Squid Game
October 20, 2021 9:12 AM   Subscribe

[Spoilers in links] Squid Game is a popular Netflix series (really popular), themed around socio-economic inequality and nostalgia, where contestants play six (adapted) childhood games for money, there being somewhat negative consequences for the losers. Like Battle Royale, classical music is often used. Some criticism has been levelled, for the acting and the subtitles. In England, councils are urging parents to stop children watching and copying it. Why Squid Game? Comparisons are drawn with Battle Royale, the Hunger Games, Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor, and erm Mario Party. Inevitably there are Halloween costumes, or play it in a cafe. [Squid Game on Fanfare]
posted by Wordshore (85 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
In regards to the subtitles, I would be really interested in seeing something similar to what the anime subtitle-ing community does for particularly beloved anime series; including additional contextual subtitles (in other colors or parts of the screen) to explain a particular idiom that's being translated literally (typically providing a much better understanding of the tone that the dialogue or situation was trying to create).

The Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast episode on Squid Game featured a new guest, Jae-Ha Kim, who was more familiar with the Korean language to speak a bit about some of the lost context in the subtitles. The best example given there was how the character Han Mi-nyeo (#212, played by Kim Joo-ryung -- the shameless lady trying to schmooze up to everyone) was using the term "babe". The original Korean she is speaking reportedly directly translates to "big brother" (as spoken by a child), but is contemporarily used as a term of endearment for one's lover, but also with a weirdly childish angle to it. "Babe" doesn't seem like an exact translation for that. The closest I can think of is maybe "Daddy", but that term has a ton of other subtext in English that wouldn't translate back either.
posted by neuracnu at 9:31 AM on October 20, 2021 [7 favorites]

I had the same thought- I noticed quite a few times when something was translates as "gosh"- I'm not sure if the intention was to emphasise the main character's happy-go-lucky nature, but it was interesting.
posted by Braeburn at 9:39 AM on October 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

So much buzz about this series, finally got to watching it.. It is the kind of viewing that definitely plunges the casual "just one episode" person into three in a row before you know it. I've discussed the show with a Korean friend, we meet for language lessons, and that perspective has been great. For entertainment purposes I think the subtitles are fine, I assume I'm missing things but it still flows. From what friends tell me, the dubbed version is atrocious (is it ever not?).

It's violent in a very upsetting way.. kind of feels like the increasing pressures we see everywhere, and the way competition can bring out the worst in desperate people, packaged in entertainment. I totally consumed that package, but it's weird to enjoy something like that? The season finale was not terrible, all things considered. These projects can lose steam and we've all seen terrible endings, and I would not place Squid Game's finale among the worst by any measure. Thanks for opening the discussion!
posted by elkevelvet at 9:43 AM on October 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

I feel like Squid Game is going to be a bit of a cultural touchstone, but the violence. OK admittedly the diner scene in Gunpowder Milkshake was just about as bad visually -- but it was the bad people getting shot up in glorious high-fidelity slow motion by the good people in self-defence, not dozens of mostly anonymous anti-heroes getting torn up by AI gunfire.

I dunno if we'll be able to pick it up after episode 1. There's just so much else to watch that isn't steeped in blood and horror, like season 2 of Ted Lasso.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:46 AM on October 20, 2021 [7 favorites]

The costuming and set design were amazing. The games veer from exciting to fine, the acting fine, and the ending soap-opera cheesy.

I don't get the hub-bub about the subtitles, because in my opinion, the actions of the characters simply don't earn the subtle differences in translation, but fair enough if others think they do. Like I mentioned above, I think the plot/writing (not the dialogue - can't judge that since I was using subtitles) was not great and the characters constrained by that. With better writing, I think the subtle differences would have hit harder.

Squid Games and Maid kind of hit similar topics (and are peaking at the same time), but Maid was so much sadder and more infuriating to watch, even though no one died and there was no blood.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:53 AM on October 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

They weren't torn up by AI gunfire, they are shot by other victims and tools of the capitalist class. As far as horrors of capitalism go, I think they violence is probably made a little more merciful and clean than in real life but I can't fault anyone for not wanting to consume violent media. I will say that first episode is probably the most brutal and the rest is less extreme, but it is still a death-game so it never stops being somewhat violent or about life and death.

I watched it mostly dubbed (not usually looking at screen when watching tv) but I noticed the subtitles were different for dub and sub which was interesting but not that uncommon. I liked the dub fwiw
posted by GoblinHoney at 9:59 AM on October 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Neuracnu, was the term used 'Oppa'? It does mean big brother but at the same time sounds childish and endearing.

I like neuracnu's idea of what fan subbed anime (and Japanese dramas) do by adding context. If it was too long, they'd add in a sequence before the anime started or after it ended to explain something. I've never used or watched anything on Netflix though so I'm not sure how easy this is to implement and 99.99% of the anime and dramas I've watched have been fansubbed.

The Japanese drama Liar Game has similar themes but without the violence.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 10:02 AM on October 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

I'm a big fan of Squid Game, but I kind of hate seeing the inevitable aftereffects of its popularity -- the Halloween costumes, the kids playing at it. This isn't snobbery, I promise. I just get sad about it. It's not as if anyone missed the point of the series, which is as dark as it comes; it's that inequality is so firmly entrenched that no one's threatened by the fact that it's so popular -- not even Jeff Bezos. The Hunger Games was a soft sci-fi story with outlandish challenges involving nonexistent technology, but the whole infrastructure of the Squid Game was nothing that someone couldn't accomplish with enough money, and there are people who have it.

