Squid Game is fast becoming Netflix’s most popular show. Here’s what you need to know
Released only two weeks ago, the South Korean series Squid Game has already taken the world by storm.
It reached number one on Netflix in 90 amazing countries, including Australia.
Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos told a conference in Los Angeles this week that the show will “definitely” be the biggest non-English language show on the streaming platform in the world.
“It’s only been out for nine days, and there’s a good chance it will be our biggest show ever,” he added.
So what is Squid Game?
And will it be your gateway drug to other South Korean dramas?
This article contains some spoilers.
What is the squid game?
This is a nine-episode series about people in debt taking part in a high-stakes survival game on a remote island in the hopes of winning a huge cash prize.
The protagonist of Squid Game is Seong Gi-hun, played by Lee Jung-Jae, a struggling driver who robs her mother to finance a gambling addiction and can’t afford a birthday present for her daughter.
The “game” begins with 456 contestants, and all but one are “eliminated” – in other words, brutally murdered – through six deceptively simple children’s games.
This person could win 45.6 billion won, or more than $ 53 million.
Squid Game has been compared to everything from the Japanese gore thriller Battle Royale to the Hunger Games series and fellow Netflix Alice in Borderland.
Much like director Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 hit black comedy Parasite, the Squid Game series also features social commentary on contemporary South Korea.
“I wanted to write a story that was either an allegory or a fable about modern capitalist society. Something that portrays extreme competition, much like the extreme competition of life,” director Hwang Dong-hyuk told Variety.
“As a survival game, it’s entertainment and human drama.
“The games described are extremely simple and easy to understand.”
What is K-drama?
K-drama refers to a loose genre of Korean-language programming made in South Korea.
Romance is often a common thread in many K-Dramas, which typically have high production value and costume investments, according to Nam Jayasinghe, Melbourne-based editor of The K-Drama Roo blog.
Since the 1990s, the South Korean government has invested heavily in the export of its popular culture – from K-dramas and K-pop, to food and fashion.
Was it successful?
Well, one indication is that Korean boy band BTS has just performed at the United Nations.
BTS has repeatedly topped the charts not only in Asia, but also in the US, UK, and Australia.
So while the huge success of Squid Game seems to come out of nowhere, its popularity builds on a huge existing transnational fan base for all things Korean.
Why has Squid Game become so popular?
Critics loved Squid Game as much as the audience.
He has a perfect 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Jo Elfving-Hwang, director of the Korea Research Center of Western Australia, said Squid Game cleverly combines elements of K-drama and Korean film.
The theme of being crippled by debt would be “endlessly recognizable to a large number of Korean audiences. [and] I think this is recognizable by other people, ”said Dr Elfving-Hwang.
Other shows that are not in English, such as Lupine in France and the Spanish series Money Heist, have also captivated viewers internationally.
Some say that as Hollywood produces endless superhero remakes and movies, people are looking for new and different content.
“We want creative, original stories and we don’t find them in big franchise productions,” Cynthia Wang, a pop culture writer, told ABC Radio.
“We are looking for streamers like Netflix to provide that to us and Netflix, in turn, finds this stuff on local production around the world.”
Ms Jayasinghe got into K-drama in 2016 when she ran out of things to watch on Netflix and started watching a show called Beating Again.
She said at the time that it was difficult to find other K-Dramas in Australia, but the amount of Korean content on Netflix had since exploded.
Are we all going to be K-drama fans?
Netflix, which hosts a huge library of K-drama content, is certainly aiding Korea’s push for soft power.
The company said in early 2021 that it would spend $ 500 million ($ 695 million) on Korean content this year.
A Netflix spokesperson told the ABC there was “a lot more to come from Korea.”
“It’s one of our biggest content markets,” they said.
Another huge hit outside of Korea was Crash Landing on You, a series about a South Korean woman who gets stuck in North Korea and falls in love with an army officer.
But most popular K-Dramas are vastly different from Squid Game.
They are often a “pure escape” with a predictable story arc, where all ends well, said Dr. Elfving-Hwang.
A lack of sexual or otherwise explicit content is often explained as the reason K-drama attracts a socially conservative audience in Asia and Latin America, where they are already large corporations.
Ms. Jayasinghe believes, however, that Squid Game’s terrifying sets, costumes and music will stimulate interest in Korean content for other audiences.
“It scares you so much, you will remember these games for a long time,” she said.
After that ?
The ending of Squid Game clearly sets things up for a second season, and there’s a lot of talk about a follow-up.
But given that Hwang Dong-hyuk started writing Squid Game in 2008, it might be some time before the second season is released.
“I don’t have well-developed plans for Squid Game 2,” he said in his interview with Variety.
“If I had to do this, I certainly wouldn’t do it alone. I would consider using a writers’ room and I would like several experienced directors.”
Before that, we might just have to enjoy the abundance of other Korean TVs and movies on offer.