Squid Game Review: A Global Sensation
What makes the Squid Game the global sensation that it has become? If you have watched the show, you know the answers and cannot stop talking about them. If you haven’t watched the show, you definitely didn’t understand the “assignment”.
Squid Game is an international phenomenon. It is the first Korean drama that has swooped in to catch the attention of the entire internet. At this moment, if you go on any social media platform, you will feel its dominating presence. Viral memes. Tik-Tok videos. Hundreds of online discussions and debates. Heck, Netflix even organised a mock first round of Squid Game in the Netherlands. It is that popular. People just can't stop talking about it.
After the first round of the Squid Game.
The show is named after a children’s game that is played in the show. Squid Game is an annual game organised to give an opportunity to the desperate and economically down-trodden people of South Korea. These people compete in the games which are essentially modelled after a couple of Korean children's games. The catch here? The stakes are high and deadly.
The series begins with a slow-motion scene of children (kid versions of Gi-Hun and Sang-Woo) playing the Squid Game while the rules of the game are being explained in a voice-over. From the first scene itself, the viewers are introduced to the Korean games and culture. Later, when the actual Squid Game begins, we see other games as well in each of the 6 rounds, Squid Game being the last final one. An important thing to understand here is that these games aren't just about deciding who is good at the game. It is much more than that.
It is an amusing irony here, that the players indulge in these kid's games which essentially reflect innocence while they are being robbed of every bit of kindness within them as they play to survive.
Survival is the highest stake a person can imagine. This prompts the audience to question the kind of choices the characters constantly make. Any sane person in the audience would find it absolutely foolish to stake one’s life over a bunch of games, hoping they can be the potential sole winner. The writers wrote the characters in a way that the audience will judge them but simultaneously understand their motives, intentions, and actions. Writers intentionally provide us with the background of every single major player participating in the game to make us understand their “reckless” decision.
(L-R) Sang-Woo, Ali, Gi-Hun and Il-Nam.
These characters are complex and layered. They make you question morality at every step of the show. They have been written keeping in mind that there is no complete black or white. There is a degree of variation in how people react in difficult situations that tells us about their true nature. This is very much apparent in Gi-Hun’s and Sang-Woo’s case. The two characters are introduced as desperate, financially struggling men with each having a distinct personality but over the course of the plot, we slowly get to know a face to them that we possibly could not have expected before. Then there are side characters like Ali. He is, without a doubt, the most beloved fan-favourite character of all. The man is extremely respectful and grateful, even in a game where everyone is trying to defeat and kill the other person. (India is very proud of you, Anupam Tripathi. The actor who played Ali? Yes, he is from India.) There’s old man Il-nam who feels like the most oblivious character, just enjoying himself. There’s the strong and fierce Sae-byeok whose vulnerability is capable of touching our hearts. We have Ji-yeong as well. She has the smallest screen space but the loudest impact. Sae-byeok and Ji-yeong are friendship goals. . And of course, how do we forget the annoying Mi-nyeo and the fearsome Deok-su .
Each character has different shades to themselves that keep getting unveiled till the very end of the show.
Sae-byeok and Ji-yeong are friendship goals.
The writing of the show is truly phenomenal. I already talked about how the characters were written but there’s another way the writing again excels. That is in its use of foreshadowing as a storytelling tool. If you watch intently, you will observe that the many deaths are hinted at, early in the show. If I decide to explain this, I would be giving away spoilers. So I will choose not to do so. However, for those of you who are interested in knowing more about this foreshadowing, you should definitely watch “ “New Rockstars” video on Squid Game.
The Squid Game is set up for the desperate and economically struggling people, who have very little hope of surviving in the outside world, aptly termed “Hell” by the second episode. Most of them have signed off their body rights or their future to loan sharks or banks. Thus, they have only two options- die outside without a fighting chance or die inside the game after fighting for one’s survival. The silver lining to this very dark cloud is that one of them can actually win. The one who wins is given a huge sum of money (Huge enough that my mind couldn’t register the figure).
However, it is extremely emotionally manipulative.
The organisers of this game have a some-what twisted sense of democracy. The Front Man gives the contestants a voting chance. He repeatedly stresses about providing everyone with an equal opportunity. What is concerning is that the organisers know what buttons to press to make the players willingly participate in the game. Yes, they participate at their own will but the organisers have very cleverly made them victims by using their weaknesses. As a viewer, one may not feel enraged by this game if it is entirely meant to provide people with a last fair chance. However, when the audience is exposed to the truth that the game is organised by extremely rich people to entertain themselves, the viewer will lose their mind.
A uniformed guard conducts the voting process.
The players are dehumanised by reducing them to just the numbers on their uniforms. No one is called by their name, except maybe within the contestants themselves. This dehumanising happens again for the second time when the players are compared to horses that are bet on during gambles. The show is making a sharp social commentary about how wealthy capitalists sit back and enjoy while the marginalised poor try hard to earn some respectable position at the expense of their own lives. It holds a mirror to the society we live in.
