Picture this: it’s February 2021, and you’ve just been told that the biggest TV show of the year will be a Korean drama by the name of Squid Game. Would you have believed it? Well, with most of the team here at The Jasper Picture Company coming out of lockdown, we’ve had a whole lot of time for what has to be one of the most gripping TV series to come out in recent years. The Korean Netflix series has well and truly taken over pop culture, pulling in 111 million viewers in its first month on Netflix. Not too shabby, especially when the next best effort is the measly 82 million who watched Bridgerton. Pffft. The show has spawned a tsunami of memes online, and garnered celebrity commentary from Billie Eilish, Cardi B and Taika Waititi, to name a few. Many of our readers will know already just how popular the show has become, as it combines the high stakes of working-class life and extreme debt with the thrills of game-show mechanics and enough violence to shock every Game of Thrones fan. We won’t spoil anything but the social commentary is surprisingly shrewd, and the performances of the main cast – led by Lee Jung-Jae – truly sell the spectacle.
So how exactly did this happen? And what makes the show so appealing? This week, we’re breaking down the most interesting points of Squid Game and taking a deep dive into what exactly the deal is. Be warned, there are some minor spoilers ahead.
Something that fans may not know is exactly how tricky it was to get the show produced and on air. Squid Game is the brainchild of Hwang Dong-hyuk, writer and director for all of the first season. Dong-hyuk conceived the idea in 2009, inspired by his financial difficulties while living in South Korea. Things got so bad that Dong-hyuk even had to sell the $675 laptop he was using to write the series. He spent 10 years being rejected by production studios, looking for someone to take a chance before he was eventually signed on with Netflix. Even after it was finally picked up, the show didn’t have any serious marketing in countries other than South Korea, with the show gaining traction through word-of-mouth and of course, social media. The result is a multicultural juggernaut, with a hashtag that’s amassed over 48 billion views on Tiktok, where the show has been meme’d, danced-to and mimicked to no end. Not too bad.
Themes that resonate
It’s no secret that Squid Game has some strong social commentary with the plot, themes and characters all grounded in the shackles of the debt-ridden working class in South Korea. The premise of the games is that participants are only invited if they’re in serious financial debt, with very little ability to pay it off. The humiliation and desperation that accompanies this debt is obvious from the very first episode, where lead character Seong Gi-hun is slapped repeatedly in the face in a game to win a cash prize. This trend continues as the show progresses, with characters forced to stoop lower and lower to progress through the games and to the cash prize. Without revealing too much, the desperation of the characters forces them to make tough decisions about friends and allies, while the audience is forced to examine how the loss of financial freedom affects their values so profoundly.
That the soundtrack of Squid Game is one of the most distinctive parts of the series is something hard-core fans and casual enthusiasts alike will agree on. It might not be the first thing you notice when you watch, but keep a close ear on the soundscapes and music from scene to scene. The opening episode depicts rainy atmospheres, the buzzes and whirls of arcades, and the hounding of men screeching their successes and failures and the punter’s lounge. Later on, we catch some of the classic sounds of Squid Game. The classical piece ‘Blue Danube’ is used throughout to build anticipation, as it predicates increasingly unsettling moments. One of the most chilling sounds come close to the end of the first episode, during the first game. It’s not music but sound effects; we can’t say too much more without spoiling, but a haunting Korean nursery rhyme and the sound of robotic eyes moving certainly made us feel more disturbed than we thought possible.
More obviously, Squid Game’s aesthetics draw the eye with its mix of childlike geometry and colours, and the violent brutality of the adult world. Squares, triangles, circles and other basic shapes reappear again and again as the symbols on the workers’ masks, the games themselves, and in the opening credits. They’re often accompanied by bright colours, notably in the uniforms of the workers and contestants. The childishness of the complex, a maze of pastels and trap doors, which the contestants weave through on their route to the games within serves as a sickly-sweet contrast with the events that take place inside. Later, we see a more animalistic aesthetic emerge, interwoven into the social commentary of the series. While the destitute contestants continue in this rat race for redemption, they are watched closely by those at the top of the food chain.
Well folks, that’s all for this week from us here at the Jasper Picture Company. We’re a premier video production firm in Melbourne, and we’re ready to take your vision and bring it to life.
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