Review: Squid Game

THE SHORT VERDICT:

A very compact, impactful little series, Squid Game is the show that you can’t help but check out, even if you’re typically not into the death game genre.

Show is very expensively and carefully produced, and is the kind of drama where, the more you dig, the more little gems you tend to find, in terms of hidden details and added layers of meaning. In my estimation, beyond Show’s shiny packaging, there are two key things that draw audiences in, namely, 1, the characters and their backstories, which are effective and engaging, and 2, the themes and ideas Show serves up, which tend to be deeply thought-provoking.

It lives up to the hype, in my opinion, and is worth a look, even if just to satisfy your curiosity.

THE LONG VERDICT:

When I’d first read this show’s synopsis and realized this was a death game sort of story, which means lots of violence, blood and death with the territory, I’d foolishly decided that I was going to sit this one out. In principle, I just wasn’t interested in watching it, because, well, it’s just not my kind of show.

Ha. Silly Past Me.

In the end, I just couldn’t not check out this one, because one does not simply ignore what is turning out to be arguably the biggest Event Drama that Hallyu’s ever seen. It boggles the mind, really, to think that it’s been only about 3 weeks, since Show premiered on Netflix. In just those 3 short weeks, Show has shot to Netflix’s #1 ranking, worldwide, and is now on track to become Netflix’s most-watched show, period. Woah.

If you’re wondering why Squid Game is as popular as it is, you can check out my recent attempt at answering that very question here.

Also, for the record, just because I ended up enjoying this show, doesn’t mean that I’m suddenly going to be all into blood, gore and death in my dramas. I just.. am glad that I didn’t miss this one.

OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE

Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review. This is a collection of original music, and doesn’t include the jazz or classical pieces that were also used to score certain scenes from the show.

It’s an eclectic collection of tunes for sure, and while I can’t say I particularly loved any single track, I must say that Track 4, Pink Soldiers, has a very particular child-like yet ethereal yet spooky sort of vibe that, to my ears, embodies this show really well.

Here’s Fly Me To The Moon as well, since I do like that song, and it was featured in a pretty noticeable way, in the drama. If you’d like to listen to it on repeat, just right-click on the video and select “Loop.”

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind, that I think would help you to maximize your enjoyment of your watch:

1. Show gets violent and bloody, but it’s not unrelentingly so. In fact, Show takes time to flesh out our characters and their backstories, and this helps to make the watch feel more engaging and relatable. Also, when it is violent and bloody, I did not find it to be gratuitous.

2. Show does look westernized on the surface, but at its heart, it’s still quintessentially Korean. Like I mentioned in my Dear kfangurl post on the topic, Show is a great hybrid. It has the genre and packaging that viewers tend to associate with western entertainment, but its heart is still Korean.

On this point, I also wanted to say, that even though the general impression might be that the violence, blood and death in Squid Game is new to kdrama, these things really aren’t new to Korean entertainment. Korean movies have been violent and bloody for a long time. Just take a look at 2010 Korean film The Man From Nowhere, which was South Korea’s highest grossing film that year. There’s a loose eyeball in that one, just like there is a loose eyeball in this one. Just sayin’. (For the curious, yes, I averted my eyes both times. 🙈😅)

3. Keep an open mind. I think as a drama fan, it’s easy to brush this one aside as not being “true” kdrama because of its genre and packaging. However, now that I’ve watched it, I do think that Show is a lot more thoughtful and philosophical – and Korean! – than one might immediately give it credit for.

4. Don’t sweat it, if this show doesn’t work for you. Even though Show has become a global phenomenon, it’s perfectly understandable that there would be a section of viewers for whom it just doesn’t work. There’s no show that satisfies all audiences, after all.

5. But also, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. I’ve seen a fair number of disgruntled comments about this show being too bloody / too gory / too westernized / too depraved. I’d say to that, please reserve judgment until you’ve actually had a chance to check out the show for yourself. I’d had my doubts too, but now that I’ve watched it for myself, I am convinced that Show has a lot more substance to it than might first appear.

On a related note, I’d also like to say, it’s only fair to reserve judgment until you’ve seen where Show ends its story. The punchline is the most important piece, after all. Where Show chooses to end its story, tells us a lot about what Show is saying, overall.

WHAT SHOW DOES WELL

I’ve already given an overview of what I feel are Show’s strengths, in my Dear kfangurl post, but I thought I’d touch on these couple of strengths again, just for good measure.

Good backstory and emotional hook

In my opinion, this is one of Show’s big strengths, and it’s completely in line with what we tend to love about our kdramas. Show does a great job painting in various characters’ contexts, and because of this, it becomes clear pretty quickly, how desperate our characters’ various situations are.

Show does a great job of sucking us into the dilemma of these characters, and I’d say that at the very least, even if you don’t care about the characters, you’d still tend to feel for them at a fundamental level, as a fellow human. Some are literally on the verge of suicide, with no other way out.

[SPOILER] In episode 1, the players have no idea that they are basically betting their lives, while playing the game. But in episode 2, the second time they get in the van, it hits differently. This time, they know what they are getting into, and that there’s a good chance they might die. But they take the chance anyway, because they are that desperate. [END SPOILER]

It is sobering to realize that there are people who really are this desperate, in the world, and it is just as sobering, to ask oneself the question, “What if I were in that position? What would I do?”

Great production values

Overall, there’s something very polished and shiny about this drama world that makes it appealing to the eye.

It feels a bit technicolor-esque, and that makes everything feel larger than life. Also, the large scale of the entire game facility – from sets, to staffing, to those labyrinthian staircases – was all quite fascinating to me. The facility reminds me of 1998 film The Truman Show, where everything in that world had seemed to be part of the real world, but it had just been one gigantic stage.

The direction is careful, deft and deliberate, and I always felt like every frame was being served up on my screen, only after a great deal of thought had gone into it. Plus, you can literally see the Netflix funding on your screen; everything is so elaborate and intricate.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE

I already made mention of this in my earlier Dear kfangurl post, but I couldn’t help mentioning it again here, in my review.

The western characters are delivered in a manner that I can only describe as stunningly bad, and the English dialogue is cringily written, and cringily delivered. Yikes. I’m just relieved that they didn’t take up too much screen time. 😅

SPOTLIGHT ON CHARACTERS

Aside from the above-mentioned western actors, everyone else does a fantastic job of their roles. Here’s the quick spotlight on a handful of our key players (tee hee; see what I did there?).

[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]

Lee Jung Jae as Gi Hoon / Player 456

I’m impressed by the change in perspective that Show gives us, of Gi Hoon.

In the beginning, I found him exasperating, for being so hopelessly addicted to gambling, but in a way, I felt sorry for him too, because no one actually wants to be held hostage by an addiction. And while I shook my head at the way he steals money from his elderly mother to bet on horses, I did feel his desperation to get out of his situation.

I didn’t exactly like him; I just didn’t want him to be cut up by loansharks, to have his kidney and eyeball sold for money.

However, context is everything, as I like to say. We eventually learn that Gi Hoon wasn’t always a bum. He’d had a job, until it had been taken from him, and he’d suffered trauma from the death of his friend.

And then, in the context of the game, Gi Hoon shows that he has more compassion and humanity about him, than most other players. This is the thing that really caused Gi Hoon to grow on me.

In episode 6, in particular, I felt Gi Hoon’s humanity very acutely. His struggle is so real. He wants to protect the old man, Player 001, as he always has, but as the time ticks by, and as things become more desperate, he cries as he chooses his own life over the old man’s.

On the one hand, it makes logical sense, because the old man has not much time left anyway, with his brain tumor and his age. But on the other hand, it feels heartless to value one human life more than another. That’s a thought-provoking idea, as is the question, of what one might do, in Gi Hoon’s shoes.

Park Hae Soo as Sang Woo / Player 218

I’d say that Sang Woo turned out to be an uncomfortable character to watch.

At first, he’d seemed simply to be Gi Hoon’s childhood friend, a successful man who’d fallen on hard times because of his mountain of debt, but by episode 5, I found myself feeling conflicted about him.

Sometimes he’s a good and decent guy, like when he gives Ali money for the bus fare, even though he doesn’t have to, and at other times, he seems ready to kill Gi Hoon, like during the switching of the guards, and also, during the shapes game.

It boggles my mind, really, that Sang Woo would be ready to kill his old friend, in order to increase his own chances at winning the prize money. I mean, not sharing important information with Gi Hoon is one thing, but there’s that time, where Sang Woo’s literally once inch away from putting his hand on Gi Hoon’s throat while he sleeps.

