Well, I binged the nine episodes of Squid Game the runaway smash hit on Netflix the past few nights, and I really liked it. A lot more than Hunger Games, which the Korean Squid Games has been frequently compared to, though I’ll admit none of the Hunger Games movies were ever high up on my favorites list.
What Squid Game has going for it is an at once subtle and brutal take on human nature. People from all walks life sign up to play these games, even though this could and will for just about all of them cost these people their lives. Tens of billions of dollars is a powerful inducement even if you’re not desperately poor, as most of the contestants are. Gender, socio-economic class, age, attitude all mean little when so much is at stake, when the reward could make you an instant Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos.
[spoilers ahead …]
The lure even has appeal to an old man dying of cancer. Amazingly, a combination of his wits and the kindness of others (mainly Gi-hun, except when his own life is jaggedly on the line) get Il-nam pretty far in the game. Of course, we learn at the very end of the narrative that he is in fact the creator and director of the game, and, realizing that participation is a more satisfying experience than observing, he decides to masquerade as a player. This was an excellent twist, and in no way dilutes the lessons that we learned about the extent and limits of Gi-hun’s kindness.
Gi-hun, the lead character, himself evolves during and most profoundly after the games, when he walks away with 45 billion dollars in his account. The money restores and strengthens his kindness, and empowers him ultimately to seek to confront the evil that is the idea and the practice of the games. With any luck, we’ll see how this plays out in a second season.
Other characters I especially liked are Sang-woo (the intellect), Sae-byeck (the pickpocket), and Ali (the Pakistani immigrant). All their beliefs are put to the test, and you won’t able to predict the results, meaning the series always commands your attention. Creds to Lee Jung-jae (as Gi-hun), Oh Yeong-su (as Il-nam), Park Hae-soo (Sang-woo), Jung Hoyeon (as Sae-byeck), and Anupam Tripathi (as Ali), and indeed all the actors gave fine performances.
It’s rare for a story to have such riveting life-and-death action as well as profound lessons about human nature. Squid Game has both, and I look forward to the sequel.