Editor’s note: The following story contains minor spoilers about the Netflix series “The Squid Game.”
(CNN) – “The squid game” has unleashed its own Hollywood-centric game: trying to explain how (or really, guess why) a South Korean drama that arrived with virtually no fanfare has become what Netflix is billing as possibly its “most successful show of all time“.
After watching all nine episodes, the answers are probably not due to a single factor, but to a series of them. Among them, the thrill of the public discovering a concept for themselves, without the need for intellectual critics to direct it; the “Black Mirror” -style dystopia of familiar childhood games turned deadly; and a greater appetite in the United States for internationally produced content, already evident in the emergence of the South Korean film at the Oscars “Parasite” in 2020 and the popularity of other Netflix shows coming from abroad, such as “Lupine.”
As for the series itself, there is nothing so novel about “The Squid Game” that necessarily explains its explosion on social media, having become the kind of trend that the media, frankly, cannot afford to ignore.
Instead, what writer-director Hwang Dong-hyuk did was pour old wine into a new bottle. Seen like this, “The Squid Game” presents a visually attractive variant of themes already seen on many occasions, such as making use of the division of classes, and the rich who take advantage of the poor and destitute, at a time when the public might be more receptive to that message.
As is often the case, timing, packaging, and platform (meaning Netflix’s 200+ million subscribers) have combined to create what an executive described to NBC News as “an organic fandom”. What noted VultureThe series took off, however, with little prior criticism and “hardly any marketing in the United States.”
Despite the comparisons to “Parasite,” which also looked at the issue of economic inequality, there is no shortage of material in the “You Might Like It” column when it comes to the darker take on “The Squid Game,” in which the rich make the poor risk dying for their fun.
The concept has frequently been in the middle of the show, from “The Hunger Games” to “The Running Man” to the indie movie “Series 7”, which focused on a reality show fictional that forced contestants to participate in an elimination game that involved fighting to the death.
A more recent example released just before the pandemic, the Universal film “The Hunt,” sparked controversy with its premise about wealthy liberals creating an elaborate device to hunt down “deplorable.”
In its short life, the streaming service Quibi also offered “Most Dangerous Game”, in which a terminally ill person tried to make money by allowing himself to be a prey to the “1%” represented by Christoph Waltz. The plot largely mirrored the 1994 film “Surviving the Game,” in which Ice-T played a homeless man kidnapped and hunted by wealthy hunters seeking the ultimate thrill.
Despite its gruesome violence, the social focus of “The Squid Game” is clearly perceived, establishing how desperate the players are and how little the “VIPs” behind their suffering value their lives.
At the same time, that element that involves the VIPs could be the weakest link in the series, or at least the most obvious and thunderous when they arrive in the last episodes.
Still, when those elements come into play, viewers are already interested in the fate of the key players and are curious to know when and if the origins and secrets of the game will be revealed.
Another interesting aspect of “The Squid Game” is the idea that, however ruthless and brutal it may be, the poor souls without resources who participate must be given a fair and equal opportunity. In a way, that egalitarian streak is also reflected in the show’s popularity, which has crossed cultural barriers and the multitude of streaming offerings to become an unexpected sensation.
Of course, one of the factors mentioned, the public’s sense of discovery, is also the most difficult to keep in isolation. As with any success, speculation has already revolved around what could be done next, and copycats will soon arrive.
Watching something break into the public consciousness shows how unpredictable successes can be, especially in this age of dizzying abundance. But when a show suddenly comes up, and there’s a “fandom,” the only certainty is that it won’t be long before “The Squid Game” will grow new arms.