Basically, the deeper we get into our story, the more we see Sang Woo display disturbing, betraying behavior, and it’s quite a discombobulating experience, I think, because we know that Sang Woo’s also perfectly capable of being a decent guy.

It feels like such a low blow, when in episode 6, Sang Woo betrays Ali by using their friendship, which he had first gained, when he’d given Ali bus fare, when they’d met at the convenience store. I’m not entirely surprised, as we’ve seen hints of Sang Woo being ready to betray Gi Hoon, but Ali comes across as such a pure soul, that I can’t help but feel extra, for him. Plus, he had basically almost won, when Sang Woo started playing on his emotions.

It becomes clear that Sang Woo’s compassionate only when there’s a small cost to himself (like bus fare). However, when the stakes are higher and his very future is on the line, all bets are off, and all decency goes out the window.

In episode 7, it’s not surprising, but still disappointing to see Sang Woo push that guy off, but it’s hard to say that it’s not a reasonable line of action, given that they only had seconds left on the clock, and not completing the course would mean elimination for everyone.

In fact, I think that’s the question that Sang Woo’s entire arc poses to us, over the course of the show: What would we do, if we were in his shoes? It’s easy to say that it’s wrong of him to cheat Ali out of his marbles (thus causing Ali’s death), but would we have been able to do differently, in the same situation?

Jung Ho Yeon as Sae Byeok / Player 067

It’s hard to believe that this is Jung Ho Yeon’s acting debut, because she is utterly compelling. What a natural, I say!

Sae Byeok is a character that I felt more for, the more I learned about her. What an awful situation to find herself in, repeatedly cheated and taken advantage of by brokers, while her family is separated, and her mother, stuck in North Korea. It feels like her entire existence revolves around the fruitless task, of trying to get her mother over to the South. With the way the brokers demand big money, and then tend to disappear on her without actually delivering on their end of the deal, it feels like Sae Byeok’s stuck in a Groundhog Day of sorts.

With this context, Sae Byeok, whose name means “dawn,” feels especially poignantly named. To my eyes, it feels like she’s struggling to get to the daylight portion of her life, and it can look like she’s almost there, with the deals made with brokers, but she never actually gets there. Which is why her name “dawn” feels so full of pathos, to my eyes; she never actually gets to the part where the sun rises, in her life. 😭

Knowing what we know about her, it becomes clear why she is always on the defensive, and why she doesn’t trust people, in general. She’s been wounded too many times, to want to risk being taken advantage of, even one more time.

With this context, the scene between Sae Byeok and Ji Yeon (Lee Yoo Mi), in episode 6, feels extra emotional. With only 30 minutes on the clock, they spend the time talking, at Ji Yeon’s suggestion, and by the time they play their round, they’ve become friends.

Augh. Ji Yeon giving up her chance (and therefore her life), to ensure that Sae Byeok gets hers, is possibly the most touching moment for me, out of the entire series. What a community sort of mindset, where Ji Yeon weighs her needs against Sae Byeok’s, and concludes that Sae Byeok needs that chance more than she does.

There’s such a tearful finality in Ji Yeon’s eyes, as she smiles through her tears and tells Sae Byeok that she doesn’t have a reason to get out of there, and there’s such a haunted sense of pain in Sae Byeok’s eyes, as she realizes the inevitable outcome of this conversation. Such a moving, beautiful, yet short-lived friendship, truly. 💔😭

Wi Ha Joon as Officer Hwang

I’ve had a soft spot for Wi Ha Joon for a while, but I have to admit that this role of his, as Officer Hwang, really deepened that soft spot and made it bigger. 🤩

Maybe it’s because I am a complete newbie when it comes to this genre; I hadn’t seen Officer Hwang’s involvement coming, at all. However, I was very pleased, when that development occurred on my screen.

I really like the inclusion of Officer Hwang in our story, because with him going undercover at the games facility, it gives us a whole new perspective through which to understand the games and its workings, ie, not just from the players’ points of view, but from the guards’ points of view too. Plus, it ups the stakes as well, because there’s always this possibility of him getting caught.

I also like the angle, of Officer Hwang’s investigation. He’s not just trying to blow the lid off an illegal operation that’s killing hundreds of people and getting away with it; he’s trying to find his own brother, who’s been missing for several years. That makes his determination and desperation so much more personal. And because it’s personal, I can understand why Officer Hwang would undertake this crazy level of risk.

Generally speaking, I loved how quick-thinking and creative Officer Hwang turned out to be. I was particularly thrilled with the way his disguise evolved, from player, to guard, and then even to a server of the VIPs.

And I loved how he’s so swift, in getting into character, like in episode 4, where he manages to sound so convincing as a supervisor, even talking the talk, word for word, even though he’s only been there a day. Mad props for having nerves of steel, and being able to function so well under what must be tremendous stress and pressure!

I was rather gutted when Officer Hwang found his brother, only to get shot by said brother, without ever finding out how Hyung had ended up there, and why. 😭

However, I hold out hope that Officer Hwang survived that fall from the cliff into the water, since Hyung had shot him in the shoulder (and not the heart or head), and therefore left him a chance of survival.

Oh Young Soo as Oh Il Nam / Player 001

Oh Young Soo plays Il Nam with a great mix of childlike innocence and delicate fragility, that I found very engaging. I found that my heart went out to him, on just those two things alone. Well, that and the background information that he suffers from a brain tumor and doesn’t have much time to live.

Given his poor prognosis, I was extra taken with the earnest joy with which he participates in the games, even though he knows that he could die while playing.

..Or so it seemed.

It didn’t occur to me until later, after Show reveals in our final episode, that Il Nam is the host behind the very bloodthirsty games, that his cheerful manner while playing, was less to do with his carefree attitude, and more to do with the assurance that as host, he wouldn’t die, even if he did lose a round.

What a narrative-tilting piece of information indeed.

With this information, Il Nam strikes me as a very odd bundle of contradictions.

On the one hand, he has a very jaded view of humankind. On his deathbed, he bets with Gi Hoon, that no one would come to the aid of the passed out drunk on the street, and predicts that the passed out drunk would die, as a result.

And yet on the other hand, we do see, through much of our story, that Il Nam has a wide-eyed innocence about him, which lands as rather pure and simple. It makes me think that he genuinely believes that he’s doing something altruistic, by giving people the chance to play these death games, as twisted a thought as that might be.

Yet, what kind of twisted mind does it take, to actually believe that the enticing of people to gamble with their lives, in a game where the odds are stacked against them, is a noble act, where he’s giving these people a chance to control their lives and their future, just once?

..I can only conclude that Il Nam’s mind is very ill.

Heo Sung Tae as Deok Soo / Player 101

What can I say, the moment I saw Heo Sung Tae, who’d so skillfully played detestable characters in both Beyond Evil and Racket Boys, as Player 101, I had a pretty good sense for the flavor of character Player 101 was going to be.

..And he did not disappoint.

I mean, I get that being on the fringes of society as a gangster, Deok Soo’s had it rough and perhaps some of his values and behavior have been shaped by his gangster environment. However, I honestly could not find a single redeeming quality in Deok Soo, while watching him on my screen.

Deok Soo was as vile as I imagined, and then some.

The way he is so quick to use and abuse others made him distasteful, and the way he switches loyalties the moment it becomes advantageous to him to do so, makes him despicable.

I feel like Deok Soo, as a character, is there to represent the most depraved parts of human nature. In episode 4, when he sees that there are no consequences for breaking the rules and killing people, he makes deliberate, gleeful plans to eliminate more players, in order to increase his chances of winning.

And yet, on the glass bridge, when it comes down to the wire, and there is no more buffer between him and a 50% chance of death, his cowardice comes out in full display, and he refuses to move, so that other players would be forced to the forefront.

That’s so low, honestly. He hadn’t hesitated to push the person ahead of him to their death, but now that he’s eliminated that buffer with his own hands, he won’t budge when it’s his turn to take the next step, for the group. I mean. He could’ve just not pushed the guy, then, right?

Because I found Deok Soo so thoroughly awful, I thought it was a bit of poetic justice, really, that Mi Nyeo fulfills her promise to kill him, for betraying her.

Kim Joo Ryung as Mi Nyeo / Player 212

If I had to describe Mi Nyeo’s character in two words, they’d be “scrappy” and “desperate.”

