squid game

Squid Game: The hit South Korean horror series from Netflix.

In this gory thriller that quickly became a hit on Netflix , contestants play kiddie games to win huge cash prizes...and if they lose, they die. Can you bear it?

What if winning playground games could make you rich ? It's the basis of Squid Game - the currently number one South Korean show on Netflix worldwide - where debt-ridden gamers sign up to play six games to win a $45.60 cash prize. billion won (around €33m). But if you lose, you are killed. In the first episode, a part of Grandma's Footsteps (known as Red Light, Green Light in South Korea) let the bodies pile up as the shocked winners advance to the second round. It's a game, a kind of Takeshi's Castle with dead people, or like the Saw movies.

If you can stomach the events of the first episode, the sequel is a well-crafted horror-thriller that has viewers captivated. This nine-episode series is the first Korean series to reach No. 1 on the streaming platform in the United States, and it is currently number one in France. Its success will come as no surprise to a generation of viewers who have been hooked by the murderous dystopian series The Hunger Games and the cult Battle Royale series. But Squid Game is set against the backdrop of wealth inequality, which is very real in South Korea today.

The closest comparison is to another South Korean drama , the 2019 Oscar-winning film Parasite , which captured the zeitgeist and where the country's class divisions came to a bloody conclusion. As in this film, the series' analogy is sometimes exaggerated, especially during the introduction of the game's viewers, rich in clichés, but the premise is immediately catchy. Yes, the games are terrifying, but how much worse are they than the half-lives of those living in endless debt?

Masterful cliffhangers give the show much-needed appeal and the set pieces are hideously inventive, but it's the show's eclectic cast that keeps viewers hooked. Our unlikely heroes are led by Seong Gi-hun ( Lee Jung-jae ), a compulsive gambler with a heart of gold, and his childhood friend Cho Sang-woo ( Park Hae-soo ), a disgraced banker on the run from police. One of the highlights of the series is seeing the frosty and resourceful pickpocket Kang Sae-byeok ( Jung Ho-yeon ) – a North Korean escort trying to save his estranged family – learn to trust those who surround it.

This ragtag group offers a surprisingly soft heart for a series that features the regular murder of hundreds and a subplot about the organ trade. Nights in the dorms, where relationships form and fray, make the drama quieter, often more shocking than the playroom itself. And Lee is so smiley that he single-handedly brings levity when the dread gets too much (which happens a lot).

Cleverly, Squid Game taps into the cultural obsession with game shows . The players are observed, but the viewer is only a step away, and it is impossible not to put yourself in their shoes. A series of anecdotes make it clear that anyone can run into debt through bad luck, while the images are full of familiar elements. There are maze-like hallways, tinkling soundtracks and oversized slides, like the world's worst kid's party. In this universe, screenwriter and director Hwang Dong-hyuk poses exciting dilemmas - would you betray your friend to escape death ? - and let them unfold in agonizing moments.

Netflix experimented with interactive drama in the past with its 2018 film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, in which viewers could make choices that affected the plot. A kind of TV version of choose-your-own-adventure type books, its own intelligence sometimes came at the expense of storytelling. Squid Game shows that you don't have to make choices on screen for viewers to be invested in the fate of the characters. Even without an interactive element, there is an ability to relate here which probably explains its huge popularity. The stakes are higher, but the emotions are viscerally familiar, and the politics of the playground are found every time. In one episode, there is a heartbreaking scene about choosing team members before the match begins. Even without the option of dying, didn't being chosen last always feel like the end of the world?

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