Squid game is a South Korean children’s playground game that was popular back in the 1980s. It is similar to hopscotch but with a more expansive playing area and team-based approach. It forms the basis of the game setting that is featured in Squid Game.
The drama is written and directed by the award-winning Hwang Dong Hyuk, known for critically acclaimed films The Fortress and Silenced. Jung Jae Il, who is known for composing the score for Okja and Parasite, serves as the music director. Produced by Siren Pictures exclusively for Netflix, this is a pre-produced drama with all 9 episodes released worldwide on 17 September 2021. It is given an R-18 rating and contains sexual references, nudity, and violence. Strobing effects present in certain episodes (especially episode 4) may cause discomfort for photosensitive viewers. Other trigger warnings include scenes of violent deaths, as well as gratuitous blood and gore.
456 participants competing in a “Hunger Games meets Battle Royale” series of challenges modelled after traditional South Korean children’s playground games for a chance of winning the jackpot of 40 million won, rising up to 45.6 million won with the elimination of all other participants right to the last person standing. As for who the organisers are and the reason for the competition, all shall be revealed as the story unfolds..
The story revolves around the points of view of a number of characters who share one thing in common – theyare in serious need of cold hard cash to resolve their respective predicaments. Central to the core narrative is the main character and protagonist, Seong Gi Hoon, a gambling addict down on his luck who is facing debt problems and child-custody issues, as well as dealing with his mother’s deteriorating health.
As expected of a Netflix original series, I enjoyed the production quality and values, unique set designs and costumes, exceptional cinematography especially during some of the stunning choreographed action sequences and the game or challenge settings.
The cast is outstanding, comprising veterans in Lee Jung Jae, Park Hae Soo, Heo Sung Tae, Kim Joo Ryung and Oh Young Soo, among others. The newcomer Jung Ho Yeon gives a decent debut performance complete with the North Korean accent. I was pleasantly surprised to see brief appearances by Gong Yoo and Lee Byung Hun.Even with limited screen time, their charisma absolutely shines through to light up the production.
The edge-of-the seat thrills and suspense plays out in a riveting pace. This drama is well worth the binge because it is as captivating as it is addictive to consume in a single seating. Moments of extreme tension are aplenty along with the heart-wrenching emotions which are deftly interspersed amidst the high-octane action sequences throughout. I particularly enjoyed the epic final showdown between the finalists in the concluding arc of the drama.
The music score composed by Jung Jae Il is sublime, along with classic compositions used courtesy of the Budapest Scoring Orchestra and Big Band.They include The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II, Trumpet Concerto in E Flat Major by Franz Joseph Haydn and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. A cover of Bart Howard’s Fly Me to the Moon also plays a major part as the BGM for one of the more stunning game sequences in episode 1.
As much as I enjoyed the drama, I thought 9 episodes were somewhat overlong. 6 or 7 episodes would have made the storytelling more compact and compelling. A significant portion of the drama was taken up by the story-building of the main character as well as four other major supporting characters. I appreciated the respective backstories of tragic circumstances and such but those components impacted on the pacing of the more engaging aspects a little bit. In addition, the final episode did feel dragged out unnecessarily.
The characterization of the ML Seong Gi Hoon (no 456) wasn’t convincing to me, although I accepted it as part of the drama’s depiction of “character growth”. How an irresponsibly hopeless father, unfilial son, and washed-out gambling addict suddenly developed a moral compass, sense of righteousness, and leadership traits came across as somewhat unrealistic.
Notwithstanding the qualms I had and as long as expectations are tempered, Squid Game represents great entertainment value complete with a sufficient dose of suspense, thrills and excitement in a nicely packaged production that makes it the perfect binge-worthy viewing experience for an evening at home.
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