There's a little old-fashioned crankiness to my feelings though, too. I saw a damn ad for a Youtube video with a thumbnail of a bunch of popular kids' game characters playing Red Light Green Light -- the Minecraft guy, an Among Us guy, all kinds -- and it was clearly meant for kids to watch. I mean, we played pretend games about horror movies back in the '80s too, but we weren't supposed to.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:03 AM on October 20, 2021 [6 favorites]

(Just to add: soft sci-fi or soft SF is a term of art, not a suggestion that Hunger Games was "soft." Would hate to start an argument.)
posted by Countess Elena at 10:05 AM on October 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Ms. Moonlight, yes, the term Jae-Ha Kim mentioned was Oppa.
posted by minsies at 10:12 AM on October 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

Episode 6 though.


It got very quiet in the living room. Tears streaming down our faces. So well done but we could barely handle it.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 10:18 AM on October 20, 2021 [11 favorites]

I don't know when it happened, but past a certain age I stopped wanting to watch "realistic" depictions of people experiencing pain and suffering. Some dumb action movie where dozens of henchmen get mowed down by the hero? No problem. But something like Squid Game (which multiple friends have told me is great)...I dunno, if I want to read and learn something about economic inequality and rapacious capitalism all I have to do is go to almost literally any news website, I don't need to watch people die in an attempt to win money on a game show. Not a criticism of this or any other show, or of the act of watching and enjoying it, it's just not what I want in my entertainment anymore ("So well done but we could barely handle it" is pretty close to what one of my friends said about it). The real world is depressing enough as it is, but it seems like a lot of people want to immerse themselves in fictional dystopias to displace their anxieties about the present and future.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:25 AM on October 20, 2021 [33 favorites]

It's not as if anyone missed the point of the series, which is as dark as it comes; it's that inequality is so firmly entrenched that no one's threatened by the fact that it's so popular...

I disagree. I think a lot of people are disturbed that SG and its ilk are so popular. It's just that we (yes, I count myself in that group) know that we are largely talking to a blank wall when it comes to objecting to such graphic violence and slaughter as entertainment.

I also experience a ton of eye-rolling when people trot-out the "it's really a statement about oppression/society/capitalism/blahblahblah" justifications when it's pretty apparent that the reason for shows such as these seems to be as much, if not more, about the violence than it is about any supposed underlying statement about society. I mean, you can easily make a captivating and entertaining story about society's ills without graphically depicting the senseless, wholesale slaughter of dozens innocent people.

So, yeah, I'm extremely concerned about the popularity of shows such as this.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:38 AM on October 20, 2021 [13 favorites]

I think it's hilariously sad that while the entire premise of the show Squid Game is how modern capitalism pits us all against each other in a race to the bottom and it's popularity only taught capitalists to exploit cheap labor in other countries more.

Capitalists will literally always ignore the intended human lesson and instead learn the soulless shitheel lesson to find a way to profit off people's interest in anti-capitalist thought.
posted by deadaluspark at 10:53 AM on October 20, 2021 [8 favorites]

For the creator of this show, at least, he came up with the basics of it when he was jobless and heavily in debt. It's true, he wanted to make a statement, but I believe him when he says it was his misery that drove him to make the series.
posted by Quonab at 11:04 AM on October 20, 2021 [7 favorites]

So, yeah, I'm extremely concerned about the popularity of shows such as this.

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say it's better for society than zombie media which teaches you that your neighbor is a mindless zombie and when the apocalypse comes, it's kill or be killed.

Probably also better than superhero movies that tell us everything is in the hands of individuals to save us from things bigger than ourselves.

If we're gonna get into the negatives about what media teaches us, there's way better places to start with than this, especially for the violence. What, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones don't count?

Breaking Bad dissolved a guy in tub for christs sake.

I'm definitely not one who enjoys overly-violent media, it's why I never finished Breaking Bad and why I've been hesitant to watch Squid Game and instead just be content to read about it and its themes. However, if we're going to go down that path of critique, we may as well start all the way back at Rambo First Blood.
posted by deadaluspark at 11:10 AM on October 20, 2021 [14 favorites]

For a person who've refused to be pulled into the SG capitalism-torture-porn gravity well* (i do learn my lesson quick, and Old Boy is enough), I've somehow learned all i needed to know from the discourse, especially with the flareup two weeks ago when Americans started commentating blithely on socmed with no regard that their lack of cultural competency might actually be a handicap, the way the rest of the internet would try to conduct itself. Anyway if you're wondering why the subtweets from black Americans to other black Americans about the mistake of thinking one's lens is sufficient to understand all oppressive systems, that was why.

*But if you're in the mood for something similar, i believe Alice in Borderland (Japanese though, so the capitalism angst is slightly different) fits the bill, tho apparently there's an attempt for a one-day boycott of Netflix today (US time) over their firing of the trans employee who spoke out over Chapelle.
posted by cendawanita at 11:12 AM on October 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

korean is a phenomenally contextual language.

oppa, or 오빠, does literally mean older brother, but from the point of view of a younger sister; related terms include hyeong (형), for older brother from a younger brother; nuna (누나), for older sister from a younger brother, and eonni (언니) for older sister from younger sister; all these apply regardless of age, though as one gets older different terms may apply depending on context, who's being addressed, and so on--for instance, an uncle could be referred to by his own younger sibling as oppa, [child's] father, [name] uncle, and so on, sometimes in the same conversation.

all terms are sometimes used in friendship relations, and yes, can also be used in a flirtatious/romantic fashion, and can be used in self-reference as well: in the case of psy's 2012 banger gangnam style, for instance, 'oppa', was used to refer to himself (as in: "your boy is a flashy and rich like those people in gangnam").

