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Squid Game

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Squid Game
Korean promotional poster featuring a large piggy bank above several people
Korean promotional poster
Also known asRound Six
Hangul오징어 게임
Revised RomanizationOjing-eo Geim
McCune–ReischauerOjingŏ Keim
Genre
Created byHwang Dong-hyuk
Written byHwang Dong-hyuk
Directed byHwang Dong-hyuk
Starring
ComposerJung Jae-il
Country of originSouth Korea
Original languageKorean
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes9 (list of episodes)
Production
Camera setupMulti-camera
Running time32–63 minutes
Production companySiren Pictures Inc.[1]
DistributorNetflix
Budget$21.4 million
Release
Original networkNetflix
Picture format
Audio formatDolby Atmos
Original releaseSeptember 17, 2021 (2021-09-17)
External links
Website

Squid Game (Korean오징어 게임; RROjing-eo Geim) is a South Korean survival drama television series streaming on Netflix. Written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, it stars Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, Wi Ha-joon, Jung Ho-yeon, O Yeong-su, Heo Sung-tae, Anupam Tripathi, and Kim Joo-ryoung. The series, distributed by Netflix, was released worldwide on September 17, 2021.

The series revolves around a contest in which 456 players, drawn from different walks of life but each deeply in debt, play a series of children's games for the chance to win a 45.6 billion[a] prize, with a deadly penalty if they lose. The name of the series draws from a similarly named Korean children's game. Hwang had conceived of the idea based on his own economic struggles early in life as well as the class disparity in South Korea. Though he had initially written it in 2009, he was unable to find a production company to fund the idea until Netflix took an interest around 2019 as part of their drive to expand their foreign programming offerings. Hwang wrote and directed all nine episodes himself.

Squid Game received critical acclaim and attracted international attention. Within a week of its release, it became one of Netflix's most-watched programs in several regional markets; at launch, it attracted more than 142 million viewers, surpassing 2020's Bridgerton as the network's most-watched series to date.

Overview

Seong Gi-hun (played by Lee Jung-jae), a divorced and indebted chauffeur, is invited to play a series of children's games for a chance at a large cash prize. Accepting the offer, he is taken to an unknown location where he finds himself among 456 players who are all deeply in debt. The players are made to wear green tracksuits and are kept under watch at all times by masked guards in pink jumpsuits, with the games overseen by the Front Man, who wears a black mask and black uniform. The players soon discover that losing a game results in their death, with each death adding ₩100 million to the potential ₩45.6 billion grand prize.[a] Gi-hun allies with other players, including his childhood friend Cho Sang-woo, to try to survive the physical and psychological twists of the games.[2][3]

Cast and characters

Main cast

Actors: (top) Lee Jung-jae (Seong Gi-hun, Player 456), Park Hae-soo (Cho Sang-woo, Player 218); (bottom) Wi Ha-joon (Hwang Jun-ho), and Jung Ho-yeon (Kang Sae-byeok, Player 067)

Numbers in parentheses denote the character's assigned number in the Squid Game.

  • Lee Jung-jae as Seong Gi-hun (성기훈, Korean pronunciation: [sʌŋ gi hun], 456),[4] a divorced chauffeur and a gambling addict. He lives with his mother and struggles to support his daughter financially. He participates in the Game to settle his many debts, and to prove himself financially stable enough to have custody of his daughter, who is to leave for the United States with her mother and step-father.
  • Park Hae-soo as Cho Sang-woo (조상우, Korean pronunciation: [tɕo saŋ u], 218),[4] the head of an investment team at a securities company. He was a junior classmate to Gi-hun and was a gifted student who studied at Seoul National University, but is now wanted by the police for stealing money from his clients, racking up 6 billion won in debts.
  • Wi Ha-joon as Hwang Jun-ho (황준호, Korean pronunciation: [hwaːŋ tɕun ho]),[5] a police officer who sneaks into the Game as a guard to find his missing brother.
  • Jung Ho-yeon as Kang Sae-byeok (강새벽, Korean pronunciation: [gaŋ sɛ bjʌk], 067),[6] a North Korean defector who enters the Game to pay for a broker to rescue her parents across the border, and buy a house for her reunited family to live in.
  • O Yeong-su as Oh Il-nam (오일남, Korean pronunciation: [o il nam], 001),[7] an elderly man with a brain tumor who prefers playing the Game as opposed to waiting to die in the outside world.
  • Heo Sung-tae as Jang Deok-su (장덕수, Korean pronunciation: [dzaŋ dʌk su], 101),[8] a gangster who enters the Game to settle his massive gambling debts, which includes money he stole from his boss and underlings.
  • Anupam Tripathi as Abdul Ali (알리, 199),[7] a migrant worker from Pakistan, who enters the Game to provide for his young family after his employer refuses to pay him for months.
  • Kim Joo-ryoung as Han Mi-nyeo (한미녀, Korean pronunciation: [han mi njʌ], 212),[9] a loud and manipulative woman who claims to be a poor single mother.

