28 September 2021

K Drama Review: Squid Game (2021) 4.6 || 4.5

A lot of people were raving about Squid Game so I decided to read up on it. I was initially hesitant to watch it because it felt similar to The School Nurse Files, which we dropped because it was too eerie for me. But because almost everyone kept saying it was good, we decided to give it a try. And we were hooked right away. The short episodes (mostly less than an hour) and series (9 episodes in all) helped make it more watchable. And I guess I can tolerate gore and violence more than ghosts and supernatural stuff. 


Squid Game is about the story of several people who are deep in debt. Loan sharks and creditors are running after them and some of them even signed waivers to sell their organs to pay off their debts. Desperate to get out of their different predicaments, 456 people agree to join a secret game. They will be playing six children's games and at stake is 45.6 billion won. Little did they know, however, that the losers will be eliminated literally, i.e., they will be killed. And only the winner/s will be able to walk away alive. 


The show started out in a very gripping manner. You're bound to get hooked right away because of the unorthodox way the games were played. 

I loved how the show just gave us sufficient background on the male lead, Seong Gi Hun (Lee Jung Jae), without boring us with too many unnecessary details. It was enough to show us how he desperately lived in poverty to drive home the point that when the poor have their backs against the wall, they would do whatever it takes to tide them over. Even if it means they could die. And they'd be willing to do it all over again, even if they're already aware that they could really be killed. 

I also liked the show's very realistic portrayal of poverty. A lot of K dramas usually gloss over that issue where we see supposedly "poor" people still living in decent houses and being able to afford luxuries. This one was as close to reality as it gets. The depiction of poverty and the desperation that came with it actually reminded me of Parasite

In general, this show is not for the faint-hearted. It can get extremely gory and violent. Yet, I enjoyed the contrasting way the show presented its story - playing relaxing classics like Fly Me to the Moon and The Blue Danube and using very bright, colorful, and cheerful game areas while everyone is participating in highly stressful competitions in life or death situations. 

The great thing about this show is how good the actors are, regardless of how I felt about the characters they portrayed. Well, except maybe Anupam Tripathi of Hospital Playlist, who played the role of Ali, a Pakistani illegal immigrant. His acting felt stiff and unnatural at times. And given how he had quite a bit of an extended role, I felt we deserved better. 

Lee Jung Jae was perfect as Seong Gi Hun. I could feel all of the emotions he tried to pass on to me through the TV screen - his desperation to better provide for his family, his positivity despite the mess he was in, his encouraging spirit that lifted up the people around him, his willingness to help others, and his anger and frustration at how the people behind the games were playing with everyone as if they were animals competing with each other. It was our first time to watch him but we were thoroughly impressed. 

Gi Hun took my emotions into a roller coaster ride. I was rooting for him because I knew he wanted to have a better life for his mother (Kim Young Ok of Love Alarm, Ms. Hammurabi, Reply 1988, and Coffee Prince). But when he cheated the old man, Il Nam (Oh Yeong Su), during the marble game, I began to doubt him. But when I found out Il Nam was actually the man behind the games, I began to root for him again. And I loved how he didn't allow himself to go crazy over the money that he won. It was great that he shared them with the families of the two other people he beat. 

This is our third time watching Park Hae Soo after Prison Playbook and Persona. It was quite shocking to see him in a more aggressive role compared to his silent and passive character in Prison Playbook. 

As Gi Hun's childhood friend, I was initially rooting for Sang Woo. It didn't help that Gi Hun would always brag about how he was the neighborhood's whiz kid who graduated on top of his SNU class. However, the fact that he was being chased by the police for fraud and embezzlement should have been a red flag that this person could not be trusted. And that was revealed gradually throughout the show - he didn't share the honeycomb game tip to Gi Hun, he stole Ali's marbles, he pushed the guy in front of him during the tempered glass game, and finally, he killed Sae Byeok (Jung Ho Yeon) the night before the final game. He wanted to win at all costs. And that made him probably one of the most deplorable characters in the show. 

While I ended up hating Sang Woo and I doubted Gi Hun, I was always sure that I was rooting for Sae Byeok. She was very spunky and she was such a survivor. As a North Korean defector, I knew she's been through a lot. And I loved how she kept on fighting til the end. 

I especially loved how she threatened to push Jang Deok Su (Heo Sung Tae of Reply 1994) during the Red Light, Green Light game. She looked so badass. 

And I loved how even if she lived through difficult times, she was actually a kind-hearted person deep inside. She did not want her marble game partner Ji Yeong (Lee Yoo Mi of Ms. Hammurabi) to lose on purpose to give way to her. And how she stopped Gi Hun from killing Sang Woo, telling him that he was not that kind of person. 

It was just heartbreaking that she had to exit the game that way. I wished she had at least a fighting chance to get out. And it was very painful to hear her ask Gi Hun to take care of her brother in case she does not make it. 

I am now a certified Ho Yeon Jung fan. What's even more fantastic is that this appears to be her first show/movie ever since she's actually a model. Such a talented pretty girl!

It was also nice to see cameos from Gong Yoo (Seobok, Train to Busan, and Coffee Prince) as a recruiter for game participants and Lee Byung Hun (The Man Standing Next) as the game's front man. 

One reason why I enjoyed watching the show was because of the exciting and thrilling games. I could have done away with the stories in between but I was definitely hooked when it was game time. My favorite would probably be the tug of war one. It was so nerve-racking. And I loved Il Nam's tips on how to play it effectively. 

I was curious about the police angle. But I ended up disappointed because for all the trouble Jun Ho (Wi Ha Joon of Something in the Rain) went through, the police never solved the problem. Jun Ho called his boss to report the crime. Granting that signal was bad and the photos he sent didn't go through, could they not have at least tracked his phone? It appears that they didn't even bother looking for him after he went missing for a long time. 

I didn't like the VIP storyline either. 

And for all the great job the show did in building up the series from the beginning, I felt that the ending was quite anti-climactic. The police could not (or they did not even bother) track Jun Ho. 

The final game was probably the most boring among the six games played. And it didn't help that Sang Woo seemed to have acted out of character. It was surprising that he opted to kill himself in the end. The knife was beside him. Gi Hun was not in a defensive position. He got to that point at all costs. Why was he giving up all of a sudden? Sure, Gi Hun would probably share the money with Sang Woo's mom. But for someone so cunning, deceptive, and competitive, I didn't know why he didn't grab the chance to win it for himself. 

I didn't like the Il Nam storyline too. Was he really willing to die in the name of fun? Sure, he could be protected during the actual games. But what if the other players attacked him outside the games? And if he was really ready to die, why didn't they kill him when he lost the marble game? 

And while I get the show's point that the games were started partly because nobody would really help a stranger out on the streets and the games wanted to give everyone a chance to start anew, I felt that that humanitarian arc was a bit contrived. They would have probably been better off with the organ harvesting storyline. 

Overall though, I still enjoyed watching Squid Game because it was ingenious. After all, we all need a break from the usual rom-coms once in a while. 

Oppa says...4.6.

Noona says...4.5.