“Squid Game” is a phenomenon and the most successful case in the Korean drama industry.
If one content has this unusual success, it is necessary to analyze the content of a new era based on this work, not to fit other criteria. So, I will look at the “Squid Game” as a standard and analyze the reason for its success.
The world always wants new things, and the ‘most Korean thing’ in the world’s standards is already new, unique, and distinctive in itself. The global trend of k-content, which has been prevalent in recent years, can be fully understood from that point of view.
1. Multiple perspectives. – Players, spectators, trackers.
One of the interesting features of the Squid Game is that various perspectives appear evenly. Usually, when there are many views on an event, the gaze is dispersed and the sense of immersion is reduced. However, in this work, the gaze of the game “Player,” the gaze of the “spectator” who contemplates and manages the game, and the gaze of the “chaser” who wants to dig into the truth of the game are all dealt with.
Originally, most of the traditional works focus on the eyes of ‘Player’. It is common skills of works to make them highly immersed in the protagonist who fights, survives, kills, is killed, and feels crisis and fear.
However, at the same time, as we come to society in recent years, more and more works are showing the eyes of “spectators.” In addition to the genres that lead the most recent trends such as webtoons and web novels, numerous popular contents such as various observation entertainment programs and reality shows put players in a position to “watch.” The pleasure, comfort, and enjoyment of this sight are the main characteristics of popular culture in recent years.
Viewers who watch “Squid Game” are highly immersed in the main characters, who are “players,” and at the same time, they are also in the position of “spectators” who watch them. The overlap between these two perspectives is quite unusual, and even though viewers are highly immersed and nervous, they also feel joy in the position of a spectator playing with them as they say on the game board. We experience constant repetition of tension and relaxation while watching the Squid Game. As if he were another VIP who bet on the Squid Game.
At the same time, the “truth tracker”‘s position to dig into the game will also follow. This makes viewers sympathize with a kind of “justice” and “seeking truth,” and the existence of this gaze also gives viewers a clear satisfaction.
Even though I suffer from the player’s position, I enjoy the play in the bystander’s position, and I feel an aspiration for justice and truth in the tracker’s position. In fact, considering that the attitude of human life does not deviate significantly from these three, this multiple point of view also contains all of our lives.
2. Simple rules and pleasure of violation.
Originally, the genre of “death game” at risk of one’s own life was quite popular. Battle Royale and Hunger Games are representative, and Squid Games can also be seen as a kind of death game genre. Interestingly, unlike the existing death game, the Squid Game borrowed the simplest games played by young children in Korea.
The characteristic of the games that everyone used to participate without any burden in childhood is that the rules are that simple. In this work, these simple games take money and life, somehow forcing flares to violate the rules. Therefore, all games in the Squid Game feature a kind of ” expedient” or “abuse” scene.
In Mugunghwa Flower Bloomed, it hides behind others, supports needles with a lighter in Dalgona Game, gathers strong people who know the game in advance in tug-of-war, and uses hold out or light reflection without going in Glass Bridge. And viewers watch in anticipation of what other ingenious “rule violation” will appear.
Violation of social norms is actually a dream of all mankind. Laws are always busy chasing constant expedients and deviations. Any turban or ban evokes a desire for violation, and when it is violated, it gives a tremendous sense of freedom. In modern society, such a ‘turban’ is not sex, love, or death. Rather, it is ‘capitalism’ or ‘law and order’.
In fact, the “squid game” itself is also illegal. Whether you owe money or fall into the abyss of your life, the principle is that you have no choice but to earn money or be punished by working faithfully. However, “Squid Game” is located in an illegal position as a “big game” at risk of life. Thus, this work provides viewers with the pleasure of violating. The simpler and more absolute the rules are, the more dramatic the pleasure of violation that bursts through the gap.
3. Inhuman game with humanity.
In a way, the most Korean feature of the Squid Game is that “humanity” is added to the death game. In particular, this Korean humanity is often expressed as affection, which is close to a kind of relic before the individualist era. Currently, Korean society is gradually entering an individualistic society, but it has previously formed a bond centered on “neighborhood,” and its bond, affection, and humanity are also incorporated into this work.
In particular, Ki-hoon (played by Lee Jung-jae), the main character, appears like a symbol of such a “Korean character in the past.” He has a natural sense of familiarity or “we” to his younger brother Sang-woo (Park Hae-soo), who grew up together in the neighborhood. However, Sang-woo, who has already been stained with capitalism or modern society, has a fairly firm perception that even Ki Hoon is a competitor, and the gap between the two clearly reveals “modern” and “Korean.”
This Korean style, filled with community sensibilities such as friendship with younger siblings, respect for the elderly, and compassion for others who grew up together in the neighborhood, is familiar to us, but also strangely strange to the people of society and times where individualism has been solidified. That point makes this work more special, such as an “ambush” that entered the game of an extremely individualistic, modern, competitive, capitalist, and liberal era.
Furthermore, this Korean humanity, or affection, also plays a decisive role in the game. The climax may be that Ki-hoon’s “Jeong” to his grandfather’s son (played by Oh Young-soo) eventually returned to his “survival.” This is the result of just ‘Korean affection’ that has nothing to do with cause, justice, and reciprocity. In other words, this point is located at the core of revealing the uniqueness of the work by twisting the game.
4. Reflecting the reality of debt-taking era.
As capital has been concentrated on financial technology due to the global trend of quantitative easing and Corona, the world has entered an era of debt investment. Real estate has soared, the stock market has fluctuated, and coin investments have flooded people who have literally reversed their lives. On the contrary, many people have fallen in such an era, but the world as a whole has continued to believe that “debt” is hope and a path to life’s jackpot.
The Squid Game has gained sympathy from countless people in this era by addressing various survival issues and putting “debt” as a key issue. In an era where virtually everyone was in debt and in this era of mixed feelings over the debt, the straightforwardness thrown by the “Squid Game” implied that the debt could lead us to life and death at any time.
Furthermore, extreme difficulties in survival, bankrupt household economy, and extreme social and economic isolation led by the COVID-19 era were experiences that could be more sympathetic to the situation faced by the “squid game” characters. Furthermore, this reality clearly reveals more than anything that we are actually participating in the Squid Game, and even if not, we are prospective participants of this game at any time.
In fact, other horror films, ghosts or supernatural beings appear, or topics such as natural disasters, killers or war crimes make viewers enjoy the situation with confidence that they are “exceptional realities.” However, the “squid game” has no choice but to come more realistic in that it is the competitive and capitalist reality itself that we belong to.
The Squid Game’ is based on the closest reality that can come to us tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and more than any other material. We are actually debtors, and tomorrow, we may be invited to a de facto death game due to bank bankruptcy or financial crisis. That’s reality, so there’s nothing more intense than that.
5. Outstanding directing and the power of unique materials.
In addition, the musical effect of the “Squid Game,” the game scene using primary colors and intense colors, and the contrast of colors in the real world, and various directions using close-ups and slow motion will not be missed.
Furthermore, it is clear that the games played by Korean children themselves were very unique and interesting materials for people around the world. In particular, various games in the Squid Game are very popular around the world, and pop-up stores are prevalent, so you can predict how interesting these games must have been to people around the world.
In that sense, the phrase “the most Korean thing is the most global thing” is not too wrong. The world always wants new things, and the ‘most Korean thing’ in the world’s standards is already new, unique, and distinctive in itself. The global trend of k-content, which has been prevalent in recent years, can be fully understood from that point of view.