This review is spoiler-free.
Hundreds of cash-strapped players accept a strange invitation to compete in children’s games. Inside, a tempting prize awaits — with deadly high stakes.
Not since Tiger King has a series gripped Netflix like, survival-drama, Squid Game! The chart-topper seems to be having huge audience appeal, and I know this because colleagues in my office have all been watching it and this is definitely not the type of show they’d usually watch! This appears to be a common theme in most places, so what is it about Squid Game that has captivated viewers so much? I think first and foremost, word of mouth and social media hype has played a huge part in the show’s success, at least in terms of viewers. There is an intrigue about the show, it is the show that everyone is talking about, so naturally this will lead to a surge of viewers. While I watched the original South Korean audio, I think having the dub as default would have made retaining casual viewers a lot easier. So, with so much intrigue, does the show live up to the hype?
Squid Game is a captivating concept that explores our modern capitalist society and the lengths that people will go to in order to improve their lot in life. The show follows Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) and hundreds of other down and outs as they try to survive a range of deadly games in order to win a huge cash prize. You may recognise Jung-jae from, the rather excellent, Svaha: The Sixth Finger and he makes for such a likeable character – you just really want him to succeed. Another stand-out character is Kang Sae-byeok (Jung Ho-yeon) and in a male dominated show (at least in terms of the main roles) she added some much needed balance, not to mention being a really strong, complex and interesting character. Squid Game is written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk who does a great job, not only with the main story but the host of different characters as well! I have actually watched a previous film of Dong-hyuk’s – The Fortress, which was a period war drama and very different to the gritty realism of Squid Game. He has already gone on record to state that any potential second series will have more creative voices involved in the writing process, as it was a lot of pressure on his shoulders. The show’s writing is first class, so I don’t think it was lacking from multiple voices, but with a script as tight as this, I can imagine it was difficult at times, especially given the high quality of the writing.
While there will be obvious comparisons to properties like Battle Royale, this is very much about the characters and their motives for participating, much more than the deadly and gruesome games. I think focusing on the human aspects of the characters and story makes Squid Game a much stronger and compelling show, rather than if it was just about the ‘death games’ and gore. This show definitely hit a lot of my sweet-spots that I wanted to see which is why I enjoyed it as much as I did.
With the episodes lasting roughly an hour, the show has plenty of time to flesh out its story and characters so nothing ever feels rushed. Saying that, there is one episode that breaks this pattern, coming in at under thirty minutes which was a little strange. I think if you are going to watch the show, it is one that you need to see to the end because there are multiple payoffs and it is an extremely rewarding watch.
Squid Game is a dramatic and disturbing reflection of a modern capitalist society and the drastic, and sometimes very selfish, lengths people will go to in order to better their standing in life. Wonderfully complex characters and a gripping story will keep you hooked as the story unfolds with plenty of revelations that will leave you constantly guessing who to trust and where the story will take you!