Who knew that children’s playground games, uber violence, and humanity under intense desperation can mix together to become the top trending streaming series around? The people behind Netflix’s Squid Game surely did. And if you are still yet to watch a single episode, you’re definitely missing out.
Squid Game is a nine-episode series that revolves around the story of Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) – a perennial gambler facing an enormous debt and countless life struggles (like possibly losing his daughter for good to his ex-wife) seemingly with no chance of overcoming any of them. Until of course one evening when Gi-hun misses his train which leads him to an encounter with a mysterious man (cameo by Gong Yoo!) in a suit offering him a chance to win 100,000 won if he could win in a game of ddakji. After countless tries and slaps to the face (his payment for losing), Gi-hun finally wins, gets the cash, and more. The mysterious man (some call him the Salesman/Recruiter) reveals to him that there are other games that can be played with a chance to win even more cash – an amount that can wipe out Gi-hun’s debt and change his life for the better. The mysterious man leaves him a with a card that has three shapes in front, and a telephone number he can call whenever he’s ready to play.
After getting hard slapped to the face yet again by his life struggles, Gi-hun finally decides to call the number on the mysterious card, and agrees to get on a vehicle which brings him to a remote island. He wakes up in a giant room along with 455 other players who are all on the verge of financial ruin just like him. There, he meets an old man with brain tumor #001 Oh Il-nam (Oh Young-soo), his childhood friend Sang-woo #218 (Park Hae-soo), a young woman who picked his pocket early on and apparently a North Korean defector Kang Sae-byeok #067 (Jung Ho-yeon), among others. Inside the same room, it was announced to everyone that they will all get a chance to win 46.5 billion won. All they have to do is win six games. Once everyone gets vaguely briefed, and signs their respective consent form, the first game commences – Red Light, Green Light. All of the players step out to an open field, and while they will indeed play the classic children’s playground game, there’s just one crucial twist. Everyone who loses will be eliminated from the game, and getting eliminated means death. To all of the players’ surprise, everyone who was caught moving during “Red Light” was shot dead, and they all instantly realize that winning just became literally a matter of life and death. As the first game ends, everyone isn’t so sure anymore that they like what they just signed up for all of a sudden. This leads to a close voting – a clause in the consent form allows the players to put on a vote whether they want to continue playing or not – prematurely ending the games.
Of course, with this outcome, all of the players return to their old lives which remind them that perhaps playing the games at least gives them a chance to win. Life in the real world apparently is more unforgiving. In a not so surprising turn, the characters we saw in the first game decide to return and continue with the games as the organizers allow them to do so.
This is when the real show begins. Like in the first game, all of the succeeding games are patterned after classic children’s playground games in Korea (although some of the games might be familiar to other nations as well) such as the honeycomb game, tug of war, marbles, glass bridge, and of course, the squid game itself. But it wasn’t just the prospect of dying that makes the games extreme. Since everyone participating comes from rock bottom, each game proves to be a playground for manipulation, utter desperation, and of course, unimaginable violence that only people maddened by life’s bad jokes can showcase. Who would’ve thought that children’s games can be an avenue for humanity’s darkest side? But all the players surely did the unthinkable.
Aside from the expected violence in the series, what makes Squid Game so compelling to watch is that we’re given a close look at humanity on its knees. Here, we see how people can promise to be a friend for life one moment, yet perform a fatal act of betrayal in the next. As you witness violence from one scene, one episode to another, you begin to get acclimated to cynicism and all the other negative traits of humanity you can think of. But perhaps the most interesting element of the series is how Gi-hun navigates every game and every other character in Squid Game. In a cutthroat (quite literally at times) environment, Gi-hun actually is the one man who keeps his humanity in check practically the entire games, and incidentally, it’s also him who ends up triumphant. It’s no coincidence as well that he defeats Sang-woo – who used all the tricks in the book as far as betrayal and letting go of his humanity are concerned in order to gain a winning advantage – in the final game (squid game, of course) to emerge as the lone victor.
As you get to the finale of the series, Squid Game makes sense of why it’s important for someone like Gi-hun to end up as the winner because it’s later on revealed that Il-nam lives and is actually the host turned player of the games. The old man says that he wanted to experience the kind of fun that he had when he played those children’s games a long time ago. But more importantly, he’s convinced himself that you can’t rely on a person’s humanity anymore which the games and life in the real world would attest according to him. Gi-hun’s victory in the games and the bet against Il-nam suggests otherwise, however. Perhaps this is what the creators of Squid Games want to convey to all the viewers. You can lose in any game that you play, but you can never afford to lose your humanity even if it means losing your life.
🦑 Honestly, the drama will exist without Hwang Jun-ho’s (Wi Ha-joon) side story. I had hoped that his covert mission was worth the life sacrifice, but I was wrong. Nothing’s changed and the games continue as we saw in the final episode.
🦑 Aside from Gong Yoo, Lee Byung-hun also made a special appearance as the Front Man! He used to be a previous winner of the games, and his brother Jun-ho thought he’d gone missing because he never came back. Well, he’s now working behind the mask as the gameshow master, and Il-nam’s righthand man! Seems like he found his calling during his stint as a participant!
🦑 Overall, Squid Game is an enjoyable watch, but I don’t agree with the ending. Does this one has a second season? I hated when Gi-hun took Sae-byeok’s brother from the orphanage just to leave him again under the care of Sang-woo’s grandma. Poor boy got abandoned twice in a foreign land!
🦑 Also, both of these girls deserve better! I hope they’re both drinking mojito in the after life! 🍸
🦑 I am forever scarred by this sound: