Hi everybody, and welcome to a new Something Different Sunday, on which I talk about… well something different from books.
Today I’m talking about the uber popular and much talked about new thriller kdrama called Squid Game. Let’s go!
What it’s about:
Squid Game has taken the world by storm and has become the most watched Netflix show ever just two weeks after its release. The story is about a group of people who get an invitation to play a mysterious game. Since all players are desperate for money, they take the opportunity to play along for their chance to win the grand prize of 45,6 billion won (or 33 million euro). However, the simple kid games they’re playing turn out to have lethal consequences and all too soon the players have to ask themselves whether the money is worth it.
Now, if you know me, you’ll know this is not usually my type of show. I’m a self-proclaimed scaredy cat who usually stays away from thriller and horror and instead prefers contemporary, romance or fantasy. But Squid Game spoke to me. I saw it everywhere and was intrigued so I wanted to give it a try. So I watched one episode (during the middle of the day, naturally) and found out I was hooked. So I watched the entire season (9 episodes) over the course of two Sunday afternoons and here we are.
Why I loved it :
The unique plot and its social commentary
There is so much more to this story than the action and horror of the games. It’s also an allegory of the extreme everyday competitive battle and issues of today’s capitalist society. It shows the absolutely brutal lengths people go to for money. The fact that the participants know the risks and still choose to participate in these lethal games shows how desperate they are and makes you think about the power of greed. It’s also an intense psychological thriller, because who can you trust with that much money on the line and every participant desperate in their own way? Can you make alliances or are you better off on your own?
And, similar to comparable stories like The Hunger Games, it’s also worth noting the organisation and masterminds behind these games, who consider these human beings as expendable and just a form of entertainment. Who watch it all from their ivory tower. Who is the real villain here, the fellow participants who are just desperate to survive and win, or the ones who have fun watching it all unfold and place bets on these humans like horses?
The relatable (if not always likeable) characters
The first person we meet in Squid Game is Gi-Hun. Gi-Hun is a kind man with a good heart, but also a big gambling problem. Penniless and with major debt, he lives off his old mother and is a terrible dad to his daughter. When he gets into serious problems with loan sharks AND he finds out that his daughter is moving to the US with her new family, he is approached by a mysterious salesman. The salesman invites him to play a simple game – if Gi-Hun wins, he gets money. When Gi-Hun loses but can’t pay the salesman, he is told he can pay with his body: by taking a hit from the salesman. You’d think he’d stop, but Gi-Hun is so desperate for money he takes hit after hit until he eventually wins. The salesman then offers him a businesscard with a phonenumber Gi-Hun should call if he wants to play more. He does, and that starts off Squid Game.
Gi-Hun is a great and complex main character. He’s a good guy, but he’s also very flawed and human, and that makes him interesting to watch. But he’s not the only character and you’ll quickly find yourself rooting for (as well as despising) as whole lot of Gi-Hun’s fellow players. Gi-Hun quickly forms an alliance with Sang-Woo, an old childhood friend of Gi-Hun who is now wanted by the police for stealing money from clients. Sang-Woo mortgaged off his mother’s place and wants to play the game so he can pay off his debts and as such protect his mother from losing everything because of him. There’s also Ali, an immigrant from Pakistan who needs the money to provide for his family after his employer refuses to pay him for his work. Completing this alliance is Sae-Byeok, a distrustful young woman who turns out to be a North Korean defector who needs the money to get her mother safely across the border and to take care of her little brother so her family can be reunited again, and Il-Nam, an old man with a brain tumor whom Gi-Hun immediately befriends. And that’s just a few of the characters – all of them with their own desperate reasons to play the game and all of them complex, relatable and flawed human beings.
The plot twists, foreshadowing and genius easter eggs
I just need to mention how smart this show is. It’s gotten a lot of hype, but I thought it was worth the hype. The plot itself is great, but the plot twists and all of the foreshadowing and easter eggs are pure genius. Immediately after watching I already felt the need to watch again, just for a chance to catch all the little signs I missed on my first watch.
The visuals for this show are also quite unique and will probably be recognizable in pop culture for many years to come. I mean, the green tracksuits of the players and red outfits of the guards will undoubtedly show up on many Halloween and cosplay events, and the circle, triangle and square shapes will also easily be linked to the show from now on, since they are so very present in it. As for the set design, this is also so expertly thought out. Every game is played in a childlike arena with an innocent vibe, though of course the nature of the games quickly turns this innocence into an eerie creepiness instead. This juxtaposition is just so visually perfect for the plot. Also, did you know that the stairway the contestants use is based on Escher’s litography “Relativity”? Of course the stairway in the show does not defy nature’s laws, but it does enforce the message that the players are in some weird, absurd world.
Squid Game is a brutal psychological thriller that comes with many trigger warnings such as violence, murder, suicide and blood and is definitely not for the faint of heart. However, if you think you can handle the trigger warnings and the brutality of it all, Squid Game is definitely worth the watch for the intense plot and its social commentary, the relatable characters, the smart plot twists and uniquely fitting visuals. Though it’s not my usual kind of kdrama, I still enjoyed it and am happy to hear it’s bringing kdrama to the attention of more people worldwide. Just get tissues ready, a blanket to hide behind, and whatever you do, don’t get too attached to any characters.