All squid, no game: Korean Netflix series ‘Squid Game’ is a smash hit

Katie Langley, Copy Editor

It’s fair to say that Netflix’s Korean thriller “Squid Game” broke the internet.

In the three weeks since its release, Twitter has produced endless memes, from recipes for the dalgona candy featured in one of the show’s infamous challenges to fans pondering if they would survive the red light, green light game.

Honestly, I only watched the show because my Instagram Explore page wouldn’t let me hear the end of it.

“Squid Game” is projected to be Netflix’s most-watched show in any language, and it’s worth the hype.

Despite all the memes, creator Hwang Dong-hyuk presents a chilling commentary on capitalistic excess. In a world ruled by the ultra-rich, normal people must fight for their lives in the Squid Game. To put it lightly, this show is not for the faint of heart.

The survival drama stars Lee Jung-jae as Seong Gi-hun, better known as player 456, a down-on-his-luck father who accepts an invitation to a sinister game for the chance of a big payout — several billion dollars.

Though Gi-hun’s journey is an interesting look into poverty, gambling addiction and family ties, he is sometimes difficult to like. I found myself begging him to make good choices and be a better father to his daughter, Seong Ga-yeong.

What truly adds depth to the show are the side characters, particularly Gi-hun’s competitors. The most intriguing story for me was that of Kang Sae-byeok or player 067, portrayed by Jung Ho-yeon.

The first time we meet Sae-byeok, a North Korean refugee, she is an elusive thief. But as the series continues, Hwang reveals the different layers of player 067. A loving sister, she is forced to enter the Squid Game to pay off a broker to smuggle the remaining members of her family across the Korean border.

One of my favorite moments of Sae-byeok’s development was her friendship with player 240, or Ji-yeong. The two meet and immediately bond over their pasts, a scene that will leave you in tears. For me, 067’s struggle is a testament to Hwang’s writing. But Sae-byeok’s story is not the only one about the struggles of immigration.

Abdul Ali, known to us as 199, is a kind-hearted character. Played by Anupam Tripathi, Ali is a Pakistani foreign worker who is mistreated and underpaid. He enters the game in order to support his wife and young child.

When in the game, Ali shows morality in a fundamentally immoral system of assigning worth to human life. He does not purposefully try to sabotage his opponents, but rather he helps them in many instances to advance in the game.

The side characters left me wanting to know their stories, which shows how strong the cast is.

Speaking of the versatile cast, I recommend English- speakers watch “Squid Game” in its original Korean with subtitles for a more authentic experience. There is a level of authenticity that will be lost in any translation of such a well-written show, however. But in the words of Bong Joon Ho, Golden Globe-winning director of “Parasite,” “once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

Like “Parasite,” “Squid Game” fits into the category of post-capitalist dystopia. We see a world where the rich have accumulated so much wealth that they can manipulate the

poor to their own will. There is no doubt that these tropes have been used before. To take an American example, “The Hunger Games,” but even darker.

Despite its familiarity, “Squid Game” offers a lot of new ideas. Where Hollywood is afraid to go, Hwang breaks barriers. For example, the masked guards are unknown minions to us. They seem to have no moral qualms about killing hundreds, but have a group identity of obscurity.

The villains of the show get to the root of what fear is. When it comes down to it, the players had a choice to participate, and the higher-ups of the game weaponize this choice. But, was it really their own decision if most of the participants had no way to escape debt in their regular lives? Take Gi-hun, who, before entering the game, was threatened within an inch of his life by loan sharks. For him, it was either play or die.

This commentary on the cycle of poverty and the indifference of the “1%” is why “Squid Game” is such an important show. The game runners could have helped people like Gi-hun, but instead, they had them kill each other. This is an incredibly poignant message for our time.

4/5 Guards.

Illustration by (Connor Lawless)