Squid Game: Full Season
September 28, 2021 7:54 AM - Season 1 (Full Season) - Subscribe

Hundreds of cash-strapped players accept a strange invitation to compete in children's games. Inside, a tempting prize awaits — with deadly high stakes.
posted by Rock Steady (43 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I watched the whole thing last week and mostly enjoyed it, but with two fairly large reservations: 1) The most depraved VIP being presented as gay is cringey 2) I have a hard time believing that there'd be that many guards as fanatically devoted to their positions as they seem to be given the conditions they're in, which really aren't that much better than the game players. Since the end left the possibility of another season open, maybe they'll get into that and the guards are in similar desperate life situations outside the game as the players are.
posted by LionIndex at 9:45 AM on September 28, 2021 [7 favorites]

The series seemed to lack the compelling logic of something like The Purge. There, the New Founding Fathers had a political motivation driving them; they recognized the roaring awfulness of their "base" and threw red meat to them. Here, it's just bored billionaires passing the time, about on a par with the "Satanic pedophile Illuminati" of QAnon mythology. It didn't leave me wanting to watch more.
posted by SPrintF at 11:42 AM on September 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

Yeah, that's a better way of putting it than just singling out the guards. I think the situations a lot of the players are in and their desperation, their interactions in the game, the design of the games and all the production values are pretty good and believable, but, the core premise is pretty Qanon/pizzagate level stuff.
posted by LionIndex at 12:06 PM on September 28, 2021

I thought this was pretty bland. Compared to Ultimate Survivor Kaiji, which this is an obvious riff on, it feels really shallow and flat. Kaiji raises the stakes much more insidiously while trapping people in a hopeless debt cycle. I was hoping this was finally a live action series that could really dig into the same ideas while updating for the 2020s, but it never seemed to get there.
posted by forbiddencabinet at 1:28 PM on September 28, 2021

I'm still early in the season. Some notes:
Avoid Twitter discussions. It's hit trending a couple of times, and spoilers abound.
1000 won is about $0.85; I tended to just move the decimal point three places to the right to estimate the conversion.
posted by Pronoiac at 3:34 PM on September 28, 2021

I really had fun with this. I agree that the central premise is absurd, but i think thats true of a lot of things like this; battle royale springs to mind. I thought the characters were well drawn and the games cruel enough to draw you in.

I did find the ending pretty weak, in that it clearly wanted to set up for a sequel and not resolve anything. The vips just sort of vanish from the story in a way thats not really satisfying. I did enjoy the cop playing his own game of hitman, but the conclusion felt underwhelming.

I also found the final confrontation a little underwhelming. I had somewhat guessed the twist, but im not sure what the show wanted me to feel. The creator of the game is so obviously wrong that its not really much of a contest. The notion that the contestants had a choice is just obviously wrong; in almost all cases they could have just paid each individuals debts rather than subject them to abject cruelty.

That said as satire I think it was pretty effective. The debasing effects of debt and poverty were plainly described, but not in a cynical way; despite being deeply desperate many of the contestants were still able to show their humanity
posted by Cannon Fodder at 5:35 AM on September 29, 2021 [4 favorites]

the central premise is absurd, but i think thats true of a lot of things like this; battle royale springs to mind

I'm only familiar with Takami's novel, Battle Royale, but there is still a kind of logic to the situation. BR posits that the Japanese military government survived WWII intact, and that the BR contents began as military exercises. The "exercises" devolved over time into annual demonstrations of the military government's power over the masses, that could force middle school kids to fight each other to the death. In tone, the novel is similar to Stephen King's Long Walk.

Thinking about it, what separates Battle Royale, The Purge, Long Walk, Running Man, Rollerball and Death Race from Squid Game is that all of the former are public "contests" that might be considered satires of sports or political competitions, while the latter is private and therefore only speaks to the hidden motivations of the sponsors. The "elite want to feel alive vicariously." Is that really the message? That's all?
posted by SPrintF at 7:25 AM on September 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

The "elite want to feel alive vicariously." Is that really the message? That's all?

I mean, it's cool if the show didn't work for you, but I think it's pretty clearly not about that. I think its very clearly about the effects of capitalism, and debt in particular, and how desperate it makes people in a precarious situation. How those with little resources feel like they have little choice but to engage in violent competition with one another. That's what a lot of the contestants were doing before the competition. It is very, very clear that the true enemies of every contestant are the men in masks who watch from a distance, completely insulated from the concerns that affect them. I don't think the show has much sympathy for the rich at all, it holds them in pretty clear contempt.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 9:45 AM on September 29, 2021 [28 favorites]

I pretty much liked it, though I agree that there were several subplots the seemed to go nowhere. I also think Cannon Fodder is (eponysterically) right on track with the fact that this is a critique of capitalism. It was explicitly demonstrated by the way it allowed the competitors to get out of the game at one point, only to have the vast majority of them realize that they had no other option.

