TV REVIEW – Squid Game

Review by: Aditya Thiyag

Creator: Hwang Dong-hyuk

Rating: 4/5

“The Blue Danube” is a German waltz composed in 1866 that’s pervaded pop culture for years on end, to the point where even Spongebob Squarepants featured an interpolation of it in a jellyfishing scene. But you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in 2021 who doesn’t associate the tune with the signaling of a new survival challenge in the South Korean Netflix Original Squid Game.

Right off the bat, the amount of detail paid to the show is unreal. The set design, shot composition and art direction are all refreshingly original. The whimsical bright colors of a central room full of staircases are a stark contrast with the dimly lit and oppressive Korean prefectures. This extends to the game rooms as well, with one neighborhood set having a beautiful sunset backdrop and another being a lifeless playground of exaggerated scale.

A piece of classical music from the 1800s isn’t the only thing that makes up the show’s soundtrack. Parasite composer Jung Jae-il’s operatic and haunting score is exceptionally versatile, providing a transition from scenes of mass carnage to somber, more personal moments. The track “Pink Soldiers” in particular remained in my head long after I finished the show, and it’s liable to pervade yours as well. This track encapsulates the tension felt by the characters within the show flawlessly, and the simple tune’s ability to transport you to the emotions you felt watching the show is a testament to how well crafted it really is.

The characters and performances are easily my favorite part of the show. Kim Joo-ryoung makes what could very easily be an annoying stereotype into a manipulative yet endearing character in Han Mi-nyeo (212). Park Hae-soo’s Cho Sang-Woo (218) remains my favorite character, a broken husk of a man running away from his past sins as a former investor. Each character is given a clear reason as to why they’d participate in such a brutal competition and every character is played to absolute perfection. Please watch this in Korean, because you’re really doing yourself a disservice by removing the vocal vulnerability that shines in the original audio.

It’s upsetting how relevant the now 13 year old script is to the capitalist society of the world we live in today, but the oppressive themes written into the show ground an otherwise dystopian tale and allow for people who love analyzing hidden meanings (such as myself) to pay extra close attention when viewing the show. Creator Hwang Dong-hyukn doesn’t force this anti-capitalist message either. It feels like an integral part of the story he is trying to tell but doesn’t detract from the experience in any way.

However, the second half of the show starts to drop in quality due to it losing its identity in a myriad of set ups for a future season and failing to resolve side plotlines satisfyingly, particularly Wi-Ha Joon’s policeman plotline, whose entire arc builds up to a plot twist that, without spoiling any details, is underwhelming and not fleshed out enough to carry any weight. Outside of an outstanding sixth episode, the second half leans too heavily on shock value and loses the mystery that made the first half so intriguing, and bogs down the pacing of what is an otherwise engaging show.

I hope this shows television providers that there is still a market for international filmmaking, and I applaud Squid Game for its rampant creativity and capitalist commentary previously unseen to this extent within western television. As much as I would’ve preferred for this to be a limited series, I’m eagerly anticipating season two and any future projects made by Hwang Dong-hyuk and the rest of the Squid Game team.