On first impression, I think it’s safe to say that Mi Nyeo is not a likable character. She’s quick to bargain her way through things; she’s quick to change loyalties; she’s also quick to change her tune, according the situation.

However, the more I consider Mi Nyeo, the more I feel rather sorry for her. When trying to gain entry to any group, she’s often heard repeating that she’s really smart, but just never had the chance to study. That indicates to me, that she’s largely a product of her environment, meaning, all her scrappy tendencies are likely learned behaviors that she adopted because she’d found them necessary to her survival.

And Mi Nyeo is desperate to survive. We see her do a lot of things, out of desperation, the most memorable of which, is offer to sleep with Deok Soo, in exchange for him accepting her into his group.

On that note, I just wanted to mention that I’ve seen a couple of comments, that the sex scene is gratuitous and unnecessary. While I concede that this is eyebrow-raising for a kdrama (because kdramas have long been known to be extra pure and extra chaste on the romance front), I did not find this a gratuitous scene.

Was it titillating? No, I honestly wouldn’t say so. Was Mi Nyeo even attracted to Deok Soo? Also, no. She had sex with him out of desperation, because this was the only tool left, that she had available to her. People use every means as leverage, in times of desperation, and Mi Nyeo is a desperate woman in a desperate situation. I feel like she’d sell a kidney, if she had to, if it assured her a means of survival.

Over the course of our story, Mi Nyeo is shown being tossed around among groups, with her attitude changing according to which group she finds herself in. When she’s trying to get into Deok Soo’s group, she’s all cajoling and persuasive, but once she gets into that group, she very quickly turns snooty on Doc (Yoo Sung Joo), who’s now in the position she used to be in.

I find that to be such an uncomfortable but true reflection of human nature. It’s a sad truth, that many a victim will not hesitate to victimize another, given a chance to be on the other side. Mi Nyeo isn’t unique in the way she approaches the world; she’s a representation of any of us, who would likely behave much like her, given the same context, upbringing and circumstances.

In the end, though, there is one thing that makes Mi Nyeo better than Deok Soo, and that is how she’s not afraid to die, to fulfill her promise to him, that she would kill him for betraying her. Should she have killed him? It’s debatable. But it’s clear that his terrible treatment of her angered, hurt and humiliated her enough, that she was willing to pay the ultimate price, to make him pay the price. And she followed through.

Anupam Tripathi as Ali / Player 199

Anupam Tripathi’s role as Ali is noteworthy for the fact that he’s the first Indian actor to have a major supporting role in a kdrama. And boy, does he deliver.

I found myself growing fond of Ali in a big way, because from the very first time we set eyes on him, where he grabs Gi Hoon by the collar and basically saves him from being gunned down during the first game, it becomes clear that he’s a very decent guy. He didn’t have to save Gi Hoon; he didn’t even know him. But he saved Gi Hoon, just because he could.

At the same time, we see that Ali doesn’t have a completely clean track record either; he steals money from his boss, after not receiving a paycheck for 6 months, and runs away. This demonstrates to us that even the most decent human, when desperate enough, can resort to underhanded means, for their survival.

Given the context that we get, though, that Ali really needs the money to keep his wife and baby safe, and that his boss had really been doing him dirty by not paying him, I found that I couldn’t hold it against Ali too much, for stealing that money.

Plus, there’s just how grateful and respectful Ali tends to be, around our other characters, like Gi Hoon and Sang Woo. When Sang Woo asks to partner with him for the marbles game, the look of surprise and sense of gratitude that Ali shows, is just really sweet, heartwarming stuff. Like I said earlier, Ali just comes across as a very pure soul.

I think this is why I felt so sad, at how Ali meets his end, during that very marbles game. He basically loses the game, and therefore his life, because he’d trusted Sang Woo. He’d actually almost won, but had allowed himself to be persuaded by Sang Woo, that they’d be able to find a way for both of them to survive. What a horrible realization it must have been for Ali, to realize that Sang Woo had betrayed him, and had stolen his marbles, which he’d switched out for pebbles.

I really felt the loss of Ali, and was really upset that we lose him. But his arc does beg the question, of whether the pure-hearted really can survive in this world, where there are others always at the ready to take advantage of their trust.

Yoo Sung Joo as Doc / Byeong Ki / Player 111

I’ve got Doc / Player 111 here, not because I found him especially interesting, but because he’s involved in the organ harvesting arc of our story. I found this arc particularly gruesome. This was the only time during my watch, that I found myself having to avert my gaze. Nobody needs to see an eyeball being pulled forcibly out of its socket, right? 🙈

Was it gratuitous, though? I’m still leaning towards no.

With the way Show shines the spotlight on all the dark and ugly corners of human nature, this feels like a reasonable extension. We see that even within a system as twisted and regimented as the one in our game world, there are still those who are desperate enough, and depraved enough, who would pillage the bodies of the not-quite-dead, for an extra buck. It’s sickening – but again, it is a sobering reminder of a black industry that still exists in the world today.

The other thing that I found rather interesting about Doc’s arc, is how, in the real world, he’s despised for medical malpractice, but in this world, and in this different context, where he’s the only person with the skills to conduct the organ harvesting, he becomes someone with some amount of power. It’s not overt power, but those pink guards do bend over backwards to give him privileges that he wouldn’t otherwise have.

It reminds me of that saying, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

Gong Yoo as Train Guy

You probably already knew that I couldn’t write this review and not mention Gong Yoo, right?

I am suitably amused, that everyone’s taken such an interest in Gong Yoo, from a cameo. A CAMEO. That’s some serious charm and star power right there, to be able to capture the attention and affection of so many viewers, with such a short appearance.

I loved his cameo in episode 1, and was delighted to see him make another appearance in episode 9. Ahhh. That charm, combined with such a laidback, good natured sort of vibe, makes him really quite irresistible, and I remember all over again why I love him.

On a more serious note (I’m trying, here!), it does feel like Show is perhaps making some sort of statement about how the dark side often works to suck us in, with pleasantness and charm.

SPOTLIGHT ON THEMES

During my watch, I found myself having quite a few thoughts around the various ideas and themes that Show was serving up. Here’s the overview; feel free to add on, hash out and generally discuss, in the comments!

Episode 1

Aside from the morbid fascination of the game set-up, where people literally get killed when they are eliminated from a game, there’s a deeply disturbing undercurrent running through this, that these people’s lives are cheap and disposable. They were picked up for being financially destitute; so in debt that they wouldn’t be able to turn down the chance to play. And as they play and get killed in the droves, the Front Man dude sits with a glass of whiskey, listening to light jazz tunes, while he casually watches all the casual deaths, on his screen.

The thing is, at this stage of the game, these people weren’t even told, before playing, that there was a chance they might not survive Round 1.

It really paints a picture of the chasm between the haves and the have-nots. The wealthy  are literally entertained by the deaths of the poor; people who are so destitute that their deaths barely warrant a blip on the screen. It’s horrifying that the lives of human beings can be reduced to nothing – and the thing is, this is a metaphor for the real world.

And then there’s how people respond, when they find themselves in a life-or-death situation like this. Do they sacrifice others, so that they themselves have a better chance of survival, or do they give a helping hand to someone, just because it’s the decent thing to do?

Episode 2

At first, this all seems to point to human greed, but in reality, this is really all about desperation, and the difference the sight of money makes. How far will people go, because of greed &/or desperation?

Show does a great job sucking us into the dilemma of these characters. I don’t care about them deeply like I tend to care about my drama characters, but I feel for them at a fundamental level, as a fellow human. It feels heavy, and sobering, to realize that there are people who really are this desperate, in the world. It makes me wonder what I would do, if I were in their shoes? Would I choose any differently?

Episode 3

Self-preservation vs. helping a friend. Sang Woo could have tipped off Gi Hoon, but he didn’t. How far does teamwork, camaraderie and team loyalty really go, especially in times of crisis?

A good number of people who make it, are actually cheating the system. Tip-offs, spying, secret weapons. Is it impossible to survive without cheating?

People driven to desperation tend to take desperate measures. The guy who charged the masked guy and took his gun. But in this world, there is no hostage taking because every single person is disposable.

Episode 4

There’s a chilling effect, of the coffins made to look like gift boxes. Who’s the recipient of the gift? It’s all a matter of perspective. To the host, the gift box coffins are gifts to the deceased players, along with (what he thinks is) a dignified send-off. But from a different perspective, doesn’t it feel like the gift boxes trivialize the deaths of the players? To my eyes, it feels like they are pretty trifles, there almost as door gifts, to those who pay for this entertainment.

