Recently, I watched some YouTube and Instagram videos about the show Squid Game, which is currently breaking Netflix records. This show highlights many traditional Korean games such as Dalgona. Dalgona, a very sweet snack consisting mainly of sugar and baking powder, is produced in this show. The song 무궁화꽃이 피었습니다, which is well-known in Korea, is used as background music. There are no limits to creativity. But why has an old-fashioned snack that was offered on the streets of Korea between the 70s and 80s suddenly become world-famous?
My research leads me to #squidgame. The show is named after the children’s game squid game 오징어 Ojingeo that my parents often played in their childhood. Initially, I didn’t want to watch the show because my friend told me that it was violent and cruel. But when our professor brought up Squid Game during a lecture to explain that this show was a masterpiece in which some aspects of Korean culture were portrayed very well, it was clear to me that I should watch it. A few days later, I watched all nine episodes in a single day.
A new survival genre with the Squid Game, in which 456 people with little money compete to the death in a series of children’s games for a chance to win a handsome cash prize.Hwang Dong-hyuk, writer/director Squid Game (Newsweek 09.10.21)
The main character of this drama is an unemployed, divorced man with gambling debts. He is pursued by his creditor and threatened with giving his organs to cover what he owes. To pay off his debts, he accepts a mysterious invitation to enter a competition of children’s games. But as is so often the case with games, there is only one winner in the end. Or as in the show Squid Game: you are killed, or you survive…
Some of the games played in Squid Game are those that children played on the streets of Korea 40 years ago. I can imagine that many people will have memories of their own childhood when they watch this. In the show, however, the games are portrayed in a very brutal and emotional way. The contestants want to win the prize money at any cost so that they can be happy.
For me, the story of Squid Game is grotesque because of the many similarities to real life. We earn money to live, but sometimes we feel we live only to earn money…
Titel illustration courtesy of our Schauplatz Korea Magazine writer and artist, Yeim Choi.