Hundreds of people with financial hardships are given the chance to win millions of dollars in a series of children's games with deadly high stakes. Digital editor Dan Jensen checks out Squid Game, the Netflix series that everyone is talking about right now.
SQUID GAME is a South Korean TV series that is currently number one in Australia, has a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes and is set to become the most-watched Netflix series of all time. There is a lot of hype behind this show, but it deserves every bit of it.
The series centres around Gi-hun (Jung-jae Lee), a down-on-his-luck father who is sinking in debt and, despite his heart being in the right place, continues to make poor choices in life. An opportunity comes along to participate in a series of children's games where the end prize pool will reach a little over $50 million. Gi-hun, along with 455 others, enters the contest not realising that the games have a deadly twist. It comes down to survival of the fittest where only one can be declared the winner, while a group of ultra-rich elites bet on their favourites.
Written and directed by Dong-hyuk Hwang, almost every facet of this series is perfect. The story is gripping and despite treading familiar ground (the Japanese film Battle Royale was one of the show’s inspirations), it still manages to feel fresh. The dialogue is always interesting, where even scenes of exposition are totally engrossing. The cinematography ranges from great to utterly breathtaking, with some shots looking like works of art. Everything from the colour palette to the framing keeps the eyes drawn in constantly and great attention to detail is given in every scene. Even the costume design is outstanding.
But it’s the casting and performances from all involved that truly shine here. Every character is brought to life with perfection and the development of the characters from start to finish is another example of superlative writing. No one is the same person that we met in the first episode, which is fitting after what these people have to go through for their prize. You’ve been warned — this show is violent in parts and easily earns its MA15+ rating.
Most of the principal cast come from a (mostly) animation and video game voice acting background, which is surprising considering how remarkable every performance is in every episode. One of the main characters, a toughened pickpocket named Sae-byeok, is played by fashion model and first-time actress HoYeon Jung. But if you didn’t know that, you would think she was a veteran of the screen, an indication of just how brilliant the directing is.
While the violence in Squid Game can be a bit extreme at times, it is necessary. The show is so rich with themes and subtext that it’s impossible not to notice them. The contest is a metaphor for inequality in our world — economic, social, gender and racial. It’s all masterfully explored within the narrative. Money and wealth is the central theme at play, reminding us just how far we would go to chase the almighty dollar. Not only that, the series explores how having all the money in the world won’t bring true happiness.
Humanity, connection and the value of human life are other themes that are heavily played upon in Squid Game. Characters are divided into groups that give us heroes and villains throughout the story. There are friendships, betrayals and sacrifices, some of which will leave you in tears. Episode six (Gganbu) was particularly heart-wrenching and easily the stand-out chapter of the nine. But the way the series holds a mirror up to our world and shows us how we can lose sight of what is truly important in our lives is incredibly thought-provoking.
The score by Parasite composer Jung Jae-il is another area in which Squid Game excels. Most of the music in the series has a distinctly Eastern flavour and varies from playful to ominous and threatening. Some scenes in the series, particularly during the games, are incredibly suspenseful and the score heightens the tension to a heart-pounding level.
It’s hard to find fault with the series, but if anything had to be mentioned it would be that one subplot involving a detective who finds his way onto the island where the games are being held doesn’t feel completely resolved. It does feel that the conclusion might have been left intentionally open for a continuation of the story, so hopefully, any loose threads might be given closure in another season. But it’s a minor gripe and doesn’t take away from how truly extraordinary Squid Game is. This is essential viewing, deserving of every accolade and every award it will no doubt receive.
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