The marbles episode was a real turning point for me, where I started to really feel for the characters - both the ones who were screwed over and the ones doing the screwing. The relationship between the two women was particularly touching. I hadn't really connected with either of those characters until their scenes. I also loved Gi-hun's response to the banker wondering why he left all that money in a savings account.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:02 AM on September 29, 2021 [8 favorites]

Yeah, making people fight to the death when you could just give them money to solve their problems, and doing it for no particularly apparent reason besides wanting to watch people fight to the death, sounds like as good a model of the behavior of the capitalist class (and its underpaid yet bizarrely loyal enforcers) as any.

As a US dweller, I'm curious about the apparently meteoric US popularity of this series, which (like Parasite before it) seems to me to be uncompromisingly embedded in Korean culture. Korean cinema has been producing works of staggering brilliance at a steady clip for a solid couple of decades now (thanks in part to sound government policy), but until very recently the cultural and linguistic barriers have kept them from making more than the tiniest dent on American consciousness. (E.g. Oldboy got a smattering of attention but the rest of the vengeance trilogy seems to have passed unnoticed.)

What has changed? Is this some odd effect of the Netflix algorithm? Is it just that enough US people have finally been inoculated through Kpop and Kdramas? Or is it something more specific to these kinds of gripping critiques of capitalism? (Certainly plenty of USians can identify with the Hell Joseon experience these days.)
posted by Not A Thing at 10:34 AM on October 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

Is it just that enough US people have finally been inoculated through Kpop and Kdramas?

I think that is probably it. I've become tangentially invested in South Korean culture through my daughter's complete embrace of Kpop and Kdrama over the pandemic, so this seemed more accessible than it might have even a couple years ago.

I also think, intentionally or not, the bold graphic elements of the show - the doll robot, the shape masks, the Escher-esque hallway - are perfect for catching the eye of someone scrolling through a samey grid of thumbnails.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:14 AM on October 1, 2021 [5 favorites]

the central premise is absurd, but i think thats true of a lot of things like this; battle royale springs to mind

Or Danganronpa. Though "psychological warfare against the rest of the world by despair cult" is as good an explanation as any, I guess.
posted by praemunire at 9:16 PM on October 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

Eh, the logicistics of the game were pretty nonsensical and I wasn't a fan of the end, but I sure got sucked in hard during the game episodes. Sobbed straight through the last 20 minutes of episode 6 - 10/10 catharsis, would recommend.

I am very much not up on Korean culture, nor am I fluent in Korean, but I came across this twitter thread from Youngmi Mayer, one of the hosts of the Feeling Asian podcast. She's not very impressed by the English translation and thinks those of us unable to understand the Korean are missing out on a lot of characterization and thematic points. She has a video about 2 minutes long in the 3rd tweet in that thread that gives a few examples of issues she has with the translation. I am not in a position to judge which translation is more accurate, but I thought her examples were interesting. There's further discussion of the translation in the replies, though how far you want to read probably depends on your patience with the twitter interface.

I also saw some discussion about how high the debt to income ratio for South Korean households is (very!), and the lack of limits on interest rates, and how that informs the series, but I don't have a good link to that handy. I'd love to read more about the cultural context here, so I hope this show made/makes enough of a splash to get some good analysis of this pitched and published.
posted by the primroses were over at 2:03 PM on October 4, 2021 [5 favorites]

I also saw some discussion about how high the debt to income ratio for South Korean households is (very!), and the lack of limits on interest rates, and how that informs the series

I'm not Korean and know nothing except what's in dramas, but having watched way too many of those I can say that the violent loanshark, and the family member who's gotten into trouble with the violent loanshark (and therefore the main character must give up their dreams to earn enough to redeem the family), are practically stock characters.

Also, "Hell Joseon" is a phrase you'll hear often even on fluffy romcoms. (To be honest, I find the extent to which characters on Korean shows explicitly criticize the systems of their own country really refreshing.)
posted by trig at 3:18 PM on October 4, 2021 [3 favorites]

I haven't gone through in detail to verify, but according to various folks on Twitter and r/TranslationStudies, the reported issues with translation mostly have to do with the English closed captions (which transcribe the English dubbed version) rather than the actual English subtitles (which are fairly high quality translations of the Korean dialogue).