so i'd caution against thinking of oppa exclusively in the framework of romance. "babe" is a difficult translation, but it's no less accurate for overloaded terms like oppa (or, honestly, nuna--it's been used in the context of sex work a lot, for instance, as well as romance).

as far as the childish and endearing aspect, there's a whole 'nother topic surrounding that and gender relations, specifically the concept of aegyo, which isn't completely at play here either, at least with respect to contestant 212, han mi-nyeo, whose name mi-nyeo (미녀) can literally be read as "beauty".
posted by i used to be someone else at 11:19 AM on October 20, 2021 [15 favorites]

Here’s Why Squid Game’s English-Language Acting Is So Bad

It's funny, I thought the VIPs were stilted and dumb, but I thought it was an intentional & successful comparison between dumb creepy voyeurs who were obscenely wealthy and and dumb creepy voyeurs who leave comments on YouTube etc
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:28 AM on October 20, 2021 [7 favorites]

OK so I went into Squid Game looking for extreme violence. I don't like it, or seek it out, but I was fully prepped for it with this one. What surprised me (and I have only seen 3 episodes so far, so MMMV) is how tangential the violence is, and how much actual other stuff is going on. There's a lot of family dynamics, a lot of economic woe, a lot of societal commentary, and basically most of it is that and not the Sam-Peckinpah-on-Viagra gorefest everyone is in a lather about. It's almost like the show is designed to churn outrage over the gore, distracting us from the the real horror show of the society depicted here outside the game setting. It's not about the game, per sé, but the fact that a large number of people return to the game even knowing what it entails!
posted by chavenet at 11:37 AM on October 20, 2021 [11 favorites]

Huh. I thought one of the VIPs was Jon Hamm.

Anyway it's weird (and predicatable) to see brands missing the point, like if the US military used The Hunger Games in recruitment ads... and don't make me google to see if they actually did...
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:37 AM on October 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

It sounds like if I had to cover my face for half of Game of Thrones to get through the violence, this may not be for me. It’s too bad because it sounds cool. I tend to prefer the “shadow of a hand holding a gun then you hear a gunshot, cut to the police arriving” mode, and yes I have the soul of a 90 year old man.
posted by freecellwizard at 11:38 AM on October 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

My Gen X stripe is preventing me from watching Squid Game because everyone is talking about it and I can't enjoy mainstream things, maaaan.

However, on Netflix now there's also this sitcom called Superstore about people working in a Wal-Mart-equivalent store, and even though it's supposed to be a light-hearted comedy show, the crushing dread of poverty that lies in the background messes with my head. Any episode that involves health care, unionization, or pay inequality leaves me feeling so angry. There's a surprising number of episodes involving those topics. So if you want to explore the horrors of late capitalism without death and gore... try Superstore, I guess.
posted by sixohsix at 11:39 AM on October 20, 2021 [16 favorites]

also, now that i've obtained the series i'll likely be continuing my context note series here, if anyone's interested.
posted by i used to be someone else at 11:40 AM on October 20, 2021 [10 favorites]

heh, funny to see a reference to Superstore. I think the mood a person is in can really shape how you receive things, and in a certain kind of mood some of the laughs in Superstore are about as offensive as some of the violence in Squid Game? the main thing is, as these series and movies continue to depict our world it certainly helps to distract us from actually doing anything about it. that's my personal take-away, and I'm by no means the most lazy or disconnected person you know.
posted by elkevelvet at 11:47 AM on October 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

The guys over at The Last Leg made a parody of Squid Game to make a pointed comment about the UK's disability benefits assessment process.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:48 AM on October 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

Spoiler: in episode 7 there is some very graphic content (but doesn't linger too long) from a death that people in my household winced at, though we watch quite a bit of violent-adjacent content.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:50 AM on October 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

when it's pretty apparent that the reason for shows such as these seems to be as much, if not more, about the violence than it is about any supposed underlying statement about society

Mixed feelings on that.

Violence—and the viewer's reaction to it—is a valid tool for the cinematographer, as it is for any artist, but it's one that needs to be used very judiciously. I don't think Judith and Holofernes would have the meaning it does without the visceralness of the violence. A painting of the moment before or moment after would still be interesting, but it certainly wouldn't be the same. The first five minutes of Saving Private Ryan would have been pretty different if they'd cut directly from the guys in the landing craft to a different bunch of guys standing on the beach.

I can certainly think of examples of the less-than judicious use of violence and gore: I'm personally not a fan of much of Tarantino's work, to be honest. I've never thought the ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs really adds that much to the film, beyond making it memorable; it would still be a fascinating story without that. It's excessive and over-the-top, and I think Tarantino knows that, in fact revels in it, and that gives me the squicky feeling of watching someone else's fetish porn. But, as with porn, to each their own.

There were only a handful of shots in the entirety of Squid Game that gave me that feeling. (How are we handling spoilers here, by the way? Is it fair game to assume everyone has watched to the end, or do we need to be coy? I mean the first episode at least has to be fair game.)

The Red Light / Green Light scene strikes me as more of a Holofernes than a Reservoir Dogs: it absolutely would not have had the same impact if the violence had happened off-screen. (I mean, maybe there's an interesting show or movie to be made where that is the case, where terrible violence happens off-screen and all we get to see are the before/afters, but that would be an entirely different piece of art.) I think the whole point is seeing the characters experiencing that violence—and IMO the story is really about the effect of, the brutalization of, that violence on otherwise-basically-average people, with a pretty on-the-nose allegory to Capitalist brutalization.

But if you're in the mood for something similar, i believe Alice in Borderland

When I finished SG, Netflix immediately started recommending Alice in Borderland to me. (Along with a ton more foreign-language content; I think I must have tickled something in the Great Algorithm by watching more than one foreign series to completion.)

