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Explained: What’s Korean show Squid Game, and why is it insanely popular?

Squid Game is the opposite of the saccharine sweet K-Dramas where romance is the dominant theme. It has no well dressed people or exotic settings; it is a straight-off dystopian thriller.

Squid Game is streaming on Netflix. (File)

A couple of weeks ago, a nondescript Korean show devoid of the usual tropes associated with the K-Dramas that have got the world hooked, began streaming online. No one expected it then to become one of the most watched shows on Netflix in many of its regional markets. What is Squid Game?

Survival drama

The Squid Game drama series created by Hwang Dong-hyuk is a contest among 456 individuals from all walks of life, with a prize of KRW (South Korean won) 45.6 billion (approximately Rs 290 crore). The competitors, all of whom carry huge debts, play a set of children’s games that are well known in South Korea.

The players are sequestered in a giant warehouse, and monitored at all times by guards in masks and pink bodysuits, as they play unto death. Each ‘death’ adds KRW 100 million to the winner’s purse.

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Among the players is a driver played by the actor Lee Jung-jae, who has incurred massive debts because of his gambling addiction; a former investment expert, played by Park Hae-soo who appeared in the 2017 Korean drama Prison Playbook, who has stolen from his clients and is fleeing the police; and a North Korean refugee played by Jung Ho-yeon, who will move heaven and earth to get her remaining family across from the North.

Each of the players is at a very high level of desperation, which is their motivation to play the fatal game.

Show’s idea


Hwang had scripted the nine-part show back in 2008, drawing from his own humble beginnings and the financial struggle he faced growing up, but the idea was rejected by the production houses that he approached.

The show’s name comes from ‘Squid’, a popular children’s game, and a version of the traditional game is played out in one brutal episode.

Squid Game takes the children’s game through psychological and physical twists and turns in a highly graphic adaptation. The effect is that of watching an extremely taut thriller from the edge of one’s seat, perhaps through gaps in fingers that cover the eyes.

Social commentary


The show has been appreciated by critics and the audience for its sharp take on social and economic disparities in South Korea.

“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,” Hwang told Variety magazine in an interview.

The show is also an allegorical take on the way human life itself is treated by the powerful. Mistreatment of the elderly by society as a whole, too is shown.

Different from K-Dramas

Squid Game is the opposite of the saccharine sweet K-Dramas where romance is the dominant theme. The actors look good and dress well, and there is a lot of kindness, warmth, and a happy ending — this is true for even the thrillers in the spectrum.


Squid Game has no well dressed people or exotic settings; it is a straight-off dystopian thriller.

Unprecedented popularity

Co-CEO of Netflix Ted Sarandos has tweeted, “It’s only been out for nine days, and it’s a very good chance it’s going to be our biggest show ever.”


Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon, Netflix’s main competition in the streaming segment, said: “@ReedHastings and Ted Sarandos and the team at @Netflix get it right so often. Their internationalization strategy isn’t easy, and they’re making it work. Impressive and inspiring. (And I can’t wait to watch the show.)”.

Actor Jung Ho-yeon has become the most followed South Korean actor on Instagram. On video sharing site TikTok, the ‘#SquidGame’ has been viewed a jaw-dropping 22.8 billion times.


Word-of-mouth publicity and great meme worthy scenes from the show have added to its popularity. Industry experts have suggested that young people find it easy to relate to the alienation that players in the show face.

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First published on: 05-10-2021 at 20:39 IST
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