I'll confess that until now I was very unclear on the difference between the "English" and "English (CC)" subtitle options, and will henceforth stay well away from the latter.
posted by Not A Thing at 7:18 PM on October 4, 2021 [4 favorites]

I'll just be over here crying over Ali. 😭
posted by catch as catch can at 11:57 AM on October 5, 2021 [13 favorites]

My contextual notes on episode 1--spoilers ahead:
  • Given that this took about 10 years to get onto screen, the reference to "Dragon Motors" is likely a reference to SsangYong, which is a car company that mostly makes SUV-style cars (which fits, they made Jeep-style cars for the military first) starting in the mid-80's and then started its downward spiral in 1997 with the Asian Financial Crisis (known as the IMF crisis), was initially bought by GM Daewoo, and then sold to Indian company Mahindra & Mahindra around 2011. During each crisis for SsangYong, there were massive labor protests (which also occurred during Daewoo Motor's collapse) which did lead to a lot of people being fired. SsangYong has never been a particularly successful; it's maybe fourth or fifth, behind Hyundai/Kia, which are probably 75-80% of all cars, then Samsung Renault or GM Korea, which used to be GM Daewoo, and is now probably Chevy, which make up another 10%.
  • Gong Yoo's salesman character, when retelling the long, shitty luck Gi-hun's had over the past couple of decades since he left high school, is essentially telling the story of so. many. Koreans.
  • The reference to the chicken bars is interesting to note--a lot of people opened up those restaurants mid-2000s until about the early 2010s, when most of them died in the malaise that went around the world that started with the collapse of Bear Stearns. While South Korea did manage to do okay on a macro level, a lot of actual people didn't.
  • They're translating the ages directly--the daughter is 10, and that's what the Korean is, but... Korean age reckoning is different. The easy way to translate it is to add a year, so in western age reckoning, Gi-hun's daughter is 9.
  • Gong Yoo is delightfully menacing here. After he gives the invitation to Gi-hun and boards the train, that gesture he makes with the fist pump and mouthing the words "fighting"... that's generally a supportive cheer people give to each other. You do that before your friend/partner/child is off to make a big test or presentation or play little league.
  • Gi-hun's mom is kinda right--kids who leave Korea and go to America do often end up with slightly weaker Korean skills (I disagree that they lose their Korean, but, whatevs, there's a reason why Koreans in Korea distinguish between themselves, Gyopo, who are Koreans who lived abroad and came back, and, in the worst case, deem Koreans too "foreign" as... foreigners.
  • So the password isn't "Red light, green light", it's "The day the hibiscus blooms". which, while it's used as a game, it's got a deeper meaning: the specific flower, mugunghwa (무궁화), is basically a representation of the nation. It's viewed as a national symbol for Korea. It shows up in the country's seal, it's referenced in the anthem, it's in the presidential banner, it's on the passport-basically, it is similar to how the chrysanthemum is used in Japan or the Bald Eagle in the US.
  • Koreans currently tend to have fairly high household debt; everyone seems to be carrying quite a bit of it, and the only reason things keep moving is because everyone is afraid to stop the game of musical chairs. It's part of what's referenced earlier w/r/t "HellJoseon"
  • So when the gangster 101 mentions Yu Gwan-sun in reference to 067, Yu Gwan-sun was one of the first people to struggle for Korean independence during the Japanese Occupation. She was part of the March 1 Movement, which really kicked it off, back when it was a mostly non-violent, peaceful thing, was arrested almost immediately, and was martyred in prison by the Japanese guards. She was basically a teenager when she was murdered.
  • When 101 is getting all weird about "independence", this may be because of the specific word 067 used. I've only heard "독립" in the South used in a mostly political context, though I can fully believe that its use is more general in the North. A similar term I've heard used more often in the South is "자립", which is a bit more about self-reliance. This could just be my perspective as a Korean American though.
  • Gi-hun's interactions with 101 fit a sort of stereotype. Gi-hun is being civil/respectful in his words, 101 is being presumptuous and overly familiar/crude. Gi-hun referring to 067 as his "sister" is very much a polite way of referencing a woman whose age you're not super familiar with but an adult.
  • Sang-woo, Gi-hun's friend who embezzled some investor funds, went to Seoul University. It's one of the SKY universities, which take the level of the Ivy League. The other two are Korea University, and Yonsei University. There are other elite ones, like KAIST (which can be considered an analogue to MIT) and Ewha (an analogue to Vassar or Wesleyan), but getting into a SKY university theoretically should set someone up for life.
  • So, the game. South Korea, from its inception, has always been a pro-Capitalist state; in the show, all the victims are desperate and indebted, which is something that a lot of South Koreans are facing in the current hypercapitalist state. Back when South Korea was born, between 1945-1953, Syngman Rhee (이승만) a pro-US, pro-Capitalist, anti-Communist dictator was "elected"/installed as the first president. In order to consolidate his power, he did his best to destroy communists in the South, before the outbreak of the Korean (Civil) War. Two are important here: the Jeju Uprising, in 1948, and the Bodo League Massacre, in 1950. In both cases, people were rounded up, whether or not they were actually Communist, or left-leaning, or whatever, and so tens of thousands were brutally murdered by the state. The thing is, those are not the only times the power of the Korean state has been turned on the Korean people: in 1980, another right wing dictator, Chun Doo-hwan (전두환), came to power and ordered the army (which has the hibiscus in its coat of arms!) to murder protestors agitating for democracy in Gwangju, claiming they were communist, anti-capitalist agitators. (A movie about this that came out recently is A Taxi Driver (택시운전사), starring Song Kang-ho, who you may have seen in Parasite, Snowpiercer, Memories of Murder...) So when desperate South Koreans are being mowed down by guns in a pastoral scene, to a song that has the national symbol in its name, it conjures up a lot of references to how South Korean state power has been used to brutally oppress Koreans in living memory. Given the whole nature of the games (poor people competing for an amount of money that will let them pay off debts), it's, uh. A little on the nose.
  • After episode I wish I'd gone and watched something a little more lighthearted, like Blue Valentine or Never Let Me Go.

