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‘Squid Game’: How far would you go?

| Monday, October 4, 2021

Doug Abell | The Observer

Imagine this: You’re sitting in a subway car, contemplating your life, and a man approaches you with a proposition. Would you be willing to play a game with him for money? If you win, you win the money, but if he wins, he gets to slap you across the face (and not lightly).

In this situation, most of us would say no because we all know stranger danger is real, but not Seong Gi-Hun (Lee Jung-jae). Seong Gi-Hun — the main character of Netflix’s new show “Squid Game”— is not able to turn away money, so he plays the game. After getting slapped repeatedly, Gi-Hun finally wins and accepts the cash along with a simple card marked with three symbols on one side (a circle, a triangle and a square) and a phone number on the other. Seong Gi-Hun had no idea, but this one little card would change his life forever.

“Squid Game” is a viciously violent, binge-worthy show that seems to have captured the attention of legions of fans; it is the first Korean drama to hit No. 1 on both the U.S. and U.K. Netflix charts. “Squid Game” starts by introducing Gi-Hun, who is in massive debt because he has gambled all his money away. Gi-Hun’s elderly mother works to support him and his daughter, even housing the latter. Due to all of this debt, collectors are after him either for their money or for his kidney — whichever he has when they find him. With this ever-looming danger on the horizon, his daughter planning to move away and his mother in the hospital with untreated diabetes, he calls the number on the card and ends up in the game. Gi-Hun joins as the game’s 456th contestant then meets Player 001, an older man named Oh Il-nam (O Young-Soo) with a terminal brain tumor. He also comes across a childhood friend, Cho Sang-Woo (Park Hae-soo), a greedy banker in debt, Kang Sae-byeok (Jung Ho-yeon), a defector from North Korea who wants to put her family back together and Abdul Ali (Anupam Tripathi), a foreign worker from Pakistan who enters the game to support his family after being denied payment by his boss.

None of the players know what they will be doing — until, that is, men with masks on their faces wearing pink jumpsuits come inside displaying machine guns. Forced by guns pointed at them, the participants sign a contract declaring that they will play the games regardless of what may happen. Once the games have begun, the only way to stop them is through a vote.

With this having been established, the first game begins. Though it is innocuously titled “Grandma’s Footsteps,” this children’s game (also known as “red light, green light”) turns out to be deadly: Every time a character missteps or moves, the giant child robot at the end of the field senses it, and they are shot. Soon, bodies pile high around the area as participants try to escape, run and get away. The simple child’s play becomes a bloody competition with incredibly high stakes. 

Once the last surviving players return to the main room, a giant clear pig descends from the ceiling and is filled with money. It turns out that every contestant’s life was worth money — in the end, the winner will go home with $38 million. This revelation is incentive enough that when they vote on whether to end the game or not, the money is enough for the participants to vote “no” to end the game.

This horrifically bloody game is about survival, friendship and the lengths people go to survive and get out of debt. The contestants, it is suggested, keep playing despite the threat of death because their lives out of the game are no better than the brutality inside the game. The show makes viewers wonder whether they would sacrifice their own best friends for survival and to what lengths they would go to survive, ultimately mounting a critique of wealth inequality in South Korea.

“Squid Game” is fast-paced, engaging and thrilling from the first episode to the last. With twists and turns, the audience is left binge-watching the show as they seek to reach the gut-wrenching climax and ending. It is a brilliant show with touching relationships, real-life issues and heart-breaking moments.

To those who like thrilling performances: watch “Squid Game,” and you will not be disappointed!


Title: “Squid Game”

Starring: Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, Jung Ho-yeon

Director(s): Hwang Dong-hyuk

If you like: “Parasite,” “Lost,” “Sweet Home,” “Alice in Borderland”

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5 

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