Squid Game Review


(Image from Netflix)

Zach Kwon

Squid Game, a South Korean survival drama series written and directed by Hwong Dong-hyuk, explores morality and financial struggles through an intense medium. 


Squid Game was released on Sept. 17, 2021 exclusively on Netflix, where it was greeted with critical acclaim both in Korea and overseas. It became Netflix’s all-time most watched series within four weeks of its release, amassing 1.65 billion viewing hours and becoming the most watched series in 94 countries. Although a Korean-language show, Netflix provides dubs and closed-captions in a variety of languages, including English.


Set in South Korea, Squid Game follows Seong Gi-hun, a divorced gambling addict who lives on the brink of poverty with his elderly mother. Due to his financial instability, he is later invited by a mysterious salesman to compete in a series of six children’s games for an opportunity to win 45.6 billion won (~$38,900,000 USD) with 456 other players in similar situations. The games are run in an unknown location overseen by an unnamed figure only referred to as “The Front Man.” The players soon learn that losing a game results in their execution, with each death adding 100 million won (~$85,250 USD) to the prize pool. The show follows Gi-hun’s struggle to survive, joined by white collar criminal and childhood friend Cho Sang-woo, and pickpocket Kang Sae-byeok.


While the concept of “death games” is not particularly new, the unique characters and filming choices make Squid Game a new and fresh take on the genre. For example, Squid Game boasts a broad cast of other characters, all of whom fit outside generic character archetypes, and all of whom are extremely nuanced in their personalities, which puts many of its characters in a morally gray area. The main characters are given nuanced backstories, which add enough depth to make viewers question whether they should like them.


What makes a character in media good is not whether or not the audience likes them, but rather, if the audience feels emotion for them. Squid Game effectively does this. The series makes terrible fathers charismatic through dialogue and flashbacks, while turning watchers against malicious surgeons and priests. Squid Game pulls at the viewers’ heartstrings as they see an elderly man’s dementia worsen, a gangster kill a starving man over food, and a migrant worker whose wages are unrightfully withheld.


Two minor gripes about Squid Game are the result of inevitable culture clashes. Although it is extremely difficult to find English-speaking actors in non-English-speaking countries, much less good ones, the few in Squid Game had subpar acting, generally sounding artificial in their lines. Squid Game’s English dub has the same case: although discrepancies between an actor’s lips and their dub is inevitable, some English voice actors’ voices were completely unlike the Korean voices, and their lines and delivery were unnatural.

Squid Game’s characterization is one of the best in modern media, although slightly bogged down by English/Korean differences. But through its characterization and transformation of a generic premise, along with its record-breaking viewing numbers, Squid Game is most definitely one of the greatest shows of 2021.