The premise of the South Korean series, “Squid Game,” centers around a grueling and depraved competition that begins with 456 participants. Those who will be competing in the games, are rendered unconscious, and taken to an isolated island at an immense, hidden compound. The games are overseen by uniformed, masked, gun-toting soldiers. They take their orders from a person called ‘The Frontman,’ who is played by Tom Choi and Lee Byung-hun. He takes his orders from someone known as ‘The Host.’
Childish in their origin, the games that are played, such as ‘red light, green light,’ and ‘tug-of-war,’ are deadly in their execution. The price a participant pays for failure is their life. This is something which those who are playing, don’t learn until after the commencement of the first game, which eliminates more than half of the participants. All of the competitors signed a waiver before they began the game. Included within the waiver was a provision, that at any time, a vote can be taken, and if the majority of the players agree to end the games, the players will be allowed to return home. The accumulated prize money, would then be divided up and sent to the families of those players who had been killed.
The players opt to vote after the first game, and the majority want to end the competition. This action returns all of the competitors back to their lives to deal with the same problems they had in the first place. Many of the players come to the conclusion that facing the challenges of the games, is perhaps better than dealing with the harsh reality of their lives. At least in the games, they have an opportunity to win an inordinate amount of money, which would fix many, if not all, of their problems. When the chance to return to the games presents itself, all who were initially playing, return. 45.6 billion won (KRW) is on the line, which is approximately $38.8 billion in American currency; so despite the risks, the motivation for the participants to return is believable. (As an aside: The series derived its name from a traditional Korean children’s game of the same name. The board used in the game resembles that of a squid).
The series is told from the perspective of its main protagonist, Seong Gi-hun portrayed by Lee Jung-jae, who completely embodies the role. He is player number 456. Each player is assigned a number, which is featured on the green track suit they are given to wear, all other possession are taken from participants upon their arrival. Seong is a divorced father. He has recently learned that his ex-wife, and her new husband, are planning to move to America. Seong can barely scrape together the money to ride the subway, let alone purchase an airplane ticket to California to visit his daughter (Cho Ah-in).
Complicating matters further, he owes gangsters a tremendous amount of money, which he has primarily squandered on horse racing. If all that weren’t enough to motivate him to participate in the games, his mother is sick and needs an operation.
Seong is surprised to find that his friend from childhood, Cho Sang-woo (Park Hae-soo) is also a participant. Cho, Seong thought, was a successful business man, who had been on the right path ever since Cho had attended Seoul National University. What Cho keeps hidden from Seong, is that he has embezzled millions of dollars, and is wanted by law enforcement.
Included, but not limited to, other characters that viewers will get to know throughout the nine episodes that comprise the first season is number 67, Kang Sae-byeok (Jung Hoyeon). She is a North Koran defector who was under the mistaken impression that everything would be wonderful once she made it to South Korea. Firstly, her mother was captured in China and deported back to North Korea. In addition, she’s distraught over her brother Kang Cheol (Si-wan Park) whom she can’t take care of, because of lack of finances. He has been placed in an orphanage. She is quiet and reserved, but demonstrates through her quick wits, that she is not a player to be messed with. Ali Abdul (Anupam Tripathi), a Pakistani immigrant, participates in the games to help his wife and son escape the utter squalor they are living in. He comes across as a good hearted person who cares about others. Additional characters featured are the duplicitous criminal Jang Deok-su (Heo-Sung-tae), and the equally opportunistic and conceited Han Mi-nyeo (Kim Joo-Ryung). The oddest contestant is player number 1, Oh Il-nam (Oh Yeong-su). He is an older man who lets Seong know that he has a brain tumor. Seong, being the good natured person that he is, forms a friendship with, and for the most part takes pity on, Oh Il-nam; helping him when he can.
While the players are competing for the prize money, there is a separate storyline taking place. A North Korean police officer, Hwang Jun-ho (Wi Ha-Joon), has managed to sneak onto the island. He is pretending to be one of the masked soldiers, as he goes about his investigation into what happened to his missing brother. Through clever maneuvering, he learns a great deal about the games, its participants, and those select few who are invited to take pleasure in watching the games for entertainment. Will he survive and be able to return to the mainland? Does he have enough evidence to take down those who are responsible for running the games?
“Squid Game” was created by Hwang Dong-hyuk a decade before it premiered. Media companies, as well as actors, in his native South Korea, who had enough pull to get the project made, passed on the work. Less than a month after it became available for streaming on Netflix, the series had garnered 111 million viewers, making it the most-watched ever Netflix original series, and validating Dong-hyuk’s perseverance. Furthermore, Hwang Dong-hyuk wrote and directed all of the episodes. The series which is parts action, drama, mystery, and thriller was released for worldwide streaming on Netflix on September 17, 2021. The show is offered in three languages: its original Korean, an English dubbed soundtrack, and Urdu. On November 9, 2021, Netflix announced that the international hit, would be receiving a second season.
The acting in the series was excellent and featured compelling characters. Even the secondary characters, however, in my opinion, helped to contribute greatly to the advancing of the narrative. The episodes featured the right amount of tension, and there were surprising twists and turns. For those of you who are squeamish, you should know that for the most part, there is not much that is merely implied, the viewer is shown the violence. This is by far one of the best series I’ve seen in recent years, and I highly recommend it. The only negative I can think of is that there weren’t more episodes, and the wait for season two will most likely be, or at least feel, like a lengthy one.