Recurring cast

  • Yoo Sung-joo as Byeong-gi (111),[10] a doctor who secretly works with a group of corrupt guards to traffic the organs of dead participants in exchange for information on upcoming games.
  • Lee Yoo-mi as Ji-yeong (240),[11] a young woman who was just released from prison after killing her abusive father.
  • Kim Si-hyun as Player 244, a pastor who rediscovers his faith during the Game.
  • Lee Sang-hee as Player 017,[12] a glass-maker with more than 30 years' experience.
  • Kim Yun-tae as Player 069, a player who joins the Game with his wife, Player 070.
  • Lee Ji-ha as Player 070,[13] a player who joins the Game with her husband, Player 069.
  • Kwak Ja-hyoung as Player 278, a player who joins Deok-su's group and acts as his henchman.
  • Chris Chan as Player 276,[14] a player who joins Seong Gi-hun's group in the Tug of War round.
  • Kim Young-ok as Gi-hun's mother[15]
  • Cho Ah-in as Seong Ga-yeong, Gi-hun's daughter
  • Kang Mal-geum as Gi-hun's ex-wife and Ga-yeong's mother[15]
  • Park Hye-jin as Sang-woo's mother
  • Park Si-wan as Kang Cheol, Sae-byeok's younger brother

Guest cast

Episodes

Squid Game consists of one season of nine episodes at a run time of between 32 and 63 minutes. The series was released in its entirety in all Netflix worldwide markets on September 17, 2021.[20][21]

