By JO EARLY
Four hundred and fifty six people from different walks of life wake up in a dormitory style room on an island in the middle of nowhere.
They have one thing in common: they’re deeply in debt. Dozens of guards in masks and pink jumpsuits enter the room and explain that they are here to play games. The winner will take home a prize worth about $40 million.
They’re ushered into a large open space with a giant doll at the other end and told they are going to play a game of “Red Light, Green Light.” A few brave players sprint out, and when the doll says, “red light,” one stumbles. That’s when the first gunshot rings out. The first game has a fatality rate of 56%.
This is the premise of “Squid Game,” a Korean series written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk that is becoming Netflix’s most watched show of all time and has hit the #1 spot in over 90 countries.
“Squid Game” stars Lee Jung-jae as Gi-Hun, a gambling addict, and Park Hae-see as Sanwoo, Gi-Hun’s childhood friend. The show also marks model Jung Hoyeon’s acting debut as Sae-byeok, a North Korean defector. Supporting cast includes Wi Ha-Joon as Jun-ho, a police officer, and a cameo from A-lister Gong Yoo (“Train to Busan,” “Goblin”).
As a fan of Korean drama, I understand the hype. It has everything I love and expect from a K-drama; striking visuals, fully developed characters with gray morals and a plot that doesn’t pull any punches.
Like Korean breakthrough “Parasite,” “Squid Game” examines the relationship between the wealthy and the poor, and the rat race of modern capitalistic society.
The show is unsettlingly relatable. Since COVID-19 cast a spotlight on the disparity between the have and the have-nots, the kind of desperation for money depicted is no longer unrealistic.
The show also benefits from fully realized characters with fleshed out backstories. Online fans have professed their love for sweet, gullible Pakistani migrant worker Ali (Anupam Tripathi), determined and intelligent Sae-byeok and the handsome, stupidly brave Jun-ho.
The show is available on Netflix, both subtitled and dubbed, though Korean-speaking fans have been speaking up about mistranslations. I recommend you see what all the buzz is about and hit play on “Squid Game.”