posted by i used to be someone else at 6:34 AM on October 7, 2021 [53 favorites]

also, for ep1, the subtitles were largely accurate, though maybe a little literal. honestly, my only critique is the changing of "The Day the Hibiscus Blooms" to "Red light, green light," but that's such a contextual thing that even if they'd gone with the literal title i don't think non-Koreans would have gotten the metaphor anyway.
posted by i used to be someone else at 6:43 AM on October 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'm a little curious as to how Gi-hun "went back to his old life" in the year after he returned from the Island, given that he "hasn't touched the money". As I recall, he owed something like 500 million won, with a substantial chunk of that owed to a loan shark. I can think of two possibilities:

1) he did pay off the actual amount owed, but refused to touch the rest of the money
2) he did not pay off the amount owed, but the bank is cutting him slack because he's rich now, while the loan shark took one look at the new Gi-hun and decided to walk in the other direction (seriously, that first close-up on the train as he's going to the bank...Gi-hun is legit scary now).

I admit #1 is more likely (Korean speakers, were there any clues in the original dialog?), but I kind of like my headcanon #2.
posted by Mogur at 7:09 AM on October 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

I used to be someone else, thanks for all that info! I hope you share your notes for the rest of the episodes!
posted by silverstatue at 7:46 AM on October 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

on a jokier note, i can't help but notice that the game attendants all have shape symbols on their masks that are very reminiscent of sony playstation buttons. the creators must really hate the playstation--which i guess could make sense, given that sony's japanese...
posted by i used to be someone else at 8:30 AM on October 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Flagged that long comment as fantastic, i used to be someone else, I really appreciate you taking the time to share all that insight.
posted by the primroses were over at 4:07 PM on October 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

