“Squid Game” Will Defeat Netflix Records While Winning Over Your Heart



In “Squid Game,” 456 competitors, all in dire financial straits, compete in a series of children’s games in order to win 45.6 billion won (equivalent to over $35 million USD).

“Squid Game,” Netflix’s latest entry from South Korea, has taken the world by storm. I genuinely do not know how the Earth will stay on its axis with the international reaction to “Squid Game.” Currently No. 1 in 90 countries on Netflix and on track to become the most popular series the streaming service has released, the show is capturing the hearts and minds of audiences worldwide.

Created by Hwang Dong-hyuk, “Squid Game” follows dystopian South Korea suffering from a very distinct class divide as 456 cash-strapped contestants accept an invitation to join a competition for a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38,460,271.20). The contestants compete in children’s games, but soon they realize that the stakes are deadly. 

The hype for “Squid Game” has been circulating all over social media, starting trends across social media platforms, including the Dalgona Candy challenge, which is a traditional Korean candy simply made from melted sugar and baking soda. The player must break the candy by outlining a shape pressed into it with a cookie cutter without cracking the shape. Recently, Roblox users created an interactive world designed to replicate the show’s universe, making it clear that viewers everywhere are insatiably craving more “Squid Game” content.

 “Squid Game” was released on Sept. 17, yet creator Hwang Dong-hyuk wrote the show back in 2009, facing rejections from countless studios for years. Having written and directed all nine episodes, Hwang resiliently pushed through the criticism, and his success is a testament to holding onto your dreams and trusting the process. 

The premise is brilliant. The pilot might be one of the strongest first-episodes of television I have ever seen. The first game of the competition, “Red Light, Green Light,” demonstrates Hwang at his finest as he masterfully raises the stakes and builds suspense. Although the shocking display of brutality might turn away some viewers, the consistency in Hwang’s world-building convinces audiences to become invested in these characters living under terrifyingly absurd conditions. 

The actors are at the top of their game. Lee Jung-jae stars as Seong Gi-hun, a gambling addict that needs money for his sick mother and to provide for his daughter. Seong, a likable actor known for playing charismatic characters, flexes his muscles and digs into the flaws of our protagonist. 

Fashion model Jung Ho-yeon makes her acting debut as Kang Sae-byeok, and her performance is unforgettable. Jung has especially blown up since the release of “Squid Game.” American audiences are calling her the South Korean Zendaya. I’d say she is simply the wonderful Jung Ho-yeon. 

The rest of the ensemble matches the standards set by Lee and Jung. Park Hae-soo plays Seong’s childhood friend Cho Sang-woo, who allies with Seong during the games, and Wi Ha-joon plays an undercover police officer searching for his brother. 

I’d like to give a loud and obnoxious shoutout to Kim Joo-ryoung, who plays the loud and obnoxious Han Mi-nyeo. She absolutely nails her character and provides a much-needed comic relief to the dark overtones of the show. 

The subtle score is composed by Jung Jae-il, who was also the music director of the 2019 film “Parasite.” Rather than distract with loud drums and piercing violins, the score draws the viewer in with seamless transitions between the heart-racing moments during the games and the tenderly emotional moments afterward when the casualties roll in. The smooth transition does not let the viewer have a moment to catch their breath, as the intense music slowly carries over into a calmer scene, making for an unsettling and engaging watch. Episode 7 especially showcases the effectiveness of this strategy as the players crack under pressure during the fifth game.

Although Hwang’s writing is tight throughout the show, the underwhelming ending prevents me from calling “Squid Game” a perfect series. The explanation behind the games fails to properly land. It is not that the ending was terrible, but unfortunately, it does not meet the standards set by the first eight episodes. A crucial scene lacks the necessary stakes for me to feel completely invested in the results.

The show relies upon power dynamics to reinforce the stark class divide, the extravagant, masked faces of the rich and the old jumpsuits of the poor. Yet, in this one particular scene, the reveal of the uber-rich villain lacks the shock, intimidation and fear necessary to foreground the power dynamics the show aims to reveal. The writing almost works, but the direction falls quite short.

Consequently, a dissonance forms that results in a slightly unsatisfying ending. The show redeems itself with a stellar cliffhanger that will leave addicted viewers like myself begging for more content.

Just as “Parasite” explores the South Korean class divide and the hopeless efforts of dismantling it, “Squid Game” ups the ante with less subtly and more spectacle as predatory capitalism preys upon the lower classes that it systemically subjugates. 

The social commentary is savage and overwhelmingly difficult to watch. So, why do we resist the urge to look away? Why has “Squid Game” taken over the world?

Humans are fascinated by violence. Several studies indicate that humans crave violence in the same way we crave sex. One study proved that people are more likely to watch a film with a gory scene than one without.

Violence is omnipresent: on the news, on our phone screens and certainly in our television shows. Are we entertained by “Squid Game” because of our fascination with violence? Maybe. Does that discredit the success of the show? No, not at all. Should I shut up about how “Squid Game” connects to our attraction to violence and instead let you all enjoy the show? Probably.