By Elena Oh
On September 17, 2021, Netflix released Squid Game, and the success of the show took many by surprise. The Korean TV series, written and directed by Hwang Dong-Hyuk, rose to instant popularity, seeing a nearly nine-fold increase in viewership in just its first week. The series broke more records by surpassing Bridgerton (2020) and The Queen’s Gambit (2020), both wildly popular shows, as Netflix’s number one most-watched TV show. To date, the show has 111,000,000 views.
Squid Game follows Gi-Hun, a divorced father struggling with a gambling addiction. He and 455 other people, all in desperate need of money, are invited to play in a series of death games disguised as popular Korean children’s games in hopes of winning 45.6 billion won (about 38 million dollars). They are policed by guards in pink suits and watched by millionaires who place bets on their lives. Gi-Hun allies with Sae-Byeok, a North Korean defector; Ali, a Pakistani immigrant; Il-Nam, an old man with memory loss; and Sang-Woo, his childhood friend. The 456 players play a series of physically and psychologically torturous games until only Gi-Hun and Sang-Woo remain. Sang-Woo sacrifices himself and Gi-Hun emerges “victorious.” Eventually, Il-Nam, thought to be dead, reveals to Gi-Hun that he created the games because he was bored with his life despite his immense wealth. The series ends with Gi-Hun vowing to expose the games.
On the surface, the show may seem excessively violent and gruesome. However, upon closer analysis, according to directors, the show is a critique of capitalism and its effects on the common people. Director Hwang stated in an interview that he, “wanted to write a story that was an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society, something that depicts an extreme competition, somewhat like the extreme competition of life.” Despite this commentary, however, Hwang himself has amassed considerable wealth and credibility after the show’s success and the show has profited over 900,000,000 dollars to Netflix. From the early episodes of the show, Squid Game compares the acts of gambling and living. Instead of betting money in the actual games, the players bet their lives. Every time one player gets eliminated, their portion of the money (1 billion won) is added to the winner’s prize. This forces people to hope for the failure of others to have the chance to succeed. The games’ managers also emphasize fairness. They eliminate cheating players and even guards who assist the players in any way. Interestingly, however, one of the games involves jumping across a paneled bridge of tempered or non-tempered glass, which appears identical, to cross a fatal drop. This act represents that fairness in the games, much like in the real world, is just a façade. Since the players have no way of knowing which glass is safe to jump on, their survival is purely based on luck. Finally, when Il-Nam reveals his true identity to Gi-Hun, Il-Nam tells him that if a stranger helps the homeless man freezing outside the building and on the verge of death before the hour is up, Il-Nam will put an end to the games. Gi-Hun clings to his remaining hope in humanity, but it quickly diminishes as the only person who even looks at the homeless man steals his money, and the man passes away. Gi-Hun’s loss of faith is something that some people go through, as they grow older. Squid Game is filled with many more messages and subtle commentaries that are hidden behind the “Hunger Games-esque” storyline.
Despite the show’s widespread success, it is still unclear whether or not Hwang will create another season as many fans are hoping. During the creation of the first season around 2009, Hwang experienced an immense amount of stress from managing the writing and directing of the entire show. He says, “I had a huge amount of stress, which led to me losing six teeth during production, which I’ve mentioned in some other interviews.” Additionally, Hwang had significant trouble finding someone willing to take on his project in the early stages of development and did not plan out a storyline beyond season one. However, because the show is still garnering thousands of new viewers, a second season remains a possibility. In a recent interview with CNN, Hwang told reporters, “There’s nothing confirmed at the moment, but so many people are enthusiastic that I’m really contemplating it.” Until Hwang officially confirms or denies a season two, many fans will be anxiously waiting to find out what happens next to Gi-Hun and the games.