  • 212 talking about not having registered her child's birth--this is more important than it initially might seem; basically, not being registered means that the child doesn't exist in the law, isn't a citizen or a person. it also tracks genealogical lineage.
  • ACAB, even in Korea (having been used to quash protests), though it's federalized in nature. But also, prosecutors in Korea tend to have more investigative power and they're even worse, and more prone to political influence in their investigations.
  • There's a certain irony in having the "democratic process" for cancelling the game being done under the threat of guns. While South Korea is a vibrant democracy, there's an understanding that the process is fragile, especially because before the current Sixth Republic, there were multiple times where democratically-elected governments or peaceful transfer between administrations were cancelled by coups. Indeed, the Sixth Republic dates only to 1988, and that election led to the victory of ROH Tae-woo, who only won because the pro-democratic candidates split the vote--ROH was the hand-picked successor of CHUN Doo-hwan, who had been the dictator between 1980-1988--and there was a lot of uncertainty as to whether the results would be allowed to stand. Even to this day there are elections where the government is alleged to have interfered--like with the NIS (National Intelligence Service) alleged to have worked towards getting conservative (and later impeached) PARK Geun-hye elected in 2012.
  • Of course the super sus old man makes the deciding vote. So much of society everywhere is determined by super sus old men.
  • 199 living in Ansan... it's about an hour away by mass transit from Yeouido, which is kind of the financial district and built on an island that has virtually merged with the southern bank of the Han river. It's a suburb/satellite city, about as far as Incheon or Suwon
  • 199 keeps referring to Sang-woo as sajangnim (사장님), or "President/Boss". Korean is a pretty context-heavy language, and the context in which a word is used can change the meaning dramatically. In most Korean conversation, it's relatively rare to use someone's name as a form of address unless you're close--and even then, age or other factors can complicate matters. This means titles often take the place of names; people refer to each other as "Boss", "Teacher", and so on. It also means that some titles are used more generally to refer to people you don't know. 199 is also using quite formal spoken language (including conjugation and verb forms) and his body language distinctly shows the different social positions he and Sang-woo are at: Sang-woo giving the money with one hand, 199 accepting it with both hands, 199's frequent bows. Sang-woo's discomfort with this is a little clearer when he tells 199 to stop calling him "Boss"--199 likely learned Korean relatively organically as a guest worker or undocumented worker, and what he learned was browbeaten into him by an unpleasant boss.
  • Compare in the very next scene where the cop that's closer to Gi-hun's age refers to him as "Teacher" (선생님), though it's translated as "sir" and doesn't carry the same level of respect as if he were actually speaking to a teacher; the younger cop refers to him as "Elder Sir" 아저씨, which also makes sense because, after all, he's considerably younger than Gi-hun.
  • Sang-woo and Gi-hun both come from Ssangmundong (쌍문동), which is a neighborhood in the northeastern side of the city, just east of Bukhansan Park. Honestly, I'm struggling to think of something notable about it? It's mostly residential, from what I can remember, and I think it features in another recent K-drama. However, a lot of bonds are formed with people in one's neighborhood; it's like knowing, for example, Brucie from Freehold or Little Chris from Bed-Stuy.
  • Sang-woo and Gi-hun refer to each other without titles, to further underscore how close they are.
  • Sang-woo says his 6b won debt (~6m US) is because of "gifts", whereas the subtitle says "futures", which, if we're going by definitions, is a wholly different thing. Gi-hun is, understandably, shocked--he asks who and what kind of gifts could amount to that amount. (My guess? Some kind of massive bribe). I'm not super upset by this different translation, but I do think it changes the portrayal of Sang-woo a bit. "Futures" makes it seem like it was a few bad bets on the financial markets. "Gifts" fits a lot better with the charges of embezzlement.
  • Gi-hun's mom's diabetes--South Korea does have national health insurance with something like a national single payer model, but it pays somewhere between 60-75% of the total cost of health care, with the remainder up to the individual. This means that most people (~80%?) have some form of private insurance to help defray the remaining costs, but it's clear that Gi-hun used the money from the plan already.
  • 067, in speaking with her brother, definitely shows more of an NK accent. Also, the broker she talks to is definitely a scammer. A lot of North Koreans who do manage to find their way to the South find themselves in very difficult circumstances, even with government support for about the first year or so; there's prejudice from Southerners, there's difficulty integrating into a very different lifestyle and environment, but also, there are a lot of people who prey on them.
  • I don't feel bad for 199's boss. There is a lot of abuse from small-time big shots. That's universal. That physical browbeating, was... unfortunately expected. But the precarious nature of 199's home life and how he doesn't feel comfortable going to outside legal agencies implies to me that he might be an undocumented guest worker.
  • Old Man 001 is sus as all fuck. When drinking with Gi-hun, Gi-hun apologizes for the lack of anju (안주), the small snacks that are very typical accompaniments of drinking when out with friends. Hence the dry ramen snack. Going back to the body language earlier, Gi-hun pours the drinks with both hands for his elder, 001, who accepts the pour with one hand.
  • Forms of address is something I'm talking about a lot this episode. Gangster 101 realizes the exact moment the power dynamic shifts when his erstwhile subordinate ceases to call him "Elder Brother" (형) and refers to him by his name, Deok-su.
  • When Gi-hun talks with his ex-wife, it's clear that nobody really has any money--and that makes a lot of sense. Even though much of South Korea shows the trappings of wealth, it's very important to note the desperation leading to some aspects of the culture: household debt is, on average, around 175% of annual income. For comparison, in the US, that figure is, on average, about 80%.
  • More forms of address! Gi-hun's ex-wife doesn't refer to her husband by name or by the term husband (남편); instead, she tends to refer to him as "the kids' dad" (애들 아빠). This is very common in spoken speech; between adult friends with children, and even when speaking to your spouse, if you're not wanting to be sweet/intimate, it's common to refer to them as "[child's name]'s father". This, of course, does explain Gi-hun feeling so left out, and it explains why his ex-wife pushes back on him so much--he wasn't a father, why should she call him that?
  • The moment she and Gi-hun fight again about the day she gave birth to Ga-young, oof. In my previous note, I referenced Dragon Motors as a likely stand-in for SssangYong motors, but it's also likely to have stood in for Daewoo as well--South Korea's industrial base has had violent conflict between unions and capital, and Daewoo, during its bankruptcy and before its purchase by GM saw it around 2001; SsangYong saw it around 2009. Given that context, it does explain even more why Gi-hun's been such a fuckup since he lost his job at Dragon Motors--dude is likely carrying a lot of untreated PTSD. And for it to have taken place when his wife was about to give birth to their daughter, in a high-risk pregnancy?
  • The episode title is literally translated, and it's accurate: "Hell". After the vote, when the disembodied voice tells them that the real world they're returning to has no joy for them, this episode definitely hammers that home. Crushing debt, limited opportunities--in some ways I'm glad they focused on the characters they did. Some are in the spot because of deliberate choices they made (Sang-woo, Gangster 101); others because they were taken advantage of by demons in HellJoseon (Defector 067, Gastarbeiter 199), Gi-hun is interesting because his circumstances are due to an ever worsening spiral: before the IMF crisis, employment for dudes was largely assured. Work hard, even if it's backbreaking work in a factory, and you can build a better Korea for your kids. People still sorta held to it even until the late 2000s when the Global Financial Crisis happened--but by then Korea had started transitioning to a more service and creative-based economy, meaning that for a lot of people like him there wasn't as much chance to integrate into the new world. He's still an ass, and bears responsibility for a lot of his failures, but. Hell is the real world. The games? Well, maybe you win enough to not worry about money for a while. Or you die, and escape.

