Squid Game

Back on September 20, I wrote on the Doctor Who Show’s Twitter account:

Netflix just recommended Squid Game to me. Bloody hell, that trailer. Like the Hunger Games meets THX-1138 or something.

September was proving to be a busy month for me – as you can probably see from only one post here for the entire month – and a couple of weeks went by where every time I was near the TV I would think, “I need to watch that Squid Game…” before a turning point came, thanks to pop culture.

As often happens with some of the best Netflix shows, there was zero buzz (that I detected at least), around Squid Game that first week I tweeted about it. By the second week, there was the beginning of some buzz, and by the third week EVERYONE was talking about the show. “This is ridiculous,” I said to myself, “I was onboard with this show the day it came out and even tweeting about it, and here we are and I still haven’t watched it. I’m going to get spoiled sooner or later. Watch the bloody thing!”

So I watched the bloody thing. And yeah. Squid Game is a very good series.

That said, it’s not a series for people who can’t stand a little gore (OK, make that a lot of gore; I’d seen literally dozens of ‘head shots’ by the end of the first episode), but the series has a lot more going for it than just ultra-violent games being played by desperate people trying to win money. There’s the mystery of where the games are being held, and for who. There’s a cast of characters who, aside from all needing money, are quite diverse in their backgrounds and outlooks. Not being a regular viewer of Korean television or film, a character like Kang Sae-byeok (Player 67), who is a North Korean defector, is a very different and interesting character to me. I was intrigued by how the South Korean characters on the show related to her. The nature of interpersonal relationships also looms large. Characters initially begin wanting to help one another (even though they’re all effectively competing with one another), but things eventually go a bit Lord of the Flies. That’s always fascinating to watch.

There’s been some debate over whether to go the subtitles route or the English dub and, like anime, I prefer to hear the dialogue in my own language so I can be fully watching the action, rather than reading the screen and missing things. I seem to talk about this every time I review anime and, besides, English dubs can be a lot of fun. Part of my love for Elite (also on Netflix), actually stems from its English dub and how it adds another level that might not even be there in the original series.

I’m really enjoying watching foreign television in general through Netflix. Although a television station like Australia’s SBS has shown foreign films and television since I was a boy back in the 1980s and it’s not a new concept to me in the slightest, I’ve had a real resurgence with it, of late. You might recall me watching Dark, for example. As TV has grown-up all over the world in the past decade and I think has surpassed cinema in many ways when it comes to telling more complex and/or character-driven stories than film, being able to sample so much of it – in a dubbed format – is a lot of fun.

Is it a perfect series? No it’s not. Some episodes felt a little over-long and a bit slow, even though they don’t have to meet any sort of set time limit. One episode is barely over 30 minutes, for example, while others are closer to an hour. Elsewhere, there are storylines that seem important when they first arise and you get invested in them, but they ultimately go down a dead-end street and don’t end up being important – relatively speaking – at all. There’s also one particular storyline I’m thinking of that “could be” resolved, but as we didn’t see a definitive conclusion to it, might not be. And then there’s a very rushed final 10-15 minutes in the last episode that features a time jump, a big reveal, a big change of character for one of our favourites, then another flip-flop from that same character. It’s like it wants to wrap up a few things and present what’s either a very strange ending or the set-up for a second series. And I believe with the success of the series that’s more of less where they’ll be going with it.

All told, however, I really liked this. The visuals are great. The story is intriguing. The dub is fun. When loads and loads of people are telling you to watch something, and the stats suggest that 111 million people watched it during its first month, you can safely assume there’s something to it. For real.

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