No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal release date
1"Red Light, Green Light (Mugunghwa Kkoch-i Pideon Nal 무궁화 꽃이 피던 날)[b]"Hwang Dong-hyukHwang Dong-hyukSeptember 17, 2021 (2021-09-17)
Seong Gi-hun is down on his luck, having accumulated enormous debts with loan sharks while becoming estranged from his daughter and ex-wife. At a train station, a well-dressed man asks him to play a game of ddakji for money, and offers an opportunity to play more games with much higher stakes. Gi-hun later accepts, is knocked unconscious, and awakens in a dormitory with 455 others, identified only by numbers on their tracksuits. A group of masked staff in pink jumpsuits arrive and explain that the players are all in dire financial straits, but will be given billions of won in prize money if they can win six games over six days. The games are overseen by the Front Man, who is masked and dressed in black. Gi-hun befriends Player 001, an elderly man suffering from a brain tumor, and recognizes among the players Cho Sang-woo, a childhood classmate who became an investment broker, and Player 067, a pickpocket who stole Gi-hun's money after he won a horse race wager. The first game is a deadly iteration of Red Light, Green Light, where anyone caught moving is shot dead on the spot. With help from Sang-woo and Player 199, Gi-hun finishes the game alive.
2"Hell (Ji-ok 지옥)"Hwang Dong-hyukHwang Dong-hyukSeptember 17, 2021 (2021-09-17)
More than half of the players are killed in the first game, and many survivors demand to be released. A vote is cast according to the game's third clause, where the games will be cancelled on a majority vote. The vote is successful and the survivors are returned home, but without any prize money. Back in Seoul, Gi-hun goes to the police, but no one believes him except Detective Hwang Jun-ho, whose brother received the same invitation card several years before, and has now disappeared a few days earlier. The players are invited to re-enter the game, and many do out of desperation, including Gi-hun, whose mother needs surgery; Sang-woo, who is about to be arrested for financial fraud; Player 001, who does not wish to die on the outside; Player 067, who wishes to rescue her parents from North Korea and get her little brother out of an orphanage; Player 199, a Pakistani migrant worker who attacked and gravely injured his boss for withholding his wages; and Jang Deok-su, a gangster on the run from gambling debts. Jun-ho secretly follows Gi-hun when he is picked up by the game staff.
3"The Man with the Umbrella (Usan-eul Sseun Namja 우산을 쓴 남자)"Hwang Dong-hyukHwang Dong-hyukSeptember 17, 2021 (2021-09-17)
Jun-ho successfully infiltrates the games by disguising himself as a masked worker, and it is revealed that the location is a remote island. The players are now more prepared and start forming alliances. Gi-hun, Sang-woo, Player 001, and Player 199 team up. Player 067 explores an air vent and witnesses workers melting pots of sugar. The second game is revealed to be Ppopgi, where each player must perfectly extract a stamped shape from a dalgona (honeycomb candy) under a time limit. Sang-woo learns of Player 067's discovery and recognizes the game beforehand, but does not warn his teammates and chooses the simplest shape for himself. Gi-hun ends up picking the most difficult shape, an umbrella, but is able to complete the game by licking the back of the honeycomb to melt it. Player 212, a rowdy and manipulative woman, helps Deok-su complete the game with a smuggled lighter. A scared player who is about to be executed takes a staff member hostage and forces him to unmask. Shocked that the staff member is only a young man, the player kills himself and the staff member is killed by the Front Man for revealing his identity.
4"Stick to the Team (Jjollyeodo Pyeonmeokgi 쫄려도 편먹기)"Hwang Dong-hyukHwang Dong-hyukSeptember 17, 2021 (2021-09-17)
Player 111, a disgraced doctor, secretly works with a handful of staff to harvest organs from dead players to sell on the black market, in return for information on upcoming games. When Deok-su kills a player accusing him of taking extra food, the staff does nothing to stop him, and in fact increases the prize total. After lights out, the dormitory becomes a battleground as players attack each other. Gi-hun's group survives and exchange names to build trust: Player 199 is Ali Abdul, and Player 067 is Kang Sae-byeok. Player 001, because of his brain tumor, has trouble remembering his name. Player 212, named Han Mi-nyeo, has sex with Deok-su. In the third game, players are told to form groups of ten. For Gi-hun's team, Sae-byeok recruits Player 240, a girl close to her age. The game is revealed to be a tug of war on two raised platforms, where a team wins by dragging the opposing team off their platform to their deaths. Deok-su, having learned of the game from Player 111 beforehand, picks only strong men and rejects Mi-nyeo, who joins Gi-hun's team. After Deok-su's team wins their match, Gi-hun's team struggles against another all-male team.
5"A Fair World (Pyeongdeung Sesang 평등한 세상)"Hwang Dong-hyukHwang Dong-hyukSeptember 17, 2021 (2021-09-17)
Gi-hun's team wins their tug-of-war match with Player 001's strategy and Sang-woo's quick thinking. Anticipating another riot, they build a barricade and spend the night taking turns on guard, but Deok-su's team doesn't attack. Gi-hun reminisces on a similar situation from ten years ago, when he and many other workers from a car parts factory protested a mass lay-off, which caused the failed trajectory of Gi-hun's life. Jun-ho witnesses the organ harvesting racket, as the staff member whose identity he stole took part in it. Save Jun-ho, everyone involved in the racket is eventually killed, including Player 111. The Front Man begins a facility-wide manhunt for Jun-ho, who later breaks into the Front Man's office. Jun-ho learns that the game has been running for over 30 years, and that his brother Hwang In-ho was the winner in 2015.
6"Gganbu (Kkanbu 깐부)"Hwang Dong-hyukHwang Dong-hyukSeptember 17, 2021 (2021-09-17)
The players see the bodies of Player 111 and his co-conspirators strung up for cheating, and are assured that the games are designed to give every player a fair chance without discrimination. For the fourth game, players are told to pair up, but discover that instead of working as a team, they will have to play against their partner in a marble game of their choice. Whoever gets all their partner's marbles within 30 minutes will win and survive. Sae-byeok and Player 240, whose name is Ji-yeong, share their life stories; Ji-yeong sees Sae-byeok has more to live for and allows her to win. Sang-woo tricks Ali into giving up his marbles. Deok-su wins against his partner and henchman, Ja-hyoung. Gi-hun tries to exploit Player 001's dementia in order to win, only to discover that he had been aware of the deception the entire time. Player 001, who remembers his name is Oh Il-nam, allows Gi-hun to win anyway, as he is his gganbu (trusted friend).
7"VIPS"Hwang Dong-hyukHwang Dong-hyukSeptember 17, 2021 (2021-09-17)
The players return to find Mi-nyeo, who did not have a partner for the previous game, still alive. Foreign VIPs, who had been wagering on the games remotely, arrive to watch and wager on the next rounds live. Jun-ho, posing as one of the masked servants, is sexually propositioned by one of them. In a private room, he attacks the VIP, records his confession, and escapes the island. Meanwhile, the fifth game has players crossing a two-panel wide bridge, where the panels are each made of either tempered or regular glass, the latter of which cannot support their weight. The players at the front of the line fall to their deaths as they progressively test the panels. Deok-su refuses to move despite the clock ticking, daring others to pass him. Mi-nyeo grabs him and, as revenge for betraying her, pulls him down with her to their deaths. Player 017, a seasoned glass worker, reaches the last pair of panels before the Front Man removes his advantage. With time running out, Sang-woo shoves Player 017 off to reveal the last panel. Only Gi-hun, Sang-woo, and Sae-byeok complete the game; at its conclusion, explosions shatter the remaining panels and injure them.
8"Front Man (Peulonteu Maen 프론트맨)"Hwang Dong-hyukHwang Dong-hyukSeptember 17, 2021 (2021-09-17)
As finalists, Gi-hun, Sang-woo, and Sae-byeok are given a change of formal clothes. Sae-byeok hides a severe injury she received from the glass bridge explosion. After eating dinner, each player is left with a steak knife, and Gi-hun suggests to Sae-byeok that they should ally against Sang-woo, realizing he will go to any length to win. Sae-byeok instead begs Gi-hun to promise that whoever wins the game will look after the other's loved ones. Gi-hun goes to kill Sang-woo when he falls asleep, but Sae-byeok stops him, telling him he is not a murderer. Sae-byeok's injury worsens, prompting Gi-hun to call for help. Sae-byeok is killed by Sang-woo when Gi-hun is away, and the staff arrive only to collect her body. Meanwhile, Jun-ho makes it to another island but is quickly tracked down by the Front Man and the staff. To Jun-ho's shock, the Front Man reveals himself to be his brother, In-ho, who tries to recruit him. When he refuses, In-ho shoots Jun-ho in the shoulder, knocking him off a cliff into the water.
9"One Lucky Day (Unsu Joeun Nal 운수 좋은 날)[c]"Hwang Dong-hyukHwang Dong-hyukSeptember 17, 2021 (2021-09-17)
In the final eponymous Squid game, Gi-hun defeats Sang-woo but refuses to kill him, instead begging Sang-woo to invoke the third clause. Sang-woo instead stabs himself in the neck, and asks Gi-hun to take care of his mother before dying. Gi-hun is returned to Seoul with a bank card to access the prize money, but discovers his own mother has died. A year later, Gi-hun remains traumatized and has not touched his prize money. He receives an invitation card from his gganbu, and finds Oh Il-nam on his deathbed. Il-nam reveals he masterminded the game to entertain bored ultra-rich patrons like himself while testing if humanity had any innate goodness left in it. Il-nam used memories from his own childhood to design the games, and had participated with Gi-hun's group for nostalgia's sake. As they talk, Il-nam wagers with Gi-hun whether or not an unconscious homeless man outside will be helped before midnight. The homeless man is saved before the time limit, but Il-nam dies. Gi-hun fulfills his promises by having Sae-byeok's brother looked after by Sang-woo's mother with their shares of the prize money. As Gi-hun travels to the airport to reconnect with his daughter in Los Angeles, he sees the same game recruiter playing ddakji with a fresh prospect. He angrily snatches the player's card, and calls the card's number before boarding his plane, demanding to know who is still running the games. The Front Man tells him to get on the plane, but Gi-hun ends the call and returns to the terminal.

