Seong Gi-Hun gets fired from his job. His life is miserable. Seong Gi-Hun hears about a secret survival game, with a 45.6 billion won prize for the winner. He decides to take part in the game. Meanwhile, Cho Sang-Woo is like a brother to Seong Gi-Hun and vice versa. They grew up in the same neighborhood. Despite his poor family background, Cho Sang-Woo graduated from a prestigious university and found a good job. He now faces a crisis, due to the misappropriation of company funds. He decides to take part in the secret survival game with Seong Gi-Hun.
Squid Game is heavy, dark, morbid. It manages expectations of how series with a central theme of survival game would look like, in terms of the storytelling, execution and brutality. It also has some obvious underlying messages that are usually seen in a typical survival game concept. We’ve seen these types of concept done in other movies or series; we have the very famous Hunger Games where contestants kill each other to fight for their survival and bring honor to their respective districts; we also have Alice in Borderland, which aired last year, where contestants find their selves in an empty-streets, parallel Tokyo, and are force to compete in different games for their own survival too. And while those two have their own fair share of thrill, entertainment and important messages for the viewers, Squid Game also have its own brutal charm and enigma. It has its own message to tell; it has a different and interesting spin of the usual messages we get from this central theme.
The series started by introducing us to the man in which his journey we will follow along. The man is Seong Gi-hun. To put it bluntly, he leads a life of a loser. A 47-year old man who achieved nothing in his life and is still financially dependent to his old, ailing mother; a divorced man who can’t lead a good life for his family; a father who can’t provide financially for his daughter. And while we see him struggling to make ends meet, buried in debts, Show let us also understand Gi-hun’s mindset and why he is the way he is. It’s not that he’s bad, he’s just always making the wrong decisions. I like this particular scene in Episode 1, when he is trying to get a birthday present for his daughter in a claw machine after he loses the money he won in gambling, a random kid observed the way he played the game and told him, “You always fail because you pick without thinking.” It might just be a random line but I think that perfectly describes the decision-making of Gi-hun all his life. He keeps on doing things without thinking of the pros and cons. And if he did, it always took him long enough to weigh the good and the bad of his situations.
As we move forward each episode, we also get to see another reason of his misfortune: soft-heartedness and too much compassion to people. We see this all throughout the episodes and how he treat the other contestants especially those he grew closer with. It is because of this soft-heartedness that he was deeply traumatized of the aftermath of this survival game, unable to move on and live a simple life together with his daughter. In all honesty, if this was another series, I might’ve understand his reasons of wanting to know who’s behind all this Squid Game competition. But here in this series, I was kind of unconvinced of his driving force. Yeah, I think I’m just one of this selfish viewer who’d like him to enjoy the price money that he got from the deadly competition. I know that sentence sounded so wrong on so many aspects. But maybe because, I see him as a kind of guy who makes brash decisions and going after to the head of the Squid Game will do more harm than him than good. I think he won the game purely by both luck and hard work. And by doing something dangerous as going after the behind-the-scenes secrets of Squid Game, it will just be all in vain.
There is still so much story to tell for a Season 2 and whatever trajectory they are going for in case the Show will be renewed, I hope he has someone with him who has a rationale mindset to balance his impulsive and hasty actions.
On the Heart of the Game
Squid Game incorporates children’s games and made an adult version of it–with brutality and death at its stake. There are so many interesting takes that I like with the game because, surprisingly, Squid Game has a principle it lives by too. Let me list down those aspects that I find interesting:
Choosing the players – Not everyone in the country can play the game. The organization meticulously chose who will take part in this game. However, everyone has one thing in common: they all have an enormous amount of debt to pay which leads them to live a hellish life. And we see players that aren’t just thugs and low-class, we also see professionals which we’ll think is living a decent lifestyle but in a grand scheme of life, found themselves deeply in debt with no way out unless they join this competition. This aspect is beguiling because we can see here that organizers of this game chooses this type of people primarily because they want for these “chosen ones” to see Squid Game as their last hope of survival. And that when they compare their real lives to their lives while in the game, they will choose the latter simply because their immense suffering will result to an unimaginable amount of money. How manipulative it is to let these players think they are free to decide on their own but in reality, their decisions are the results of what was imparted to them–a shitty life, a grand price.
