How far are you willing to go for money? Would you put your own life at risk? For many, the answer would be a hard yes depending on what the cash prize is. Money is money, regardless of the amount, and greed is oftentimes a person’s worst enemy as they put their own life in danger for riches.
Squid Game focuses on Seong Gi-hun, a broke 40-something year old man who always wastes every cent he has on gambling, and finds himself constantly asking for money from other people. One night a stranger approaches him at the subway and asks if he wants to play a game. Every game he wins, he’d get 100,000 won (Korean currency). After the game, the stranger offers Gi-hun a business card and tells him that he can make much more if he participates in other games….except Gi-hun is completely unaware of the fact that it’s children’s games with a very violent outcome for the losers. As players drop like flies in the first game alone, he realizes what a huge mistake he’s made and chooses to leave when players put the games to a vote….but then only finds himself thrown back into the games again.
One thing all the players have in common is that they’re all in serious financial debt. Whether it be they lost their jobs or they owe the bank/loan sharks money, every single one of the players were invited to the games for one reason and one reason only: for the chance to turn their lives around for the better. With the added risk of death, Squid Game emotionally resonates with viewers as it shows how desparate people are and how far they’ll go to change their lives, despite the high stakes and the outcome of, well, dying. While a lot of people have no fear of death, the majority of the players here (as seen in the first episode alone) immediately regret their decision to participate in the games, once seeing that the consequences of being caught during “Red Light, Green Light” was ultimately getting shot. At that point for many of them, no sum of money was large enough to keep them there. They eventually came to a vote and voted to be released, only to be offered another chance not long after being thrown back out into the streets. Same risk, same reward but at least now they had an idea what they were getting themselves into.
It’s hardly surprising that Squid Game is one of Netflix’s most successful non-English series to date. Streamed in over 90 countries, it turns out that viewers love the idea of a mysterious, unnamed organization of mask wearing kidnappers taking in people to play dangerous children’s games for a ridiculous amount of money. Thankfully this isn’t a reality show (the lawsuits would be through the roof), so it’s safe to say that you can kick back and relax knowing that this actually isn’t happening out there in the world….that you know of. It’s the brilliant balance of ridiculousness and shock factor that just makes this work. Not only is it a refreshing reprieve from other mainstream English shows, Squid Game has both character and heart, and isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of film/tv.
With the huge success of Parasite in 2019, Squid Game is another contender of Korean media that takes a deeper look into the economy, specifically capitalism and the imbalance of social classes. While the rich live in luxury and comfort, the poor are scrabbling just for basic needs, hence why they’re risking their lives playing children’s games just to be able to live in that same luxury that the rich have. While Squid Game isn’t the first to put a spotlight on the rich using the poor as entertainment, the ideology still stands that in many countries, the lower class citizens aren’t considered “real people” (they even touch base on the problems with the police force and it’s incompetence when it comes to missing person’s cases for the lower class). On top of capitalism and social class, not only are players forced to play kid’s games for the entertainment of the rich, when it comes to being an inch away from death, they revert to a childlike state right before the viewer’s eyes. It brings back memories of being in school where you’re sharing food during recess, making friends or even joining gangs to protect oneself from being targetted. It’s a confusing time for kids, even more so for adults who are thrown back into that system now with the ability to act violent and commit violent crimes. It’s a psychological battle with knowing what’s right and what’s wrong as much as it is a mental and physical one, but regardless, it’s ultimately about survival, whether it’s in the school playground or participating in high stakes children’s games.
With its many twists and turns (emphasis on twists, the ending is mind boggling), Squid Game is bound to suck you into a world where you’ll get emotionally attached while become mentally drained, but in the best way possible. Anything is game and the rules are simple: survive.
You can stream Squid Game now on Netflix.