Production

Development

Around 2008, Hwang Dong-hyuk had tried unsuccessfully to get investment for a different movie script that he had written, and found himself broke. He spent his free time in manga cafes reading Japanese survival manga books such as Battle Royale, Liar Game and Gambling Apocalypse: Kaiji.[22][23][24] Hwang compared the characters' situation in these works to his own current situation and considered the idea of being able to join such a survival game to win money to get him out of debt, leading him to write a film script on that concept throughout 2009.[24] Hwang stated, "I wanted to write a story that was an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society, something that depicts an extreme competition, somewhat like the extreme competition of life. But I wanted it to use the kind of characters we’ve all met in real life."[25] However, he feared the storyline was "too difficult to understand and bizarre" at the time.[26] Hwang tried to sell his story to various Korean production groups and actors, but had been told it was too grotesque and unrealistic.[27] Hwang put this script aside without any takers, and over the next ten years successfully completed three other films.[24]

In the 2010s, Netflix had seen a large growth in viewership outside of North America, and started investing in productions in other regions, including Korea.[28] Ted Sarandos, co-CEO of Netflix, stated in 2018 that they were looking for more successes from overseas productions: "The exciting thing for me would be if the next Stranger Things came from outside America. Right now, historically, nothing of that scale has ever come from anywhere but Hollywood."[29] Netflix took interest in Hwang's script in 2019,[27] and announced in September 2019 they would produce Hwang's work as an original series.[30] Netflix's Bela Bajaria, head of global television operations, said that of their interest in Hwang's work, "we knew it was going to be big in Korea because it had a well-regarded director with a bold vision", and that "K-Dramas also travel well across Asia".[28] Regarding his return to the project, Hwang commented, "It's a sad story. But the reason why I returned to the project is because the world 10 years from then has transformed to a place where these unbelievable survival stories are so fitting, and I found that this is the time when people will call these stories intriguing and realistic."[26] Hwang further believed that the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 impacted the economic disparity between classes in South Korea, and said that "All of these points made the story very realistic for people compared to a decade ago".[27] With the Netflix order, the film concept was expanded out to a nine-episode series, and Hwang said he was able to expand the script so that it "could focus on the relationships between people [and] the stories that each of the people had".[31] Initially, Netflix had named the series Round Six, rather than Squid Game as Hwang had suggested; according to Netflix's vice president for content in Asia Minyoung Kim, while they knew that the name "squid game" would be familiar to Korean viewers from the children's game, it "wouldn't resonate because not many people would get it", and opted to use Round Six as it self-described the nature of the competition. As production continued, Hwang pushed on the service to use Squid Game instead, which Kim said its cryptic name and the unique visuals helped to draw in curious viewers.[30][32]

Hwang described the work as "a story about losers".[33] The names of the characters - Seong Gi-hun, Cho Sang-woo, and Il-nam - were all based on Hwang's childhood friends, as well as the character name Hwang Jun-ho, who was also a childhood friend in real life with an older brother named Hwang In-ho.[24] The two main characters Gi-hun and Sang-Woo were based on Hwang's own personal experiences and represented "two sides" of himself; Gi-hun shared the same aspects of being raised by an economically disadvantaged single mother in the Ssangmun district of Seoul, while Sang-Woo reflected on Hwang having attended Seoul National University with high expectations from his family and neighborhood.[24][33] Further, Gi-hun's background was inspired by the organizers of the SsangYong Motor labor strike of 2009 [ko] against mass layoffs.[34]

