Squid Games: the real-life crisis that inspired hit Netflix show

Brutal survival drama portrays fictional victims of South Korea’s soaring household debt

Netflix show Squid Game
(Image credit: Netflix)

A “hyper-violent” South Korean show which debuted on the small screen less than three weeks ago is on track to become Netflix’s biggest original series of all time.

The premise of dystopian thriller Squid Game is centred around a brutal survival game where successful participants can walk away with 45.6bn Korean won (£28m).

A group of 456 indebted and desperate people are lured into the competition after being recruited by a mysterious organisation. But the game has what the BBC described as a “bloodthirsty” twist: if you lose, you die.

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The harrowing show, which draws parallels with Battle Royale and The Hunger Games, has been a runaway success for Netflix, reaching number one in 90 countries just ten days after its release. According to TV website What to Watch, 95% of Squid Game views have been outside the UK.

When considering why a show with such a gory, bleak premise has received such global acclaim, The Guardian’s Monica Tan thought it could be to do with our collective experience over the past 20 months. “I wondered if it has struck a chord because so many of us are feeling burned out, ‘over it’, and we’re searching for a path of least resistance out of the daily grind,” she wrote.

Another reason for Squid Game’s success is its ability to “produce a level of childlike emotion” in its viewers, said Tom Usher in GQ. Instead of the “brash, comic deaths” often associated with the dystopian genre, “each contestant’s death feels like a punch in the gut because they feel like fully realised human beings”, he added.

During CodeCon, Vox Media’s annual technology conference, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said Squid Game “is on track to be its biggest show ever and is already number one in most countries”, The Verge’s Alex Heath tweeted.

According to data acquired by Forbes, the five most popular original series on the streaming platform are currently the first series of Bridgerton, Lupin, The Witcher and Sex/Life, and the third series of Stranger Things.

But despite all the hype surrounding his show, director Hwang Dong-hyuk has not yet committed to delivering a second season. “I don’t have well developed plans for Squid Game 2”, he told Variety’s Patrick Fratter, adding: “it is quite tiring just thinking about it”.

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