“Squid Game” may appear to have appeared out of nowhere to American viewers. However, it is an unsurprising huge hit.
Squid Game Review
The drama, which Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos has stated is on course to become the streamer’s most-watched series ever, has dominated charts around the world, presenting as compelling confirmation of the company’s worldwide strategy.
While it’s encouraging that so many people are interested in a project that they’re watching with subtitles (or dubbed), there’s nothing particularly innovative about people flocking to a project that gives them the best of both worlds.
Hwang Dong-“Squid hyuk’s Game” describes a competition with 456 participants in which the winner receives unlimited money if they survive a harsh gauntlet of catastrophic occurrences. These levels are based on children’s playground games, which adds a layer of irony to how cruel they become: For example, in the first stage, a variant of “Red Light, Green Light” in which those who move after “Red Light” are gunned down, more than half of the participants are killed.
More than half of the competitors — approximately 200 people — are eliminated, and “Squid Game” isn’t bashful about displaying viscera. The brutality is both unnervingly personal and impersonal: While the competitors’ lives are cut short in a brutally honest manner, the shooters are masked game personnel (or, in the case of Red Light, Green Light, a robotic doll).
Random functionaries administer death, and we know far less about them than we do about the game’s players. What we gradually learn, thanks to the technique of a broken-in investigator, is that they are completely bought-in, following their own set of rules and believing strongly in a game they’ve worked hard to depict.
This reality — that both players and gamemakers are tied by need and an odd attachment to the competition’s rhythms — has simple, basic lines. It’s structurally sound and appears to be brilliant at first glance.
So does the show’s structure in the beginning, when surviving contestants are given the option to leave after the first massacre, only to return against their choice because they are desperate for money.(With a North Korean defector and a Pakistani migrant worker, their situations offer a legitimately fascinating cross-section of modern Korean culture.)
We’re forced to confront with the thought that microscopic odds of survival in the Squid Game might simply be better than none in modern society given that we’ve seen both the awful reality they face in the game and at home.
However, this is merely a starting point from which the series makes little progress. The stakes and level of inhumanity are constantly raised in the “Squid Game.” (Its opening salvo of hundreds of dead bodies seems impossible to top, yet it pushes the envelope in terms of player violence, which alternates with astonishing displays of tenderness in a fairly formulaic manner.)
Hwang Dong-hyuk, the show’s creator, has stated that he developed the series’ script in 2008, before coming across current efforts with comparable ideas, such as “The Hunger Games” book and film series.
If we’re comparing the two, I’d argue that “The Hunger Games” series more clearly indicted the audience, which could explain why the final instalment saw a drop in popularity and isn’t talked nearly as much today. Nobody wants to be told they’re wrong for enjoying their hobbies. Indeed, the 2019 picture “Joker” was the piece of art that came to mind the most clearly.
Violence is shown plainly there, as it is here, with the richness coming from the ornate trappings around death and gore. Murder is fetishized as a tactic to raise the stakes in an ill-defined political debate without offering a solution.
The theme of economic equality lingers heavily in the air before the killings begin in both “Joker” and “Squid Game,” with “Squid Game’s” large cross-section of the modern Korean underclass finally explored more as avatars of unluckiness or injustice than as characters.
And in both cases, meticulously produced visual environments — a 1970s-Scorsese pastiche and playland-esque neons, respectively, and rustic childhood pictures — appear to have been staged in order to be broken by death. (It’s worth noting that a significant portion of “Squid Game’s” nostalgic visual palette is inspired by Korean culture, an aspect of which a white American critic is unfamiliar.)
As the series progresses, it becomes evident that the Squid Game has a variety of purposes, including the harvesting of human parts from the dead and providing entertainment for a chattering class of wealthy individuals — some of whom are depicted as white Westerners — who wager on the outcome.
There doesn’t seem to be much to say about the first episode, save that it’s astonishing that the series discovered a way to be even more affectively straightforward and unconcerned with exposing how the human body may fall apart.
Concerning the second, there appears to be inadequate irony or even genuine comprehension that the play is urging its audience to do much the same thing as the despised viewers. One individual, for example, arrives at the Squid Game viewing party and immediately begins threatening and violating a young functionary, resulting in an attempted coercive sex act.
It’s striking that the show feels compelled to underline that those who watch the Squid Game for entertainment are morally degraded in comparison to folks who, say, watch “Squid Game” for entertainment.
There’s a having-it-both-ways insistence, similar to “Joker,” that a culture capable of causing violence is fundamentally sick and deranged, while simultaneously playing out a hugely exaggerated depiction of ill derangement in a manner calculated to be maximally stressful and hilarious.
To be clear, even before Hwang’s writing dramatically stretches it out, there is a clear distinction between spectatorship of real-world and fictitious violence. However, if the bodies had been slain in the service of a more fascinating principle than that inequality is bad, it might be simpler to discern the distinction.
The game was, in essence, meant for entertainment and to discover if people can be decent, according to a season-ending chat between the game’s winner and its architect. (Despite seeing different competitors demonstrate collaboration, selflessness, and cooperation, he believes they are not — but then, he was personally betrayed by the game’s winner, so his sentiments may be a little raw.)
As a rationale for 455 dead bodies, this feels extremely thin. Which is perhaps the point: Those who play the Squid Game are subjected to the most mundane and infantile philosophising of those who, by chance, get to decide on everyone else’s reality.
But, when taken literally, the fact that the show consumed so much life and false blood in order to perform a character-based exploration of goodness, it’s no surprise that it’s become so popular.
The spectator of this series is informed that by loving imaginary death, he is doing something good. And that viewer is experiencing a double pleasure, a sense of enjoying a show while also perching above it, which ends up being the most complicated thing about “Squid Game.”
In enjoying gruesomeness while also tut-tutting at a system that would create such gruesomeness and rooting for its takedown, that viewer is experiencing a double pleasure, a sense of enjoying a show while also rooting for its takedown.