After a player dies, no traces are left behind. This feels like a dark metaphor for the real world?

The idea of trusting others, not because you want to, because you don’t have a choice.

Is there room for empathy, in times of desperation? Mi Nyeo, who had been snubbed before, now snubs others, after she’s managed to find a way into the group.

Deok Soo gets away with stealing other people’s food and beating a guy to death. It’s a troubling metaphor for society. Those with power, legitimate or otherwise, get away with a lot more than most of us think.

The fight, where everyone just gets sucked into the violence, and the insanity, reminds me of all the “protests” we’ve seen around the world. It’s disturbing.

How quickly an ally can become an enemy. The promises Deok Soo had made to Mi Nyeo, while she’d offered up her body, were all empty. He casts her away in the blink of an eye, the moment her presence becomes disadvantageous to him.

Episode 5

As we look upon the darkness of human nature, there’s a twisted fascination as we turn the lens inwards. Am I as messed up as these people on my screen, even as I watch them?

You can spin just about everything. Front Man talks as if they are doing something altruistic, giving these people one last chance of a fair game, after they’ve been treated unfairly outside, in the real world, when in reality, these people are being treated as disposable entertainment guinea pigs.

Episode 6

What happens when your ally suddenly is forced to become your enemy? Would you betray a friend for your own survival?

Episode 7

The whole idea that rich westerners travel a long way for this entertainment which comes at such a high cost to the locals, is a reflection of some of the kinds of tourism that exists in our world. Sex tourism, for example, which rich folks pay for, but which destroys the lives of those who have to resort to it, because they are financially trapped otherwise.

The portrayal of the religious as people who pray, but who use those prayers to justify their murderous behaviors.

It’s easy to discount people’s worth, when just referring to them by numbers. That’s again a reflection of real life.

Episode 8

The visual irony, that our finalists are served all this luxurious food, but on their fancy suits, they’re still just numbers. It’s like.. fancy jail. And metaphorically, it feels like charity, where things are given to those in need, but it doesn’t actually solve anything; it just makes the givers feel good that they’ve done something.

I came across these observations by other viewers, that most of our key players’ deaths have something to do with their specific backstories.

Sae Byeok had threatened to slit that broker’s throat, and in the end, she’d died from having her own throat slit. Deok Soo had jumped from a bridge to escape his fellow gangsters, and in the end, he’d died from a similar-but-different fall from a bridge. Ali had stolen money from his boss, and in the end, he’d died because he was stolen from. Sang Woo had been on the verge of suicide when he’d decided to participate in the game, and in the end, he’d died by suicide.

Out of those players whose backstories we know, those who die, all seem to die in what feels like karmic ways. Is Show saying that there’s no shortcut to escape desperation? That what goes around, comes around?

LINGERING QUESTIONS

While Show is perfectly entertaining and absorbing, it definitely leaves us with some lingering questions. Here are just a couple. I’m sure there are more, so feel free to list them in the comments!

The Guards

One of the major questions floating around, when it comes to Squid Game, is how the guards are chosen, and how they are kept in line.

Some people have theorized that the game that Train Guy plays with prospective players, is the point at which they get channeled, depending on the color that they pick. Meaning, if they pick blue, they become a player, and if they pick pink, they become a guard.

Director-writer Hwang Dong Hyuk has come out to refute this theory (sorry folks). At the same time, he has not provided any insight into the guards and how they are selected, unfortunately.

On a tangent, I’d also like to know how the organizers get away with killing so many people on a large scale. Or.. are these people so peripheral to society, that nobody even knows or cares, that they’re missing?

Front Man

I thought it was a good twist, that Officer Hwang’s brother turns out to be Front Man (Also, what a surprise, that Front Man is Lee Byung Hun. No wonder he sounded familiar, especially when delivering his English lines!).

However, Show doesn’t provide any answers as to how Hyung had gone from participant to executor, in the games. Viewers theorize that Hyung had been the winner of the game, and had then naturally joined the ranks as Front Man. It sounds plausible to me, but I’d like to know what Show has to say about that – if/when we get a second season.

I’d also really like to know if Officer Hwang survived that gunshot, and that fall from the cliff. If we get a Season 2, I’d really like Officer Hwang to come back (cue Wi Ha Joon heart-eyes).

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING 

I thought Show ended on a solid note, all in all.

Perhaps if you’re coming into this one with a fresher set of drama eyes than I own, you might have found the last stretch a little more exciting and unpredictable than I did, but to be honest, I felt like I could read, more or less, how the big pieces would come together, for the final showdown.

That’s not to say Show didn’t do a good job. I think Show did a very decent job. It’s just that, with kdramas being expected to uphold societal values, in this case, the idea that there is goodness and hope in humanity, it made it almost a given, that Sang Woo wouldn’t win the final game, because he’s already been tainted as a character, with his willingness to kill others for his own gain. And, it was also almost a given, that Gi Hoon wouldn’t kill Sang Woo, even when the opportunity presented itself, because we couldn’t have our main character be tainted, if he’s to continue to stand for the idea that there is still human decency left in the world.

And because Sang Woo isn’t evil through and through, it makes sense that he would rather end it all, rather than go back out into the world.

Not only does he have blood on his hands that I don’t think he’d be able to live with, he also has a mountain of problems that he wouldn’t be able to deal with, without any change in his financial situation.

In principle, I like the idea of our final episode having a good chunk that feels like an epilogue. I think it’s an important thing to explore: what happens after the fireworks have ceased? What has changed – or not changed?

The only downside to this, is that in including this epilogue-esque portion of story, there’s a distinct sense of.. deflation, in the watch experience. Now that the adrenaline has stopped pumping, and the dust has settled, the dramatic tension, which had thus far been keeping us on the edge of our seats, has dissipated too. It makes for a much less exciting watch, to be sure, but perhaps that’s the whole idea.

Perhaps it’s important to drive home the idea that it’s all fun and games – until you have to live with the consequences. It’s sad, but fitting, I thought, that as a result of the games, Gi Hoon isn’t there when his mother dies. Because of his desperation for a quick fix that would solve all his problems, he ends up losing everything and everyone. His disillusionment, demonstrated in his refusal to use the money that he’s won, was portrayed very well, I thought.

Until he’d won that money, Gi Hoon had thought that his whole life would be fixed, if he just had the money. But now that he has the money, he realizes that the cost is too great, and he can’t bring himself to use it.

I thought it was an interesting twist, that Oh Il Nam turns out to be the host of the games. It’s a twisted sort of reason, that he’d host the games, in order to make his life more interesting. For all of the childlike delight that we’d seen on Oh Il Nam’s face when he’d been Player 001, he really does have a very jaded view of the world. I’m glad that Gi Hoon wins that wager at the end, because that drives home Show’s final stance, that there is still human decency left in the world.

I also thought it was fitting, that Gi Hoon would bring Sae Byeok’s little brother Kang Cheol (Park Shi Wan) to Sang Woo’s mother (Park Hye Jin); these two need a family, and now they can perhaps be that family, to each other. And it feels right, too, that he would leave the money with Sang Woo’s mother, so that it can provide for both her and Kang Cheol.

Of course, Show also leaves us with a sobering reminder that life still goes on, and the people who are poor and desperate, are still easy victims of the ones who have the means and inclination to take advantage of them. Even if Gi Hoon himself knows not to play when Train Guy shows up offering a play-for-money deal that’s too good to pass up, there’s always someone else who would be desperate enough to take that opportunity when it’s offered.

I do like the note on which we end, however. Even though Gi Hoon is just one person, and the good that he’d be able to do, in the face of such a large-scale, powerful operation, is limited, he turns around to do it anyway. I like the idea that Show leaves us with; that making a difference, no matter how small, is still worthwhile.

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Dark, bloodthirsty and compelling, while also managing to be philosophical and thought-provoking.

FINAL GRADE: A-

TRAILER:

If you haven’t seen the show, I just wanted to state for the record that, in my opinion, the trailer is more freaky than the actual drama itself. The trailer’s a collection of carefully curated clips, brought together to entice potential viewers with the freakiest vibe possible. I found the watch experience of the show a couple of notches lower on the Freaky Scale, than this trailer. I hope that helps!

