Demystifying Squid Game’s hype, and what comes after

Play, or die

  • 07.10.2021
  • By Emily Heng

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Did you need a reminder that we live in a dystopian hellscape comprising a deadly disease that ravages the human population? Or do you — against all common sense — want your mortality to be reiterated over and over again; the frailty of human nature hammered into your psyche on a regular basis? If you said yes to the above, congratulations! You’re not alone. It’s also likely that you’re an avid watcher of Squid Game, Netflix’s latest grim-dark hit from South Korea.

In itself, there’s nothing inherently revolutionary about Squid Game. The series centers around a group of financially-challenged people looking to make a quick buck. This entails participating in deadly children’s games such as red light, green light as well as marbles. Winner takes all, with each death resulting in more money being added to the grand prize.

The appeal of Squid Game lies in various factors beyond its searing critique on class disparity. There is its accessibility, for one, where Netflix has released dubbed renditions in 34 different languages to ensure widespread approachability. It helps, too, that its release follows the success of Parasite; the winner of last year’s Golden Globes for Best Foreign Language Film. Both pieces deal with similar themes and motifs, deftly unpacking the insidious nature of capitalism and social inequality.

Then there is its cast. Veteran actors Lee Jung-jae and Park Hae-soo helm the lead roles, ensuring an established fan base right off the get-go. Director Hwang Dong-hyuk took a calculated risk as to the other parts — opting for wild-cards and unknowns that prove relatively new to the acting scene. The common thread between ‘em all? They’re all ridiculously, terribly attractive. Participant 067 is played by literal supermodel, Jung Ho-yeon, who has now achieved Internet girlfriend status; popular rom-com actor, Wi Ha-joon, further cemented his heart-throb status as a dogged cop; while actual Hallyu icon Gong Yoo made (several) surprise cameos.

Is it any surprise, then, that season 2 is already in the works? We suppose not. In the meantime, here are a list of shows similar in pacing and messaging to tide you through.

Alice in Borderland
Based upon a popularised Japanese manga, this sci-fi series turns its focus onto “degenerates” within society — a portion of which has to prove their worth by participating in dangerous games and challenges set in an abandoned Tokyo. The show’s quiet, ominous tone is bolstered by stellar performances from established actors in the form of Kento Yamazaki and Tao Tsuchiya. Pro tip: Don’t get attached to any character right off the bat. That is the quickest route to heartbreak.

Battle Royale
Ah, the OG cultural phenomenon! For those unaware, this highly-revered film from the 2000s is now used in reference to all fictional storylines that have to do with select groups of people being instructed to kill each other off. Typically, there is a lone survivor who manages to triumph against all odds. In this case, Battle Royale turns its focus onto delinquent students, where the Japanese government has enacted a law where students have to fight to the death so as to curb truancy and misbehaviour.

Liar Game
A naïve college student gets wrapped up in a game of chance, luck, and betrayal after she receives a mysterious package containing 100 million yen. Accepting the money certifies her entry into the Liar Game tournament, where contestants are encouraged to cheat and lie to score other player’s cash. This has been made into a K-Drama, too, but its Japanese serialisation still proves more popular amongst international audience.

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