Squid Game: First Impressions

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Art by @KeouChuu on Twitter

In a world where money doesn’t just buy you comfort, but is detrimental to your livelihood and how you’re brought into the world, financial ruin is a destination that can lead to horrible conditions and heartbreaking situations. 

Money can’t buy happiness, and while it is true in some cases it’s also no lie that money is the biggest contributor to comfortable living in this society, and we all work hard or even as hard as we can to ensure a safe life for us and our loved ones.

This is our main focus for today’s ‘First Impression’ post, as we will be going over the new Korean Drama: Squid Game or in the original Ojing-eo Geim. If you’re interested in more first impressions, you can look at our Jujutsu Kaisen, Tokyo Revengers and Vanitas no Carte post that we made so far!

In our ‘First Impression’ posts, we look at the premise and first episodes of anime and in this case a Korean Drama to see what really lies behind the series. This will mean major spoilers for the entire first episode of Squid Game, so if you wish to have a fully blind experience make sure to watch the first episode first and then come back! 

If you’re okay with a little spoiling before deciding if the series is right for you, let’s continue on together!

As a child, Gi-hun used to play a game with his friends called the squid game, in which if you persevered through the end you would feel like the king of the world, but if you lost you would be left dead.

You heard it right, dead.

Of course as children it was merely a funny joke and no one was harmed supposedly, but many years later as Gi-hun is an adult the game becomes much more lethal suddenly.

With a dark premise that is all about innocent childrens games but a grimy and dark look from the start, the series starts off realistic with that finish of imagery that is pretty similar to our world right now as well.

But before we go further in the plot, let us first check out more about the production of the series.

The Netflix series with the genre tags of drama, action-adventure and survival has sparked a huge fanbase very quickly especially through social media and trends on the platform TikTok it has grabbed onto many viewers internationally and was the first ever Korean Drama to make the Netflix US’ number one spot in their top ten.

It was published on September 17th in 2021 after two years of production overseen by Siren Pictures Inc. and distributed as a Netflix original as an exclusive series. 

The first season consists of nine episodes so far, with no announcement on any sequel coming out, but Netflix has been known to wait and see for the popularity of a series before continuing it, and since it has topped the charts a season two may not be confirmed but is not impossible.

Written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, who has had experiences writing and directing popular works such as “My Father” and “The Crucible (Silenced)” which both had very dark themes and seem to be a signature motive in Hwang’s directing.

The realism and crushing messages that are delivered in his dramas are not far from his newest series ‘Squid Game’ to which he stated himself that “I wanted to write a story that was an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society, something that depicts an extreme competition, somewhat like the extreme competition of life. But I wanted it to use the kind of characters we’ve all met in real life.” 

Since he wrote the series all alone until he asked some friends for further ideas on how to continue the story, we will look at the cast who will represent these relatable characters.

The main protagonist Seong Gi-hun who we see from the first seconds of the episode is played by Lee Jung-Jae who one might know from “Oh! Brothers” (2003)” or the high grossing heist movie “The Thieves” (2012), whith many won awards and interesting roles in all sorts of movies he now steps into the role of a deadbeat dad.

Other interesting choices for the surrounding cast are Park Hae-Soo who plays the cunning Cho Sang-Woo and the female model that debuted as an actress Hoyeon Jung who plays Kang Sae-byeok also known as No.67. 

Even the music was made by none other than Jung Jae-il, who’s name might not immediately ring a bell but is known to be the composer of the soundtrack for amazing movies such as Okja and Parasites, both having won multiple awards. 

Now that we know more, we can start to let the plot unravel itself. 

The Plot:

Gi-Hun is more than just a little short for money, since we see him for the first time as an adult living off of the money his elderly mother makes. 

He gets mad at her for working so hard yet seemingly doesn’t contribute much to buy groceries and provides just a little money with his job as a driver. As he remembers darkly, his young daughter’s birthday was today, so he begs his mom for a little more money to take her to eat some nice food and buy her a present. 

As she reluctantly does so, she walks out of the house and when she does Gi-hun steals her bankcard and runs away to try and steal money from her. 

