Call it what you will, but there are few TV shows these days that create such a buzz, that even in these covid-times we are experiencing, people are still probably gathering around water-coolers to talk about it. Game of Thrones was the last show I can think of that generated such a huge amount of interest and hype, and before that, I would probably have to go back as far as Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and The Wire.
From the off, I can easily imagine that Squid Game will not be for everyone, and have seen many reviews and comments to back that up, but for me, personally, I found this show unique, captivating, shocking and a must watch. But before I say why, let’s quickly try and explain a little, without saying a lot.
Written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, this South Korean Thriller was only released on Netflix on September 18th, and is already the streaming giant’s most successful show.
It all begins sedately, focussing on the tumultuous life of Song Gi-hun, played wonderfully by Lee Jung-jae (Deliver us from Evil/Wiretap). A down-on-his-luck father, in an attempt to make his life better for his ailing mother and estranged daughter, Gi-hun has gotten himself into further debt with the local loan-sharks through his addiction to horse-racing, and, made quickly apparent to the viewer, his bad luck.
Time is running out, and after being roughed up, to the point of being killed, he is warned by the ruffians that if he doesn’t cough up the Won he owes them, with added interest, he will not last past the first episode.
Success on the horses, and the chance to clear his debt, quickly turns to disaster when a pick-pocket relieves him of his short-lived joy….
And that is where Squid Game really grabs you.
A chance meeting, and a mysterious offer on the subway to play a children’s game and earn some really serious Won, highlights, again, Gi-hun’s addiction to chance and the desire to make a better life for himself and his loved ones. For some, the first episdode may prove to be too slow, so why the hype? What’s so special about this? But it is because of this fleshing out of back-story, character building, that you become invested in them. Several other characters are introduced, and it is clear that their paths are destined to meet.
The mysterious subway game ends with Gi-hun being given an even more mysterious calling card, with symbols on and the offer by the stranger he played with, the chance to earn some serious money by playing some more games. Desperate to make a better life for himself, Gi-hun eventually makes the call…
Drawn together, 456 people are spirited away in dark cars to take part in a series of mysterious games. Desperate, in debt, grasping the chance to make a better life for themselves, they gather together in a huge hall filled with bunkbeds, to take part in 6 games, and win a share of the enormous prize fund, a life-changing 45.6 Billion Won. Overseen by guards, dressed in hooded red boiler suits and dark wearing masks that have white symbols of a triangle, circle or square, the competitors form alliances, and await the first game.
Here, the show shines for me. The games that they face, well, I won’t spoil a thing, but what follows, is dramatic, thrilling, powerful, and harrowing. It handles what follows, with great thought and care, highlighting both graphically and emotionally, what people are capable of, what they are willing to do, to suffer and experience to make a better life for themselves, and, ultimately, to win. Everyone taking part, have their reasons to be there:- to clear their debts, to escape their circumstance, to help their loved ones – some are their drawn by greed, but, from the most minor character to the main protagonist, you can really feel for what they are all about to go through and endure.
I thought the acting was excellent throughout and watched the show in it’s orginal format, Korean, with English subtitles, as I always find it more immersive than dubbing (which can often be terrible).
The cast involved were superb – notable mentions should especially also go to Jung Hoyeon (in her first major role), as the ostracised pick-pocket from the North, Kang Sae-byeok, and to the wonderful Oh Yeong-su, as the venerable Oh Il-nam, who is suffering from Dementia and is looking to find himself and enjoy one last game.
Episode 6 is the standout piece for me, and whilst, in later installments, for some, it might feel like it is running out of steam, as the stakes rise, and the series slows to a surprising end, I thoroughly enjoyed Squid Game.
It is unique viewing, and comparisons aside to the 200 film Battle Royale, and much later, The Hunger Games series of films, Squid Game compells, and rightly deserves all the press and hype it is getting.
Like Game of Thrones before it, it has a lot of people talking about it, drawing viewers to a foreign language speaking program, as GoT did, by bringing people to the fantasy genre.
It is often the case with my viewing, that hyped shows/films never live up to the billing, but for me, Squid Game ticked a lot of boxes, and I was captivated, shocked, and swept along by this compelling show, and its wonderful cast to its final game, that may well not prove to be the last, given its success.
A unique, must-watch show, that will leave you thinking about it long after you finish, and have you humming its signature tune.
Squid Game (2021) (15)
Running Time: 9 Episodes
Watched on: Netflix
My rating: 9/10