Squid Game, a Korean fictional drama series filled with violence and emotion, has skyrocketed to the number one spot on Netflix’s Top 10 in 94 countries. The nine-episode show, rated MA, follows the story of Gi-Hun, a broke father who gets involved in a mysterious game.
Along with 456 other indebted people, Gi-Hun accepts a vague offer to play several games for a chance to win money. The players are transported to a warehouse on a private island and assigned a number, and all seems well. However, when the first game, Red Light Green Light, begins, things quickly take a turn. If players do not closely follow the rules of Red Light Green Light (go on green, stop moving on red) they will be eliminated, or in other words, killed.
Within the first round, more than half of the contestants die leaving 201 players alive. The remaining players then vote to end the contest and go back to their normal lives, but many quickly realize that their lives outside of the game are miserable. This coupled with the possibility of a 4.56 billion South Korean won prize (38,798,604.96 USD) encourages 187 players to return to the game.
After they reconvene, alliances begin to form, and the true strategy of the game begins to arise. The most notable alliance is between protagonist Gi-Hun (number 456), prodigy Cho Sang-woo (number 218), Pakistani immigrant Ali Abdul (number 199), and Oh Il-nam (number 001), an elderly man who has a brain tumor. Together, this odd combination of men attempt to win games and stay alive. Later in the story, more characters join this alliance such as fan favorite Kang Sae-byeok (number 067).
However, with the forming of alliances comes opportunity for betrayal. In this game, it quickly becomes evident that those players thought were their friends could become enemies in the blink of an eye. This intense atmosphere forces players to choose between their friends’ lives and their own lives, which makes for a very interesting series.
Not only is the dramatic feel of this show enticing, but the underlying themes are very interesting to dissect. Throughout the show, the series touches on ideas of equality, both socially and economically. The game itself is made up of only the poorest and most desperate members of society, and it is run by some of the wealthiest elites in the world, referred to in the show as “MVPs.” This idea of the rich controlling the poor makes a statement on capitalism and inequalities that are present in the real world.
This theme of equality is also evident in the way that the game is structured. At one point in the story, player 111 is receiving unfair advantages from several corrupt guards, so he is eliminated. This elimination proves to the remaining players and to viewers that equality is something that is strongly valued in this game. The creator of the game wants to make sure that all of these people, no matter their history or their current game strategy, are given a fair shot at winning the ₩45.6 billion.
While the motives behind this show offer a stimulating mental experience, this series should be recognized for its stunning visual appearance as well.
Squid Game’s sets are filled with bright colors and nostalgic feel, a striking contrast to the heavy themes and emotions of the show. One notable set is a confusing geometric staircase which bears strong resemblance to the iconic painting “Relativity” by MC Escher. The stairs are painted in a variety of pastel colors, as are many of the other sets in the show. These colors create an illusion of calm, happiness and childhood wonder.
This idea of childhood wonder is another element that is prominent in this series. All of the games played in the show are deadly variations of popular games for Korean children. These include marbles, tug-of-war and, the show’s namesake, the squid game. This twisted idea of incorporating childhood memories into deadly competitions makes another unique claim to the equality of man: how all people should be equal in life as they are in early childhood and in death. These games also offer foreshadowing for the ending of the show regarding who is behind the creation of this deadly experience.
All of these elements have made for a show that has become more popular than anyone could have imagined. According to Bloomberg, a data and media company, over 130 million people have watched Squid Game, and Netflix has estimated the show’s value at almost $900 million.
According to CNN, Squid Game was Netflix’s biggest launch of all time. It was the first Korean series to reach No. 1 in the US. Netflix also praises Squid Game for the addition of 4.4 million new streamers to the streaming platform.
A study by Design Bundles found that the phrase “Squid Game costume” accounts for about one-third of the top 11 Halloween costume searches this year. Cast members have gained millions of followers on Instagram. Jung Ho-Yeon who plays Kang Sae-Byeok has gained over 13 million followers since the show’s release, and, according to NME, she is now the most followed Korean actress on the platform.
Despite the language barrier, Squid Game has managed to break records across the globe and has amassed a colossal following of loyal fans desperate for season 2. Who knew that a show about division and murder could unite so many people?
This will be Maren DeMargel’s first year on ECHO staff, but she made several contributions while taking journalism class her sophomore year.