Shapes punched into dalgona, a Korean sugar candy treat

Hwang based the narrative on Korean games of his childhood to show the irony of a childhood game where competition was not important becoming an extreme competition with people's lives at stake.[22] Additionally, as his initial script was intended for film, he opted to use children's games with simple rules that were easy to explain in contrast to other survival-type films using games with complex rules.[31] The central game he selected, the squid game, was a popular Korean children's game from the 1970s and 1980s.[30][35] Hwang recalled the squid game as "the most physically aggressive childhood game I played in neighborhood alleys as a kid, which is why I also loved it the most", and because of this "it's the most symbolic game that reflects today's competitive society, so I picked it out as the show’s title".[36] The "Red light, Green light" game was selected because of its potential to make a lot of losers in one go. Regarding the selection, Hwang said, "The game was selected because the scene filled with so many people randomly moving and stopping could be viewed as a ridiculous but a sad group dance."[22] Hwang joked that the dalgona candy game they chose may influence sales of dalgona, similar to how sales of Korean gats (traditional hats) bloomed after broadcast of Netflix's series Kingdom.[37] Licking the candy to free the shape was something that Hwang said that he had done as a child and brought it into the script.[36] Hwang had considered other Korean children's games such as Gonggi, Dong, Dong, Dongdaemun, and Why did you come to my house? (우리 집에 왜 왔니?, a Korean variant of the Hana Ichi Monme).[22]

Hwang wrote all of the series himself, taking nearly six months to write the first two episodes alone, after which he turned to friends to get input on moving forward.[25] Hwang also addressed the challenges of preparing for the show which was physically and mentally exhausting, saying six of his teeth fell out while making Season 1.[26] Hwang initially said that he has no immediate plans to write a sequel to Squid Game, stating that he did not have well-developed plans for a follow-up story and if he were to write one, he would likely have a staff of writers and directors to help.[25] Hwang said in an interview with The Times that a second season may focus more on the story of the Front Man as well as incorporating more about the police. Hwang himself had been a former police officer and said "I think the issue with police officers is not just an issue in Korea. I see it on the global news that the police force can be very late in acting on things—there are more victims or a situation gets worse because of them not acting fast enough. This was an issue that I wanted to raise."[38] He added he also wanted to explore the relationship between the cryptic Front Man and his policeman brother Hwang Jun-ho, as well as the background of the salesman character (portrayed by Gong Yoo in cameo).[39] With the popularity of the show, Hwang later opined about the possibility of a second season, telling CNN "There's nothing confirmed at the moment, but so many people are enthusiastic that I'm really contemplating it."[33]

Casting

Hwang asked actors Gong Yoo (left) and Lee Byung Hun in his previous films to appear in cameos as the recruiter and the Front Man, respectively, in Squid Game.

Hwang said he chose to cast Lee Jung-jae as Gi-hun as to "destroy his charismatic image portrayed in his previous roles".[40] Jung Ho-yeon was requested by her new management company to send a video to audition for the series while she was finishing a shoot in Mexico and preparing for New York Fashion Week. Although this was her first audition as an actor and her expectations were low, Hwang said, "The moment I saw her audition tape from New York, I immediately thought to myself, 'this is the girl we want.' My first impression of her was that she is wild and free like an untamed horse".[41][42][43] On casting Ali Abdul, Hwang said, “It was hard to find good foreign actors in Korea.” He chose Anupam Tripathi because of his emotional acting capabilities and fluency in Korean.[44] Both Gong Yoo and Lee Byung Hun had worked with Hwang during his previous films, Silenced and The Fortress respectively, and Hwang had asked both to appear in small roles within Squid Game.[41] The VIPs were selected from non-Korean actors living in Asia; in the case of Geoffrey Giuliano, who played the VIP that interacted with Jun-ho, his prior role from Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula led to his casting for Squid Game.[19]

Casting for the series was confirmed on June 17, 2020.[45]

Costume, set design, and filming

Production and filming of the series ran from June to October 2020, including a mandatory month break due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.[46] City scenes were filmed in Daejeon,[47] while the island setpieces were filmed on Seongapdo located in Ongjin.[48]

External video
video icon Squid Game - Behind the Scenes, from Netflix

As Netflix was targeting the work for a global audience, the visuals were emphasized and some of the rules of the children's games were simplified to avoid potential issues with the language barrier.[27] The colorful sets and costumes were designed to look like a fantasy world. The players and soldiers each wear a distinctive color, to reduce the sense of individuality and emphasize the difference between the two groups.[22] The green tracksuits worn by the players were inspired by 1970s athletic wear, known as trainingbok (Korean: 트레이닝복).[49] The maze-like corridors and stairs drew inspiration from the 4-dimensional stair drawings of M. C. Escher. The complex network of tunnels between the arena, the dorm, and the administrative office was inspired by ant colonies.[22] The mint green and pink color theme throughout the show were a common theme from Korean schools in the 1970s and 1980s, and further reflected themes throughout the show, with the green-suited players to come in fear and consider around the color pink when they are exposed to this through the guards and the stairway room.[50]

