Squid Game is a series I’m late to, since it didn’t pop up as a forthcoming drama series on the Wikipedia list of everything they’re showing, and for the alphabetised individual countries, it’s way down the list under K for Korean.
Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) is broke, his daughter doesn’t respect him any more because he always lets her down, and so he’s left with the choice of last resort, of taking part in a bizarre set of children’s games, where you can win lots of money – i.e. 45.6 billion South Korean won, which equates to just over £28m in the UK – but if you lose? It’s instant death. Well, that’s better than torture, I guess.
But before we get to that, we’re introduced to him as being a bit of a jovial clown, wasting money betting on the horses and losing, so no wonder his kid doesn’t like him.
He recounts his formative years, playing a ‘squid game’ at school, so-called because it’s played in a court shaped like a squid. There’s two sides: offence and defence. In short, if you fall out of the area, you die. But as it’s a kids game, you don’t really die. However, now it’s time for reality.
Squid Game is pretty violent even from the start, as Gi-hun is threatened by bad guys to whom he owes a ton of money, and even when he participates in a street game of Ddakji for money from a smart-dressed man with a sinister purpose. I hadn’t come across Ddakji before – something about throwing one piece of paper at another, and the closest person wins. It’s an odd thing, but it leads to Gi-hun taking part in the new ‘squid games’, via a way of travel I’ll let you describe.
On the downside, it takes over half the first hour-long episode before they actually get to the first game, but when we do, I’m impressed by the massive set design, and all run by an as-yet-unseen individual who has a weird jazz band made up of toys, like the mini version of that run by Vincent Price’s Dr Phibes in the ’70s, so I’m wondering if it’s a nod to that.
After having their smiling pictures taken and walking through an area like a colourful Escher stairs painting – to the strains of The Blue Danube, they’re on the way to their first game, which we called at school – What Time Is It, Mr Wolf? Everyone would take steps forward until the ‘wolf’ at the front turns round. Then you must stay still. If you move, you’re out. In this game – named Red Light, Green Light – if you move, you get eliminated.
Before long, they realise just what being eliminated actually means, and the blood starts to fly amongst a female cover version of Fly Me To The Moon, as they have to get across from one end of the game to the other before the timer runs out.
Often, if I miss the start of a series, I never get chance to catch up, but I can barely move for this one getting mentioned everywhere, especially as it’s just overtaken the ‘TV for women’ drama Bridgerton as Netflix’s biggest ratings hit.
Now, if there’s six games to be played over six days, why are there 9 episodes? Why not 9 games?
Squid Game is not available to pre-order on Blu-ray or DVD, but is on Netflix now.
Episode 1 Score: 7.5/10
Running time: 50-55 mins per episode
Release date: October 1st 2021
Director: Hwang Dong-hyuk
Producer: Hwang Dong-hyuk
Writer: Hwang Dong-hyuk
Music: Jaeil Jung
Seong Gi-hun: Lee Jung-jae
Cho Sang-woo: Park Hae-soo
Hwang Jun-ho: Wi Ha-Joon
Kang Sae-byeok: Jung Hoyeon
Oh Il-nam: Oh Yeong-su
Jang Deok-su: Heo Sung-tae
Ali Abdul: Anupam Tripathi
Han Mi-nyeo: Kim Joo-Ryung
Front man: Lee Byung-hun
No. 303: Kim Dong-Won
No. 278: Kwak Ja-hyoung
Jung Min-Tae: Lim Ki-Hong
Byeong-ki: Yu Seong-Ju
No. 244: Kim Si-Hyun
The Salesman: Gong Yoo
No. 040: Yoon Young-Kyun
Gi-Hun: Greg Chun
Sang-Woo: Stephen Fu
Frontman: Tom Choi
Ji-yeong: Lee Yoo-mi
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.