POPCORNX REVIEW: SQUID GAME KDrama



PLease consider theb following review of South Korean kdrama "SQUID GAME" to contain SPOILERS, "mild" or otherwise.

Let's start with the bare program facts, and work my way thru my impressions and personal review of SQUID GAME, currently streaming on Netflix. As are all my links, there are pointed to Singapore-based URLs (where I am based) and are linked automatically, cheers.

First, a (re)look at the trailer, along with the succinct synopsis: "Hundreds of cash-strapped players accept a strange invitation to compete in children's games. Inside, a tempting prize awaits — with deadly high stakes."



Season 1 consists of 9 episodes in total, with durations ranging from 63minutes (Average of 50mins-ish), to the single shortest episode #8, with only 32 minutes. It had taken me two casual days of dedicated watching, to complete the series, watching it on a Thursday and Friday.

SQUID GAME NETFLIX EPISODES on POPCORNX 1-4
SQUID GAME NETFLIX EPISODES on POPCORNX 5-8
SQUID GAME NETFLIX EPISODE 9 on POPCORNX


A full rundown/description of each episode can be read on this Wikipedia-page, if you need to know or refer to the details, cheers.

The series is rated "M18" with good reason - featuring copious amounts of bloodshed and gunshots to various parts of the body, from headshots to body. There is a lot more blood than expected, I admit. There are multiple scenes of body dismemberment, and removing of organs for illegal harvesting, as part of the story's subplot.

There is also a sole risqué scene with sexual situation enacted, which boggled my mind because how could it have happened, if visiting the toilet was a controlled situation? LOL



The plot is essentially a "death game challenge(s)" where multiple players (most of whom are cash-strapped, debt-ridden folks, although there are various mitigating personal issues as well) complete against one another, in themed children's games. The prize for the sole remaining survivor is 45/46Billion WON.

SQUID GAME MECHANICS 01
SQUID GAME MECHANICS 02
SQUID GAME MECHANICS 03
SQUID GAME MECHANICS 05
SQUID GAME MECHANICS 06
SQUID GAME MECHANICS 07
SQUID GAME MECHANICS 08


There are a Total of 6 X Games to be played, with winners/survivors proceeding to the next round, with the number of players dwindled down to the last remaining survivor, who WINS the game and 45Billion WON. The games are literally based off Children's Games (in South Korea), including the "Squid Game", which is explained right at the beginning, and is the final game to be played. Featured below are screengrabs from the BEHIND THE SCENES (scroll thru to the bottom off this blogpost to view).

One can argue the "fun" part of the series are the games themselves, and I cannot argiue the death of folks who could not relate to the game, or even play it properly, which in and of itself is a commentary of "lost childhood" and even "growing-up" has changed for everyone. As lofty a notion of what the subtext or sublininal aspect of what I expected the "depth" of the story, ultimately proved to be my own downfall in totally enjoying this series :p

SQUID GAME ROUND 1 (Red Light Green Light)

SQUID GAME ROUNDn2 Honeycomb
SQUID GAME ROUND 3 Tug'o'War

SQUID GAME Round 4 Marbles
SQUID GAME Round 5 Glass Stepping Stones
SQUID GAME Round 6 on POPCORNX


Players are confined in a single large hall, where bunk beds are stacked up. They stay/sleep in here for the duration of the games (which are held once a day, I think), and sometimes have their meals/snack time here. The Games themselves are NOT played in this hall, but need the players to travel/walk thru to another location(s) to play.



Players are made to sign a waver before they start. Once they start, if they choose not to play at any stage, they will be killed at gun-point. If there is a majority consensus (by players VOTING for themselves)l, they can choose to stop playing the games, and leave. Now THIS happens very surprisingly at the beginning, which makes their eventual choices even more poignant that just your regular "death games", IMHO.

Players activities are monitored "Big Brother"-styled, which proivided an impressively convincing situation, until when it does not, thanks to errant greedy masked humans.



Actually at the very end of the 9 episodes, you could see all the games literally ON THE WALLS behind all the bunk-beds! So this was a "clever" part of the production, methinks.

