Paulie’s Perspective: Squid Game (2021) Review

Written & Directed : Hwang Dong-Hyuk

Starring: Lee Jung-Jae; Greg Chun; Jung Hoyeon; Tom Choi

Available on Netflix

Squid Game is now officially Netflix’s biggest series launch ever at 111 million views.

I can remember a very few hit TV shows that have come out of Korea, Squid Game is the most recent and easily most impressive TV show or even film to come out of Korea. I believe the most recent acclaimed film director to hail from Korea his Bong Joon-ho, who directed the 2013 hit Snowpiercer which went on to become a hit TV show for the TNT network, and his latest work, Parasite (2019) was wildly popular in America and even won a few Oscars.  So it’s not like this is completely unheard of to have talent reach Hollywood as far as from career. However Squid Game is an animal all of its own. It has tremendous heart, is deals in humanity, the value of life over money, the value of money over life, how much can you live with, over how much do you need, and of course, does humanity have the value, or does the money? 

Normally when something is hyped this much, especially in the world of streaming, I tend to overlook it and be extremely harsh with it. I was like this with Squid Game. A TV show out of Korea? When does that ever happen? Well the one episode and I was hooked. 

I heard about the gore and how disturbing it was, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Hwang take his time to build up characters and their situations in the real world, before diving right into the axe murdering or whatever else awaited me. Hwang took his time, let us get to know the main characters and their problems and how they got into this awful lose-lose situation. He made it very relatable, as if this could happen to any of us, at any time, especially in America. One major surgery, on us or our elderly parents and we probably go into a large amount of debt we can never climb out of. It happens now with kids going to colleges. Getting a simple education puts kids $80,000 in the hole before they even graduate. Add bills and a couple of bad choices, and you are a candidate for the Squid Game. 

So the premise is not far-fetched, at all. Especially in America, where education and healthcare drain the life savings of every single family. Squid Game offers you a way out – a way out that offers so much money you and your family are set up for life. Would you enter? Of course! 

Squid Game is an extremely well-funded operation. They have recruiters on various subway platforms, naturally they know their targets are in financial ruin, so that makes their recruiting a little easier. They feed them 3 meals a day, they clothe them, the games are in these huge rooms with elaborate sets built like a big budget movie set.  The players are so in debt, they get harassed every day by loan sharks, by bill collectors, by their family who yell at them for mismanaging money or that need operations or medications – I mean this paints the real world for them as horrible as the Squid Game – so why not enter? As one of them say, “You think it’s any better out there?”  and in reality, it’s not. 

Once in the game, it is on a secluded island, you are fed, clothed, and given a place to sleep in one big room. The games are kid games, which makes this whole experience cute, charming and demented. Some games are of the mind, some are shows of strength, some are strategic, some are luck. Yes there is something here for everybody – the genius is it forces people to work together, to help each other and then the next day they could be forced to kill the same people they just saved. Squid Games makes everyone become friends, yet those who lose at a game get murdered by the staff. Quite genius actually. You have to play on a team to win, yet you know those around you will die soon. It really messes with your head, which makes this show so enthralling. Hwang took particular care in making sure everything gets turned around 180 degrees. The transformation in plot, story, characters and ideals is mesmerizing to watch and is the work of a master storyteller.  Not only does Hwang know what he’s doing, but he does it extremely well and keeps us on our toes and infatuated every step of the way. It’s Running Man meets Hunger Games but far closer to reality than either of those. Like I said, financial ruin is one step away from most of us in America – so Squid Games can’t be too far away.