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Annette Chung
Annette Chung
1 day ago

It’s interesting. Personally, I don’t find the drama too dark. Maybe because real life is DARKER. Yes, it leans to the extreme, and no, life isn’t always this bad. But I like how the show forces you to swallow some uncomfortable truths, instead of sheltering us and showing us rainbows and candies. They could’ve censored a lot of stuff, not shown so much gore, so much blood, so much everything. But it wouldn’t have opened your eyes otherwise. Sometimes, it’s a bit like someone taking you to a bad part of town and said, “See? This is what the world is actually like.” So no, I don’t think any of the scenes are gratuitous at all, so you and I agree there, kfangurl.

I also find it fascinating to delve into the characters of Player 1, Front Man and Sang Woo. Right from the beginning, I had already had suspicions about Player 1, and as episodes went on, the suspicions grew and grew. From the way he gleefully played Red Light Green Light, with no care or even shock on his face as others were gunned down before him. From how, when he was trembling up high as other players were killing each other down there, Front Man stopped the chaos immediately. From how he withheld his name, till the end. So his involvement at the end did not surprise me, and his reasoning also didn’t.

As for Front Man, he’s more of an enigma. He was once a player. Why would a player turn into an organizer? I would really like to get into his mind and unpack that one.

Sang Woo and Deuk Su are actually a coin with different sides. One is brutal with fists, another brutal from intellect. Actually, Sang Woo is interesting because it reminds me of the MBTI “The Engineer”. They are cold, calculative and highly logical. I actually know a person in real life like that. And, while watching Squid Game, he told me he would actually make decisions like Sang Woo did. Although it’s chilling to hear, it also makes sense.

Overall, I find that Squid Game has the standard quality of a kdrama. It’s beautifully shot, tightly written, brilliantly executed. It has its not-so-good parts like the westerners (oh gosh, why do you have to enunciate each word so carefully like that?) but overall I enjoyed it. I heard the second installment would be more towards the organizers? Hope so!

Ele Nash
2 days ago

Great review, kfangurl! Someone asked me when I’d have died in the games and I said: the station platform, at Gong Yoo’s oh-so-cool feet, of course 😍😆

beez
4 days ago

@Georgia Peach – I know most people won’t agree, but I hope none of the actors are available for a season 😏

CarpControl
CarpControl
6 days ago

I think I was really triggered by the coffins resembling gift-boxes, complete with a cute-pink bow on top. It was grotesque, to say the least. Also, the incinerations & the constant plume of black smoke. Gas-chambers much? Horrific indeed.

The music-choice reminded me of some Tarantino films, where deaths and blood-splatter are played for laughs. But this was infinitely more unsettling.
In fact, I was so involved with the show, that the first shot of the sunrise while Cutie Cop was being chased, shook me. It was so…. normal in comparison! Also, I can list like 10 other things which were more disturbing than the casual blood-spree taking place on-screen, and I really appreciated such nuance in the writing. What to say, is this the writer’s disillusionment with humanity, a cautionary tale, or rather a plea for hope?…..

Thank you KFG for this gem. It was a disturbing but profoundly enlightening watch. The trailer had turned me off for good, and had it not been a rec from you, especially someone who doesn’t do well with gore, blood and death-games… I would have never given this one a shot… Thanks KFG once again, and I 100% agree with your take on the script, pacing, and finale. <3

CarpControl
CarpControl
5 days ago
Reply to  CarpControl

@KFG…. “It becomes clear that Sang Woo’s compassionate only when there’s a small cost to himself (like bus fare). However, when the stakes are higher and his very future is on the line, all bets are off, and all decency goes out the window.
Thanks to you, I spotted an easter-egg! Remember how Sang Woo, being the ever-decent guy would not accept Ali to return his 10-dollar bus fare, or accept any extra favors from him? This is in direct contrast to Gi-Hun who goes back and asks the cashier for his 10-dollar tip back, at the horse-racing place.
You see Sang Woo being ‘magnanimous‘ and Gi-Hun being ‘petty’, in the outside world regarding that 10 dollar. But inside the ‘jungle‘, with higher stakes, the scenario is completely reverse.
That’s really the moment I realized where the finale was headed! ^^

Sam Butler
6 days ago

Great review. My wife and l were also surprised how much we liked Squid Game despite the premise. It was a great mashup of Hunger Games (plot), The Prisoner (visual style), and My Ajusshi (theme). What made it all click for me was Cho Sang Woo’s character. As a graduate of an elite university myself, I recognized many of my classmates in his character. The drive to succeed combined with a warped view that competing in a theoretical meritocracy justifies all means no matter how unscrupulous or immoral is exactly why the world is the way it is these days.

MyKDramaticLife
MyKDramaticLife
6 days ago

(pa-comment. 😅)

SQUID GAME
(This review contains spoilery) Unexpectedly amazing drama! This Netflix original series has surely won over millions of viewers’ hearts with its unique, thought-provoking, life-valuing concept of writing. 
The characters are very varied and diverse. And the actors give each one justice to the roles assigned to them. I appreciated our unchanging lowkey main hero, Seong Gi Hun (Player 456). I was at first mesmerized by our smart and talented ahjussi, Cho Sang Woo (Player 218). I loved how fierce yet soft-hearted Kang Sae Byeok (Player 67) is. I enjoyed our unexpected infamous couple, the gangster Jang Deok Su (Player 101) and 
scammer Han Mi Nyeo (Player 212). Oooh woow Koreans know porn. 😂🤭 For sure everyone was glued to their screens by how thrilling this couple’s deaths were. For me, the most gratifying deaths in the whole series. HAHAHA. I was surely pleased by the wholesome grandpa Oh Il Nam (Player 001), he’s indeed one strong player in the WHOLE game! (I know you know what I mean) 
And who wouldn’t be amazed and charmed by our wholehearted warrior from Pakistan, Ali (Player 199). He’s for sure one of the favorites of many. The most undeserved death of them all. And to complete the list, is our investigating handsome policeman, Hwang Jun Ho. I know everyone’s talking about this sizzlingly hot oppa! 
So what makes Squid Game special to many’s hearts? This is an unusual survival drama that is not only thrilling and suspenseful, but is also very melodramatic and poignant. It gave its viewers the taste of tears while in fears. 
I might have very very minor personal preferences in the finalé part, but it’s negligible. 
I still have a lot to say about Squid Game, but that’s all for now. 😀
Just so you know that if you haven’t watced it and you read this, then go ahead, go home and open your device – get glued on your screen and enjoy! 💛

Overall Rating: 10/10

beez
8 days ago

Somebody explain to me how the Cutie Cop and his mother seemed to convey that CC’s brother has only been out of touch a few days (or weeks) at most? Yet the impression (back at the game center) is that LBH’s character has been Front Man (or at least a red guard) since winning years ago?

Trent
8 days ago
Reply to  beez

@beez It’s a good question. I was wondering the same thing myself.

What I speculate is that Front Man isn’t a full year job, so Hyung is actually back in the real world doing whatever, up until a few weeks before the games, when he heads off to the island to do preparation for this year’s games.

That doesn’t answer why they didn’t notice him missing in the previous several years, but I dunno, maybe this is first year in the position? Or maybe he had various excuses, like he told them here taking a long vacation? Or long trip for a job?

Trent
8 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Huh. I may be misremembering, too. I might have to go poke around to see what they actually say about in the first episode or two.

beez
8 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

I distinctly remember mom being worried and Cutie Cop saying “Oh, you know how he is, mom. He does this for days (weeks?) at a time. He’ll show up. But I’ll go check on him”. Which does fit with @Trent’s theory that Front Man is not always at the games. I just can’t see him living a life worse than the main character’s when he’s not at the games.

beez
8 days ago
Reply to  Trent

@Trent – I could accept that he isn’t at the games year round except it’s hard to believe that after living in the lap of luxury, Front Man goes back to that tiny goshiwon room that only has room for a cot and a desk which we were shown Cutie Cop went to look for him.

Trent
7 days ago
Reply to  beez

Yeah, that’s a hole in the theory, for sure.

Maybe he has some sort of weird trauma reaction–like Gi-hun in the year after Gi-hun wins where he doesn’t touch the money–and so he lives in humble circumstances as a sort of penance for being involved in this deeply twisted game? Okay, that doesn’t seem very likely.