SQUID GAMES EMPTY HALL on POPCORNX 01
SQUID GAMES EMPTY HALL on POPCORNX 02
SQUID GAMES EMPTY HALL on POPCORNX 03
SQUID GAMES EMPTY HALL on POPCORNX 04
SQUID GAMES EMPTY HALL on POPCORNX 05
SQUID GAMES EMPTY HALL on POPCORNX 06
SQUID GAMES EMPTY HALL on POPCORNX 07


I had started out watching and enjoying this series in earnest, with hype brought up by the premise and trailers. I have not read as much folks impressions of this show, and had wanted to watch and experience this for myself.

I had watched the first few minutes of the first episode in English dubbed audio, and was something I never do, and switched into original South Korean starting over. Personally, it felt a load of difference - as do most non-English speaking programs for me. It's either you choose to UNDERSTAND THE STORY PRESENTED to you, or you choose to want to UNDERSTAND THE STORY and how it is originally presented, if that makes sense to you.

Ironically you are dependant on accurate translated English subtitles to tell the story, but personally for me, nothing beats hearing the actor's speech, breathing and audio emotions, in it's original state, versus dubbed, IMHO.



That said, the series had provided enough inner angst, self-loathing, and personal demons to fuel the players and their motivations, that for the average viewer might seem very familiar, or foreign. And that makes for riveting voyeuristic viewing, doesn't it? And this grabs at our collective attention.

The players are first contacted with a card, showcasing a trio of shapes, which is derived from the Squid Game (seen from us, the viewers), with a phone number on the opossite side of the card, which the participants are tio call, to acknowldge their interest and participation.



In every "death game" show (examples being "Alice in Borderland" and "Battle Royale"), you are always inevitably drawn into thinking "Would I Be Able To Do This?", after you decide past "Would I Do This?", and I find myself become a true "spectator" when I stopped thinking these, when the incredulity of the situation and premise outshone "reality", which in a way provided me a "reality check" on the "credibility" of this series, and that it is wholly fictional (duh), with no doubt multiple commentary on society and the South Korean society, which I am far less clever to come up with examples, save for the "Democracy of Voting", and how folks turn against their own initial base choices. It's not necessarily "hypocrisy" if you choose between your own moral beliefs and your situations, is it?



And the script lays in the sob situations pretty thick at some points. But then again, the players and people here are depicted as pushed to the edge of society, either of plagued financial situations, or personal tragedies, and how they survive (or not) and thrive in the Squid Games, is the constant sliver of silver lining that gets constantly pulled out from under you, IMHO.



The adage of "not liking your favs as they will eventually die" is a strong component of this series. I would call this an "ensemble" project, with besides the principals (not all of whom will survive in the end, but we all know who would), the multitude of other characters was fun (in the beginning), and of course counting the two primary "super-stars" as "Surprise Guest Stars".



MASKS play an (important) aspect of SQUID GAME - which seems to say (A) You'll be able to get far with a mask on (but not wholly far) ... (B) You'll need to remove your mask in society to survive, (C) Shed your Mask of Ego to get off your own island to team up to conquer and survive, and (D) A Mask to hide your shame... Or maybe it's just harder for you to "hate" somewone whom you cannot see, and direct said hate towards?

There's a movie I always quote (when I was actively discussing scripts for film), was the situation in Wong Kar Wai's "In The Mood For Love", in that (regardless of practical reason nor rationale), the faces of the cheating wife and husband, were never shown outright, and we could not have a face(d) to judge nor direct our pointed fingers to, when instead is allows us to focus on Maggie and Tony's roles instead...

.... or maybe I'm just overthinking it, cheers :p




For all it's questions and plot holes, we do get to see behind the veil at the ending episodes. Who is the "Frontman", and who actually ran the games (a reveal I spoilt myself prior to watching, based off video titles on YouTube dammit), which I will not unveil here, but say that they and their names have appeared before in the games and behind the games as well.

