Set in South Korea, the show follows the story of a group of hundreds, desperately in debt, who agree to participate in a series of seemingly innocent childhood games for the chance to win a large sum of money. The catch? If a player loses the game, they are killed.
The childhood games are simple, nostalgic games that the players grew up with. In an interview with the BBC, Squid Game director Hwang Dong-hyuk explained, “People are attracted by the irony that hopeless grownups risk their lives to win a kid’s game.” In other words, it is specifically this surprising juxtaposition of an innocent children’s game and the violent deaths of players that captures viewers’ attention.
Critics have also attributed the show’s success to its focus on marginalized members of society who come together through their monetary troubles. The show is a cinematic masterpiece, not only because of its thrilling soundtrack and its original setting but also because of its well thought-out and addictive screenplay. Getting emotionally attached to the characters and rooting for them through different trials makes the show that much more binge-worthy.The show is as much an emotional trigger as a criticism of Korean culture. Chang Woo, a volunteer at the Korean Cultural Center of Chicago, sees the show as a success because “[it] represents the inequality, discrimination, and so much more in South Korea now,” he told USA Today. The country’s mistreatment of migrant workers and the desperate conditions of North Korean refugees
are current themes in South Korea, and reflected in Squid Game. This social relevance has placed the show in another cycle of the Korean wave (K-wave), a surge of popularity of South Korean content characterized by the Oscar-winning film Parasite, and the music group BTS. While most watch the show for its thrilling suspense, intricate plot, or for its actors, the show is much more than a cinematic hit; it’s a call to action.