Review: South Korean thriller ‘Squid Game’ kills Netflix records

By Gustavo Castillo, Oct. 26, 2021

Playing childhood games for money sounds fun! Tug of war, red light, green light and marbles. Now imagine there are 456 contestants, each competing for a chance to win a cash prize. Whenever a contestant loses, $84,000 is added into a big, golden piggy bank that is obtainable for winners after completing six rounds of games. The price to play? Your life.

Korean filmmaker, Hwang Dong-hyuk, has taken the Netflix crown for most watched debut series with “Squid Game,” racking in 111 million views within the first month of its launch according to Dateline.

Social justice leader for the Asian and Pacific Islander Student Center Inhauck Choi expressed his thoughts on the recent outbreak of Korean popularity in the U.S. in regard to K-pop and Korean TV and film.

“Asian representation in media definitely increases awareness of what Asians, and the Asian culture in general, are capable of providing to the global community,” said Choi. “No one would know the fun parts in our culture and the fact that we have these specific kids’ games that are so unique to our culture.”

This nine-episode Korean drama thriller series draws viewers in with its captivating imaginative playgrounds, chilling deaths, plot twists, dramatization and a true look inside the spirit of humanity. By achieving a top spot on the world’s largest streaming service, Dong-hyuk is molding the future by proving a good film or show surpasses all language barriers and viewers of all backgrounds can connect through the plot and characters.

With origins in South Korea, “Squid Game” is spoken primarily in Korean. However, viewers can choose their primary language via subtitled or dubbed version of the series. Dubbing is common in foreign films, allowing new language and sounds to be added to the track of a motion picture after it has been edited.

In 2019, “Parasite,” directed by Bong Joon-ho, made its way into the minds of international consumers by winning an Academy Award for Best Picture. The film genre featured a Korean thriller comedy similar to that of “Squid Game.”  Dong-hyuk created a  successful and appropriate win for Korean film and representation.

By watching the series, viewers are exposed to a wide variety of Korean culture ranging from cities to games, and how the people with a different culture relate to one another.

In the six games played, two games international viewers might not be familiar with, but are popular in Korea, are dalgona and squid game. In the dalgona challenge, participants receive shapes made of honeycomb candy in which the contestants had to carefully carve out the shape using a needle. In South Korea, street vendors sell this candy to children with a shape stamped on it, and the children would try to cut out the shape perfectly.

Likewise, squid game is a version of tag played in South Korea in the 70’s and 80’s which is played on a squid shaped court. Two teams go up against one another, a defender and an attacker. A player from the offensive team must reach the squid’s head at the top and touch it with their foot, but the defensive team is allowed to take any means to stop it.

“The culture of Korea seems to be centered around family and I appreciate how they hold their loved ones in high regards,” said Eric Garcia, a sociology student. Garcia, like many U.S. fans, is accustomed to shows based in an Asian setting with his favorite television series deriving from anime.

“I found the atmosphere of South Korea to be like major cities in the United States. The show depicts poverty as a pandemic that’s heavily impacted many people in Korea. However, it is still a lively city with a beautiful homestyle feel,” Garcia added.

Civil engineering student Gabriel Macias added insight on his Filipino American experience.

“I suppose, theoretically, having more minority representation is a good thing because it’s supposed to gauge how well a culture perceives minority groups in question. However, the rise in attacks have shown that the thought doesn’t hold much water because people are now being targeted just because they look differently, and because COVID-19 was blamed on us for absolutely no reason,” said Macias.

It was reported by NBC that Asian hate crimes increased 150% since 2020, mostly in New York and Los Angeles.

Entertainment is a great gateway to have open discussions about other cultures, customs and community but only through the lens of respect and education. Squid Game is just one of many examples of embracing new and exciting cultural differences through open dialect in person, social media or in forms of memes.

“Squid Game” is currently available to steam on Netflix.

Graphic courtesy of Sharon Wu.

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