posted by i used to be someone else at 10:50 AM on October 9, 2021 [27 favorites]

it's common to refer to them as "[child's name]'s father".

(it does go both ways, gender-wise--i have heard my mother refer to her sister, to me, as "cousin's mom" ([cousin's name]이 엄마), though i would have still have to have addressed and referred to my mom's sister using the term for "aunt on the maternal side" (이모); i've heard friends' dads refer to their wives in a similar fashion.)
posted by i used to be someone else at 10:59 AM on October 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

given the latest news to come out about netflix, i'm no longer comfortable continuing with my analysis of the show. should netflix change course, i'll reconsider, but.

posted by i used to be someone else at 2:46 PM on October 11, 2021 [7 favorites]

i used to be someone else, understandable. Would you mind answering one last language question? In the first episode they say (according to the English subtitles) that the kid who breaks through the defense and passes through the squid in the squid game is called the "secret inspector". This is emphasized again when they play the squid game in the last episode, so it seems important, but it must be a Korean cultural or language thing because I have no idea what that phrase means or why it's important. Do you have any insight on this point?
posted by star gentle uterus at 6:27 PM on October 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

I can fill in some blanks on that one. The secret royal inspector (암행어사) was a Joseon-dynasty official who was a sort of undercover corruption investigator -- like a secret shopper -- traveling in disguise to see what the local officials were up to.

Secret royal inspectors are very common figures in Korean historical fiction (and would be familiar to the great majority of Korean children). An especially popular trope is the moment when the secret inspector whips out his tablet/scroll and turns the tables on the corrupt officials. I would guess that's what the children's use of 암행어사 in the squid game was meant to call out to -- the offense player being suddenly able to walk on two legs is analogous to a "beggar" suddenly producing his mapae and taking command of the town.

Of course there could be some other layers of significance within the Squid Game plot. Or maybe, as the narrator suggests, it's just a random word the kids came up with.
posted by Not A Thing at 7:52 AM on October 12, 2021 [8 favorites]

That's great insight, Not A Thing! Maybe roughly analogous to "Sheriff" in "Wild West" iconography? A mysterious authority figure who rides into town to clean up the place.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:19 AM on October 12, 2021

Some interesting perspective from director Hwang Dong-hyuk :
“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.”
And re Ali: How Ali from 'Squid Game' is making migrant worker exploitation in Korea more visible
posted by Not A Thing at 10:33 PM on October 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

A Guardian article shedding a bit of light on the terrible English acting in this and all other kdramas.
posted by trig at 6:44 AM on October 19, 2021 [3 favorites]

Thanks for the Guardian article - the Kubrick comparison was interesting - of course I had noticed Blue Danube but the masks also invoking Eyes Wide Shut and the dinner table and the old man’s deathbed the end of 2001.

