Squid Game, a high-stakes survival drama from South Korea, shot to the top of Netflix’s most-watched list just days after its release. But what’s behind its global popularity? Christobel Hastings investigates
In the last couple of weeks, the WhatsApp group I share with my close friends has suddenly exploded with memes. To list just a few: a towering mechanical doll glancing sideways. A sorrowful elderly man sitting hugging his knees. Lines of people in bottle-green tracksuits winding their way through a series of trippy staircases. They’ve all had me in stitches.
So powerful are these images, in fact, that you wouldn’t have to know the pop-culture references to find them funny. But anyone who’s watched Squid Game, the smash-hit South Korean drama currently on track to become Netflix’s biggest original series of all time (with a current record of 111 million viewers), will know that the show is nothing to laugh about. Written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, it follows hundreds of debt-ridden Seoul residents as they compete in a series of lethal games for the chance to walk away with a jackpot of 45.6 billion won (around £28m). The catch? There can only be one winner – and elimination leads to on-site execution. Cue blood-spattered set pieces, tragic backstories and a rapidly rising body count. It’s cut-throat – literally.
Despite my delicate constitution, Squid Game had me hooked from the word go. I found myself drawn in by the murderous premise, striking visuals and heart-wrenching performances, as well as the cliffhangers that baited me through nine episodes over one nail-biting weekend. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder why a dark, subtitled Korean-language drama that came out of nowhere had generated such insatiable fascination. I decided to find out.
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