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Netflix Korean drama Squid Game is full of surprises

by AcklinEHuey

Everyone’s talking about the Korean drama, Squid Game (Ojing-eo Geim). Internationally it’s a huge success, ranking top on Netflix in the UK and the USA. However, in Seoul, I’m hearing mixed reviews. I think Squid Game is like Marmite. You either love it or you hate it.

I love it. (and Marmite)

Squid Game was written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk who also directed one of my favourite Korean films – Miss Granny. But Miss Granny is an hilarious feel-good comedy and couldn’t be more different to Squid Game’s dark look at life.   

More hits from Netflix Korea

Kingdom Season 1 & 2

Ashin of the North

Mr Sunshine

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Squid Game Plot

The title of the drama is reminiscent of another survival game, Hunger Games. It has the visual impact of the Spanish crime drama Money Heist, and the social commentary of Oscar-winner, Parasite.

The plot is simple but gritty. Hundreds of desperately poor people are persuaded to join a deadly competition. The prize is an eye-watering amount of money. But there can only be one winner.

Sadly, in a competitive and harsh capitalist world, the players feel that they have no choice but to risk their lives and take part in the game.

This reflects the reality of being stuck at the bottom of the economic ladder. In Seoul, house prices have shot up, as has the cost of living. But salaries don’t reflect this and working conditions have become more challenging.

Times are hard. And yet, as in Parasite, the characters are not always sympathetic. Take the lead for instance (played by Lee Jung-jae). He’s a divorced father who never pays child support and steals money from his mother to gamble on the horses!

Top actors Gong Yoo (Kim Ji-young Born 1982; Train to Busan) and Lee Byung-hun (Mr Sunshine) also make an appearance.

But Lee Byeong-hun’s character remains rather mysterious. In fact, the drama ends with several questions unanswered. So I’m preparing myself for season 2.

The unexpected

One of the things I found refreshing about the drama was that each episode brought something unexpected.

Every game brings a new dilemma. It’s survival of the fittest and yet there are conflicting human needs as we are social creatures.

Is it violent? Well, yes, in a way.

Players are getting shot and killed left, right, and centre. That’s true. But even though I’m a scaredy-cat when it comes to enduring any sort of violence on TV, I didn’t have to resort to my usual strategy of hiding behind a cushion. There was just one moment in episode 2 with player 119 that I had to look away.

The Games in Squid Game

The games in Squid Game are actually traditional schoolyard games. Some games I recognised from my own childhood in Britain, others I didn’t. The title game itself was new to me.

But I’m told that anyone over 40 who grew up in Korea may well have played Squid Game at school. On the other hand, younger people brought up with iPhones and computer games haven’t heard of it!

I’d say that technology versus analogue is one of the many contrasting themes in the drama. And it seems to be a comment on the generation gap that exists between those who grew up with technology and those who did not.

The dark troubles of life in a capitalist society also contrast dramatically with the brightly coloured setting. A delight on the eye. 

The workers who control the games wear bright red suits and look like they are from a computer game. Meanwhile, the players themselves wear green tracksuits reminiscent of school photos from the 1980s.

There’s lots to mull over and talk about in this drama. But Squid Game elicits questions without divulging all the answers. I binge-watched all 9 episodes but looks like I will have to wait for season 2 to find more answers!

Traditional Korean games in the drama 

dakchi ((딱지) is a game played with folded cards that is still played today.

Red Light Green Light (aka What’s the time, Mr. Wolf?) (무궁화 꽃이 피던 날)

dalgona (달고나) are traditional Korean candies still on sale on the streets of Seoul.

see more from dramasrok about life in Korea on Facebook Pinterest and Instagram 

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