Also it makes me think of the layers of mindfuck and the mod design of The Prisoner.
posted by larrybob at 9:24 PM on October 19, 2021

As the press are full of this, and many people I know have watched or are watching this (I'm way behind) there is a post covering various aspects of Squid Games up on the blue.
posted by Wordshore at 9:21 AM on October 20, 2021

As a US dweller, I'm curious about the apparently meteoric US popularity of this series, which (like Parasite before it) seems to me to be uncompromisingly embedded in Korean culture...

...What has changed?

The short answer is that the core concept of how games affect us emotionally is one that cuts across viewer demographics (and ironically, is at the heart of the narrative, as revealed in the last episode).

I was visiting good friends who have an 11 year old girl (6th grade) and as kids tend to do, she roped me into a conversation with her parents as to whether she should be allowed to watch the show. My answer of course was "no".

Later, when my friends weren't in the room, she admitted she had watched the first episode already, and most of her friends at school had already seen it, talked about it during recess, etc. Apparently the big debate for Halloween is whether to dress up as a guard or a game player (the guard was winning by miles).

The comparison to The Hunger Games is obvious, the movie version of that came out in 2012, when *my* son was 11, and I remember similar conversations with our parent group (i.e. whether our kids could watch it), and that movie was rated PG-13!

Regardless of age, I would also give credit to the narrative structure of the show, which avoids being too predictable. I'm going by memory here, but the only true cliffhanger I remember is how the ending of the Tug Of War episode led into the next one. In other words, they didn't rely on a formulaic pattern: the subplots and the characters believable (ish) back stories and emotions were compelling enough to hold things together until the next game started.

So to answer the original question, nothing has really changed in the way US folks react to Korean culture, the show has effectively done a good job of providing something for everyone. (Except those who despise explicit violence onscreen.)
posted by jeremias at 5:26 AM on October 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

I did not realize at first that Gong Yoo was the same actor who played the lead in Train to Busan.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:48 PM on October 21, 2021

Enjoyed this, but like so many other shows that start out with a high-concept, it really struggles to find a satisfying resolution, and the desire to create something that could allow for another season makes that even harder.

It seems to me that the entire cop-intruder storyline was added on to create a lingering storyline for a potential season 2, and could have pretty much been eliminated without taking anything away from the main story, which kinda sucks narratively. I'm sure that video will end up surfacing if they make a second season.

The ending with Il-nam was pretty annoying, the host disappearing and not being mentioned again lets us know it's going to be something weird, and I went through a list of characters who hadn't died on screen, dismissing the old man as too ridiculous and not reinforcing any previously developed themes. I think the host and VIPs all should have just remained nameless/faceless, and they didn't need any explanation. It was obvious from episode one what was going on, they're doing this because they can, and they enjoy wielding power over the powerless. Having the old man participate for fun doesn't really add anything, or even really subvert anything. Okay, their friendship was based on deception, but still had real elements, great. That's the same as Gi-hun and Sang-woo.

Still, episodes 1-6 were very good, the marble episode was a great emotional climax to the series. I was also really impressed by the early decision to have the players vote to leave, I thought they were going to go with a much more heavy-handed message about greed leading people to their death, rather than recognition that their choice to be free was illusory when all they have to go back to is a society that will slowly bleed them dry.
posted by skewed at 7:12 AM on October 29, 2021 [4 favorites]

I watched this series awhile ago but keep chewing on it. On one level, I found the ultraviolence and super-evil cabal aspects pretty shallow (or Qanon-ish as mentioned above). But in one episode the games master refers to "the ideals" of the game being about "ensuring fairness, ensuring a level playing field, providing true equality that is denied to them in the real world". We have here a depraved game which is 9/10ths luck (but does require a bit of skill, and often deviousness), where failure is horrible death and in the end one person gets to be a billionaire... The idea that this game can be redeemed or can be viewed as "fair" because of a "a level playing field" is clearly absurd. I've never really come across such a pointed critique of the idea of a "level playing field" like this before (in the context of capitalism obviously). I found it pretty compelling.

I also wondered where are all of these trained and dedicated guards meant to be coming from? How does this place stay secret? I suspected it would turn out either that the island is run by North Korea as a cash cow, or that the guards are in fact part of elite army/police units and that participation at the island is a rite of passage and proof of allegiance.
posted by molecicco at 8:45 AM on November 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

The issues with translation are complicated.