Or maybe slightly more likely–he maintains the tiny little room as a front, to keep his mom and younger brother fooled (after all, to participate in the games in the first place, he must have been in pretty bad financial circumstances, right?), and actually he really lives in a luxury penthouse suite nearby…

Georgia Peach
7 days ago
Reply to  Trent

Ah, Trent…I needed to read further! I kinda found another plot hole. Did anyone notice how the pinkies were not going to let MiNyeo go to the bathroom and she threatened to pee the floor. And then later she said she was going to the bathroom and DeokSoo followed her. Seems they had no problem getting together in the same stall and went unsupervised for quite some time. That’s something I could have gone without seeing. I know FG found it not gratuitous, but was it necessary, really? Also I think the scene with Cutie Cop and Gross Fat Guy was TMI…just me I guess. This is my greatest fear when our Kdramas go global that the writernims and the PDnims will bow to the dollar since they are not within the confines of the Korean network censors. Goodness, I know that sort of thing goes on, but I don’t need to see IT. That’s the Main reason I quit American TV, for heavens sake!!!
So while I’m here let me just say, there are so many other Excellent, Excellent Korean dramas I fear many will presume this is the bill a fare when it’s so not. Many will watch Squid Game and say…really, why do people hype these things for? I’m just thinking a better introduction to Kdrama could be had.
Okay, Trent. Sorry. This rant was not directed at you. I landed here and here I stayed with my opinion. I always enjoy reading your thoughtful posts. Now, I’ll continue reading to see if I’m the only one with said opinions…

beez
6 days ago
Reply to  Georgia Peach

@Georgia Peach – I’m with you 98%. I feel those scenes were important to the story BUT they did not need to show as much as they did. Adults can understand implication. I always tell the story of how I watched Suddenly Last Summer (Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Cliff, and Katherine Hepburn) as a kid with no clue but while rewatching it as an adult, all was revealed.

If anyone’s interested in knowing
Katherine Hepburn’s deceased son in the movie was a sex addict and used Liz Taylor’s beauty to lure young men and boys. Because they frequented areas of intense poverty, the son would use money for sex from these impoverished boys. Eventually, when he failed to provide money, he was eaten by the children. Now I’m not saying that plot isn’t ridiculous, but my point is as a kid (between 10-12), I had no idea that was happening. But as an adult it was obvious.

I think I messed this spoiler thing up. But nobody probably is interested in a 50-year old movie anyway. 😉

Last edited 6 days ago by kfangurl
beez
6 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Thanks @KFG! (I hit the spoiler button first. I realized my error and tried to correct it by blocking the text and then hitting the button but it wouldn’t work. User err-ror. 😣

Georgia Peach
5 days ago
Reply to  beez

Beez, I’m just wishing another drama had captured the world instead of SG. I thought it was really good, but for so many different reasons other than what I’m seeing and hearing about the drama. It was mentioned on the Today Show this morning but only the “games” were mentioned…nothing about the writers nuances, noting about the characters and who/what they represented…:(

Georgia Peach
7 days ago
Reply to  beez

Well…I was thinking he’d not sent his rent money to the goshiwon landlord. And writer-nim has to somehow move this story along, right? He doesn’t live there … he just rents there as a front for his family. Hyung is off at the south of France when he’s not being one of Satan’s minions.

Gloglo
Gloglo
9 days ago

This is one of those reviews in which I agree a 100% with you, kfangirl. I really liked this drama even though the genre appealed to me little to none and I only watched it because so many people around me were talking about non stop. So glad I did! The very careful character development and the socially aware themes are really what make this show so compelling.

We also agree on our love for the young, heroic and very handsome policeman… 😍 I also hope he survived that fall and that in the next season (because there’ll definitely be a second season) we see him again.

The part with the Caucasian actors did not bother as much as if bothered you. I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, but there was something fitting about the execution of that whole sequence: The bad acting conveniently made it feel stagey and over the top (a little bit like the decor with those statues of painted naked women used as headrests and footstools… of were they real? 🧐) Anyhow, the contrived acting made those scenes worked in a weird way… it somehow reminded me of a stage production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome I saw once, in which the actors playing the biblical Romans soldiers were dressed like 1930’s British aristocrats, gliding in slo mo through the stage and speaking in very accented, slow and affected RP English… it made these Romans look and sound like decadent ridiculous twats… This VIP scenes felt a little bit like that and somehow it worked for me as these white men were supposed to be complete idiots.

Shree
Shree
9 days ago

Awesome review! As for your thoughts of the western actors, I agree their performance was not strong, but I thought their presence and role as the VIPs was another key critique of society in Squid Game. The way Asian societies tend to idolize western societies and see them as an ideal, you know?

Medea
Medea
9 days ago

As bloody and gory as this show gets, I don’t think that was the most horrifying thing about it. The most horrifying this was that this is not set in some dystopian alternate universe; this is set in our world, and in many ways, genuinely reflects the desperation that many live with.

And the story of the front man is also terrifying. How does one go through all of those horrors, and then turn around and become a part of that oneself?

Georgia Peach
7 days ago
Reply to  Medea

Medea, I agree with you on the desperation of debt and an the inability to provide for oneself that many live with today. That’s why people sell their kidneys, liver, and even an eye. This is not fantasy; this is the world we live in. As to how does one go though such horrors and then return…I don’t think they do unless they are mentally ill. Like FG said about Old Man. It is said that the gas chambers were decided upon because the German soldier was having mental health issues because of the whole sale slaughter of the Jews they were having to be involved in.

Susan
Susan
9 days ago

I never expected that KFG would watch “Squidgame” and I’m so happy to see the review! 🙂 Plus, lots of great thoughts from the KFG fan-base, too–thanks so much!

Like other KFG fans, this was the first kdrama my family watched with me. The release of this show was perfectly timed with Halloween, making it a more appealing choice. The October launch date drove Squidgame’s phenomenal success in the USA. To be honest, I wonder if the average American viewer even realizes that “Squidgame” IS a kdrama.

I was pleased that my family found it entertaining but embarassed that it didn’t entice them to view another kdrama on Netflix with me. Even after the success of “Parasite” and “Minari” the shameful role of the “white” actors with their cringeworthy performances in this kdrama, may be enough to drive some American viewers away from kdramas and more kmovies.

During the pandemic, Netflix subscribers turned to a variety of foreign-language (must read subtitles) shows, including kdramas, Bollywood movies, Scandanavian series, etc. I personally don’t like the lifeless dubbing; rather, I prefer subtitles where I can hear the emotions in the dialogue as I read the subtitles. I also realize the subtitles are subject to interpretation of the translator and a dictionary.

I hope the popularity of “Squidgame” will push people to view the quality, non-romance-driven kdramas currently on Netflix, such as “Misaeng” or “My Mister.” I fear that for many “Squidgame” will become another fades-quickly pop-culture experience like “Tiger King.”

In addition to “Squidgame’s” production-quality, star-power, it’s shorter season–only 9 episodes–and format–about 1 hour episodes–make it more likely that viewers will select another kdrama–but a shorter one. At only 10 episodes “Move to Heaven” or, with only 6 episodes “D.P.” these two kdramas are recently-released quality productions that may drive viewers to select kdramas with 16-25 episodes.

By the way, loved “Move to Heaven” and “D.P.” (waiting for Jung Hae-In for “Snowdrop” )

Natalia
Natalia
10 days ago

For me, Squid Game’s strongest asset were the characters. I LOVED the ones I liked (Gi Hoon, Ali, the 2 girls, even the old man) and I HATED the ones I didn’t like (the gangster, Sang Woo, and even the old man). But I hated them because they were so, so good. Excellent job by the actors. For me, special shout-out goes to Mi Nyeo who’s such an annoying leech but the actress really makes us feel the desperation because all the loudness and the obnoxious-ness.
The only one I found somehow indifferent was the cop, mostly because he felt like a plot vehicle used for the audience to see what’s happening behind the scene and less like a real character. Also, he’s the one that makes me worry there will be a season 2, and I really don’t think this show can pull a second season.
And of course, almost like everyone else, I hated the VIPs, but those I hated because they were so cringeworthy, badly played, and even had a somewhat racist and homophobic shade about them. But maybe if they had used real actors, and not some random white guys they picked of the streets, it wouldn’t have felt like that. I wonder why is it so difficult for Korean producers to get some adequate white actors, I have not once watched a decent one in a Kdrama.
By the way, if anyone speaks Korean, could you clarify wether the subtitles were really as bad as rumor has it? I suppose they mean the English subtitles but I pretty much suspect that other languages are translated from English. They seemed pretty decent to me.

Natalia
Natalia
10 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Well then, I can only hope that next time I’m in Korea I will also get casted should they ever need a Caucasian lady (though we usually get male western characters)!!

