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Squid Game Season 1 Review (오징어 게임)

Put it on your watchlist. It's good.


Squid Game is another enthralling Netflix series to come out of Korea, following Sweet Home earlier in 2021. Where Sweet Home exploded onto the scene with a daring impression, it failed to sustain the momentum and fell short in a credible narrative, quirky CGI and outlandish characters who were quite difficult to connect with.

Unfazed by Sweet Home’s defying visual cues to stand out from the rest, Squid Game takes a different approach, relying on the fear of reality and to what means people are ready to take in a ‘game’ like no other. It preys on human intuition, plays an intelligent strategy and manages to pull off an exhilarating, heart-invoking thriller when each and every one of their lives are at stake. This review is spoiler-free!

YEAR 2021

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Let’s play a squid game

On the surface, Squid Game offers a requiem to participants – a chance to forever change their debt-ridden lives which permanently leave them at the bottom of society. And what exactly is that change you say? Simple! An incredible outrageous stash of cash. Each are voluntarily invited to ‘play’ the game of their own volition, lured by a Korean game called ‘딱지’ (Ddakji). It’s non-other than Train to Busan (부산행) and Goblin (쓸쓸하고 찬란하神 – 도깨비) Korean actor Gong-Yoo as the ever alluring salesman to hook vulnerable people into playing and the promise to win far more.

It’s as much a psychological warfare as it is a physical one, and Squid Game plays this intelligently. Think Hunger games, magnified by players and games that pit human behaviours and instincts for survival. A dog eat dog kind of game, played through various Korean childhood games, many who are fond of as a child. These adults are forced to play through each of the six games to get one step closer, one hand firmer, and be the last one standing for the ultimate prize money.

The games cause many trials and tribulations among the diminishing player list – democracy and politics, herd tendencies, discrimination of sorts, stereotypes, betrayal, selfishness and deceit, all cleverly woven into each game and in between. There’s no sleeping here.

Survival of the fittest

Sweet Home felt at odds with the extreme personas locked down in a building, but Squid Game presents a more plausible environment to bring individuals of all backgrounds together: gangsters on the run, indebted individuals to aggressive loan sharks, exploited at work, financial fraud and more. The one goal that brings them all together is the chance to win the huge jackpot and say goodbye to that old life.

The catch? The prize money goes up the more players are ‘eliminated’ from the game. And if you haven’t already caught on, eliminated means killed. Ouch.

It’s not the most original, but it’s definitely creative in tying various thoughts on equality, discrimination, fairness and a motive that manipulates players into believing the game is giving a second chance at life. Just at a great sacrifice and cost of lives to achieve. For these players, that motivation is a very real solution to an otherwise bleak, dark reality outside of the game. There’s really no going back for nearly all of them, psychologically forced to play through the game as a result.

You’ll eat your bets in what is a bumpy ride for all the players, flip-flopping as numbers dwindle and unfavorable tasks that lead each to take drastic measures. The main casts offer a more sombre, muted display, one that feels more natural and real instead of dramatic, exaggerated or hysterical personas. That’s a good thing, and is what really hinges the series together – the fact these are real people facing real dangers. It offers plenty of emotional connection points, really rooting for them to survive. But by Korean standards, the writers aren’t afraid to make bold story decisions which will have you wailing.

Thought-provoking thriller

The games at the very core aren’t hard. They are, after all, kids games. But naturally twists and turns, here and there amp up the stakes in difficulty, time and zero margin for error. If the first half of the season sets the rules, and highlights what’s truly at stake, the second half of the season is where things insanely heat up.

It manages to stay creative when you think you’ve figured out the pattern, throws spanners into the works to make every decision unpredictable, every action in doubt and most of all, distrust in the players they’re playing with. I’m sure everyone’s heard of the phrase ‘don’t hate the player, hate the game‘, right?

Well, sometimes it’s easier to lay blame on the rules of the game than take responsibility for the actions we take. That’s true in Squid’s Game. A cruel game that puts morals at a crossroads, and the consequences faced in extreme situations.

Are there shocking revelations that make you go ‘woah‘? Yes.

Are there moments that will make your heart-sob and tug on those strings? Most definitely.

Are there any quirky or awkward scenes that feel out of place? A few.

It’s a stellar game of last person standing but does fall a little sideways in the wider narrative at play, the unravelling of the Squid Game and probably the most controversial, the ending. Again, I won’t spoil anything but hear me out.

Clunky but one to watch

The glaring threads left to be tied only reinforces the idea Squid Game is meant to go beyond season 1, leaving several open-ended narratives at play, and opening many possibilities how they want to continue the story into season two. The ending will leave many scratching their heads, not necessarily at the logic or transparent conclusion, but in the way it handles the aftermath and failure to tie-in with beginning scenes: the very motivations that drove Gi-hun (the main protagonist) to join in the first place. Episode 9, the last episode of the season felt tedious at times, dragging on longer than needed. Again, the wider narrative lacked the kind of attention and detail to the earlier episodes with gaping holes if you look hard enough.

There are a few comfort closures that play nicely -more than I could have envisaged – an understanding on how Squid Game can leave one filled with guilt, regret and a deep sadness in one’s heart. It’s a little clunky around the edges but rounds-off to be an enjoyable, refreshing burst of thriller over the 9 episodes that’s still one of the best to watch of 2021. Stay tuned for my in-depth spoiler opinions on Squid Game with plenty to unpack and unravel.

It's a little clunky around the edges but rounds-off to be an enjoyable, refreshing burst of thriller over the 9 episodes that's still one of the best to watch of 2021.
excellent intensity and tension throughout
builds real connect with characters
creative storylines with thought-provoking messages
humane characters feel more relatable and plausible
emotional scenes that run deep
Lacks wider narrative attention
awkward dialogue at times
less than savoury finale to season one
One Tech Traveller
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Final Score