The players' dormitory was envisioned with the concept of "people who are abandoned on the road" according to production designer Chae Kyoung-sun; this was also used in the tug-of-war game.[50] The room was designed using white tiles and the curved opening like a vehicular tunnel. The bed and stairs initially were laid out to look like warehouse shelves, but as the episodes progressed and these furnishing used as makeshift defenses, they took the appearance of broken ladders and stairs, implying the way these players were trapped with no way out, according to Chae.[50] The crew spent the most time crafting the set for the Marbles game, creating a mix of realism and fakeness as to mirror the life and death nature of the games themselves.[51] Chae stated that this set was designed as a combination of small theatrical stages, each stage representing parts of Player 001's memories.[50] The VIP room was one of the last pieces to be designed, and Chae said that they decided on an animal-based theme for both the costumes and room for this; "The VIPs are the kind of people who take other people’s lives for entertainment and treat them like game pieces on a chessboard, so I wanted to create a powerful and instinctive look for the room."[50]

Most sets were a combination of practical sets and chroma key backgrounds. For example, in the Glass Stepping Stones scenes, the set, designed as if in a circus tent for the players performing for the VIPs, was only 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) off the ground, using chroma key screens to simulate the height in post-production. In filming, this was far enough from the ground to make the actors nervous, which contributed to the scene.[51][50] The tug-of-war set was actually set more than 10 metres (33 ft) off the ground, which further created anxiety for some of the actors with fears of heights.[50]

The robot doll in the first episode, "Red Light, Green Light", was inspired by Younghee, a character who appeared on the covers of Korean textbooks Chul-soo and Young-hee in the 1970s and 1980s, and her hairstyle was inspired by Hwang's daughter's.[49][50] The doll singsongs, in Korean, "Mugunghwa Flower has Blossomed", referring to the hibiscus syriacus, the national flower of South Korea.[36] The use of this familiar character was meant to juxtapose memories of childhood and unsettling fear in the players, according to Chae.[50] Similarly, the set for the dalgona game, using giant pieces of playground equipment, were to evoke players' memories of their childhood, and was a common place where Korean children would have played dalgona with friends.[50] The dalgona used in "The Man with the Umbrella" were made by a street vendor from Daehangno.[52]

The English language logo for Squid Game, showing the incorporated use of the circle, triangle, and square shapes.

Throughout the series, the trio of circle, triangle, and square shapes appear frequently on the cards given to recruit players, on the guards' masks, and inside the show's title. These are shapes associated with the playing field for the children's game of Squid (Ojing-eo‎). They are also used to represent the hierarchy of the guards within the complex. Following from the comparison with an ant colony, the guards with circles are considered the workers, triangles as the soldiers, and squares as the managers. Further, in the Korean alphabet, Hangul, the circle represents the romanized letter "O", the triangle part of the letter "J", and the square the letter "M". Together, "OJM" are the romanized initials of Ojing-eo Geim, the Korean translation of Squid Game.[53]

Music

Jung Jae-il, who had previously composed the soundtrack for Parasite, directed and composed Squid Game's score.[54] In addition to Jung's pieces, the soundtrack features songs by Park Min-ju and an artist known as 23.[54] Two classical music pieces are also used throughout the show as part of the routine for the players: the third movement of Joseph Haydn's "Trumpet Concerto" is used to wake the players, while Johann Strauss II's "The Blue Danube" is used to indicate the start of a new game.[54] Ludwig van Beethoven's "Fifth Symphony" is also used for background music in the VIP lounge.[54] A cover of "Fly Me to the Moon", arranged by Jung and sung by Korean artist Joo Won Shin, was used over the "Red Light, Green Light" game of the first episode; according to Joo, Hwang wanted a contrast between the brutal killing of the players in the game and the "romantic and beautiful lyrics and melody" of the song, such that the scene "embodies the increasingly polarized capitalist society that we live in today in a very compressed and cynical way".[55]

The soundtrack was released on September 17, 2021.[56]

Squid Game
Soundtrack album
ReleasedSeptember 17, 2021 (2021-09-17)
GenreSoundtrack
Length69:49
Language
  • Korean
  • English
Label
Squid Game track listing
No.TitleMusicArtistLength
1."Way Back Then[d]"Jung Jae-ilJung Jae-il2:31
2."Round I"Jung Jae-ilJung Jae-il1:19
3."The Rope Is Tied"Jung Jae-ilJung Jae-il3:18
4."Pink Soldiers"23230:38
5."Hostage Crisis"23232:22
6."I Remember My Name"Jung Jae-il 3:13
7."Unfolded..."Jung Jae-il 2:38
8."Needles and Dalgona"Park Min-ju 3:44
9."The Fat and the Rats"Park Min-ju 1:52
10."It Hurts So Bad"Jung Jae-il 1:13
11."Delivery"23 4:55
12."Dead End"23 5:25
13."Round VI[e]"Jung Jae-il 5:54
14."Wife, Husband and 4.56 Billion"Jung Jae-il 4:26
15."Murder Without Violence"Park Min-ju 1:53
16."Slaughterhouse III"Jung Jae-il 8:16
17."Owe"Jung Jae-il 2:26
18."Uh..."Jung Jae-il 3:38
19."Dawn"Jung Jae-il 6:41
20."Let's Go Out Tonight"Jung Jae-il 3:27
Total length:69:49

Marketing

A replica of the gigantic robot doll that appears in the "Red Light, Green Light" game in Episode 1

In the Philippines, a replica of the doll used in the show was exhibited on Ortigas Avenue in Quezon City in September 2021.[58]

