If you are a user of the Internet, youve probably heard of Squid Game, the South Korean survival drama series that, believe it or not, has nothing to do with squiddy.
The anti-Ted Lasso title is Squid Game. Its a nine-episode Netflix series set in spooky, dystopian surroundings, thank you very much.
Yet, Squid Games meteoric rise is unmistakable. The show, which premiered Sept. 17, quickly became the platforms number one show in the United States and in dozens of other countries, too. Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos stated in a recent interview with journalist Kara Swisher that there is a very good chance its going to be our biggest show ever.
If you havent seen the gory nine-hour series yet, heres the skinny on Squid (with no spoilers).
What is Squid Game?
Our main character, Seong Gi-hun (played by Lee Jung-jae), has a gambling problem and an ex-wife whos about to whisk their young daughter off to the United States. Seong, in desperate need of fast cash to pay off a gang of loan sharks and keep his daughter in South Korea, accepts to participate in 'a super-shady, yet-to-be-explained game'. Evidently, he has excellent risk assessment skills.
hes soon taken to a remote island where sleuthing against 455 similarly repaid students in dozens of schoolyard games, led by eerie red-suited staff and tangled up Frontman. The prize for winning? About $40 million. If you lose, how do you know? Death
What follows is a saga that includes tame animatronic dolls, dalgona, and plenty of twists and turns for Seong and the other contestants. Tonights the day Im sleeping with the lights on. Itll be The Hunger Games meets Saw.
What is the source of this mollusk obsession?
Bela Bajaria, the Netflix's global television director, told Vulture that "Squid Game," created by writer-director Hwang Dong-hyuk, received a poor reception in the US. Instead, the show's popularity was driven by an organic fandom, she added. A lot of word of mouth or, more precisely, social media, where everything from Squid Game-inspired challenges, recipes, and Halloween costumes are multiplying gave the show its far-reaching tentacles.
The results have been absolutely spectacular. The hashtag #SquidGame has 28.3 billion views on TikTok alone. In South Korea, SK Broadband, an internet service provider, is suing Netflix to recover the costs of the network deluge that followed the release of Squid Game.
In the pilot, an eight-digit phone number is printed on a business card. A South Korean woman with that number received so many calls and text messages that the streaming service promised to eliminate the shot with the phone number from the show altogether.
How came the show to be?
Even though Squid Game is establishing itself as an entertainment juggernaut, it took over a decade to make it. Hwang originally set out to make Squid Game as a feature film in 2008, when he was living with his mother and grandmother, according to the Wall Street Journal. He set out to make Squid Game as a social commentary, according to Hwang, who was cash-strapped and reading comics such as Battle Royale with semblance of 'win-or-die' premise.
I wanted to write a story that was primarily an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society, something that depicts an extreme competition, reminiscent of life, Hwang said. It had to be based on characters weve all encountered in real life, he adds.
When he first presented the story to local studios, it was rejected for being too grotesque and too unrealistic, the WSJ reported. In fact, the writing process was put on hold because Hwang had to sell his $675 laptop at one point.
Netflix picked up the show in 2019 in the context of a substantial investment in Korean films and TV shows. There has also been a recent surge in the popularity of Korean media, such as the Oscar-winning film Parasite. The streaming service found the financial desperation depicted in the film appropriate, according to WSJ, and the epidemic brought the concept into even greater focus.
The world has changed, said Hwang. All of these points made the story very realistic for people as compared to a decade ago, he added.
Whats the deal with the subtitles?
According to streaming rating site FlixPatrol, Squid Game has become a global phenomenon, ranking as the number one Netflix show in over 90 countries, from Egypt to Chile to Jamaica.
Allerdings, language barriers persist. The series has subtitles in 31 languages and is dubbed in 13, including English, but some viewers argue that messages still get lost in translation.
One TikTok, created by native Korean speaker Youngmi Mayer, went viral for highlighting the differences between the spoken Korean dialogue and the English closed captions, which she said miss important nuances. Oops! Several Twitter users suggested clicking on English subtitles instead of England CC.
Will there be a season 2?
The huge success of Squid Game raises the question: Is this the end of the story, or will the tale continue with a season 2? Hwang was initially reluctant, telling Variety in late September that he had no well-developed plans for a sequel. He added that if he were to return for a second season, i would seek stipends from gist rather than go it alone.
Hwang, on the other hand, appeared to have changed his mind on Monday, declaring that he would like a second season to complete the story of the elusive Frontman. Bejaria, the Netflix exec, seemed to be in awe, telling Vulture that the streaming service was trying to figure out the right structure for him as Hwangworks on upcoming film.
In the interim, you can watch or rewatch the show, or simply browse the high-quality Squid Game Twitter memes. But, if a strange man approaches you in an MBTA station and asks you to play ddakji, run far, far away.
Dana Gerber can be reached at email@example.com.