As sad as it sounds, Gi-hun has a serious gambling addiction as he somehow even after losing the first time has luck and makes some serious cash. 

Totally ecstatic, he tips the young girl working at the counter and runs out into the world, happy to have won the money. He even calls his daughter telling her he’ll buy her a very expensive meal. 

Soon enough, some loan sharks spot him and run after him to presumably get their money back. 

After cornering him and trying to take his freshly earned money, he realises that it’s gone and with that he gets beaten up by the one in charge of all of the loans he’s taken on so far. With debts he can’t pay, he’s forced to sign some sort of paper with his fingerprint and gets left alone. 

He then realises he has no money left to buy something for his daughter, and tries to play with a stuffed toy at an arcade, which only fuels his money loss. 

His mother had told him beforehand that his daughter merely wanted some fried chicken, but even for that there was no money left. 

As he picks up his daughter from school, they can only eat some tteokbokki, to which his daughter said it’s fine since she’s already eaten a nice steak with her stepfather. Even the present Gi-hun got from the arcade was a pistol shaped lighter, another disappointment for his daughter. 

He promises that the next time her birthday comes around, he will get her an actual present and pinky promises her this time. 

Dejected as he brings her back to her mother who only cusses him out, and frustrated when he misses the subway home he plops down on a bench to let the day loom over him. 

Things change when a nice businessman sits down next to him and suddenly gives him the opportunity to bet on a game called ddakji, in which he will win 100.000 won if he succeeds, and gets slapped in the face if he loses the round. After multiple failures he makes some money and gets a card from the gentlemen who tells him there are other games like these where he can make even more money. 

Gi-hun brings the earned money to his mother who accuses him of gambling again and promptly informs him that his daughter and her new family are moving to the US. 

Struck by the realisation that he won’t have another birthday with his daughter in which he can redeem himself if he doesn’t sort out his financial situation and fight for custody, he calls the number on the business card he was given to play more games and get his life back. 

Shockingly enough, he gets picked up by a weird guy in a pink overall and put to sleep in the car. When he wakes up he is in a warehouse with 455 other people all dressed in the same green overalls ready to play the games. 

All the other players are in just as much debt or even more as him, and they all are on the brink of financial ruin, all playing to get the announced prize money. 

All seems well until the first game rolls around, a seemingly innocent game of “Red light, green light” which spirals out of control completely as every person who moves is not just “eliminated” but actually shot and killed on the spot. 

And so the bloody games begin. 

Expectations vs. Reality:

In looking at the first episode and giving you my first impressions I hope to shed some light onto this new series so you can decide for yourself if you want to watch it or not!

Squid game was introduced to me via videos and trends on TikTok, showing just how much influence social media can have in terms of advertising. 

From what I could see from the start, we’re very mysterious and dark vibes with the stark contrast of the neon colours of the overalls all of the staff and players were donning. Even the scenery of the games was curiously childlike themed although the story is very much the opposite. 

With a general premise of a battle royal type of gameplay and very interesting and three dimensional characters with relatable flaws, I was pleasantly surprised by the realism that was playing into the series. 

With Squid game, I expected something along the lines of sci-fi, and while there are elements of a future reality it is still the dark realism of a capitalist world and the struggle of staying afloat financially that sets the tone. 

Another positive point is the genre of survival and action-adventure is no false promise, the events of the games and the characters leave you at the edge of your seat with iconic characters such as No.1 who is an old grandpa with not much more time to live. 

The fear the viewer feels for the character with bloody violence scenes and hopeless and anxious characters that seem to have nothing left to lose is a refreshing and new rendition of older dystopian works such as “The Hunger Games” or other anime like “Danganronpa”.

If you are a fan of a lot of mystery and suspense building paired with children’s games that have more to them than first meets the eye, then you will surely enjoy Squid Game as it mixes different in testing aspects such as realistic characters with mysterious games that is an enjoyable watch! 

Already watched the first episodes? I would love to know what you think of the series and what you expected and how your experience was! Share it in the comments below if you so desire! 

Until then, make sure not to move too much! 

Green Light! (Run!)

-Nissa

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