“Squid Game Review”: South Korean Survival Drama takes Netflix’s Most Watched Original Show

Coming in hot as Netflix’s most watched original show with a whopping 92% Rotten Tomatoes rating, “Squid Game” is the current worldwide, must-watch thriller. Released on Sept.17, and translated into 31 languages, Netflix said. “Squid Game” has skyrocketed in popularity due to writer-director Hwang Dong-hyuk’s engaging and relevant plot. “Squid Game” tackles the theme of economic inequality and the exaggerated truths of living in a capitalistic society. 

This nine-episode series involves hundreds of desperate cash-strapped humans who are given the chance to win a large sum of money. Through a dystopian lens, the players go through a series of deathly rounds which are based on children’s games, such as red-light/green-light and marbles. Whichever players lose the game end up getting eliminated (killed) at the end of each game. For example, if the players are split into two teams for tug of war, everyone from the side that loses will be eliminated. The stark juxtaposition between the innocent children’s games and the gory homicides is part of what makes this show so encapsulating.

In addition to the plot, another contributing factor to the show’s popularity is the cast. Lee Jung-jae plays the main character, Seong Gi-Hun, who is an alcoholic with a gambling addiction. This protagonist is surrounded by many other contestants such as Cho Sang-woo (Park Hae-soo), Sae-byeok (HoYeon Jung), and Jang Deok-su (Heo Sung-tae). What makes this show a global favorite is how the language spoken is Korean, but the actors do such a fantastic job with their body language that even without the English subtitles, the viewer never feels lost or unaware of what’s going on. Set in Seoul, South Korea, with an almost all Korean cast, the interactions between the characters are often read through their body language. Gi-Han (Lee Jung-jae) seems like an idle lowlife at first, but as his character develops, the audience can observe his complex protagonist actions. For example, his interactions with Oh Il-nam (Oh Yeong-su), an old man who struggles with physical and mental effects of being senile, speak to his character—in one scene, Gi-han ties his jacket around Oh Il-nam’s waist when he has urinary incontinence to help him keep his dignity. Therefore, despite the connotation that the players are all antagonists for joining the greedy and deathly games in the first place, Gi-Han and other characters become antiheroes through their humane actions and character complexity.

Hwang Dong-hyuk seamlessly symbolizes his plot with the solemn effects of class discrimination contributing to South Korea having one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Every contestant in “Squid Game” has personally struggled with this phenomenon, whether it’s finding a job or being in debt. In fact, the players’ debt ridden lives were so unpleasant that they would risk their survival for a chance to win money. However, “Squid Game” is only one of many shows reflecting South Korea’s economic disparities. In fact, many film critics draw comparisons to “Parasite,” Bong Joon-ho’s 2020 Oscar-winning hit which exposes the underside of South Korea’s economic success story. Even similar to America’s dystopian hit “The Hunger Games,” these brutal survival tales are all metaphors for larger social issues. 

Through dark satire of economic inequality, “Squid Game” is a suspenseful show meant for a mature audience. Furthermore, South Korea is a major cultural hub with rising prominence in Hollywood and on Billboard charts. Netflix does a considerable job providing a platform to promote east-Asian cinema and directors in countries where it otherwise may not have been typically highlighted. Therefore, with high demand from all over the world, season two of “Squid Game” holds a lot of promise.