Written by CAPA-JRC reporter Evelyn Shue
This review contains spoilers.
Squid Game, a new Korean drama released on Netflix, has taken the world by storm. Making its debut on September 17, 2021, the show is now 102.9 times more in-demand than the average show and on track to be Netflix’s most popular show of all time.
But what exactly propelled Squid Game to the top of the film industry?
The story follows Gi-hun, a divorced man drowning in debt who is offered a chance to play children’s games and compete with hundreds of others in the same financial situation for money. The price of losing, however, is death.
Shows and movies with social commentary are not few and far between, with many citing 2019 movie Parasite as a film with the same haunting commentary on lack of social mobility in South Korean society as Squid Game. But Squid Game’s bizarre, surreal setting and the stark irony of doing something as innocent as playing children’s games to lift a severe, crippling burden with death as the price for failure were unheard of before its debut. Nevertheless, Squid Game’s success can be attributed to much more than just its novel premise.
For one, the disconcertingly childish set in the movie excellently establishes the unsettling irony. From larger-than-life playgrounds to old Korean alleyways, all of the spaces in which the games take place are eerily reminiscent of scenes from many of the players’ childhoods. The eccentric, colorful winding stairways and halls the players are taken through, inspired by M. C. Escher’s “Relativity”, highlight the isolation from a dark reality but suggest a dark reality of their own. Playing calming, romantic soundtracks like “The Blue Danube” and “Fly Me to the Moon” during scenes of carnage or immense tension emphasizes the disregard for life—and that’s unsettling.
Moreover, Squid Game has no shortage of multifaceted characters that expose the moral ambiguity of human nature. From the enigmatic and seemingly heartless Front Man to the purehearted migrant worker Ali to Gihun’s conniving former classmate Sangwoo, the show’s cast run the entire gamut of backgrounds, personalities and moral compasses. All driven by private motives and desperation, some protagonists cannot be, by any means, described as good people, while some antagonists too are far from unfeeling, murderous psychopaths. Sangwoo, who sent Ali to his death to save his own life, was the same man who paid for Ali’s bus fare and bought him dinner when he had no money. The Front Man, who for most of the show seems like the orchestrator of the games, purposely spares detective Hwang Jun-ho’s life by shooting him in the shoulder and shows visible distress afterwards. Gihun himself has plenty of shortfalls in his character—a son who gambles away his mother’s money, a caring but inadequate father, and above all someone who believes in his own kind heartedness but ultimately stoops to the same level of unscrupulousness as Sangwoo when push comes to shove. As hard as it is to watch loose morals and self-preservation drive cruelty, deceit, violence, cowardice and shamelessness, this is exactly what hammers in the hard, cold truth reflective of the dystopia we live in and gives Squid Game its raw, psychological grip over audiences.
With immaculate execution and a fresh, intriguing concept, Squid Game, in all its cruel simplicity and cinematic glory, is a must-watch sure to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.
This article was provided by Chinese American Parents Association Junior Reporter Club (CAPA JRC) with members who interviewed, audio recorded, wrote, translated, and video recorded. CAPA JRC has 26 Montgomery County middle to high school students. They have created a bilingual platform delivering news and serving the community.