Win or die trying. Netflix’s Squid Game hooked fans in with its high-stakes twist on classic Korean children’s games from the moment it dropped on the streaming site in September.
“Squid Game was the most physically aggressive childhood game I played in neighborhood alleys as a kid, which is why I also loved it the most,” creator Hwang Dong-hyuk said at a South Korean news conference the same month of the show’s title and premise. “In a way, it’s the most symbolic game that reflects today’s competitive society, so I picked it out as the show’s title.”
Beginning in episode one, 456 players fight for their lives — and a cash reward that starts at $38 million dollars but increases into the billions — after accepting an ominous invitation to play a series of children’s games. Each round is monitored by masked guards wearing pink suits as the Front Man oversees it all.
The nine-episode series quickly takes a dark turn when the contestants realize that every challenge brings the possibility of injury or death. Amid the bloody games, fans learn more about each player, including Seong Gi-hun (played by Lee Jung-jae), who lived with his mother after getting divorced before participating in the intense competition.
The question of which players — who have all been given a number and a matching uniform in their isolated bubble — can be trusted and which ones will do anything to survive is something viewers must ask themselves week after week.
According to Dong-hyuk, 50, the deadly challenges and high-risk outcomes also serves as commentary on the world over the last decade.
“I wanted to write a story that was an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society, something that depicts an extreme competition, somewhat like the extreme competition of life. But I wanted it to use the kind of characters we’ve all met in real life,” he told Variety last month. “As a survival game it is entertainment and human drama. The games portrayed are extremely simple and easy to understand. That allows viewers to focus on the characters, rather than being distracted by trying to interpret the rules.”
The showrunner, who has also written Silenced and The Fortress, noted that he began working on the project as a film in 2008. The idea that the rich just get richer — in the show the wealthy are called the VIPs and they watch and bet on the contestants — and the poor people are stuck with very few options only increased during the last 10 years.
“The concept itself was not realistic at the time 10 years ago. It was too bizarre, and people thought it wouldn’t be a money-making film, also because it was violent and there would be some issue with ratings and the target audience would shrink,” Dong-hyuk told IndieWire in October. “But 10 years had passed and for Netflix, their distribution system is different from films; they have less restrictions, so I could go about my own way of making this film and I felt less pressure about these issues.”
Squid Games was an overnight success for the streaming service, climbing to the No. 2 spot on Netflix’s top streams one day after it premiered. It was No. 1 two days later.
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