Imagine you’re back in the third grade, and you don’t have money for lunch. So in a bet for one of your classmates’ lunches, you play freeze tag on the playground. If you win, you get lunches for your entire class. If you lose, you die.
That’s (roughly) what happens in the South Korean thriller show, "Squid Game." It's currently number one on Netflix and is on track to be its most popular show ever. In the show, 456 debt-ridden adults sign up for a chance to compete in six children’s games, like red light green light, tug of war and marbles.
What they don’t know is that if they lose the game, they get shot immediately by the game’s workers, masked men in all red hazmat suits. Or, they die during the game, as happened when the participants fell to their deaths in tug of war.
But if they survive each round and win the final game, they are awarded 45.6 Billion won (more than $38 Million USD). But at what cost? The betrayal of your friends? The murder of innocent players? The possibility of your own death?
The writer and director of "Squid Game," Hwang Dong-hyuk delivers compelling moral dilemmas with gory, thrilling scenes and cliffhangers that will keep you on the edge of your seat, questioning what you would do if you were playing the game.
The murderous, dystopian series highlights South Korea’s wealth inequality as it follows the stories of an eclectic group of players.
The show’s protagonist, Seong Gi-Hun, played by Lee Jung-Jae, is a gambling addict with a golden moral compass, trying to earn money to save his diabetic mother and keep his ex-wife from moving his daughter to the United States. His childhood friend, Cho Sang-woo, played by Park Hae-soo, is a disgraced banker on the run from the police.
The most dynamic character we grow to love is Kang Sae-byeok, played by Jung Ho-yeon. She's an escapee from North Korea, trying to reconnect with her younger brother who’s in an orphanage. She's cold-hearted, icy and resourceful as a pickpocket, but at the end, we see her shed tears as she opens up, telling her story and learning to trust.
The writing is clever and impeccably executed to build a deep connection between the viewer and each character, generating genuine concern and empathy for their fate.
The visuals are on point, as well. The scenes are vibrant and colorful, the set designs are enchanting and the visuals paint a picture of a childlike atmosphere. The contrast between the visuals and the dark violence, cold-blooded murder, depressive storylines and desperation make each scene irresistible and wildly complex.
Throughout the nine episodes of the show’s first — and so far only — season, the game’s workers, and the Front Man, another masked worker, this time in all black and seemingly the leader of the operation, reference what they call “VIPs.” Viewers don’t have any insight into who the VIPs are and what they do until the seventh episode.
This episode adds another layer to the show's social commentary on wealth inequality in South Korea, as a group of rich, old, white men arrive at the arena to place multi-million dollar bets on players and watch them fight for their lives in the child’s games for their own enjoyment as they wear silk robes with diamond encrusted masks and sip on expensive liquor poured by servants.
The addition of the VIPs gives a sort of "The Hunger Games"-esque quality to the show and sparks a deeper conversation on classism and the 1 percent.
Overall, "Squid Game" is a must-watch on Netflix if you haven’t binged it already. It's creative, gripping and a true thriller. Each scene is brilliant and filled with captivating performances from a powerhouse ensemble of actors.
There's never a moment when you can know for sure what is going to happen next, up until the very last second. With the massive success the show has generated in less than two weeks since its release, I’m sure there will be a second season. But with so many questions opened at the end, no one can be sure where a future season will take us.