Quick fan theory: In the show, we can see the repeated use of a black box with a pink bow that resembles a gift. However, once opened, the box is nowhere close to a gift but rather a source of uneasiness or the end result of torture. The first time the black box with a bow appears is when Gi-hun’s daughter opens her gift to find a lighter in the shape of a gun. Subsequently, the same box is used to store the business cards of the game. Ultimately, the same box is used to carry the players who lost their lives. This is a well-intended running symbolism that shows that what capitalists/ powerful people think is a gift to humans is nowhere close to being one.
The Gift Box.
The show’s focus is beyond the hair-raising titillating game. It focuses on the situation of the society. The poor situation of migrant workers. The difficulties that defectors of North Korea face while settling in South Korea. The illegal harvesting of organs is another issue that has been focused on. The problems of addiction. The assumed lack of humanity within the society(This assumption is made by the organisers of the game and they use this as an explanation.).
This show is also responsible for making an impact on society. Squid Game has increased the acceptance towards Korean shows among the global audiences. It is no secret that Korean shows were looked down upon by a lot of people mainly for problematic reasons. However, this show has changed the mindsets of various people. Squid Game is also responsible for convincing audiences that they shouldn’t be missing out on quality content just over an inch-long subtitle.
A fan pointed out the subtitle and the “bad translation” issue on social media. (Credit: New York Post)
Talking about subtitles, it is important to address that people who are fluent Korean speakers have pointed out that the subtitles weren’t fitting to correspond with the Korean dialogues. Netflix needs to do better especially when it is now catering to an audience which is becoming more receptive towards subtitles.
The show is receiving heaps of praises for its writing and concept. However, there are other aspects that deserve equal attention and appreciation as well. Acting, for one. Every single actor gave their top-notch performance. They play their grey characters with so much conviction that they make them believable and humane. However, the actors who deserve special appreciation are the ones who played the roles of Sang-woo, Deok-su, and Mi-nyeo. In a show where pure characters like Ali exist, it is extremely difficult to justify the actions of these despicable characters but these actors do complete justice. Take Sang-Woo, for instance. Park Hae Soo delivers a convincing performance when Sang-Woo explains the reasons behind his actions during the bridge episode. People do not agree with the character’s morals but given how Park Hae Soo portrays Sang-woo as the man who is determined to survive against all odds, we the audience understand his choices.
The set designs of the game are colourful and vibrant.
The set designs are so well done. Every set is wonderful. My favourite set is the one used in the sixth episode for the marble games. It reflects the housing style of old Korea. The colour pallet of this show is eye-pleasing; it complements the sets so well. Let me acknowledge the fact that without the warm hues of yellow and orange, the set of the sixth episode wouldn’t have been half as good. The repeated usage of blue and red, from the first game played on the train station to the uniforms of the guards and the contestants to Gi-hun’s hair, may have been a huge clue. (There are fan theories about it already and quite honestly, I am sold.)
Another team that deserves a mention is the stunt team. To plan and execute such deadly games to make a grand impact was, I am sure, not an easy task. Fun fact: The hopscotch game was actually shot with the actors being more than 1 meter above the ground invoking actual feelings of freight. My favourite moment executed by the stunt team is the action during the tug of war game. It was intelligent and highly engaging. The moment when Sang-woo changes strategy at the very end and we see Gi-hun hanging on the rope, always makes my heart skip a beat. This entire sequence was no doubt one of the highlight moments of the show.
The team performs the tug of a war scene.
Also, the background music is excellent. It was unsettling yet very impactful. Every time it came on, I thoroughly enjoyed it. “Fly Me to The Moon” is a great song, but given the situation it has been used in, it makes the viewers uncomfortable and doesn’t let them enjoy the lyrics. It is almost as if the makers used the song to romanticise death and the brutal game.
The only criticism this show may receive is its gruesomeness. In my opinion, there are definitely moments in the show when people have no other option but to cover their eyes or look away (I did that). Such shots are jarring and may not be appropriate for watching (irrespective of the viewer’s age).
Was the violence necessary? Yes, it was. It is a source of entertainment but more importantly, it shows you a stark picture of how cruel the games are.
Squid Game is worth every bit of its hype. As a content lover, what elates me the most is that the decades-long struggle of the writer has finally bore fruits. (Could have it been any better?!)
Squid Game is a nine episodes series, available on Netflix. For those who haven’t watched it, I am sure this article has convinced you enough. If it hasn’t, peer pressure can touch you, can’t it?
Author Biographical Note: Vanshika Lakhani is pursuing her degree in Mass Communications and Journalism from Jai Hind College. She is also an alumnus of St. Xavier's College from where she studied Arts. She reviews films, web shows, books, and music. Her articles have also been published on other portals like Film Companion and Cafe Dissensus Everyday. She is a huge content enthusiast and enjoys talking to people who tell her about new content to consume. Now she is associated with Explore Screen: The Cognitive Dialogue as an intern.
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