The 2003 South Korean thriller film Oldboy has always been one of my favorite pieces of cinema of all time. So, when I heard from a friend that there was a new Korean Netflix series that featured kidnapping, blood, gore, mystery, and suspense (many of the same elements of Oldboy), I was already sold. Let me tell you, Squid Game, which was added to the streaming on September 17, 2021, did not disappoint.
This series was barely advertised whatsoever in the United States before its release and has nonetheless recently become the most-streamed show in the country as well as in around 70 other countries. And all of this popularity isn’t without good reason; Squid Game is exhilarating, well-made, and extremely addicting.
Yes, the hallmark of a good series in the streaming era, I binged the entire season of Squid Game in only a matter of days, and I probably would have watched the whole thing in one sitting if I didn’t have other responsibilities. Every episode ends in suspense and leaves you in wonder and anticipation about what the next episode will hold.
As the season progresses, viewers gain a deeper and deeper understanding of the deadly games that the main characters participate in and the circumstances that led each character to risk their lives in pursuit of the cash prize.
The show’s first season, which features nine episodes and will hopefully be followed up by a second season, forces its audience to examine the darker parts of the human mind and question just what they themselves would be willing to do for a massive sum of money. This show is so horrifying that it’s simply impossible to look away. If you’re looking for your next Netflix series to binge, Squid Game certainly won’t leave you disappointed.
Squid Game Premise
The premise of Squid Game is a pretty simple one: a group of people who are either completely broke or deep in debt is recruited to play a series of games with the hopes of winning a massive cash prize. The twist, however, is that the losers don’t only lose the game, they lose their lives as well.
After the first game, all of the players learn the fatal consequences of losing. But, being that they’re all so desperate for cash, they chose to continue to play anyway. The more players that die, the larger the cash prize grows.
The series stars Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae), who is a divorcee that’s slowly becoming more and more estranged from his daughter. Gi-hun is a big drinker and a big gambler who relies upon his mother for money and even steals out of her purse on occasion.
On top of all that, his ex-wife is planning to move to the United States with his daughter. He’s pretty much hit rock bottom. So, when the opportunity arises for Gi-hun to earn some money by playing these games, he finds it extremely difficult to resist.
The other major characters in the series include one of Gi-hun’s old schoolmates who became a high-powered financial professional who got himself in a massive amount of debt by stealing and embezzling other people’s money, a North Korean defector trying to support her younger brother, a South Korean gangster, a Pakistani immigrant with a heart of gold, and an old man with a terminal illness.
Each one of these characters has a fascinating backstory that makes them relatable and worthy of the audience’s sympathy, and you’ll probably find yourself latching onto your favorite character and rooting for their survival as you watch the series.
The people who sponsor and run these deadly games remain pretty much anonymous throughout the series (until some major revelations throughout the last couple of episodes), which only makes the whole show scarier and more mysterious.
Eventually, though, a member of the South Korean police force infiltrates the island where the games are taking place and must try to learn everything he can about this criminal enterprise while avoiding being discovered.
The premise of Squid Game is quite similar to that of The Hunger Games. The show is quite clearly critiquing an economic elite and their willingness to exploit the lower classes for no purpose other than entertainment. And, of course, both The Hunger Games and Squid Game show contestants competing for their lives.
Throughout Squid Game, however, there is a repeated emphasis on the fact that the players are all playing these games, rather than being forced to under penalty of death like in The Hunger Games.
Squid Game Analysis and Review
Squid Game raises some seriously dark and intriguing questions about human nature and the things that people are willing to do when they feel they have no other options. While some of the players of the game are willing to risk their own lives to get the cash prize, as the show progresses, many of the players actually become willing to kill other players to get one step closer to victory. It seems that this is the purpose of the game after all: to show just how terrible human beings are willing to treat each other for material gain.
In the desperate moments of the games, a divide between players becomes clearer and clearer, the divide between those who are willing to cheat and kill their fellow players and those who are willing to play honestly and refuse to hurt others.
In certain characters, such as the gangster with the snake tattoo on his face, it’s quite obvious from the beginning that they’ll be willing to cheat and kill other players. However, in other characters, these malicious instincts surface later into the games.
As the show progresses, the audience learns more and more about the people behind these games. There are the employees who execute the losers, the Front Man who oversees the entire operation, the VIPs who come to bet on the lives of the players, and the Host who is responsible for putting this while twisted enterprise together.
These people exemplify just how willing the elites of the society are to exploit the lower classes for their own benefit, even if that benefit is nothing more than a good laugh. This theme becomes especially prevalent in the final few episodes of the season in which the audience really gets to know the people behind it all.
Overall, Squid Game raised some pretty profound questions about what humans will do when they have unlimited resources and what humans will do if they have no access to resources whatsoever. On top of that, the series was also extremely exhilarating and entertaining. The acting across the board wasn’t stellar, but the main characters delivered solid performances that did their characters justice.
The storyline wasn’t overly complex, which made the series easy to follow but left me wanting a little more in terms of big reveals. And for those who enjoy violence and horror, Squid Game delivered a whole lot of blood and gore, some seriously scary villains, a few solid fight scenes, and a generally creepy aura.
If you’re looking for the deepest and most profound series of all time, Squid Game wasn’t quite that. However, if you’re looking for around nine hours of solid, heart-thumping entertainment with some cool cinematography and good-enough acting, Squid Game is worth checking out. Will it remain at the top of the streaming charts for long? That remains to be seen. But I’d guess that this series will remain relevant for at least the rest of the year.