Anyway, I ended up watching it last week, mostly as the result of several very long nights with a fussy child. My first thought: I suspect there are going to be a lot of Intro to Film Studies papers written about the difference in approach to what's fundamentally the same story between the two. You could do a lot worse for a paper topic, too.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:09 PM on October 20, 2021 [5 favorites]

*ctrl-F "Danganronpa"* Alas!
posted by praemunire at 12:43 PM on October 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

My daughter is in grade 5 and some of her classmates have seen the show which kind of floored my wife and I. I was talking about it with a friend and he said that his daughters (grades 3 and 6) watch it with their grandfather (although he apparently turns it off when it gets too bad for them). I remember watching various terrible horror films with my older brother and cousins when I was a kid so I get the appeal but I still figure that the adults would watch these shows when the kids weren't around.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:45 PM on October 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

> Episode 6 though.

Yeah, I have one episode to go, but the "Marbles" episode was definitely the standout for me. I'm watching in Japanese audio with English subtitles, but I wish I spoke Korean.
posted by spacewrench at 12:49 PM on October 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

I am known as the "Kdrama Person" in my friend-group, so the fact that I haven't watched Squid Game is kind of weird since everyone else I know seems to have watched it. But I am also a squeamish person. I mean, I started watching Alice in Borderland under the assumption it would be like Liar Game (which I love!), but noped out after a few episodes because I couldn't handle it. Netflix isn't going to trick me again! (Not even Gong Yoo can make me change my mind!)

However, I have really been enjoying the discussion of the show with my fellow kdrama-nerds and my friends who maybe haven't watched a kdrama before. The socio-economic subject has been a big one. "Hell Joseon" is a concept that other dramas and movies have tackled before, but this -- along with Parasite -- really has made it an international discussion.

The other part of the discussion is the success of a non-US non-English-language show being such a global hit (and the worry that Hollywood will try to remake it). Yes, there are some quibbles about the translations (both subbed and dubbed), but I think it's great that a non-Hollywood production has had such an impact. I'd love for even more international creatives to be given Netflix budgets for their pet projects.
posted by paisley sheep at 12:51 PM on October 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Episode 6 legitimately had me in tears. I did not expect to feel so heartbroken by this show.
posted by TheKaijuCommuter at 1:00 PM on October 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

This show makes you think. I binged it a week or so ago and I'm still trying to decide if I liked the show or not. Whether it was even good or not. I've known several people like the main character, people whose heart is "in the right place," but who are total screw-ups in life. When he's left to his own devices, he's hopeless. But when backed against a wall (in the game), he makes the right choice…mostly.
posted by jabah at 1:12 PM on October 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

My sisters's kids--aged 13 and 11--loved it. When I, their often cool aunt--a title I suspect I only have because I live in a different country--said she hadn't watched it, they were aghast. You have to! OMG It is so cool! It's so good! And when I did some research about it, I was like, "My darlings, after 44 years on this planet, I just can't with endless iterations of captalist dystopia. Now: have you two seen Over the Garden Wall?"

This would likely have been my jam in my 20s, when I was less hopeful, more nilhilistic.
posted by Kitteh at 1:17 PM on October 20, 2021 [5 favorites]

There is So. Much. Blood. Honestly, at one point I was thinking not just about Sam Peckinpah, but about the "Sam Peckinpah's Salad Days" sketch on Monty Python.

There are a few great moments, and a couple of outstanding lines (the moment where the masked guy proclaims "we will not condone interference in this democratic process!" was incredible). Agree that Ep. 6 is very well-crafted, and emotionally harrowing. There are also a couple of spoiler-bait plot twists that seemed, eh, a bit hacky.

But there have been too many points where the series gets you invested in a character -- and then, of course, kills them off, because that's baked into the premise. With the possible exception of Titanic, I don't think I've seen a production where so many developed characters are killed off. Even if they're bad guys, there's an emotional toll to that.

Apparently there's a Season 2 in the works. It might be good, it might go horribly wrong.

In the meantime, if I want a TV series where people are abducted to a mysterious community to engage in strange conflicts while being kept hostage by an unknown power, and they're all wearing numbers, there's always one of my favorite vintage shows.
posted by gimonca at 1:32 PM on October 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

I didn't really see SG as any sort of parable about capitalism. I saw it as more directly relating to personal debt, and what happens when people are allowed to get in over their heads. This was driven home in the final episode, where you overhear a TV news reporter talking about record numbers of Koreans stuck in debt. Specifically, the newscaster attributes this to the government relaxing the laws on personal debt/finance. I have no idea what's going on in Korea right now economically, but this gave me major flashbacks to the US financial crisis.

One thing that did strike me was the amount of debt the SG contestants were in. At some point in episode 1, I did have to pause the action and look up the conversion rate of South Korean won to USD — something like 10,000 won to $8.50. I think this is a major piece of context. Very early on, our protagonist is so bad off that he can't even scrape together what is essentially a relatively small amount of money. And once our protagonist enters the SG itself, it's revealed what all the contestants actually owe. From what I recall, it was typically in the range of 300 million to 1 billion won — or about $250 to $850K.

First, I see another parallel here to the US financial crisis — $250K to $850 is about what you might owe on a house in or near a major US city. Second, while this is a lot of money, it's not that much money. One could theoretically pay it back over the course of one (or more) decades. It's not the kind of money that would be worth risking your life over. And to me, this is the deep sadness at the heart of SG. It's not just that these folks are risking almost certain death in order to pay back a debt — it's that none of them have any hope of scraping together a relatively modest amount of money.

