Movie Reviews

Show Of The Year | “Squid Game” Season 1 (2021) Netflix Series Review

“Squid Game” has probably been Netflix’s biggest hit since “Tiger King” last year, as it has completely dominated popular culture, and for good reason. The Korean drama, which is essentially “Hunger Games” and “Battle Royale” under the guise of a live-action game show for the ultra-wealthy, has great performances, a captivating story, a fantastic soundtrack, and strong direction from director/creator/writer Hwang Dong-hyuk that makes it hard to look away from, especially as you get invested in certain characters knowing not everyone can go home alive.  

The series follows Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) a goofy chauffeur, former business owner, and divorced father who is deep in debt to the mob, and is about to lose contact with his daughter, Seong Ga-yeong (Cho Ah-in), as his ex-wife and her current husband are about to move to America because of a job opportunity. This puts him in dire straits, as the mob threatens to kill him, and his only chance of having a relationship with his daughter is to get enough money to win custody of her. 

He meets a shady salesman (Gong Yoo) on the subway one night who invites him to play a game of chance, in which Gi-hun will walk away with cash if he wins, and he has to either pay an equal amount of cash or allows the salesman to hit him in the face if he loses. Gi-hun loses many times until he wins, earning him an invite to the Game. 

The Game is super shady, with each participant gassed asleep before arriving. Once there, he meets his childhood friend Cho Sang-woo (Park Hae-soo), a businessman everyone in their town assumes to be a great success, but is actually millions of dollars in debt. We also meet Kang Sae-byeok (Jung Ho-yeon), a North Korean defector and pickpocket that robbs Gi-hun early on; Abdul Ali (Anupam Tripathi) a kind-hearted and trusting immigrant from Pakistan; Jang Deok-su (Heo Sung-tae), a ruthless gangster who has to pay off gambling debts and money he stole from his former boss; Han Mi-nyeo (Kim Joo-ryoung), an irritating, manipulative woman who has an early fling with Deok-su, and will go to great lengths to win; and last but certainly not least, an old man mostly referred to as Player 1 (O Yeong-su) who becomes Gi-hun’s closest friend during the games. 

There’s also a police officer named Hwang Jun-ho (Wi Ha-joon) lurking about the games, who is looking for his missing brother and seeks to expose the operation to the world, and the masked gamemaster (Lee Byung-hun). 

Basically, the games work like this: Each round, players participate in simple Korean playground games in which the losers are killed off, either by each other or the game’s staff, who all are masked and are covered from head to toe in pink jumpsuits. During the nights, players are free to kill each other, as the murdered are rounded up and included among the losing players in the morning. Every time a player dies, money is poured into a glass piggy bank far above their heads, which makes up the prize money. 

Not everything is spelled out for them at the beginning of the games, other than the fact that if a majority of the participants agree to end the games, they end, with no winner chosen. As such, there is a lot of time dedicated in the early game to testing the limits of the game, its facilities, and rules. Alliances are naturally formed up until the final games, as it’s unclear how many winners are even allowed until the final game. 

And it pulls no punches in eliminating fan favorite characters. One of the most heartbreaking episodes is an episode that involves marbles, in which players are encouraged to play with the friends they made during the games, only to find out that the loser dies. 

Hwang Dong-hyuk was wise to focus deeply only on a handful of memorable characters, as it allowed him to flesh them out just enough for the sickness of the games to really resonate. “Squid Game” has been described as a metaphor for capitalism, and I think that there’s a lot of truth in that, being that the source of all the evil the show highlights comes from the very structure of the game, which is designed to bring out the worst in humanity, which the kindhearted Gi-hun attempts to be a foil to. 

“Squid Game” is deservedly one of the hottest shows of the year, and it highlights the good streaming can do in regards to breaking down cultural barriers and exposing viewers to masterworks from across the world they would otherwise not have access to. 

“Squid Game” Season 1 gets an 8.5/10

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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