“Squid Game,” written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, is the first ever Korean TV show that has reached #1 on Netflix in 90 different countries. If I were to compare it to anything it would be like “The Hunger Games” on steroids and with many more wicked twists. The gut-wrenching series has scored a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes.
“Squid Game’s unflinching brutality is not for the faint of heart, but sharp social commentary and a surprisingly tender core will keep viewers glued to the screen – even if it’s while watching between their fingers,” says Rotten Tomatoes’ critic consensus.
In Principles of Design (THEA 205) last week, we were discussing what makes a good composition when my peer Rachel Scott (’24) brought up the set design for “Squid Game.” I had never heard of the TV show at this point, but we watched the trailer and I was automatically intrigued.
The show follows Seong Gi-Hun, or number 456, who gambled all of his money away and owes a massive amount of money to loan sharks. These sharks are aggressive about getting their money back, threatening to take out his kidneys and even forcing him with a knife to his throat to sign away his body if he does not pay them back within the month. To pay off his debts, he gets the opportunity to play in a mysterious game against 455 other people who are also in massive amounts of debt.
The goal is to win all six games. All of the games are revealed to be games from the character’s childhood, such as Red Light Green Light. But, here’s the kicker: if you lose the game, you’re eliminated. In other words, you die.
On a related note, the set design of the show adds to its disturbing characteristics. The set is painted in pastels and bright colors, and there’s even a playground for the second game. Hope’s Theatre Department’s Technical Director Stephen Krebs said, “It’s a really interesting set. It kind of feels like George Orwell’s ‘1984’, meets Anime, meets a kid’s show, which is a really interesting set of concepts to mash together. I like the use of the colors because it does bring me into that. ‘1984’ was very grey, and this is like that but with pastels. This brings you into the fact that these are kids’ games, which makes it all the more disturbing because of how the show goes.”
These elements alone are enough to keep you invested until the very end of the show, but there are also supporting characters introduced along the way that grow on you such as Ali (199), Kang Sae-Byeok (067), Choo Sang-Woo (218), Oh Il-Nam (001), Ji-yeong (240), Han Mi-nyeo (212), Joon-ho, and many others. The subplots that these characters provide through their backstories give the show an elevated, top-tier storyline.
Horror movie lover, Sara Verduzco (’25) said, “The storyline was really good. They made the characters very appealing because, like the main character — you feel so bad for him, and you feel so bad for all of the other characters, you want them to win, and that sucks you in. Once they start playing the games, you’re cheering for your different characters.”
There’s also commentary about Korean society and human nature within “Squid Game.”
First, there are some references to the unrest between North and South Korea. Kang Sae-Byeok (067) defected from North Korea, taking her brother with her and leaving behind her mother. To get her mother back, she has fallen into debt, thus leading her to join the game. While there, Jang Deok-su (101) calls her a “communist spy” just because she is from North Korea, even though it is proven in her backstory that she hates her home country.
Secondly, the whole show is about how willing people are to risk their lives for the betterment of their financial situation, which shows the downfalls of our money-hungry, greed-driven world.
Verduzco said, “Just the greed for all of them to be in the games is enough. Knowing that you’re gonna see your acquaintances, even friends, die, and just being okay with it because it’s all for money — that itself is super shocking. But again, they do need to do this because their lives are going to end one way or another. It’s a tough situation, and it’s one that, in their situation, they have to be greedy because it’s life or death.”
The sad truth for the characters in this show is that being inside of the game is almost better than being out in the real world. Verduzco commented on this, saying, “All of the players that were called to the game, basically had no quality of life anymore. Every time they stepped outside of their house, the brokers and loan sharks were beating them up and telling them they owed them money. They were about to be killed — either them or their family if they didn’t pay their loan sharks money. If I was in that scenario, where I didn’t feel safe just living, I might play the game.”
This is the dilemma that the players have: Would you rather stay in the game, where you have an equal chance of winning and have absolute control over your destiny, and yet see people die every day? Or, would you rather live out in the real world with loads of debt and pray that you somehow manage to survive?
On top of these questions, “Squid Game” ultimately wants to know if humans are inherently good. Would you be able to reach the end of the six games without compromising your beliefs? Without tarnishing your heart? Will the person that wins be one of these good people? Or does the villain always win?
If you’re into thriller/drama shows that make you think a little bit harder about your surroundings, then you’ll just have to answer these questions for yourself while watching “Squid Game.”