The Squid Game: What's Up With the Hype?

Squid Game (2021) is the first Korean show in history to rank #1 on Netflix in 90 countries (including Russia). It is rumored that with the endorsement of Netflix CEO, the series could become the most popular show in the service's history. On TikTok, everyone is making caramel cookies from the show, and in real life people are snapping up costumes for Halloween and following actors on social media. So what is all the hype about?

by Anna Shabashova


The Squid Game is a South Korean TV series that premiered on Netflix on September 17, 2021. The main plot of the series centers around the 456 debtors that hide from creditors take part in a big game. They are monitored by guards in an isolated area where they have
to play children's games from tug-of-war to pebbles. The losers will die, and the winner will receive ₩ 48 million ($ 40 million.)

There is nothing original about the plot. Survival games have long been unsurprising: take The Hunger Games or Battle Royale. But in the case of The Squid Game, ultraviolence and brutality fade into the background: instead of scary killer games there are well-known
games from childhood. The show's creator Hwang Dong Hyuk says he wanted to combine
the nostalgia for children's games with the feeling of the never-ending competition faced
by adults. The audience's attention is more focused on the social and psychological components. What will a movie hero do in this situation? And what would I do?
But why is Korean cinema so popular now?
Korean films and TV series do not cover fundamentally new issues, but look at familiar
things from a slightly different angle and use a non-European aesthetic. This fresh perspective turned out to be attractive to the European viewer, who for many years
was forced to watch Hollywood products with practically no alternatives. Korean cinematography is the perfect symbiosis of two cultures: colorful enough to be different
from the mainstream and offer a fresh perspective on established clichés, but at the same time not so controversial that its originality becomes repulsive.

There are no generally accepted genre laws for Korean filmmakers. They mix melodrama
with action and comedy, rarely sinking to unambiguous happy ends. Often the directors themselves write scripts, and if all over the world this, combined with a unique style, is a sign of auteur cinema, then in South Korea it is the routine of mainstream distribution.
    BBC critics Wai Yip and William Lee wrote in a review of the series that it could become Netflix's biggest original project. A similar opinion was expressed by critics of the Los Angeles Times, noting that Korean pop culture has already become a "global powerhouse".
    The Guardian newspaper also published a positive review, comparing the series with
    the South Korean drama Parasite (2019), which won an Oscar for "Best Picture". However, there is absolutely nothing outstanding about the Squid Game: no original plot, no fine cinematography, not even outstanding acting. This is an average drama that has suddenly climbed to the top of the chart. It's all about the hype and good luck.
    It's different with Koreans. They seem to have no internal barrier: their attitude to topics like cruelty, sex, all sorts of perversions,
    or some very extreme things like incest is much simpler. Even
    the completely mainstream Oldboy (2003), if you look at it this way, is a very unhealthy movie: here is still the same incest as the main plot lever, licking shoes, cutting off tongues, torture, torment, suicide, coffin, coffin, cemetery – in all, a whole freak show of perversions. Squid Game is no exception: ultraviolence and cruelty are presented in a bright wrapper of children's games in pink and blue pastel decorations. This makes everything seem toyish and unreal, and shocking scenes look like something ordinary.
    Perhaps the whole point is just in the absence of those inner barriers. The modern audience, raised by the restrained puritanical Hollywood, is tired of this artificiality and dullness that have nothing in common with real life. It looks like we all sometimes need a little ultra-violence wrapped in aesthetics to reboot.
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