So to me, this is less a meta-story about the evils of capitalism. It's more a story of what happens when consumers aren't protected from predatory lending practices. And maybe as a secondary theme, it's a story of generational malaise — of what happens when an entire generation sees upward mobility as hopelessly out of reach; when even relatively modest financial mistakes are impossible to recover from.
posted by panama joe at 1:40 PM on October 20, 2021 [4 favorites]

^ I think your observations about the show nests tightly within the larger discussion of capitalism. Feel free to correct me, but isn't the series creator on record about his thoughts during the period he conceived of the show? I've assumed it is a criticism of the system that yields the conditions that lead to debt and widening wealth disparity, but I'm happy to be enlightened on this.
posted by elkevelvet at 1:47 PM on October 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

Should we be promoting a Netflix property given their doubling down on platforming anti-transgender bigotry and firing trans employees who took part in protests?
posted by acb at 1:59 PM on October 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

Touched on in the FPP, but Squid Game has a lot of similarities to Kaiji--far more than the battle royale properties it keeps getting compared to.

Admittedly, I only just learned of the Super Mario Party angle.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 2:43 PM on October 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

median household income in the united states is above us$65k.
median household income in south korea is around $30k.

average household debt in the us is about 80% of income.
average household debt in south korea is about 170% of income.

a good rule of thumb, albeit inexact, for converting chinese yuan, japanese yen, and korean won (cognates, the lot of them) to usd is to lop off an increasing number of zeroes: 1, 2, or 3.
posted by i used to be someone else at 2:46 PM on October 20, 2021 [7 favorites]

I didn't really see SG as any sort of parable about capitalism. I saw it as more directly relating to personal debt, and what happens when people are allowed to get in over their heads.

What exactly do you think capitalism is?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:54 PM on October 20, 2021 [15 favorites]

I'm in the camp of "Eh, it was fine, but not particularly insightful." The characters were all a bit too flat despite great acting, and I agree with one review I read that noted the depiction of the VIPs was pretty homophobic and fatphobic.

The violence was so over the top it didn't bother me, and I did enjoy the visuals and learning about Korean children's games. It's also been interesting to see how different countries have run with some of the memes to comment on specifics of their own national systems of inequality.
posted by coffeecat at 2:57 PM on October 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Squid game is great. Someone on Tumblr said this, but it's really does a good job of showing the manufacture of consent. The participants agree over and over again, from the original slapping game to calling the number to showing up at the location... And then even signing another, separate waiver when they get there! And then even after they sign the waiver, they can leave if the majority agrees!

It's really well done, and I think the show really addresses that point of like... So why don't they just leave? Even before you get to the fact that the majority of them are gamblers who can't get over the suck cost and who owe their livers to Mafia loan sharks anyway.
posted by subdee at 3:06 PM on October 20, 2021 [17 favorites]

The show also does a phenomenal job of showing the effects of the game on the players over time, where at first they are running so many side hustles, crawling through the air ducts, befriending people who seem to have knowledge of the next game, throwing teammates under the bus to not make it obvious that they have advance knowledge, even a literal organ-selling side hustle, etc etc. They have so much energy for schemes at the beginning, then by the end the rigged nature of the games and their deliberate cruelty just wears them down, until they're simply playing the games as instructed.

Another thing I like abt squid game is even with the guards showing they do not care if contestants murder each other, the contestants trapped in the warehouse awaiting their turn to die still call on the guards to protect them from each other. That's so human.
posted by subdee at 3:12 PM on October 20, 2021 [7 favorites]

Anyway squid game is very good and not at all subtle in its themes and messaging. Like obviously it's about inequality and the rigged nature of the games / society in which the contestants are competing.
posted by subdee at 3:14 PM on October 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have only read about Squid Game and I am intrigued by the premise, and the production looks top-notch. But I am balking at the violence. The older I get, the less I can handle watching graphic violence, especially when it's mixed in with dark comedy. So I may just give this one a pass.
posted by zardoz at 3:30 PM on October 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

At the end of Pasolini's Salò, when the action devolves to blurry distance shots of torture and mutilation, there's a crisp shot of one of the decrepit nobles who organized the events, viewing the scene appreciatively through opera glasses. It's a great shot -- reminding you that you, the viewer in the audience, are just as much complicit in the sordid scene as everyone else involved is. Squid Game has its moments; it doesn't get quite that clever, though.
posted by gimonca at 3:46 PM on October 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

We put off on watching it for a little while because we were not really interested in another Battle Royale scenario (even though the Hunger Games film series was actually not terrible), but our friends said it was worth a look.

Squid Game was not what I expected, and more interesting than I thought it would be. Episode 1 was a gritty Kitchen-Sink debt drama that really didn't look like the most popular show on Netflix(?) Then dystopian sci-fi olympics soon ensue, with unique art-direction & music, and some predictable gore. By the final episode they took some plot directions that I did not quite predict, which is something.

We're pretty used to imperfect subtitling in foreign films, so the side discussion quibbling about the translations was kinda "oh really?" Those rich asshole gamblers just sounded like I would expect them to.

Korean TV on Netflix can be interesting. 'Start-Up', 'Hello My 20's', 'Crash Landing..', are all worth a look if you're into it. 'Start-Up' got everyone excited about a new Korean Corn-Dog storefront opening in our neighbourhood (yeah it's rice not corn;)
posted by ovvl at 4:50 PM on October 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

I really enjoyed it until the VIP's arrived, and the quality of their acting was so bad (along with the terrible dialogue they had to use) plus the homophobia really dragged me out of the immersion in the series.

