Serial Watcher

Squid game: the Korean phenomenon

In Film & Series, Serial Watcher 30 November, 2021

Aníbal Moltó Barranco

Aníbal Moltó Barranco


There is no doubt that Squid Game (Hwang Dong-hyuk, 2021) is the Netflix series that has recently managed to win over audiences, predicted to become the series of the year. Until recently, few would have expected the most watched film on this platform to be a Korean production.

However, their unexpected popularity turns out to be good news, as it shows that Asian films are no longer seen by the general public as exotic, bland and incomprehensible products. The fact that films such as Parasites and Oldboy are catching on even in the teenage world is a breath of hope for film culture. All this shows that the West is progressively abandoning its ethnocentric prejudices, at least in the audiovisual world.

Influenced by Western productions such as Cube or the Saw saga, but also Asian ones such as Battle Royale, it has not only reached the pinnacle of fame as a television series, but has managed to become a mass phenomenon. Since its premiere, social networks have been flooded with videos and games related to certain scenes, including its now iconic costumes, which have been the most popular at this year’s Halloween parties.

El juego del calamar Squid Game

This popularity has brought with it the inevitable shadow of controversy surrounding its circulation among children and teenagers, prompting debate as to whether or not parents should allow their children to watch it. Many fear that Squid Game could become a negative reference point in their children’s education, and even speculate that the bloody ordeals in the plot could be reproduced during playtime or in the playground.

Squid Game, however, is more than just a fiction with a disturbing setting, as it also has a certain amount of social and economic criticism, an element that has been very present in Korean films lately. Its subject matter revolves around plutocracy and the negative effects of money on people, and its protagonists are indebted individuals, drowned by an adverse economic situation. Through these very different characters, through their participation in a succession of macabre games, the aim is nothing more than to criticise the system.

Squid Game offers an addictive rollercoaster of suspense, spiced with a certain amount of social criticism and a touch of polemic.

The plot, in short, aims to show what human beings are capable of doing for money. We put our lives on the line, we renounce our morals, our principles, and even our own dignity, presenting a portrait of our decadent society through a terrifying allegory.

In any case, the series does not seek to make a detailed and complex analysis of existence in a decadent and consumerist world, nor to elaborate a dystopian portrait of our society through a sophisticated Orwellian metaphor, but to entertain, offering a simple, albeit intelligent, critical vision.

One of the virtues of this film is that it transmits terror and tension to the spectator without the need to be excessively dramatic. The presence of gore scenes is very measured, opting to create threatening atmospheres through pastel-coloured scenes that evoke a macabre tenderness, with numerous nods to works by iconic artists such as Edvard Munch, Dalí and Escher.

El juego del calamar

On the other hand, while the characters are fairly standard, they have a well-defined set of characteristics that lend credibility to their actions. Although they lack deep psychological development and do not have a complex dramatic evolution, their development is logical and somewhat plausible, except for a certain plot twist towards the denouement, which I consider its weakest and most disappointing point.

In short, Squid Game is a fiction that delivers what it promises: to offer an addictive rollercoaster of suspense, an experience that is not hollow when seasoned with a certain dose of social criticism and a polemical touch that makes it attractive and interesting for young audiences. It would be wrong to claim that this is a cult work, but it would also be wrong to deny the fact that this is an original series that works in conveying what it sets out to do.

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