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Squid Game: Capitalism & Murder Games

Squid Game is a hit and hopefully a gateway show to more Korean shows but also content that covers the horrors of capitalism. Why would people willingly enter a murder-game? Gabe talks about how this show stands out from other murder-game plots, some problems with the women represented and about issues with captions or things you missed if you aren't familiar with S. Korean culture. Kat discusses how the stressful debt situations shown in the show hit a bit too close to home.

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Squid Game (2021) Director: Hwang Dong-Hyuk

Summary by IMDB: Hundreds of cash-strapped players accept a strange invitation to compete in children's games. Inside, a tempting prize awaits with deadly high stakes. A survival game that has a whopping 45.6 billion-won prize at stake.


Squid Game: Murder Games, Capitalism & Culture

by Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

People are going nuts for Squid Game and I totally understand. There are people who see this as being one of the best shows about murder games, those people have never seen anime but it’s okay. You are allowed to enjoy things. I am a huge fan of S. Korean media. I eagerly await the day we can cover Kingdom (zombies + classism!? Sign me up!). I get genuinely excited covering the amazing critical media by Bong Joon-ho but I also indulge in many K-Dramas. Yes, I am a Koreaboo.

When I first saw the trailer on Netflix for Squid Game I was like, “What is this strange and playful but definitely murderous show?!” My younger sister begged me to watch, saying it “had more twists than a road in Tennessee.” and I’m sure that means something. So I binged it. I am a sucker for murder games - series’ in which normal folx (sometimes even just children *cough* Battle Royale *cough*) have to fight to the death. A good deal of the characters in these shows/films fight simply to survive, someone has to die and it won’t be them. There are alliances to be broken, gory deaths to be had. Other murder games that director Hwang Dong-Hyuk could’ve been inspired by are Battle Royale, featuring a bunch of school kids killing each other just to surive. This predates Hunger Games (some have argued HG was ripped off from BR) and I highly recommend if now you have been bitten by the murder-game bug. There’s also As the Gods Will by Takashi Miike. Do yourself a favor and look up the trailer. We covered Takashi Miike in a special episode just for him and found the absurd film, Happiness of the Katikuris to be absolutely delightful and fun - Gods Will is very much like that. I love Miike’s wild and crazy mind so much. Many people have been referencing other murder games and saying Hwang Dong-Hyuk stole these ideas from the films/series I mentioned but murder-game plots are free, friends. He’s not the first, sure, but he won’t be the last. Our entire series this month is about Murder Games!

Later, we’ll be covering Alice in Borderland which is truly terrifying to me because you have to win by being smart. Under pressure. Many of the murder-games have this plot where the games are logic-based and I immediately tap-out. In an article on Variety titled, 'Squid Game' Director Not Hurrying to Capitalize on Global Success by Patrick Frater, director Hwang said, “I freely admit that I’ve had great inspiration from Japanese comics and animation over the years,” he said. “When I started, I was in financial straits myself and spent much time in cafes reading comics including ‘Battle Royale’ and ‘Liar Game.’ I came to wonder how I’d feel if I took part in the games myself. But I found the games too complex, and for my own work focused instead on using kids’ games.” So thankfully, we’re met with childhood games warped into murderous challenges of wit, endurance, and sanity.

The show starts us out with the sad and deplorable Seong Gi-hun as he spends all of his money (intended to buy his daughter a birthday gift) to get more money. We see Gi-hun at his lowest and is not a likely hero/protagonist at all. In Murder Games, the characters are often motivated by the need to survive the games themselves but sometimes the motivation is money, as is the case in Squid Game. This results in an incredibly heavy societal critique that Kat will go into in her section. This angle turns the games into something a bit more than the typical rich-elite are bored and need to watch people fight to death for entertainment narrative and into a “people will do anything for money” statement. It’s one thing to just need to survive, sure people will do anything to survive including killing people they care about. But when that motivation evolves out of simply surviving into cunning and strategy to inherit wealth no matter what - it becomes a bit more sinister.

Hwang said in that Variety interview, “I wanted to write a story that was an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society, something that depicts an extreme competition, somewhat like the extreme competition of life. But I wanted it to use the kind of characters we’ve all met in real life,” Hwang said. “As a survival game it is entertainment and human drama. The games portrayed are extremely simple and easy to understand. That allows viewers to focus on the characters, rather than being distracted by trying to interpret the rules.”

*Now entering Spoiler Town for Squid Game*

Capitalism & Squid Game

What set this show apart from the other Murder-Games shows was the second episode. In the second episode, the characters find a way out in the rules they’ve agreed to. If the majority of players choose to end the game, it ends. This is after the surprising reveal that they were all in a murder-games game and not a fun game of Red Light, Green Light (the hibiscus flowers bloomed.) Everyone is shaken and watched people murdered in front of their very eyes. Characters beg to be released, they have families and a life outside of the game. So they have an intense vote to decide if they go home without any money (the money gained so far by the deaths of the other players will be returned to the deceased player’s families instead) or continue playing to get the money themselves. What’s more, the votes aren’t anonymous. You have to walk in front of everyone and choose - money or freedom. It sets the tone immediately. But what got to me most was that they got out.

The majority, barely, voted to leave. Everyone returns home and here is where we see the true message behind the series. All the characters we learn to care for are suffering. Every one of them has strong motivations for being in a murder-game that could give them more money than their wildest dreams. They’re not just money-hungry people, they’re desperate and dying.