Squid Game: A Bleak And Strange Masterpiece
Squid Game Heralds A Growing Change To Media
Squid Game would’ve never gotten this popular in the States in any other recent decades. Its combination of a once-strange premise, odd name, and being only available either subtitled or live-action dubbed, wouldn’t have given it much of a chance for non-Korean speaking audiences. But, in a victory for good art, good storytelling, and the increasingly multicultural entertainment industry, we’ve seen this show jump to stunning heights. Squid Game is hugely popular and for good reason.
And, to explore why, let’s start with the utter powder keg of factors I just alluded to that seem likely to be contributing to its monumental rise. The first is simply the premise. American audiences—and that is the perspective I’m necessarily working from—haven’t had a strong death game story since Hunger Games. It’s a niche subgenre I’d argue is underfed by the usual networks. It’s not my place to figure why exactly but seeing creative games resulting in human death fascinates people.
This Is A Premise Not Yet Worn Out For Audiences
The second reason is that audiences are much more comfortable with subtitles than they were before. Anime being available for Americans is way more common than it was decades prior. It takes work to adapt to viewing and reading simultaneously, and similarly, dubs can have their difficulties. Audiences less adept/comfortable with it might not have had the patience for Squid Game.
And, finally, the big contributing factor: the social commentary. Squid Game is about money. It’s about poverty and debt and desperation. There’s no way to see it as anything else. It’s a politically charged story dealing with a common and visible circumstance in the real world.
And it’s with that I can really talk about the show itself, and not just a small slice of its conceptual appeal. Let’s start with the writing. This show wouldn’t be as popular as it is without the stunningly sharp writing underpinning it. Squid Game hits you and doesn’t stop. Episode two is so brutally hard to watch, so upsetting, that I couldn’t help but compare it to The Handmaid’s Tale in terms of emotionally affecting scenes. The effects of debt are somehow made more impactful than the death of literally hundreds of on-screen characters. Dehumanization is highlighted in the Squid Game, and outside the Squid Game, and though I won’t spoil it, some of its twists only put that in sharper relief. The actual events of the story sometimes take a back seat to the meaning of any scene. Its creators understand their messaging and their conveyance and weaponize it.
Squid Game Is Not Very Subtle Or Messing Around
But this wouldn’t have been possible without the amazing cast. Now, I watched the first three episodes subbed, and I don’t speak Korean, so I cannot effectively judge the skill of their vocal delivery. But I can see facial expressions, and I can “read” physical acting, and both were fantastic. Yes, some characters are tropes—it’s necessary with a cast this big—but many characters that do get focus are given such humanity, pathos, and variety. They’re in this death game for many reasons and most are sympathetic. Our main character, Seong Gi-hun (played by Lee Jung-jae), embodies a strong balancing act of making poor choices motivated by his awful situation—and a gambling addiction—and trying his best to just take care of people around him. His scenes with his “daughter” are distressing because of both cast members’ stellar performances and getting across subtle, repressed sadness. Seong Gi-hun makes his character likable, goofy, charming, and tragic.
Seong Gi-hun Is Doing So Much Good Work Here
And he’s by no means alone in doing great work. Kang Sae-byeok (played by Jung Ho-yeon) presents this tough pickpocket persona while having a heartbreaking scene with her character’s younger brother. Abdul Ali (played by Anupam Tripathi) gets across this cinnamon roll of a character who’s likable instantly. I’ve not seen the whole show yet, but I hope he survives.
And then there are the sets, the game space itself. These impractical, insane, highly stylized locations are a real draw. The strange staircase, the robot girl, the massive playground for the honeycomb game: it’s all striking and memorable. The show already has a million reasons to stick in someone’s head, but the otherworldly visuals only ensure it.
Squid Game Looks Uniquely Itself In Many Ways
Laying out its merits like this, I can only think of one reason someone wouldn’t enjoy Squid Game: the darkness. The dire tone fits its themes. It fits the style. It’s the point of the show, but for some, the sheer level of violence will be too much. People die a lot in Squid Game. They die horribly, with little warning, and it’s treated sometimes so casually it’s upsetting on another layer. And that’s only the stuff inside the game. I’ve already mentioned how bleak the depiction of poverty is, but I need to emphasize it may be too intense for a curious would-be viewer. Squid Game isn’t cheerful, it has too much to say on too dark a topic to pull some of its punches. It’s packed with gut-wrenching narrative implications and symbolism.
But, for those who can handle people being shot in the head, beaten badly, and creeping realistic financial terror, this show’s a masterpiece. It’s a game-changer. Ideas are sharpened down to a surprising, tense, and engaging story. Squid Game is popular for good, great, grand reasons. If you needed another excuse to watch it, you have it now. Watch it subbed, watch it dubbed, it doesn’t matter, just go watch Squid Game.
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