Since its Netflix release on Sept. 17, the Korean drama series “Squid Game” has gained international acclaim for its fast-paced plot and thrilling cliffhangers. In fact, the show has become a social media sensation with creators on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter raving about the show’s ingenuity. “Squid Game” is on track to surpass “Bridgerton” and “La Casa de Papel” as the most-watched Netflix series of all time.
The show, written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, follows Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae), a debt-ridden gambling addict and deadbeat father who can’t seem to get his life together. When he learns that his ex-wife and her husband plan to move to America with their 10-year-old daughter Seong Ga-yeong (Cho Ah-in), Gi-hun realizes that he needs to prove he is financially stable before his daughter is whisked away for good.
The opportunity arises when Gi-hun is approached by a mysterious man, who challenges him to a round of ddakji, a South Korean game where players try to flip over folded paper tiles. The man promises to give Gi-hun 100,000 won if he wins. After losing several rounds, Gi-hun finally manages to flip his opponent’s red tile. The man gives Gi-hun the promised cash, along with a business card, prompting Gi-hun to call the number provided.
Desperate, Gi-hun calls the number, enters a dark van, and wakes up amongst 455 other people, all of whom wear identical green sweatsuits and are distinguished only by a number that represents the order in which they arrived. The group is identified as the participants of a mysterious competition for a cash prize of 45.6 billion won — roughly $38 million. What the players don’t realize is that the games — traditional childhood games — end in a bloodbath for those who lose.
After the first episode, viewers are pulled onto a roller coaster of emotions as the show gets progressively darker. While “Squid Game” centers around survivalist themes comparable to “The Hunger Games” and “Battle Royale,” director Hwang Dong-hyuk uses simplified games in an attempt to highlight the overarching criticism of capitalism and human nature.
Like the 2019 Oscar-winning Korean drama “Parasite,” “Squid Game” captures the plight of class division and survival in a society where money is valued over human life. While the characters’ brutal actions cannot often be justified, their experiences are universal, and we are forced to wonder if the true villain is the strategic killer in the games or those that contribute to a society where the “games” seem like a viable solution to the poorest population.
Not only did “Squid Game” do a good job at addressing social issues, but it was also entertaining. The show’s social commentary gave insight into the impact of poverty and wealth distribution while also developing individual characters. We become attached to the “good” guys like Abdul Ali (Anupam Tripathi) and Ji-Yeong (Lee Yoo-mi), and we also manage to sympathize with — or at least understand — characters like Han Mi-nyeo (Kim Joo-ryoung). That is, of course, before we realize that only one player can win.
Although quick-paced, “Squid Game” allows the right amount of time for plot progression, character development and conflict without boring or confusing the viewer. A lot can also be said of the series’ exploration of South Korean culture. For a wide international audience, the show exposed viewers to certain cultural aspects in a way that was enjoyable and not alienating.