The rules – Squid Game lives by its principles–democratic where everyone’s voices can be heard, there is free will, fairness and equality. We see this when everyone decides if the game will be terminated and when one of the contestants is secretly learning beforehand what the next game will be. That leads me to another core this series had touched upon: willingness and division. What an interesting take this is in which everyone–whether a thug, an old man, a corporate man, a North Korean defector, a gambler–is all in the same arena which is controlled by the Front Man (gamemaster). And even inside this arena, there is still discrimination, racism, hierarchy; but see the bigger picture and everyone is puppets being controlled by people that is very much higher than them. In the eyes of these spectators, they are all nothing but chess pieces they can throw away easily. These puppets are being controlled to do things, to the point of fighting and killing one another, at the expense of a big price that awaits them. We see this rules being created, in the guise of getting a free will, that which makes these people even further divide instead of unite because everyone’s hearts has their own agenda. Not everyone will be on the same picture because everyone has priorities of their own. Everyone joined then came back on their own accord, because life outside is hellish anyway, what’s there to lose? Isn’t it so much screams of reality? I wouldn’t specifically explain further so that one can also ponder upon the correlation of this game to what is happening in our world.
The games get harsher and the stakes get higher as it levels up. I am actually not familiar with most of the games here because these are mostly derived from Korean’s children games. However, as someone who is not familiar with those games, Show was still able to provide explanation of how games work. The games here aren’t as mind-boggling as the other survival games series. However, it still has the same effect with those mind-boggling games. Two of my notable favorites are the marble game and the game in Episode 7. (sorry I forgot the names of those games) The marble game strikes upon trust and betrayal. It was fairly slow and for others, might be boring game. But still is essential as it pierces through one’s emotional pain than of physical suffering. Trust and friendship were tested in this game and we see different forms of betrayal and surrender for their own sake and for others. The other game is death-defying and thrilling. I won’t explain further to avoid spoilers but it was heart-pounding and probably the most brutal game in the series.
On the other side of the coin
There is another interesting part of the series and that is seeing what happens behind the scenes. We see this point-of-view with Wi Ha Joon’s character as he investigate the whereabouts of his older brother. We see the facilitators behind the masks, who are also human beings just like those contestants in the arena. And we see some of them abusing the game for their own sake. Another interesting spin here is the use of the shapes (circle, triangle, square) as a form of hierarchy to the “soldiers/facilitators”. It is interesting because there is so much story to tell of the secrecy held by the Squid Game, most interestingly is the front man (game master). Such a brilliant cameo by this veteran and acclaimed actor (I won’t say so I won’t kill the surprise) and he makes the character full of enigma that it makes me want to know his past and how he became the front man, or better yet, how he became a part of this organization.
Another appealing factor are the VIPs which comes from different parts of the world. We can put it as, this is just one of the many survival games that is happening all around the world. And that all the elites from different countries unite to make an event that will benefit them purely for their satisfaction and enjoyment. It was unsettling to see them being all pleased watching this people die. The masks and probably the VIP’s arc reminded me of this Hollywood movie, Eyes Wide Shut, where the top elites have a secret organization to perform rituals and all that. (I won’t explain further because their stories are vastly different) But what they have in common, aside from the fancy masks, is a mindset of an elite, and this secret organization that has disturbing and horrid acts.)
By the end of the series, it was a little bit explained that both the rich and the poor has emptiness in their hearts. And the rich people fills this emptiness by doing something that will give them enjoyment (such a brutal way of satisfaction it is). I remember in Episode 2, when Jun-ho (Wi Ha Joon) visited his brother’s apartment, camera pans to the pile of books and one of those is the Theory of Desire by Jacques Lacan. I think it is safe to say that it is one of the driving force of all the people in the series: a quest for their desire to be fulfilled. And if we are going to look at what this theory of Lacan says with desire: “Our desires are not our own, they are the Other’s” It is going to be a wide spectrum to analyze and I don’t want this writing to be academic; but it is quite a meaning to look at it as: what we desire is the desire of others. In this series, everyone’s motivation is form out of desire, in whatever circumstances, whether for self or for others. If there will be a Season 2, this is going to be an interesting topic to be divulge.
