls and staircases are a smart and comical front for all of the atrocities that take on within the facility. The cinematography in this episode increases the show’s tone; it is continuously disturbing and verging on voyeurism. The background music helps to the overall eerie atmosphere but never threatens to overpower the proceedings. Because all of these components work so well together, the programme never needs to rely on cheap jump scares; there’s enough skill here to frighten viewers.
The previous few years have witnessed a great surge in worldwide interest in Korean dramas, but Squid Game manages to boost the ante spectacularly and appeal to people who have never seen the genre before. It certainly rates among Netflix’s finest original Korean series, like its previous mega-hit Kingdom.
The ideas, along with the excellent narrative and ensemble characters, were enough to keep the programme in people’s thoughts for a long time. Another reason contributing to the show’s broad appeal is that some of its components have become part of our pop culture, as seen by social media postings, trends, videos, cosplay, and merchandising.
The dystopian drama deals with a variety of topics and real-life concerns, including the economic crisis, class division, capitalism, the hustle culture, and, most crucially, prioritising one’s survival above all else. Because the game is meant to eliminate participants at each step, it becomes a kill or dies situation for them. That brings out the worst in the characters, who will go to any length, from manipulating to pushing someone to their death.
It also demonstrates how the entitled elites of society have no qualms about dominating the lives of others and taking delight in seeing them murder each other. “You gamble on horses,” says one character in the episode. It’s the same here, but we put our money on individuals.”