A bunch of English teachers moonlighting as actors in Kdramas.
posted by awfurby at 5:19 PM on October 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

As far as desensitizing senseless violence goes, I really have to say that Westworld was much worse. And Westworld also threw in the so-called clever "haha, but see, by viewing this show, you're no better than the rich assholes who pay to go to Westworld and torture robot the AI!" Which like... makes you think, doesn't it. /s

So I think this kind of meta-narrative about what it means to watch graphic violence as a member of the audience and whether that makes you culpable for the (simulated) violence, while it can be interesting, is in a way just a smokescreen to deal with the uncomfortable feelings of the audience. But what if the point is to make you uncomfortable? I think watching a show like Squid Game because it's gripping is much more honest.

I do think that it's probably too easy for young children with a netflix account to watch this show by themselves, though. In my day the older kids in the neighborhood had to sneak into the restricted section of the video store to get at the slasher movies and it was a big deal to watch those all together in the basement when no adults were home.
posted by subdee at 5:39 PM on October 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

I just finished watching the series (before clicking on this thread, didn’t want to be spoiled!)

I found it compelling enough to watch all nine episodes in a few days, but I don’t think I liked it.

It has some positive qualities, and I liked some of the characters, but in the end I just felt like, “Wow, what a miserable show.” And not in a good way. I wonder how Netflix interprets a viewer watching an entire season of something and then giving it a thumbs down.
posted by wondermouse at 7:01 PM on October 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Squid Game falls in the same category as Game of Thrones, where it became incredibly popular with people who typically don’t consume speculative fiction, and then they all assume I’ve watched it because “you like that kind of stuff.” When I say I haven’t watched it and don’t plan to because I don’t enjoy violent/dark TV shows they look at me weird because this has become par for the course for TV I guess.

I would like it if the people in my office/school watched any spec fic content that wasn’t extremely violent but alas, that’s not what’s popular nowadays. I wish the creators well but this is yet another cultural touchstone I’ll be missing.
posted by brook horse at 7:21 PM on October 20, 2021 [5 favorites]

As usual, my wife and I watched with dual subtitles (Japanese and English) which is occasionally helpful when subtitles are bad or confusing (since we can compare independent translations).

We did talk a while about the "Babe" scene in particular --- I don't remember the Japanese sub but neither was particularly good at capturing the scenario. In particular in English, it doesn't make sense why it leads into a discussion on age [if anything, I'd say people often use "Babe" to a younger partner]. Since we watch a lot of Kdrama, we are certainly familiar with Oppa, so we understood it but felt a lot of viewers wouldn't.

Overall it was good. My wife was nervous about it, since she was expecting something like Battle Royale. But while there are some very violent scenes, the majority of the show is more about the drama than a gorefest or torture porn.

If someone doesn't want this level of violence but is looking for a good Korean show, I'd second "Crash Landing on You" which is still my favorite show I've seen recently.
posted by thefoxgod at 7:38 PM on October 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

I loved Squid Game, and I'm one of the people who thought that the English-speaking VIPs acting was just so, so bad that it *had* to be some sort of intentional commentary. That was the only thing that really took me out of the experience. Just hillariously bad. The rest of the show was excellent though.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 6:03 AM on October 21, 2021 [5 favorites]

subdee: So why don't they just leave? Even before you get to the fact that the majority of them are gamblers who can't get over the suck cost and who owe their livers to Mafia loan sharks anyway.

Subdee, you bring up an excellent point. There is a lot of discussion about the amount of money that the players owe, but little said about who they owe the money to.

Gi-hun's debtors were not above-board legitimate financial institutions or even shady predatory payday loan lenders. He owed millions of won to people who were willing to take his actual body parts as collateral if he didn't pay up. It is likely that other players were in similarly dire situations.

The choice Gi-hun (and presumingly other players) faced was not "lose all possessions vs. take a risk in this insane series of games", the choice was "face certain bodily harm/death on the outside with no hope vs. take an equally life-threatening risk in the games, with a sliver of hope for redemption".
posted by chara at 8:05 AM on October 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

the choice was "face certain bodily harm/death on the outside with no hope vs. take an equally life-threatening risk in the games, with a sliver of hope for redemption".

[spoiler!!]I personally thought one of the weaknesses of the writing (among many others) is that those stakes were never commented upon at the end. you have to assume he paid them, but it's never referenced. [spoiler!!]
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:16 AM on October 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

On the topic of sentiments lost in translation, one phrase that is mistranslated in English subtitles is 'hyung'. In the English subtitles when Ali first meets Sang Woo, he calls him "sir" or "mister" or "boss" and eventually as their relationship deepens, Ali simply calls him by his name, 'Sang Woo'.

In the actual Korean, Ali eventually calls Sang Woo 'hyung', which is a term of endearment that translates roughly to 'older brother' and denotes a protective relationship.

Spoilers for Episode 6

Near the end of the marbles game, when Ali is walking around trying to find Sang Woo, the English subtitles state that he's calling out Sang Woo's name, but what he's actually saying is 'hyung', brother. His last words are 'hyung'. Chilling.

posted by chara at 8:18 AM on October 21, 2021 [6 favorites]

$250K to $850 is about what you might owe on a house in or near a major US city. Second, while this is a lot of money, it's not that much money. One could theoretically pay it back over the course of one (or more) decades. It's not the kind of money that would be worth risking your life over.

Except presumably they owe this money not to banks but to loan sharks, who charge up to 300% interest a year, 100x that of a home loan. That means their loan payments on a quarter mil, instead of being US$600, would be US$60,000...a month, with no hope of ever paying down the principal.
posted by xigxag at 8:38 AM on October 21, 2021 [5 favorites]

We only finished Squid Game last night, so I've been scrupulously avoiding commentary/discussion because of spoilers. I'll assume people have at least watched episode 1 tho. To tackle the 'it's just violence as entertainment' points:

Yes, there's a lot of people dying in it. The violence though isn't the point of the show. Something like GoT, the sex was absolutely gratuitous, and the violence was in plenty of places too. For me, the *way* people die in the show is a significant part of the story.