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
9 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Fangurl – you make a good point on the selecting the proper subs. We had to go to a separate screen to make a dual selection.

beez
8 days ago
Reply to  phl1rxd

@kfg – interesting. I had called Netflix back when Mr. Sunshine was released to tell them that when actors are speaking English, we still need subtitles because most of the time the English isn’t clear. I was advised to switch over to the cc for the hearing impaired. Now I wonder if I should switch back because I’ve been noticing poor subtitles on all Kdramas. I never thought that the cc would be that different. (Although I enjoyed Squid Game, not enough to watch it again for better subs.)

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
10 days ago

Whew Fangurl – this is a very solid review. I did figure out why I was able to finish it:
 

  1. First, this was the first time my family every watched a KDrama with me and that was a huge deal, big enough for me to sit through the worst parts
  2. I felt very comfortable with all the recognizable settings and themes in the non-squid universe
  3. There are a whole lot of serious messages about our humanity
  4. Cliffhangers are stu-pen-dous and, dare I say, even better than Money Flower’s
  5. The normal redemption theme made its presence known – thank goodness as this was absolutely necessary in this drama, even if it came at the last minute. Better late than never or can we say second season anyone?
  6. I was emotionally invested in these characters and I really wanted to see what happened to them
  7. Great acting and the 2 cameos – 1st cameo was fantastic (as always) but that 2nd cameo floored me (Trent was right!)
  8. Squid universe production values right up there with the best
  9. Best and bravest policeman on the planet 💖
  10. The writing was very good and stayed on track – It never got lost or sidelined by tropes

 
What I really did not like:

  • The 2nd sex scene – The second scene was extremely predatory and way too violent. I felt nauseated at the creepy predator vibe. I do not like sexual predators and especially not on my screen. I understand your correlation of this episode with the sale of human beings in the sex trade. This scene upset me much more than the people getting killed.
  • The western actors – yucky cringe Fangurl, just yuck!

 
What I really hope we do not see is multiple poorly done KDrama ripoffs – we just got through that serial killer phase a little while ago, and I do not think the writers have maxed out on the mental health issues phase yet.
 
I agree with you Fangurl, KDrama world just showed that even if it veered to the west, by sticking to its basics it remained grounded in SK. It was a strange mixture I have to say. Very strange, but this drama never lost its KSoul. I am really looking forward to seeing the completion of the redemptive arc in S2. Also, I am surprised about the “envelope color does not equate guard versus player”.

Last edited 10 days ago by phl1rxd
Trent
10 days ago
Reply to  phl1rxd

By 2nd sex scene, I assume you mean the corpulent old Western VIP guy? That was pretty gross; of a piece with the whole VIP vibe, really. In addition to being truly terrible actors (par for the course for Western actors in kdramas, alas), they were just so broadly, cringily written.

It’s actually kind of an interesting commentary on East Asian–or at least Korean–perception of the Americans. They write the characters this way because on some level, that’s how they authentically feel to them, even though to us they’re complete caricatures. It’s a fair turnabout, I suppose, for how Asian characters have so often been caricatured in Western drama for so long…

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
10 days ago
Reply to  Trent

Amen brother! You said it well! And, corpulent is being way too nice. All three of us watching instantly said “That looks just like XXXXX” and we were all grossed out on top of already being grossed out. Seriously Trent I almost threw up. YUCK! Note that this had nothing to do with the fact that these were two males – what bothered me was the fact that it was a serious sexual predator domination power trip over someone in a terribly weak position.

Trent
10 days ago
Reply to  phl1rxd

Yeah, agreed. Often we might find ourselves in the position of saying hey why make the villains gay just get a cheap boost from whatever anti-gay animus might be latent in the audience? But here I think the focus is properly the sexually predatory behavior and the abusive power dynamic, and that’s just as likely to crop up in a gay context as a straight one.

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
10 days ago
Reply to  Trent

@Trent – exactly. What I also noticed is that this is one of the rare KDramas where the actors are actually smoking. Usually we see this in KMovies and it is usually the thugs who are smoking. I knew SG was different the minute I saw Gi Hoon light up and take a real drag. Usually the actors either cannot find matches or their lighter has conveniently run out of lighter fluid.

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
10 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Ah good point Fangurl! I never considered that.

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
9 days ago
Reply to  Trent

@Trent – in reading my comment it seems that I may have have given off a body shaming vibe and that was not my intention. It should have read: “Note that this had nothing to do with the fact that these were two males, one of which was quite corpulent.”

Trent
9 days ago
Reply to  phl1rxd

I hear you. Dude wasn’t evil because he was fat, he was evil…and also fat.

(It’s true, of course, that, just like “gay” (less so now, perhaps?), “fat” is often seized on by writers and directors as cheap shorthand for “this character is bad/shady/degenerate, etc”)

beez
8 days ago
Reply to  phl1rxd

@Trent – I am overweight but I’m going to say it – screw body shaming – he was gross! And I feel that very grossness was to indicate the hedonistic nature of this group. This is not “normal” obesity. Not even the “My 500 Pound Life” type of obesity. That shot from behind of his regular sized frame but crazy big stomach was there to evoke our sickened responses just in case anybody didn’t get how revolting his behavior is.

Steven
Steven
4 days ago
Reply to  beez

I still believe that his physique invoked a more adverse reaction than if this guy is fit, young, and handsome. (Imagine Gong Yoo in that role instead.) And I’m sure the show did that deliberately to invoke the emotion that the writers intended. That was on purpose obviously. I think Il Nam’s and the Frontman’s characters are just as gross or way even more so than “just” a sexual predator, but I never came across the words “sick” or “gross” being used on them. Even Gon Yoo’s character is way sicker if he knew that he was inviting people to play a game of death. (There’s no reason to believe he’s not aware of it.) But he is “cute” and not “gross.” 😉

beez
4 days ago
Reply to  Steven

@Steven – Well “cute’ is certainly not the word I would use to describe Gong Yoo 😉 but – point taken. 😆

I don’t know you, Steven, but my reputation for being shallow is well established around these parts, and let me tell ya – Gong Yoo in those short pants was almost a deal breaker for me signing up to get slapped! 😂

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
10 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Hmm Fangurl – could they be murderers that are running from the law, people who have nurdered in the past? I do remember that the one guard that our lovely policeman Wi Ha Joon threw over the boat (I think E1?) had an ID on him and it showed he was a cop. Did I see that wrong?

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
10 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Thanks Fangurl! Appreciate the clarification! Officer Hwang was downright 007-ish. Boy was he good!

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
10 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Fangurl – he has got to come back in S2. He just must! We need more of him.

beez
8 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

@kfg I really need to see Cutie Cop and Front Man deal with what’s going on. You guys are talking as if Season 2 has already been confirmed?

beez
8 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

@kfg @Trent @Everyone else who gave me false hope!
Darn it!

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
7 days ago
Reply to  beez

@Beez @Fangurl – I read that it is up to the director’s schedule and how he wants to proceed. The director lost several of his teeth from stress over S1 so I kind of feel bad about wanting a S2. 😬 But I do…

Georgia Peach
7 days ago
Reply to  phl1rxd

I worked for years at a dental office..directornim had periodontal issues before this drama! Teeth do not fall out due to stress unless he’s hitting himself with a hammer…in the face….teeth.

beez
6 days ago
Reply to  Georgia Peach

@GP 😁😂

Georgia Peach
7 days ago
Reply to  beez

Beez, long time no talkie! Hope you are good! I’m thinking unless writernim and PDnim get into one of those Korean sex, being seen at a club that’s been shut down due to covid restrictions, drunk driving scandals…season 2 is a given! The money is just too tempting. Money rules.

beez
8 days ago
Reply to  phl1rxd

– “better than Money Flower’s”?! I didn’t find the cliff hangers compelling at all. I didn’t have an urge to hurry up to see what happens next. After each episode, it was easy for me to turn off the tv and go do something else. Very unlike my usual Kdrama viewing habits.

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
7 days ago
Reply to  beez

@Beez – LOL – I loves the cliffhangers and thought they were stupendous. We all gasped at a few of them. We split up the watch into two nights and it was hard to not go straight through. It might have been more compelling for us because it was life and death scenarios.

Trent
10 days ago

A good, thoughtful treatment, KFG. As usual, you’ve highlighted much of importance or significance in Show.

Spoilers, of course (I’ll state up front, rather than trying to stuff everything behind a spoiler tag).

