The Netflix Original Series Squid Game was arguably the biggest surprise hit, coming out of seemingly nowhere to become the streaming service’s most-watched series of all time. It throws viewers head-first into a suspensefully surreal, hyper-violent Korean underworld where desperate debtors bet their lives competing in a winner-takes-all set of children’s games.
The series, written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, centers around Seung Gi-hun, a gambling addict who enters the games looking for a way to provide a home for his daughter, who will be moving to America with her mother and new stepfather, while also trying to repay his loan sharks who track him down and beat him whenever they can. What follows is a journey into the human psyche that shows how quickly interpersonal bonds can be created and dissolved when one is desperate for money and survival and the ultimate wager is on the line: your life versus more money than you could ever spend.
One reason that viewers were so easily able to resonate with the story of Squid Game is that it was deeply rooted in the personal and financial struggles of its creator. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Hwang Dong-hyuk explained that it took about 10 years of shopping around a feature-length version of his script before it was bought and developed into the nine-part epic that has been enjoyed by millions of fans worldwide.
During the time that Hwang was unable to sell his story to a studio, he underwent great financial hardship and even had to sell his computer to put food on his table. When developing what would eventually become a massive hit series, Hwang read several other survival-game works, like Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale and the Hunger Games series written by Suzanne Collins for inspiration.
One of the most notable aspects of Squid Game that viewers can appreciate is the eye-catching visuals. There is a juxtaposition of Hwang’s dark and depressing storyline with the overly bright artificial lighting of the players’ dorm and the bright neon colors of the corridors that take the contestants to their gaming destinations and doom that refuses to be ignored, even if it is not absorbed consciously.
Viewers who have seen other Korean media may recognize a couple of leading men who make cameos in this thrilling series, including Lee Byung-hun, who starred in the 2008 cult classic The Good, the Bad, the Weird. The cast also features Gong Yoo, best known for his role in the 2016 zombie epic, Train to Busan, and who previously acted for the Squid Game director in Hwang’s second feature, Silenced.
By now, you’ve seen all the memes, all the “spoilers without context” posts on Instagram. If you have yet to sit down and watch this beautifully crafted series, firstly, congratulations on your self-control, and secondly, do yourself a favor and take the plunge, if you’re not turned off by violence, that is. Once this series takes hold of you, it doesn’t let go until you reach the conclusion. Season one consists of a perfectly bingeable nine episodes and we are on the lookout for a second season, which has been teased, but not yet confirmed.
Kahlil Johnson traces his nerdy roots back to stumbling upon an episode of Dragon Ball Z one day after school in the fifth grade, and the rest was history. He was encouraged to write at an early age by his parents and learned from his artist uncle that you’re never too old for cartoons. Kahlil currently lives in Buffalo, NY with his loving fiancée and their two dogs, Lola and Phoebe.