For the past several years, the South Korean film industry has exploded worldwide, showcasing specials such as Train to Busan, Parasite, and Kingdom. Following the trend, a new Netflix Originals Series, Squid Game, has captured the attention of millions of fans around the world.
I was first exposed to Squid Game from TikTok, where videos of the minigames from the show filled my “for you” page. Intrigued by the concept and interested by the Korean production team, I decided to give it a watch. The first episode was nothing short of surprising. I was previously only familiar with the show’s unique death games, but there was a message that was so much deeper than I could have imagined. Gi-hun’s relationship with his daughter was truly devastating, as he slowly drifted away from her after the divorce. When threats of organ trafficking were made against him for not paying his debts, I was shocked at how fast the show had become cold and realistic. As the main characters and their backstories were introduced, I enjoyed the diversity of their stories. A gangster, North Korean refugee, businessman, and worker, were all the same in the Squid Game; just a number. It showed the cruel reality of society, where everyone feels that their problems should be addressed, but only a few (or one in this case), actually receive satisfaction.
As a Korean American, the show brought back memories from my childhood. Ddakji, the game Gi-hun plays in the subway (with the actor from Train to Busan by the way!), is a game that my Korean friends and I would play all the time. Even at school, I remember teaching my classmates how to make the game. I decided to call my grandfather and ask about the show. I was surprised to learn that he knew about the show and greatly enjoyed the games. He told me stories about how he would gather at the street market with all of his friends and get Dalgona from the vendor. They cost 10 won each, around a cent in USD, but if the kids could poke out the shape without cracking it, they wouldn’t have to pay. He described his childhood with a smile on his face, overcome by nostalgia.
One part of Squid Game I was not a fan of was the VIP plot point. It took away from the show’s grounded themes of human nature and made the show feel too much like a fantasy. Although the idea of a death game with hundreds of guards dressed in red jumpsuits sounds ridiculous in itself, the VIPs were just too over the top for me. Additionally, although the Front Man’s identity was supposed to be a huge twist, it did not feel very impactful. Even though Jun-ho infiltrated the base to find his brother, since there was no connection shown between the brothers at the beginning, the reveal did not feel like a betrayal at all. We never even saw the brother’s face until that scene!
In contrast, Il-nam’s reveal was very surprising. The whole time, I thought he was just an old man with dementia. However, looking back on the story, it all made sense. Il-nam continues to remark that he had played all the games when he was a child, so it only makes sense that he was the one who created them. I found it interesting how Il-nam believed that humans are inherently evil, while Gi-hun had faith in the good in people. Their player numbers reflect their contrasting mentalities: 001 and 465, the first and the last. I found it remarkable how much Gi-hun’s true character was slowly revealed as he helped the old man, became a father figure for Sae-Byeok, and ultimately showed Sang-woo mercy even after he was betrayed.
However, the ending left me with more questions than answers. When did Il-nam create the game? How will Gi-hun stop the game from continuing? Did Jun-ho really die? Who are the red-suited guards? All of these issues leave me anticipating the next season, which does not yet have a set release date.
Squid Game is a show that criticizes the brutal reality of capitalism and South Korean society as a whole, while also retaining an action-packed storyline that will leave you on the edge of your seat. Although some of its plot points distract from the overall message, it’s creative games and realistic depiction of the worst of human nature make it a show that anyone can enjoy.