So, I think the reason people theorize that Hyung (Lee Byung-hun’s character) had been a winner of the game, is because it’s basically explicitly stated. At the end of episode 5, when Officer Hwang, aka Hwang Jun-ho, is poking around behind the scenes, and he runs across the archive room (where we learn, amazingly, that the series of games has been running each year since 1988… wow! I mean, imagine not just covering up 450 deaths in a year, but 450 deaths each year for 30+ years…). As he’s looking at the list of winners, he sees the 2015 winner was “Hwang In-ho”. And then he rushes to pull out the book for 2015, and he goes to the player page for that person (we have seen the little passport photos of each player on the upper left of their information page, but show very artfully obscures the photo on this page), and in the last seconds of the episode, while looking at that page, Officer Hwang exclaims/gasps “Hyung!”

I’ve spent a decent amount of time noodling around and theorizing about how Hyung might have been recruited to be the new Front Man after his win in 2015 (what happened to the old one? Is there a retirement plan? Good benefits?)…and why he would sign on. Was the thrill of the game so addictive? Did he see some warped meaning to it, like our creator/host, Oh Il-nam? What does he do in the “off-season”? Did he intentionally leave behind that clue in his “real world” place for his younger brother to stumble upon…and then younger brother serendipitously made the connection when Gi-hun dropped into the police station during the post-first-game hiatus to rave about this crazy homicidal game?

I find our old man Oh Il-nam at least somewhat fascinating. I think there’s a strong case one could make that he’s the villain of the piece, as much as anyone. That is, if we are looking for a personified villain rather than a crappy system. He’s made the judgment that these poor downtrodden folks, what they really need is a chance to compete on a level playing field, to feel the thrill of a game where they might actually succeed, where the rules are the same for everyone and it isn’t rigged for once. Sorry, dude, but that’s utterly delusional: 455 out of 456 of these people are going to lose their lives, and they don’t even realize it at the outset.

Yes, they don’t know the stakes at the beginning of game one; but even after the large majority consciously decide to come back for more, they don’t know that it is a Highlander scenario (“there can be only one“). For well into the games, they’re still acting like a bunch of them can band together, beat the odds, and make it through all six games together to get a share of the winnings. That was never going to happen. And Oh Il-nam thinks the thrill of it all is fair compensation? He’s either completely lost in insane levels of rich-person privilege, or actual, bona fide mentally ill on one or more axes.

I do find it interesting that at the end, when he makes his final bet with Gi-hun, he dies before ever realizing that Gi-hun won the bet. On a certain level, that feels like justice: he doesn’t deserve to see demonstrated that there is basic human decency (it’s also admittedly symbolic; there’s plenty of examples he could see were he actually paying attention to such).

And then just bits and bobs: Jung Ho-yeon was really mesmerizing, especially considering this was her first gig. Would not be at all surprised to see her pick up a nomination for best new actress at next year’s Baeksang Arts. I found the interaction between she and Lee Yoo-mi in episode six to be at least as emotionally gripping as either of the other two big matches in that ep (so I agree with you there).

Heo Sung-tae–plays such a great gangster thug, doesn’t he? This is like a low-rent version of the Chairman in Beyond Evil, with all the pretensions to civility and veneer of polite society scoured off.

Park Hae-soo, so different from his flattened affect, deep-down decent character from Prison Playbook. Super looking forward to seeing him in upcoming kdrama remake of Money Heist… His character in this show, obviously deeply flawed, but does have at least some complexity, I think. I at least gave him a benefit of a doubt longer than he deserved, probably; the tendency to want to believe the best of people. But recall what we know about him–this is a guy that had the advantage of making it to Seoul University, the best school in the country, and yet, wanted on police warrants for apparently massive fraud against his own clients. Yes, yes, innocent until proven guilty, but…maybe that’s telling us something about his subsequent willingness to lie and cheat to get a drop or a step ahead, even when it doesn’t appear to be strictly necessary. As for complexity…I like to interpret his final act as an attempt at atonement? Unable to live, in the end, with no money and a tormented conscience for his accumulated actions? I dunno.

Whew, anyway. I got started and couldn’t stop!

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
10 days ago
Reply to  Trent

@Trent – I believe the term is “You NIFed this comment”. I appreciate your attention to detail here, especially the questions on Hwang In-ho . You were the first brave soul to dip your toe into this!

Trent
10 days ago
Reply to  phl1rxd

Heh. NIFed it, that’s a good neologism for the site, I think!

And I have to disclaim any bravery; the maybe slightly disreputable truth is I have kind of a weakness for life-or-death competition dramas, as long as they are well done or look like they have an interesting hook. This one appeared that way going in, so I was basically pretty well primed to jump on it as soon as it dropped.

(Next up on the “flashy Netflix kdrama” plate that’s guaranteed to suck me in like a fly to a big ol’ pot of honey: next Friday’s My Name, where Han So-hee attempts to convince us that she can portray a mob-cop double agent, and Ahn Bo-hyun is her big hunky walking conflict-of-interest partner. The trailer practically has me begging Netflix to just give it to me now, already…)

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
10 days ago
Reply to  Trent

So you know I had to look the drama up 🤣😂😅. I am surprised to see that Han So-hee is playing a powerful female. So far I have seen her play somewhat devious roles so I may watch this. Ahn Bo-hyun is really busy these days!

Trent
10 days ago
Reply to  phl1rxd

I refer to it as her “resolutely attempt to shed the hot young Other Woman typecasting” gambit, and hey, more power to her, sez I. We’ll see how it works out for her.

I like Ahn Bo-hyun in general, so good for him, right?

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
10 days ago
Reply to  Trent

@Trent – Ahn Bo-hyun was something else in Itaewon Class. Seeing him in Yumi’s Cells is changing my perception of him completely. So yes, good for him!

Trent
10 days ago
Reply to  phl1rxd

That’s where I first saw him, and I thought he actually brought some commendable nuance to villainy. So yeah, very different feel to his role in Yumi’s Cells.

Brief Yumi’s Cells spoiler
Snort. Naughtysaurus and King Salty. I’m sorry, I just crack up whenever I think of some of those cells…

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
10 days ago
Reply to  Trent

@Trent – big ditto! Ppong! I am laughing all the way through!

Trent
10 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

SPOILERS for almost the entire Squid Game show, below.

Concealing the overall nature like that makes it that much more cruel, and further gives the lie to Oh Il-nam’s blithe assertion that, unlike life, these games are not rigged. In fact, on a meta-level, the entire scenario is rigged; there’s a vast chasm between “I could be one of the ones smart/strong/lucky enough to share in the spoils,” and “only one of us will be lucky enough–and it is luck–to walk out of here still breathing.” It completely changes your assessment of risk, your outlook, your hope and belief there might be a chance…

And the entire structure and sequence of the games reinforces the lie. Notice how the first two games are games of all against the rules/environment, no player versus player. You’re thinking, hey, no margin for error, but I can maybe do this! 

Third game introduces intra-player competition, but it’s on decent sized teams–ten people. Now you’re thinking, hey, I can rely on my teammates, communal effort, maybe we can do this thing.

Game four is where the cruel hammer falls, in the brutal episode six. Now you’re on teams of two, okay, we can do this, right? Except…you’re not competing together, you’re competing against each other. God help you if you paired up with a friend, or worse, a spouse (thank goodness show didn’t focus at all on the married couple in early episodes…it was bad enough as it was).

And now here we are at game five, where it turns out to be utterly random chance, basically. Pick any number besides the last 3-4, and you’re guaranteed to die. (Nice touch by show to have the math professor calculate the actual odds of making it across while he was halfway over the bridge…).

So yeah. 

Oops. I appear to have NIFed my comment again, sorry.

Trent
10 days ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Aw, thanks. I kinda had these vague impressions kicking around in the back of my head, but it wasn’t until I sat down to write something that it coalesced, and I was like, wow, they really are screwing these guys for fun and profit, aren’t they?

Ele Nash
2 days ago
Reply to  Trent

@Trent I bow to your brilliance 👏👏👏👏👏👏

beez
8 days ago
Reply to  Trent

@Trent – food for thought, Trent 👍. Off topic here but I’ve wondered about that 456. Such an odd number to choose as opposed to a round number like 500. I knew something was off with 001 immediately. I think it was just his age. I couldn’t imagine where they picked him up. I couldn’t see him playing a game of envelopes and slaps with Gong Yoo(and not because if my Gong Yoo bias). So right away I suspected he was a part of the set up somehow.

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[…] PS: Yes, this means I’ve watched Squid Game, and (what I think will be) a quickish review will be out relatively soon! (Update: not-so-quick-in-the-end review is here!) […]