Set in Seoul, South Korea, Squid Game follows a broke and divorced Gi-hun (Lee Jung-Jae), who lives with his aging mother in a rundown home and spends his time gambling away his money, getting further into debt, and disappointing his ten-year-old daughter. Late one evening, after taking a heavy beating from a man he’s failed to pay back, Gi-hun meets a mysterious stranger on the subway who asks him a single question: Will you play a game with me? Following this encounter, the stranger gives him a business card, inviting Gi-hun to play more games with higher stakes and higher rewards. Unsure, curious, and severely down on his luck, Gi-hun accepts.
Waking up in an unknown location hours later surrounded by 455 other people, Gi-hun and the others are told by a masked Front Man that they’ve all been brought there to play a series of children’s games to win billions of won. All the players, including Gi-hun’s childhood friend Sang-woo (Park Hae-soo), a young pickpocket (Jung Hoyeon), a violent thug (Heo Sung-tae), and an old man dying from a brain tumor (Oh Yeong-su), are all shamefully in debt on top of dealing with personal crises. Once the first game begins, the players realise that losing means their lives will be terminated. And so, the underground bloodbath begins. Whoever is left standing will be rich beyond their wildest dreams, but at what cost?
Combining the sacrificial themes of The Hunger Games, the underlying horror of childhood fun taken too far as seen in Ready or Not, creator, director, and writer Hwang Dong-hyuk has pieced together a TV show spectacular ten years in the making. Simply put, it is nothing short of genuinely thrilling and engaging to watch.
Squid Game is twisted, colourful and, despite such extravagance, humane. The overall production and set design, to the costumes, and the horribly dark games themselves is wonderfully sophisticated; as a viewer, we can truly see the care that the entire crew put into this project. Since 1997, the South Korean government has actively allocated millions to their arts and culture scene, and such a decision has certainly paid off. Now, K-dramas are making their impact not just in America, but across the globe and it is evident we are only in the beginning stages of such a movement.
The story is original and any similarities it does share with other films is manipulated in a way that erases all comparisons from one’s mind. Not only are we given insight into the main protagonists, but the antagonists as well through various, alternating plotlines. Obviously, Hwang Dong-hyuk took his time getting this show and all its components just right, and that love comes across crystal clear on screen.
Squid Game’s cast of characters is relatively large, yet each play is fully developed with their own motivations, backgrounds and personalities. Regardless of whether they are the underdog or the bully, their reasons for joining the game are valid, and perhaps that is what makes this show so scary: knowing that everyone sees themselves as their own villain and their own hero, and that most people are willing to do what it takes to erase the former part of themselves from existence.
Model turned actress Jung Hoyeon, who portrays pickpocket Sae-Byeok, has become a massive breakout star since the series’ debut. For this being her very first film opportunity, she is a scene stealer in every way. Her ability to convey pain, desperation, anger, fear, strength, and regret through her body language alone is impressive.
That said, the rest of the cast is just as talented. Immediately, we feel for Lee Jung-jae’s Gi-hun. We want him to sort his life out and win his daughter back from his ex-wife. We feel for Sang-woo, who has fallen from grace in the business world. We feel for Sae-Byeok and the haunted past she’s trying to leave behind, same as all the others. The show’s ability to drum up our emotions and pull on our heartstrings even in the most intense situations is refreshing and very well done. Audiences don’t have to cling to moments to feel the chemistry – it’s simply manifested whenever the characters interact.
Ideas for a second season are already being discussed, with loose ends left dangling in the ninth and final episode. Having widely garnered its popularity by word of mouth, only to become one of Netflix’s most streamed shows ever, it’s safe to say that we will be looking forward to the next instalment, hopefully soon.
Squid Game is available to stream on Netflix now
by Kacy Hogg
Kacy is an English Lit student living in the Great White North (no not Winterfell unfortunately), Canada. Her favourite films include the Harry Potter series, Cinderella, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hangover, and Lady Bird. She’s also an avid binge-watcher of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95