Who would’ve thought 1 1/2 years into the pandemic we’d get another pandemic sized Netflix hit? Netflix sure hoped so.
The most interesting thing so far about Squid Game is that it writes its premise from a character rather than plot approach. This alone lifts it above its predecessors and inspirations. Battle Royale chiefly among them which was archetypical in its characterizations. And I don’t mean the Fortnite kind– although that worldwide success of that game also helped. With The Hunger Games Katniss never felt more than 2 dimensional even on the page. She was a hunter who provided for her family that took a backseat to the plot. The game could have been about anybody. The most interesting dynamic of Squid Game is the characters’ complicity in their own situation. They are not exactly unwilling participants.
It’s not enough that our main protagonist is a gambler. He has to be a degenerate, but one with a heart who wins and loses multiple times over the course of one tense episode. In his single act of courage, he displays compassion for his daughter by volunteering for Squid Game. His multiple wins and losses come with some outside help. It’s obvious to me this version of a game of death now effectively its own subgenre is the product of passion and vision long in development. Rather than a dispirited knockoff like last year’s The Hunt which wasted a loaded premise.
What makes Squid Game such a phenomenon is that it is an amalgam. A concoction of what came before. It is not original in the slightest. but it’s not ashamed of that. It wears its inspirations on its sleeve. And one can easily argue even before The Hunger Games that audiences had an appetite for Battle Royale dating from Mario Party back to the Roman coliseum. One can even look at Saw and see its twisted games racking up hundreds of millions of dollars while staving off standard horror franchise fatigue.
The show is a triumph of globalization and localization. The English Dub is the default mode when you boot up Netflix and probably part of its success but it also helps that the show is so visually driven in action. What’s more, localization puts in an effort. Oddly Netflix never promoted its show like so many. They never predicted it would be a hit. Yet South Korean exports were already friendly to the U.S. and Canada.
For me, outside western influence started with Nintendo’s Pokemon (1997), then Oldboy (2003) was a breakthrough in the DVD market. I remember friends obsessing over it in high school. Then about 10 years ago The Raid rode a tide of critical acclaim to a sequel (and a still in-development American remake), then K-Pop came in from the fringes and broke through with Gangnam style (2012), later BTS who just switched labels from Sony to Universal. Then Bong Joon Ho came in battling big bad American Producer Harvey Weinstein with the brilliant Snowpiercer (2014) (now a TNT-Netflix series). Followed by the dual language Netflix film Okja (2017). Finally, the subtitled South Korean set Parasite (2019) broke through the ceiling of what no Marvel comic book movie has done and won Best Picture. As Netflix CEO Reed Hastings speculated this kind of phenomenon has been lonng in the making.
Two clips that give off the same energy:
Character predictions (after watching the first episode):
- 001 – The old man is a thematic side plot meant to enhance whatever themes the show has to offer. It does not matter whether he lives or dies.
- The pickpocket and her bully, one or both of whom will almost certainly die will kill one another in comedic or ironic fashion.
- The protagonist’s friend or the one non-Asian guy who saves our protagonist’s life is not long for this world and their death will serve to raise the stakes.
- Will our hero end on an act of heroism or selfishness? I lean towards selfishness. Unless he undergoes a significant change, there’s no way he’s making out of these games alive.
If this show was ever remade as American:
- There would be a reality show angle with all despondent, vindictive, depressed, and socially insane 20-30 somethings of different races and creeds, the enforcers would have automatic weapons, and there would be out of control and corrupt judges. It would also be true to the spirit of the original about the haves and have nots.