A historic success that even the blocking of Netflix in China cannot mitigate. This is the first assessment, less than four weeks after its launch, of the South Korean dystopian drama Squid Game on the famous streaming platform. The series has already been seen by 111 million subscribed households, a record for a series start on the platform, the group said on Tuesday (October 13th).
Combining social allegory and extreme violence, Squid Game features characters from South Korea’s most marginalized fringes, including an Indian migrant and a North Korean defector, participating in traditional children’s games to win 45.6 billion won (33 million euros ). Losers are killed. “Squid Game reached 111 million fans – having the biggest start for a series” on the platform, Netflix tweeted.
The juxtaposition of childish pastimes and their fatal consequence, with a polished production and sumptuous scenography, has indeed conquered a very large audience around the world, the series prancing at the top of the rankings on Netflix in more than 80 countries. The record was until now held by a series of a completely different kind, Bridgerton, narrating the sentimental intrigues of good British society at the beginning of the 19th century, which had been viewed by 82 million accounts during the four weeks which had followed its publication, at the end of December 2019.
The figures released by Netflix, which count all accounts watching an episode for at least two minutes, are not subject to third-party verification, unlike audience measurements for traditional television. The phenomenon Squid Game is the latest manifestation of South Korea’s growing influence on the global cultural scene, following K-pop sensation BTS and Parasite, Palme d’Or at Cannes and first non-English language film to win the ‘Oscar for best film.
The Korean wave should not fall immediately: in February, Netflix announced a plan to invest $ 500 million (432 million euros) for this year alone in series and films produced in South Korea. This Korean box also reinforces Netflix in its strategy of producing more international content and in foreign languages.
The streaming giant’s third biggest success is the made-in-France series Lupine, with French star Omar Sy playing the famous gentleman-burglar.
Derivatives, sweets, piracy … the planetary madness around the South Korean series Squid Game reached China where the blocking of Netflix does not prevent its popularity … thanks to illegal streaming sites. Netflix is not available in China. But even if the American platform was, Squid Game would have little chance of getting through the scissors of Chinese censors because of its ultra-violence.
As is often the case with foreign productions, several Chinese websites, very easy to access, offer to watch the series – illegally – in streaming, contributing to its growing success in the country. Since a few weeks, Squid Game thus animates conversations on social networks, especially among young Chinese people who are often addicted to new technologies, to the point of becoming a small phenomenon.
In Shanghai, a crowd now comes to take their picture in front of a new store selling “dalgona”, these crunchy sugar cakes, emblematic of Squid Game where they are at the heart of a challenge to be taken up by the participants. “I had already seen one of these treats for sale on the internet, but this is the first time I have seen one in real life”, enthuses a client to AFP. “The pace of the series is quite fast and the plot is quite thrilling”, declares an audiovisual producer, who has come to queue to buy “dalgona”. As soon as their pancakes are purchased, he and his friends film themselves taking up the challenge of the participants in the series: trying to cut out the shapes inscribed in the confectionery, all without breaking it.
Chinese manufacturers, always responsive and on the lookout for trends, quickly scented the vein and responded to demand – both local and international. They now offer all kinds of merchandise on the gigantic Taobao online sales platform, including the bright pink hooded jumpsuits and the disturbing masks of the anonymous guards of “Squid Game”.
One of the sellers, Peng Xiuyang, told AFP that his online store’s sales jumped 30% thanks to the demand generated by the series. He had never heard of Squid Game, until a customer asked him last month if he was selling the series’ iconic black balaclavas, decorated with squares, triangles or circles. “Our customers are the people who have seen the series and want to join the trend”, explains the seller.
Illegal streaming of the series is now said to be so widespread … that South Korea’s ambassador to China himself, Jang Ha-sung, told a South Korean parliamentary committee that he had called on Chinese authorities to intervene. “We believe that Squid Game, which is gaining popularity around the world, is illegally distributed on about 60 websites in China “, he denounced.