It is sometimes easy for me to forget in the never-ending deluge of Hollywood content that the United States is no longer the only superpower when it comes to making movies and television. Every once in a while, however, the comfy yet blinding isolationist bubble that American studios have inflated around me in the field of entertainment is burst when an unexpected gem comes rocketing to our shores, reminding me yet again that we are not the center of the world. South Korea’s Parasite, for example, was not content to be the best “foreign film” of the year, but the best film period (if you treat the Academy Awards as anything more than an exercise in self-congratulatory nonsense, anyway). In this same spirit, it was a shock to many people (creator Hwang Dong-hyuk included) when Korea’s Squid Game shot into the American zeitgeist and beat Bridgerton in becoming Netflix’s most viewed original show ever this last week. And after spending some time with it I can confidently say that Squid Game is one of those rare phenomena that is all it’s cracked up to be.
The premise is pretty straightforward: a mysterious organization captures hundreds of impoverished/in debt Korean citizens and offers them the chance to win billions of won (Korea’s currency) if they compete in an elaborate series of children’s games on a giant scale. The only catch? They lose, they die. They break the rules, they die. Other TV shows and movies have had similar ideas, but none are as effectively conveyed and as disturbingly timely as in the case of Squid Game, which firmly demands you consider subjects such as class inequality and the dehumanizing nature of greed even as it shows you the worst possible outcomes of such things as a dire warning to alter course. It is a dark, brutal tale with some incredible acting, a fantastic soundtrack and edge-of-your-seat storytelling that preaches as well as entertains. It does have a lot of blood and stuff though, so don’t watch it with your elderly grandma or anything.
Ironically, the only things I can fault Squid Game for are American (or, rather, English) related. The translation from Korean to English is not perfect at times; although, I find that this is to be expected– translations are very rarely 1:1. The American dubs are also quite terrible, ranging from silly sounding to oddly offensive. If you watch Squid Game, you should definitely watch it in it’s original Korean with English subtitles (this was Netflix’s default when I watched it). These are pretty small complaints, however; an odd word choice here or there should not be enough to keep you from this one.
As I type this, it is unclear whether or not Netflix will greenlight the show for a second season. It certainly has the numbers and the story potential, so only time will tell. I, for one, will be watching if they do.
All nine episodes of Squid Game (season one?) are now available on Netflix.