At the start, it's basically a lot of background people we don't know getting shot, and while it is bloody, it still serves as the point of the stakes. And yet, the survivors come back - their life on the outside is so miserable, so deep in debt to loan sharks etc, so any shot at escape - no matter how small - is all they have left to try, despite the initial visceral horror and fear it will happen to them too.

Without going into too much detail, we see more backstory of each of the characters, start to care about them, despite their flaws - and the violence takes on a darker tone. It changes from violence being done to them, to increasingly them having to inflict it on each other in order to survive. It's not torture porn; people being dehumanised, and discarded as so much trash when they lose, is well, the point.

Episode 6 (the marbles) was just heart-rending, and you couldn't have done it without the stakes from the previous episodes. They don't quite stick the landing, but it's such a good show anyway you forgive them*, and despite the pretty terrible dubbing/subs. The complaints about the VIP acting? That was mostly intentional. It's how SK view americans, especially rich ones, in that type of drama. For Americans watching it, it may have felt fake and wrong - well, welcome to how everyone *elses* culture gets portrayed in hollywood. I personally thought it represented the 'ugly american/westerner' trope - fairly well, all things considered.

Is it a bloody, violent show? Very much so. Could you do it without the violence, just cutting away at key points? No, the whole story wouldn't work. It's about how much people can stand, what they will inflict on each other at the behest of masked authorities, on themselves, in order to just try and survive - and not just for themselves, but their familes, who are drowning right alongside them due to the sheer weight of the unservicable debt.

*apart from the hair cut. WTF.
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 9:56 AM on October 21, 2021 [10 favorites]

For me, what won my attention and desire to watch the whole series was in e2.
There are two stunning scenes.
First, when the players ask to be released - and they are. They are send home, pretty easily and safely, given what they just went through. Quite a narrative swerve.
Second, when *every single one of them* asks - begs - to be returned to play.
That's how bad their worlds are. That's the condemnation of society.

There's an echo of this in the last episode, but not so gut-wrenching at that earlier episode.
posted by doctornemo at 10:27 AM on October 21, 2021 [7 favorites]

I'm amused by complaints about violence, considering all the violence for mere titillation that we see in so many TV and movie productions from the US in particular. The violence in Squid Game is very shocking entirely in purpose of the story. I found it a very affecting exploration of human desperation and ethical choices and of capitalist society in general. I cared a lot about the protagonists and I don't easily cry watching anything but I had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat after episode 6. Beautiful acting there too. I thought the VIPs were obvious caricatures so I didn't mind the acting there, it was obvious to me it was purposefully artificial.

I don't understand saying you'd rather watch Ted Lasso. That's apples and oranges. I watched and enjoyed Ted Lasso too but really it's a whole other category of TV for one thing. And while I had fun watching it, I wouldn't really say its characters or plots have affected me as deeply or stayed in my mind or made me think about life and the choices we make and the society we live in as much, or even made me feel such a visceral empathy for characters and situations. It was light-hearted fun, not exactly challenging material. In any case, it's a comedy, while SG is drama bordering on psychological horror, so I don't see why even mention the two together.
posted by bitteschoen at 2:06 PM on October 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

I'm amused by complaints about violence, considering all the violence for mere titillation that we see in so many TV and movie productions from the US in particular.

The violence in Squid Game is incredibly sanitized, which is good if you don't like gore; bad if you think TV desensitizes people to violence.

We're talking one bullet to the stomach kills a person. Instantly. The violence is much more psychological than physical.

Except ... episode 4. After lights out. It's a short scene, and it's done very well, but it's tangibly violent. I had to turn away for a sec (which is tough because the lights are strobing and it's hard to see everything going on.)

The point of the show is not violence, though. The point is Gganbu.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:41 PM on October 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

the English-speaking VIPs acting was just so, so bad that it *had* to be some sort of intentional commentary.

I assumed it had to be. The homophobic scene was odd, though.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:44 PM on October 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

("sent," not send. Typing in a hurry.)
posted by doctornemo at 4:11 PM on October 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

The homophobic scene was odd, though.

This may be off base, and I apologize, but could someone elaborate on this?

To my admittedly non-gay perspective, it seemed like the VIP had many negative qualities, borne of privilege and power, and he was certainly trying to take advantage of a presumed subordinate, but I didn't get the impression that the show was trying to imply he was bad *because* he was into guys. Moreso that he was bad because he was a rich asshole used to getting whatever he wants. Is that still homophobic? Am I missing something?

Again, my apologies if this is an insensitive take.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 4:56 PM on October 21, 2021 [5 favorites]

It's not, like, the most homophobic thing on TV or anything, but I do have to say that scene (along with all the horrendously-acted "we've hired voice actors from 1990s playstation games" VIP scenes in general) really pulled me out of the story for a bit. These are narrative choices, right? So the choice is to demonstrate the depravity of the VIP by hitting on, not just the help, but the male help. A male viewpoint character who is just about the most morally uncomplicated person on the show. A guy who was supposed to be our hero, the guy who was supposed to save the day!