But by Episode 6, I found myself clocking out, as I had exhausted my patience with especially the cliched trope(s), and especially with the introduction of the "VIPs" into the picture, of their "origins" based on their voices and speech mannerisms, even underneath their masks. And WTF was that with the horny VIP? C'mon this defied reason in the context of the organization (at least by my morality), and was just a tasteless gimmick to move the plot (of the character) where it was supposed to go, if not to justify a tintilating "M18" rating. BAD FORM. LAZY SCRIPTING.

From chatty assholes, to snarky assholes, all the VIPs were portrayed as ASSHOLES straightup with zero subtlety and class. The divide is so glaringly obtuse. The POOR are desperate, and the RICH are assholes. Sure one can argue they are latent "psychopath/sociopaths", but they come across as uninteresting, and easy to dislike, which understandably might appeal for viewers, when the GOOD and BAD are easily categorised.

If everything else is considered a "New Spin On Cliched Tropes" (which I argue against, but), then THIS aspect of SQUID GAME essentially cancels out the depth of the show, IMO.

Okay, lemme take a break from this, with this:



I started watching this series with "BATTLE ROYALE" immediately popped into mind, although the comparison is faint but for the multiple deaths. I have read somewhere online the accusations of "plagiarism" with another Japanese film: "AS THE GOD WILL" (a 2014 Japanese supernatural horror film directed by Takashi Miike), but it will only serve as a passing mention here on POPCORNX, as I have not watched that film, and have no intention to otherwise, cheers.

Upon finishing the 9-parter, another film popped immediately into mind: the 1999 David Fincher-directed "THE GAME", starring one of my fav leading men at the time; Michael Douglas, and as well the film is one of my ALL-TIME FAVOURITES from Fincher.



"SQUID GAME" is an attempt at literal "world building", with beautiful sets realised (which frankly stood most like a sort thumb against everything else, with no sense of influence nor inspiration with regards to the source of the games, but that's the "Production Designer" in me) and a more than decent ensemble of actors.

The behind-the-scenes featurette (seen above) sees the efforts and thought going into the impressive sets. And much could be said of the colors used: RED and GREEN, and of the subtleties and IN-YOUR-FACE iconology and graphics - with both enthralled and confused me (personally), like a hodge-podge of thoughts and intentions, mash-up together, attracting attention, but possessing lack of visual depth.

From the multi-coloured transition staircases (Harry Potter much?), to the overt all-white waiting areas - individually they look outstanding! But as a cohesive design theme? I am at a loss. But they certainly are hella gorgeous LOL



Or perhaps they were meant to be a dreamy visual distraction to both the players, and US the viewers, from the bloodshed?

Perhaps all these different settings were designed by different people (in the show context)? A mishmash from the different VIPs or sponsors of different countries of origins? If this were the case, I'd imagine sequels where there are "Squid Games" or a "Children's Game" Death Challenge Game(s) based in Europe, or any other Western regions? A franchise that could expand beyond South Korea?

Alas according to Wiki, the Writer/Director Hwang Dong-hyuk currently has no plans for a sequel, which made me even angrier with the obvious gaps in the story left open LOL



Needless to say the theme for the GAMES are pretty on point (they even did a actual life-sized installation in a mall in South Korea / Video seen above). Imagine how this franchise is able to transition to the "real world" even if physically, and more likely is one of the main reasons why folks/viewers could "identify", if not "connect" with the Kdrama.

I had hoped to say "I Loved This Series", but by the end of the 9th Episode, I will say this: "I Enjoyed Squid Game". For all it's plot holes, and unanswered questions left me dangling uncomfortably, rather than feeling "satisfied", and not necessarily gagging for a "Season Two" to answer my questions, nor should I expect one, methinks.

It had been a more than decent watch, with a sense of urgency muddled by a sense of uncomfortableness, no doubt due to my cynicism, lulled into a dsiappointment, against everyone else's raving recollections of this by-now highly successful Kdrama on Netflix.

Here are some assorted videos (in Korean, with no English subtitles) featuring CLIPS from the series, and Interviews with Director and Cast of SQUID GAME, which I really really want to understand! Especially when they talk about behind-the-scenes stories...!









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