Netflix’s Squid Game is a runaway hit

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Netflix’s Squid Game is a runaway hit. The Korean drama-slash-horror series about a battle royale conducted via children’s playground games — think Red Light, Green Light or tug of war but with a lot more blood — debuted on September 17 and became an instant sensation, rocketing to the top of Netflix’s most-viewed releases and generating memes across social media. After barely three weeks on the platform, Squid Game has not only become the most popular Korean drama in Netflix’s history, but it’s on track to surpass Bridgerton as the most popular show in Netflix history.

Squid Game’s success is such a fantastic payoff for Netflix’s decision to invest $500 million in Korean entertainment in 2021 that it is causing the company’s stock to boom. That might be somewhat ironic given that Squid Game is all about socioeconomic divides, the exploitation of the poor by the rich, and the desperation of Korea’s financially destitute class of laid-off workers.

Creator Hwang Dong-hyuk came up with the idea for the show after years spent reading manga and manhwa (Japanese and Korean comics, respectively) with similar themes, including the influential horror satire Battle Royale, which kicked off the contemporary trend of ensemble casts battling each other to the death in elaborate high-stakes gaming arenas. He paired these concerns with the Korean entertainment industry’s ongoing interest in the socioeconomic plight of a growing number of downwardly mobile workers, once solidly middle class, who’ve found themselves forced into lower-paying jobs due to Korea’s changing economy and decreasing reliance on industry.


That plight applies directly to Squid Game’s main character, Seong Gi-hun. Gi-hun is a divorced dad who worked at an auto factory for years, was laid off, tried to open his own business, failed, and now lives with his elderly mother while working as a chauffeur. When we first meet him, he’s stealing what little money she earns from working at a market stall and racking up a hopeless amount of debt through gambling.

Gi-hun’s desperation makes him a prime target for a mysterious organization that offers him a chance to win a massive amount of money — ultimately around $38 million in USD — by playing a series of games with a group of other people, with deadly consequences. As the series progresses through its nine episodes, his drive to win the game allows him to shake off his downtrodden malaise, though he also struggles to retain his humanity despite the game’s most dehumanizing effects.

watch the Squid game trailer

 
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    hwang dong-hyuk korean entertainment squid game
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