More Central Characters
Let me also give a quick overview and personal thoughts about the other players in Squid Game:
Cho Sang Woo – What I find most interesting: when he always keeps his agenda hidden and portrayed himself as someone who is cold but cares for others. We see this hidden agenda growing and growing until it just exploded in a climactic way. He shows no remorse for the manipulative, cunning way he did many times all for the sake of his personal needs.
Oh Il Nam – Oh, his character. I feel so betrayed by toying my emotions. To avoid spoiler, I won’t provide intricate details. All I can say is that I see this type of character in other dramas or stories, so the twist surrounding his character did not provide such a shocking value. However, I feel so betrayed because what happened to him in the earlier episode was so emotional for me that I feel like all those emotions got into waste.
Kang Sae Byeok – I love her character so much and I just feel like it’s a waste to see her lose the game in that kind of manner. I just hope that we get to see her fight fair and square as well and not die out of an aftermath in one of the games.
Jang Deok-Soo – Another interesting character I love to hate. I find his character ridiculous in a sense that his strong and fearful demeanor doesn’t necessarily gave him the advantage in the games. His strong demeanor was exploited by the game master to cause a brawl and killings to all the participants in the game. In fact, his arrogance is the major cause of his downfall.
Han Mi Nyeo – She’s the kind of character who will use everyone to her advantage. She’ll make all sorts of scenes and lies in order to protect herself in the game.
Ali Abdul – ALIIIIIIIIIIIIIII /cries/ This pure-hearted man and naive man. I have a soft spot in his character. ?cries some more in the corner/
Hwang Jun-ho – They only man that is not a participant of the game. I love his guts. I love his character because his POV brings us to what happens beyond the games.
A Potential Season 2
If ever this series will be renewed for a second season, I am all in. Though I doubt we will still get those prominent actors to reprise their role, especially for those characters who I believe will still be very essential in second season. Story-wise, this season has a lots of loose ends. For example, what is the deeper relationship between Deok-Soo and Sae-Byeok? I think their connection was brushed aside in the latter part of the series; and if there is a Season 2, there’s no point of digging deeper to their back stories because /spoiler/ they died already. No point of adding their characters in Season 2. I also don’t think we’ll get a deeper storyline between Jun-ho and his brother. (unless the actor who portrayed his brother will sign up as part of the cast for Season 2, which I highly doubt. It’s going to be super expensive to cast him. Haha. But can I just say how he does so brilliantly with that role? I haven’t seen him in any other Shows so I was really surprised of how he deeply portrayed the role. I am very impressed. He isn’t a acclaimed South Korean actor for nothing.)
If a Season 2 will take place, I imagined that we will have new contestants of the game. And it would be interesting to see Seong Gi-hun to be the new front man (game master). The continuous arc of this series that could lead to potential multiple seasons is knowing the background of the organization that made Squid Game. Because based on Season 1, it’s not just simply a doing of one person. There are many of them, and they are across all countries. And since Gi-hun seems like he is willing to learn more about it, it will be nice to see him in a perspective of infiltrating the organization by using his winner card game to unravel the mysteries surrounding the bigger picture of Squid Game. Probably by that time, he is much wiser and a strategist who doesn’t makes decision on a whim.
Squid Game provided a different gravitas among other series with survival games concept. The show didn’t really provide a deeper, colorful backstory with some of the characters and just gave us basic stories of who they are beyond the game. However, that information is enough for us to know what drives their decision-making and strategies when we see them playing the game already. I personally felt like it didn’t give me that same emotional punch I felt when I watched another series with the same theme. Probably because it almost has the same underlying themes but just different in approach. Nevertheless, Squid Game is still entertaining and horrifying on its own.
In totality, Squid Game focuses on what happens in the game itself, the mysteries surrounding this game, and what the stakes are, the price to pay in losing, and most especially, in winning the game.