A more complete set replica was exhibited at the Itaewon station in Seoul. However, the exhibit was prematurely closed due to COVID-19 quarantine regulation concerns.[59]

A Squid Game pop-up store opened in Paris on October 2 and 3, and a person could win a free one-month Netflix subscription if they managed to get the right shape from the dalgona in one minute and 30 seconds.[60][61]

In the Netherlands, Netflix hosted its own Squid Game where people were able to play the game Red Light, Green Light in both Maastricht and Rotterdam. A replica of the doll was exhibited and staff were dressed as guards. Winners were awarded with Squid Game memorabilia. The event attracted hundreds of people.[62][63][64]

In October 2021, the Hollywood Reporter interviewed Netflix Asia's executive Minyoung Kim, who said that the company was looking into a possible video game adaptation of the series.[32]

Reception

Critical reception

The show received critical acclaim.[65] According to the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 92% of 50 critics have given the series a positive review, with an average rating of 8.2/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "Squid Game's unflinching brutality is not for the faint of heart, but sharp social commentary and a surprisingly tender core will keep viewers glued to the screen – even if it's while watching between their fingers."[66] On Metacritic, the series has a weighted average score of 69 out of 100 based on 11 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[67]

Joel Keller of Decider opined that the concept of the show was creative. When writing about the narrative, he described it as "a tight narrative and a story that has the potential to be tense and exciting." Keller concluded, "STREAM IT. Squid Game takes a fresh idea and spins it into a thrilling drama; we hope it continues to build the tension we saw in the last 20 minutes throughout the season."[68] Pierce Conran of the South China Morning Post rated the series with 4.5 out of 5 stars and wrote, "Overall, this is still a savagely entertaining slam dunk from Netflix Korea, which is likely to be embraced around the world as its predecessors were."[69] Hidzir Junaini of NME rated the series with 4 out of 5 stars and opined, "Thematic intelligence aside, Squid Game is also a white-knuckle watch, thanks to its visceral competition element."[70] John Doyle of The Globe and Mail described the series as "a brave, dark, ambitious tale, at times moving and at times terrifying" and added, "Its power is in its understanding that money is survival. This is not some dystopian fantasy like Hunger Games. This is present-day life in all its complex awfulness."[71]

Brian Lowry of CNN wrote that the series "presents a visually arresting variation on themes seen plenty of times before, which include tapping into the class divide – and the rich essentially preying on the poor and destitute – at a moment when the audience might be more receptive to that message."[72] Henry Wong of The Guardian compared the show favorably to the 2019 South Korean film Parasite, and said that the show used the "present-day, very real wealth inequality" in South Korea as a backdrop to keep the viewer interested in its characters.[73] Caitlin Clark of American socialist magazine Jacobin also compared the series favorably to Parasite and said that it "shreds the capitalist myth that hard work guarantees prosperity".[74] Melanie McFarland of the American liberal website Salon.com described the series as "an excellent distillation of how predatory capitalism works."[75]

Writing for The New York Times, TV critic Mike Hale found Squid Game to be an "utterly traditional, and thoroughly predictable ... melodrama" with "eye-catching" but "not especially interesting ... production design and costuming". He also thought the series' "pretense of contemporary social relevance" failed to justify its "more than mildly sickening" violence, and thought its characters were "shallow assemblages of family and battlefield clichés".[76] Daniel D'Addario of Variety wrote: "Like Joker, there’s a having-it-both-ways insistence that a culture that could create violence is inherently sick and deranged, while playing out a wildly overstated version of sick derangement in a manner designed to be maximally tense and amusing."[77]

The series also drew some criticism for its similarity to the 2014 Japanese film As the Gods Will. Like the manga upon which the film was based, Squid Game features dangerous versions of children's games such as Daruma-san ga koronda, the Japanese version of Red Light, Green Light. Responding to allegations of plagiarism, director Hwang Dong-hyuk stated that he had been working on the script since at least 2008 and that similarities between the two films, of which he had been made aware during the process of filming, were coincidental.[78][79] He acknowledged that he had been inspired by Japanese comics and animation, including Battle Royale and Liar Game.[25]

Viewership

The series became the first Korean drama to top Netflix's top ten weekly most-watched TV show charts globally. It reached number one in 90 countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom.[80][81][73] Netflix estimated that Squid Game had drawn over 111 million viewers worldwide after 17 days of availability,[82][f] and over 142 million viewers after 28 days,[83] surpassing the 82 million that Bridgerton had received in its first 28 days in December 2020, and becoming the service's most-watched series at its launch.[84] Although Netflix is not available in mainland China, pirated versions of Squid Game have been widely circulated on the Chinese Internet and the show has become a popular topic on Chinese social networking sites.[85] Outside of Asian regions, its popularity was driven primarily through word of mouth and viral spread on social media. Vulture also claimed that the show's widespread localization, with subtitles in 37 languages and dubbed versions in 34 languages, helped to capture an international audience.[29] Hwang believed that the popularity was due "by the irony that hopeless grownups risk their lives to win a kids' game", as well as the familiarity and simplicity of the games that allowed the show to focus on characterization.[86] The diversity of the characters that play the Squid Game, drawing from different walks of lower- and middle-class life, also helps draw audiences to watch as many could find sympathy in one or more of the characters.[86]

