Length: 9 x episodes (32-63 minutes each)
It’s strange what hits big in the realm of TV shows. Sometimes it’s pretty obvious. Was anyone really surprised when the Marvel televisual universe became a small screen blockbuster? And it wasn’t much of a shock that The Mandalorian put a lot of bums on (couch) seats.
However, every now and then something comes along that you never could have predicted. Like Tiger King (remember when everyone went berko over that?) Ted Lasso, and now Squid Game.
But just what is Squid Game all about. Why does that one weird mate of yours keep telling you to watch it and should you even care?
Squid Game begins as the story of Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) and he’s a real piece of… work. A hopeless gambling addict who manipulates his mum for more dosh and constantly disappoints his daughter by being perpetually unreliable.
One wretched night, Seong plays a degrading “game” with a well-dressed stranger, literally getting smacked in the face for the chance to win some money. The stranger tells him there are other games he could play to win even more. Seong is, of course, intrigued.
A mysterious journey later, Seong wakes up in a room with 455 other people in a location that looks like it was decorated in a style you’d have to describe as “bubblegum MC Escher.”
There are masked guards armed with automatic weapons who let these folks know the rules: play the game or get eliminated, and if you make it through all six games? You get an eye-watering amount of money.
The only problem? Being “eliminated” is horribly literal. And permanent.
Squid Game plays out like a combination of Battle Royale (or The Running Man or The Hunger Games, depending on your cultural preferences) meets Parasite.
On the one hand it’s an exciting, extremely violent death sport yarn with an initially unlikable protagonist who you can’t help but slowly grow to feel for. On the other, it’s a subversive satire of capitalism and the way we treat those in debt.
See, everyone playing the game? In oodles of debt, so even when they’re given the option of ending the game before it’s over? Most of them return.
It’s heady stuff, with some genuinely superb characters and performances. Cho Sang Woo (Park Hae-soo) is a fascinating bloke, who has managed to burn his life down despite his obvious intelligence and natural gifts.
Then there’s Kang Sae-byeok (Jung Ho-yeon), a North Korean defector who wants to play the game to help her family. Oh, and let’s not forget Oh Il-nam (Oh Yeong-su) an elderly gent with a brain tumour who’d rather go out fighting than fade away.
It’s a fascinating mix of personalities and motivations, made all the more poignant when you have outrageously gory sequences where literally hundreds of people get blown the hell away!
This is, it shouldn’t need to be said, very much not going to be for everyone.
And yet, it’s doing big business for Netflix right now. In fact, it’s in the top ten most watched shows on Aussie Netty. Why is this so?
Put simply, Squid Game is a striking (albeit not always super original) riff on the familiar death sports formula with a solid script and excellent performances. Plus, it features murderous variants of childhood playground games, which is certainly an attention-grabber.
It does from time to time feel a little protracted (seven episodes would have served it better than nine), but if you’re looking for a surprising, gory, twist-filled experience, it’s absolutely the best game in town.
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