The Squid Game series that airs on Netflix has become a trending topic, not only in Indonesia but also worldwide. Released less than two weeks ago, Squid Game has topped Netflix’s global top 10 charts since Friday, September 24, 2021. In fact, according to Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, Squid Game is tipped to become the most popular Netflix series ever. “It’s only been airing for nine days, and it’s a really good opportunity to be our biggest show yet,” he said. While the genre of the show is hardly new, its striking visuals, relatable characters, and disturbing study of human nature have spoken to audiences all around the world.
What’s Squid Game like?
Squid Game was released less than two weeks ago. Launching ABC, Thursday (30/9/2021), Squid Game is a nine-episode series about people in debt entering a high-stakes game of survival on a deserted island. Get information, inspiration, and insights in your email. Register their Hope email, can win big cash prizes. Squid Game’s protagonist is Seong Gi-hun, played by Lee Jung-Jae, a driver who steals from his mother to fund his gambling addiction and can’t afford a birthday present for his daughter. The “game” begins with 456 competitors, and all but one are “disappeared” across six outright deceptive children’s games. That one person will win 45.6 billion Won (approximately Rp. 549.2 billion). Squid Game has been compared to everything from the bloody Japanese thriller Battle Royale, to The Hunger Games series and fellow Netflix series Alice in Borderland.
Just like Parasite, with its highly successful director Bong Joon-ho, the Squid Game series also depicts contemporary South Korea. “I wanted to write a story that is an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society. Something that depicts extreme competition, a bit like the extreme rivalry of life,” director Hwang Dong-hyuk told Variety. He says, as a survival game, it is entertainment and human drama. The game is described very simply and easy to understand.
Why is the Squid Game series so popular in the world?
Many critics like Squid Game. The rating is perfect or 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. According to the Director of the Korean Research Center in Western Australia, Jo Elfving-Hwang, Squid Game cleverly combines elements of K-drama and Korean films. This is what makes the series so popular. “The theme of being crippled by debt will be very familiar to many Korean viewers (and) I think it’s recognizable to people elsewhere”, said Dr. Elfving-Hwang. As Hollywood launches endless remakes and superhero movies, people are looking for new and different content. According to pop culture writer Cynthia Wang, people want creative, original stories and they don’t find them in big franchise productions, they find them in Squid Game. “We looked for streamers like Netflix to provide this to us and Netflix, in turn, found that kind of thing in local productions from around the world,” Cynthia said.
Meanwhile, launching Fast Company, September 28, 2021, the event created by Hwang Dong-hyuk, the filmmaker of The Fortress became famous for touching on similar themes of desperation and underclass exploitation explored by South Korean exports to take over the world. The theme was felt similar to the film Parasite. The theme of the struggle of the underclass is timeless but has become more popular in recent times as inequality has widened in many places around the world.
Characters like you and me
Experts also attribute the show’s success to its characters, many of whom are marginalized members of society. Though they are all linked by huge money troubles, they come from all walks of life.
The lead, for example, is an unemployed man with a gambling problem who struggles to gain respect from his family. Through the game, he meets a young North Korean defector with a tragic background and a Pakistani laborer who is mistreated by his employers. Kim Pyeong-gang, a global cultural content professor at Sangmyung University, told the BBC: “People, especially the younger generation, who regularly suffer from alienation and resentment in real life, seem to sympathize with the characters.”.
Like its East Asian neighbors, the hyper-competitive nature of society in South Korea has left many feeling disillusioned. Despite hard work, it simply is not possible for everyone to get top university spots or good jobs.
The games in the show, however deadly, present an alternative world supposedly based on fair play. As one gaming official says in the series: “All participants in the game are equal. We are giving people who have suffered unequal treatment and discrimination in the outside world the last chance to win a fair competition.”
This is why Squid Game is the perfect example of how you do social commentary using genre. From the chaebol player to the VIPs nationalities, the front man’s phone being a US government-issued base phone, the inclusion of a North Korean and South Korean and foreign player, and the fact that the games started in 1988, it’s all commentary on what South Korea and the world become.
Writer : Diva Maharani | Illustrator : Akbar Nugroho