According to Bloomberg News, by October 2021, Netflix estimated that Squid Game had generated nearly US$900 million in value based on extended viewer data,[87]; it cost $21.4 million to produce.[88] Due to Squid Game's surprising success for Netflix, operators of other streaming services with original content, such as Disney+, Paramount+ and Apple TV+, have begun looking to follow Netflix's model of discovering regional content beyond Hollywood and finding similarly successful works for their platforms, with one executive calling this an area of "unlimited potential".[89] Besides bringing new ideas and veering from common themes of typical Hollywood productions, such foreign productions are typically less expensive to make, with tax breaks or incentives by the host country for filming and production.[90] Several producers of non-US TV series, who had little luck in pitching their shows to US-based streaming services in the past, were hopeful that these services would now seriously consider their works as a result of Squid Game's success.[89]

Public response

Some bilingual viewers have debated the quality of Netflix's translations, observing that the English closed captioning, which was based on the English dub, changed the meaning of some dialogue when compared to the original Korean. Bilingual performers for the English dub acknowledged that there were some translation issues, but this type of work was challenging due to limitations on how captioning can be presented to viewers.[91]

While all of the actors saw increases in followers on their social media accounts in the weeks after Squid Game premiered, Jung Ho-yeon saw one of the largest increases, going from about 400,000 to over 13 million followers in three weeks after Squid Game premiered.[92] In October 2021, the fashion brand Louis Vuitton announced Jung Ho-Yeon as their new global ambassador for fashion, watches, and jewelry; creative director Nicolas Ghesquière said he "immediately fell in love with Ho Yeon's great talent and fantastic personality" from her performance on Squid Game.[93]

In South Korea, the popularity of Squid Game led to a surge of network traffic which caused SK Broadband to file a lawsuit against Netflix, seeking monetary damages to pay for increased broadband usage and maintenance costs associated with the program.[94] One of the phone numbers used in the show belonged to a private resident who reported receiving up to 4,000 calls each day from people, several of whom desired to play a real-life version of the game;[95] Netflix stated they would edit the show to remove the number.[96]

As the series was introduced ahead of the 2022 South Korean presidential election, several of the candidates began using some of the Squid Game imagery in their political ads and challenging opponents to similar games,[27] as well as using the themes of the series related to economic disparity as part of their political platform.[97] A North Korean state-run website used Squid Game to critically mock the economic situation in South Korea, claiming that it exposes the "beastly" nature of the "South Korean capitalist society where mankind is annihilated by extreme competition," and describes South Korea as a country where "corruption and immoral scoundrels are commonplace".[98][99] A diplomatic cable of the United States Department of State said, "At the heart of the show's dark story is the frustration felt by the average Korean, and particularly Korean youth, who struggle to find employment, marriage, or upward mobility—proving that grim economic prospects are indeed at the center of Korean society’s woes."[100]

Vendors of dalgona, the honeycomb candy featured in the second game, both within Korea and internationally found a significant increase in sales after the show's release.[101][102] Everyday clothing items matching those worn in the show saw large growths in sales in the weeks after the show's initial broadcast, such as Vans slip-on shoes which spiked by 7,800%. Variety attributed this sales increase in part to preparation for Halloween costumes inspired by the show.[103][104][105] Vendors of other costume props that mirrored those in the show, such as the guards' masks, also saw sales spikes in advance of Halloween following the show's premiere.[106]

Netflix claimed that Squid Game had "pierced the cultural zeitgeist" and became a popular Internet meme, with over 42 billion views of videos related to Squid Game in the first month after broadcast.[83] Shortly after the show's release, users of social media adapted some of the games featured in Squid Game as Internet challenges, including the first "Red Light, Green Light" game and the second honeycomb cookie game.[107] Users of video games supporting user-created content, such as Roblox, Fortnite Creative, and Grand Theft Auto Online, created numerous games within these systems that were based on one or more of the Squid Game challenges.[108][109][110] Some groups also worked to organize safe, mock Squid Game events for fans of the show.[111][112] A number of schools around the United Kingdom observed that despite the show being aimed at mature audiences, young children were emulating some of the games from Squid Game during school recess, and warned parents about these activities.[113]

Saturday Night Live parodied Squid Game on its October 16, 2021, show as part of a country song sung by Pete Davidson and guest Rami Malek.[114]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ a b At the time of broadcast, ₩45.6 billion was approximately 33 million or US$38 million.
  2. ^ lit. The day hibiscus bloomed. The English title references the game Red Light, Green Light. The Korean title references the Korean version of the game.
  3. ^ The title is a reference to the 1924 Korean novel with the same name that tells the story of a rickshaw man initially being happy earning a lot of money from having a lot of customers on a rainy day, and thrilled to buy his wife some soup, only to find his wife dead in her house.
  4. ^ The song used a medieval recorder.[57]
  5. ^ The song was played by the Budapest scoring orchestra.[57]
  6. ^ One "viewer" is defined by Netflix as a subscriber having viewed any portion of a work longer than two minutes.[82]

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External links