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Deadly children’s games

South Korea’s Squid Game tops Netflix charts with its gruesome critique of win-at-all-costs attitudes

A scene from Squid Game. Youngkyu Park/Netflix

Deadly children’s games

The South Korean series Squid Game has become Netflix’s most popular series launch ever, the streaming service announced on Wednesday. Since its release in mid-September, the 9-episode thriller has attracted 111 million viewers worldwide and topped charts in 90 countries, including the United States.

The wildly popular show revolves around 456 contestants who participate in children’s playground games for a chance to win more than $38 million to pay off their crushing debts. The catch: You lose, you die.

Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae), a middle-aged chauffer, meets a well-dressed man in a subway station who invites him to play a simple game with a cash prize for each round he wins. Given to gambling, Gi-hun can’t resist. He signs up to play more games for more money—his alternative is to keep running from loan sharks and face losing custody of his daughter.

Numbered 456, Gi-hun finds himself with other players wearing the same green tracksuit on a remote island. Their game quickly becomes a bloodbath as masked officials mercilessly gun down the losers. Horrified, Gi-hun quits as soon as he can, leaving behind the giant piggy bank that fills up with prize money—bundles of cash amounting to about $84,000 for each eliminated player.

Yet Gi-hun and others players return when they realize the world outside the deadly playground is no less grim. He reconnects with his childhood friend, a disgraced investor, and befriends a Pakistani illegal immigrant, a North Korean defector, and an old man with a brain tumor. What all the returnees have in common is their impossible debt. It makes them desperate enough to play, hoping to win and turn life around.

Vices of all kinds come into play in this survival show. It is rated TV-MA for graphic violence, sex, nudity, and explicit language. Despite the games that leave everyone with blood on their hands—both literally and figuratively—not all free-fall into depravity. Gi-hun grapples with his humanity in the relationships he forges.

While the series insists on the dignity of humans, it denies its Christian basis and presents believers as annoying in their evangelism or hypocritical in their behavior.

Squid Game shows how humans become beasts when they seek to advance or amuse themselves at the expense of others. It also touches on the very real problem of growing household debt in South Korea, which has risen to more than 100 percent of the country’s GDP, the highest in Asia. Seeing the imago dei in our fellow man can prevent us from dehumanizing both sides of the class divide: those with too little money and those with too much.


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