I appreciate the link to twitter, but some of the issues the translator raises don't resonate with me. "This is a huge trope in Korean culture". Okay, but it isn't such a huge trope among English speakers, so how important is it to get that idea across? What idea do you want to get across? The bit about the marbles and what a gganbu means, frankly, went over my head. I get that there is some distinction there, but I couldn't see why this subtle difference was so all-important. It seems the actual points of this episode are (a) it's more fucked up than you think and (b) you'll lie to someone's face to ensure your survival. Not anything about shared ownership.

I read a book that was translated from Russian into English and one thing I noticed was that all the characters referred to each other by their full names instead of just their first name or last name. That is, according to a Russian friend of mine, the way you do it, but to me it sounds weird. I never do that. If the intent was to make something alien sounding, then fine, but I don't think that was it. I think it was just a literal translation, but the central cultural context doesn't translate, so it just sounded strange.

I'm going by memory, but Neil Gaiman said something about assisting with the translation of Princess Mononoke. A character says something like "This soup tastes like water" in Japanese, but the literal translation doesn't show the sheer offensiveness of that statement, so he went with "This soup tastes like horse piss".

I started listening to the CC translation, because I play the volume low at night and I was missing some of the English, but I guess I'll switch back to regular subtitles.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:06 AM on November 17, 2021

Struck me that by taking the final bet, especially with the proviso that the drunk was likely to freeze to death over the course of the night, Gi-hun was doing what the VIPs did.

This kind of show, for which I admit I have a soft spot, isn't about the system itself directly so much as it is about its effects on people. Which is always more disheartening, because it's easy to hate the VIP equivalents, no matter how you portray them or the system--it's a lot more depressing to see how brutalized people turn on each other in desperation. That was what made Parasite so harrowing, right?

While they are obviously very different media from very different cultures, this is part of what makes a comparison to something like Danganronpa interesting. I think one of the reasons the DR 1 & 2 kids were able to build social cohesion and defeat the game (besides their youth and thus greater resilience) is that they were mostly, by definition, winners in life. Even the DR 2 kids with their generally grimmer back stories were still (mostly) "ultimates." The SG contestants, on the other hand, were by definition losers of one kind or another. It takes a certain faith to think that it's worth taking on some vulnerability in the hopes of overcoming obstacles. Because--as Gi-hun saw while still employed--there are no guarantees that it will work.
posted by praemunire at 12:05 PM on November 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

I thought the old man being the host was pretty interesting, not because of the twist (I forgot about it because I had a several month break in between the first and second half of the show) but because of the way he talked about the game— like the players were lucky. He says the very poor and very rich don’t enjoy their lives, implying that the only people who do are the middle class strivers. That the system is not only fine, but desirable. There is no meaning in life beyond it. That is in fact how very many capitalists feel— they played the game, they won, they tend to have more sociopathic traits, so they’re better at it, they like it. Everyone loves playing a game they’re good at. Once you’ve won you just want another round. I think it’s insightful to note that the people who climb to the top love being on top, but they also love the climbing.

Another point that make my heart sink is that he says Gi-hun made him have fun. Was toying with him during marbles— seeing how far he could corrupt a generally soft spirit— part of the fun?
posted by stoneandstar at 12:21 PM on March 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Also a great point that the idea that these games are equal and fair is absurd. After marbles, Gi-hun’s spirit seems utterly broken on the glass bridge game as he realizes how pointless it is to try to reason about any of his choices, whether he should go first or last, left or right. All the choices are absurd. When you’re going to end up broke, in debt and faking it anyway, you might as well flip a coin. The idea that good judgment or prudence will save you when the system is broken…

The contestant who estimates his chances of getting across the bridge as 1/32768 (or whatever it was) has the same realization— only a few people are going to beat the odds, and they’re the ones who got lucky in the first place. You want to make some money, you gotta break some skulls.

(Also in comment above, my point was that the capitalists like the game and this assume everyone else feels that way too, they’re just stupider/weaker/etc. The concept that the game might be evil doesn’t occur to them or matter to them. Empathy is nonexistent. “Everyone is like me, it’s just that some people are worse at it.”)
posted by stoneandstar at 12:26 PM on March 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Netflix orders a second season.
posted by Etrigan at 12:03 PM on June 13, 2022

I scoffed at this as an incredibly tacky example of creating the Torment Nexus and then I promptly clicked over to the application page. On second thought, I have absolutely none of the characteristics of a reality show contestant, plus I have a bunch of joint problems, but I did think it would be fun to play a huge game of dodgeball. I'm good at dodgeball.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:52 PM on June 14, 2022

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