Squid Game: new global entertainment phenomenon


Photo courtesy of Netflix and Siren Pictures

Netflix’s Korean dystopian series, “Squid Game,” has become a global phenomenon. It has been subtitled in 31 languages and dubbed in 13, and is currently the number one show in over 90 countries. This k-drama has made history by becoming the most-watched Netflix series, with 95% of its audience being from outside South Korea.

The show has broken numerous records and has also taken over multiple social media platforms. Famous YouTubers like Mr. Beast are recreating the game while TikTok users are trying out games like the Dalgona candy game, “Ppopgi,” and the “Red Light, Green Light” game. The success of “Squid Game” is prevalent and has made an enormous cultural impact, making South Korean entertainment even more mainstream. Its impact can be compared to that of the 2019 Oscar-winning film “Parasite.”

While it is popular now, this was not always the case in pre-production. For a decade, studios rejected the pitch of the survival show for being too barbaric and surrealistic. The premise of the show revolves around 456 desperate, financially ruined adults playing Korean children’s games for the grand prize of 45.6 billion Korean won, which amounts to about 38 million US dollars. The series focuses on the harsh realities of living in a capitalistic society, like that of South Korea, by showing just how many lines people are willing to cross in order to obtain money.

 The show follows protagonist Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae), a father, chauffeur and gambling addict. He lives a miserable life, staying in a small house with his elderly mother and having zero custody of his daughter due to his lack of money. Newly laid off from his job, he is barely able to get by and relies on gambling as his source of income. On his way home from another miserable day, he meets a mysterious man in a suit who challenges him to a game of “Ddakji,” a traditional South Korean game played with folded paper tiles. One thing leads to another, and he receives a card from the man in the suit that prompts him to join the Squid Games.

Players go into the playing field completely unaware of the exact amount of prize money and of the fact that those who fail to pass a game will be killed. Witnessing people get shot to death leaves the remaining players traumatized and wanting to leave. However, after coming to know the total prize money, most contestants continue with the game.

Cho Sang-woo (Park Hae-soo), Gi-hun’s childhood friend, is a business major from Seoul National University, one of South Korea’s most prestigious schools. He joins the Squid Game while being hunted by the police for stealing his clients’ money, which he loses because of stocks. Sang-woo’s intelligence and manipulative nature constantly surprises the audience as he finds ways to survive the games.

Another eye-catching character in the series is Ali Abdul (Anupam Tripathi), a migrant factory worker from Pakistan whose boss withheld his salary for months. With his character, the show shines a light on migrant worker exploitation in South Korea, which shows the struggles people face in a capitalist society. Abdul is easily one of the most beloved characters in the series because of his kind-hearted nature, which is refreshing amongst the overall dark theme of “Squid Game.” Something this show does really well with this character, arguably better than almost any other Hollywood production, is not feeding into stereotypes about South Asian people.

Lastly, perhaps the most popular character from “Squid Game,” is Kang Sae-byeok (HoYeon Jung). She is a North Korean defector who is also known as player 067. Aside from the general hype around “Squid Game,” many viewers were drawn to the show because of Jung’s character. While the entire star-studded cast is recognized as being very attractive, her character has been particularly famous for her looks. Aside from her appearance, Kang Sae-byeok’s complex personality is intriguing. While she has a very stoic and estranged front, her motivation to win for her brother touches the viewers’ hearts. 

While the show has many triumphs, one of its biggest downfalls is the entirety of the seventh episode. In the seventh episode out of nine, the show introduces VIPs, rich sociopaths who pay to watch the Squid Games live. The characters themselves are painfully annoying and stereotypical Americans. While the show might have intended for them to be cringey and over-the-top, the actors did an awful job portraying their characters, which is usually the case for foreigners in k-dramas. This episode also had lots of nudity and graphic scenes, so viewer discretion is advised.

Flaws and all, “Squid Game” is Netflix’s biggest hit. The series’ interesting plot-line and characters keep viewers engaged. While the violence in the show can be a bit much and viewer discretion is advised, it is part of what makes the show so fascinating. Viewers are constantly thinking about “Squid Game,” anticipating who dies and who lives. Not only does the show have a gripping storyline, but it also has a diverse, remarkable cast.