In this biting commentary on life in South Korea today, viewers are presented with a twisting, technicolour story of violence, betrayal and desperation. All of this is set around a series of macabre games in which players literally fight to the death. Despite its brutal content, the show has captivated audiences globally, becoming Netflix’s top show in at least 90 countries
The drama takes viewers on a high-suspense ride across nine episodes where a group of people mired in debt and personal misfortune enter a series of six survival games, modelled on familiar South Korean children’s games. The losers will die by a ruthless process of elimination, and the single winner will take away 46.5 billion South Korean won (around £29 million).
Early episodes show the circumstances that have led central characters to place everything on the line. Audiences see a series of very different lives, but each is mired in debt and misery. A man who was made redundant and then indebted by failed business ventures and gambling is joined by an unsuccessful fund manager. An elderly man dying of cancer plays the game alongside a North Korean defector. A Pakistani migrant worker and a gangster, along with hundreds of other equally hapless individuals who have fallen foul of South Korean capitalism, gamble it all.
The show mocks Christianity repeatedly expressing the growing turn in opinion of South Korea’s rapid development during the 1970s and 1980s and its connection with the growth of the church at the time
This is not a story unique to South Korea of course. Squid Game’s characters, their troubles and their humanity resonate with the experiences of societies globally. Economies similar to South Korea are experiencing many of the same challenges, exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic.
Squid Game brutally reminds the winners of each stage, and the show’s global audience, that those who succeed often do so at the expense of those who failed by way of weakness, discrimination, poor judgement, or just bad luck. The final episode hints at the possibility of a second series, but even if it doesn’t continue, Squid Game makes it clear that the larger story it represents is far from over.