The scene was set up to inspire disgust. You are supposed to find the VIP physically repellent and morally repellent. And he makes his choice, even though they were surrounded by women serving as literal furniture (at least...those were real people, right? At first I thought they were mannequins, then I was pretty sure they were supposed to be people sitting really still?). And of course, we're supposed to cheer when the power-play goes topsy-turvy, when the gay guy gets what's coming to him. The gayness is so crucial to how the story wants you to feel about it, I think it's really fair to call that a homophobic scene.
posted by mittens at 5:31 PM on October 21, 2021 [7 favorites]

Roger that! Appreciate your analysis
posted by mrjohnmuller at 5:40 PM on October 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

demonstrate the depravity of the VIP by hitting on, not just the help, but the male help

Did they ever show any of the "help" being female/female-presenting? I got the impression they were basically a clone army of suspiciously-identical dudes, and that uniformity was part of the whole evil island schtick. Along with none of the VIPs being female, it would make the entire Games apparatus an all-male affair, with the only acknowledged women among the players/victims.

I assumed that was a deliberate choice to some end.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:19 AM on October 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

(If I'm wrong, and the bodypainted people serving as furniture in the VIP room weren't actually people, I'm gonna feel really stupid.)
posted by mittens at 5:09 AM on October 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

If they were actors, I'm deeply impressed by their tableau skills. I certainly thought that they were manequins, and possibly a deliberate nod to the Korova Milk Bar from A Clockwork Orange
posted by mrjohnmuller at 5:47 AM on October 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

I thought they were actors. This story on koreaboo.com would seem to confirm this.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 8:36 AM on October 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

he was bad because he was a rich asshole used to getting whatever he wants

>he makes his choice, even though they were surrounded by women serving as literal furniture

My take is similar to mrjohnmuller's and ties into my VIPs Are Proxies For a Segment of the Audience thing. All these human beings are just things to be used by the VIPs: some are literal furniture, contestants are fodder for gambling & inane quips, I assume other painted people - which included some men, I think - are sex workers... but if you're a VIP, where's the transgressive thrill of violating someone there to be violated? No, I don't want the louchely-posed naked person explicitly there for my gratification, I want to unmask and possess the person serving me drinks. No, I don't want the canape on your tray, I want you to bring me your lunch and watch me eat it in front of you.

This is coming from a het perspective too, but it read to me less gay or bi or omni or pan as someone being in position to cultivate and indulge a voracious appetite, literal rape being an another expression of consumerism and consumption of the poor by the rich.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:28 AM on October 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

(If I'm wrong, and the bodypainted people serving as furniture in the VIP room weren't actually people, I'm gonna feel really stupid.)

They looked like people to me, and some of them seemed to be women.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:03 PM on October 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Nobody's mentioned this (although Absolutely No You Know What comes close), and the post is a few days old now, but it occurred to me to wonder:

Is there any pushback in Korea about the treatment of the foreign masked VIPs? There's the (apparent) US guy, maybe a Brit, and perhaps one of the others is Chinese?

If you did a show like this set in the US, and had Chinese or Koreans or Nigerians betting on which American would survive, there'd be howls of outrage about racism. (And I think there'd be some merit to those howls, but my question is, does the Korean audience care?)
posted by spacewrench at 2:02 PM on October 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

What Squid Game Is Really About: How decades of Korean trauma have spawned a pop culture phenomenon

If you did a show like this set in the US, and had Chinese or Koreans or Nigerians betting on which American would survive

If America had been occupied by the Chinese, Koreans, and Nigerians it would make sense.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:42 PM on October 22, 2021 [12 favorites]

On the topic of sentiments lost in translation, one phrase that is mistranslated in English subtitles is 'hyung'.

That and more is mentioned in What you didn't understand in 'Squid Game' if you don't speak Korean from the Washington Post's Michelle Ye Hee Lee.
posted by peeedro at 6:43 PM on October 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

One of the channels I subscribed to just uploaded their video essay about the show. American sensibility yes, but more to the point of this comment, in the last section of the video they went through previous shows in the death game genre, and mentioned that Schwarzenegger-vehicle Running Man. I only bring it up because irl, Running Man is by now, an actual programme in South Korea*, so massively popular it's spun off even in China. Even led to the death of one celebrity from overwork (Godfrey Gao, who actually did have a Hollywood career). I can just imagine that part of pop culture running in the background as this show was thought up and developed.

(*yes, my genre-savvy friends and I did a doubletake when we first heard of the show)
posted by cendawanita at 10:00 AM on October 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

The show is violent, no doubt.

The plot is driven by the murders over time of 455 people, with a few bonus murders and some smacking around in the periphery as well. But as a Takashi Miike movie veteran, I didn't find it overly gruesome. More visceral than anything you'd see on U.S. prime time TV, for sure, but nowhere near most contemporary-horror-movie levels of violence.

So I thought the level of violence was... appropriate?

It was violent/gory enough that I felt the deaths of the characters, in a way I don't when somebody gets "shot" and dies in a show like The Mentalist where you might just as well be yelling "pow!" and somebody falls over sideways. Not so gory that I got actively grossed out and had to stop watching.

It felt like people were dying and you should take them dying seriously, without getting pornographically engaged with the gruesomeness. I think that's a very fine line to walk and the creators did an excellent job of it.

Obviously this very much a matter of taste and fueled by prior experience, so I'm definitely not saying anyone who thought it was too violent for them is wrong.

But I feel like they got the violence 'right'.
posted by Shepherd at 4:20 PM on November 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

For the Kaiji fans: Squid Game OP
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:46 PM on November 7, 2021

Meanwhile, in a shopping centre in England...
posted by Wordshore at 9:43 AM on November 8, 2021

Meanwhile, in a shopping centre in England...

"My 5 and 6 year old don't know what squid game is, but have asked me because a teacher mentioned at school in assembly that they must not watch it."

Likewise in America. I swear it's almost like a secret Netflix PR campaign to get kids to watch it. Ask all authorities to tell kids they must not and should not watch it under any circumstances. ... and now they REALLY want to watch it.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:29 PM on November 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Squid Game Pitch Meeting
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:12 PM on November 11, 2021

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