Squid Game (2021) [Netflix] Review

Hwang Dong-hyuk's social thriller Squid Game is thrillingly macabre and engagingly poignant.

NB. Although I always try to avoid ethnocentrism, it’s extremely difficult to completely detach oneself from their socialisation. I try to keep my reviews relatively objective, but I am aware there will be a plentiful amount of nuance and detail that flew straight over my head. I just wanted to include this little caveat here to demonstrate my understanding of bias and awareness that whilst I want to share my thoughts on the series, I appreciate they may be limited within the context.

Squid Game (오징어 게임) is South Korean drama series distributed by Netflix. The series was created, written, and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk. Although the series was written in 2008, it was not until 2018 Netflix began to develop the series, which has now found worldwide success and critical acclaim.

The series follows Seong Gi-hun [Lee Jung-jae], a down on his luck gambler who lives with his struggling elderly mother. He is met by a man who challenges him to a betting game, one Gi-hun cannot resist. The man then invites Gi-hun to take part in Squid Game – a contest where 456 players compete against each other to win ₩45.6 billion. Whilst winning allows a player through to the next game, losing means elimination from the competition by death.

In the facility, is reunited with Cho Sang-woo [Park Hae-soo], a childhood friend turned fraudulent investor. He also meets Kang Sae-byeok [Jung Ho-yeon], a North Korean defector. Whilst the social climate shifts within the game, police detective Hwang Jun-ho [Wi Ha-joon] investigates the inner goings-on within the organisation.

The tone of the series is very much social thriller, although there are elements of drama, comedy, and horror. It’s evocative of Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Us, bearing similarity in the way it utilises extreme, or even unrealistic, circumstances in order to explore social disparity.

Squid Game is visually outstanding, especially in terms of its practical nature. The purpose-built sets and physicality of the violence and destruction the series entails have created a rich inner world. Beyond this, Hwang Dong-hyuk has managed to create a relationship between the characters and their environment, both in and out of the contest.

Despite being intensely entertaining, Squid Game audiences can expect to run the gamut of emotions, from despair to humour. The series has built a strong narrative and it also poses fairly explorative character development for the limited number of episodes and high number of characters within the show.

The thematic content within the premise of the story is very obviously paralleled to real world social issues, most notably examining social class and human nature. Squid Game doesn’t suggest anything new or original in this context, but the format feels fresh and unpredictable.

I watched the series subtitled in English and, having read a few articles surrounding issues with the translation Netflix offered, I fear my review will be limited in its scope. I felt the performances were good, but of course there would have been a level of nuance lost to me. This, of course, isn’t an issue with the series itself, but rather Netflix. My only bugbear with the series, was that much of the plot remained unresolved at the end of the series. I’m sure the questions that linger will move into the second season, but there were some formative plot points grew to feel somewhat stagnant and undealt with.

If you haven’t watched Squid Game yet, I highly recommend it. It’s action and drama proves to be a heady and thrilling mix. I found myself both wanting to get to the end to discover the show’s mysteries, whilst also not wanting it to end because I enjoyed watching it so much.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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