Saturday, October 23, 2021

Squid Game

Korea makes a lot of money exporting cars, computers, and all kinds of electronics.  All of these items are concrete.  They also export culture which in essence is ideas.  K-Pop has made inroads on our airwaves and last year a Korean movie actually won the Best Picture Oscar.  Now with the blessing of Netflix, the Koreans are invading television series in a very big way.  

"Squid Game" has had a greater impact on Netflix than any other tv. series.  Many of you have noticed, but more is to come.

What is the attraction?  Unexpected violence leading to death plays a role, but what stands out is that there seems to be no justification for the violence.  The killings are just called "eliminated" for playing a game.  

The cruelty is stunning.  It is difficult to determine a motive for setting up such cruelty, but an expressed sentiment is sort of an explanation.  If you have too much money, life is boring, if you have no money life is no fun.  Harken back to Roman times when gladiators fought to the death which was sometimes averted if the crowd signaled that preference.  It was not just the idle rich that passed judgment, but often included the hoi polloi.  It was all for entertainment and it must be admitted that cruelty draws attention.

The dynamics when lives are at stake can be tense.  There are six games and the participants can only guess what they are.  There are twists galore.  There are cheaters among both the participants and the staff administering the games.  The police have tried to infiltrate.  Each participant is desperate for different reasons.  Most of them are heavily in debt with no prospect for getting out. 

"Parasite" (2019) was a bit deceptive, but in reality it depicted class differences and that modern Korea had a degree of inequality--like the rest of the world.  It seems inevitable that inequality will be with us forever, but historically there have been resets--due to such things as pestilence and violence.  Check out:

"Squib Game" highlights inequality and while it is highly entertaining, it should also be thought provoking.  Do we want some segments of our population desperate while another segment exploits them for personal profit (or their amusement).  The end should make viewers concerned about the direction of our society.

Other films have attempted to convey such themes entertainingly with various degrees of success.  Here are a few contributors to the success of "Squib Game."

Director, writer and producer Hwang Dong-hyuk   Directed and wrote "Silenced" (2011) and "Miss Granny" (2014), both highly regarded by me.   Check

Jaeil Jung, composed the music and earlier had done "Okja" (2017) and "Parasite" (2019).

Lee Jung-jae, the leading protagonist is a fashion model.  His face seemed vaguely familiar and it turns out many of his films are on my list.  "The Housemaid" (2010),  "The Thieves" (2012),  "Assassination" (2015),  and "Along with the Gods: The Two worlds" (2017).

Oh Yeong-su played an old man on the verge of dementia who turned out to be more useful than first thought.  Despite his age there are only a few screen credits, one of which I have seen.  "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring" (2003).

Anupam Tripathi played a Pakistani immigrant, another desperate participant.  Born in India he picked up an interest in theatre while there, but ended up moving to Korea where he was able to not only learn the language, but able to gain small roles.  His role in "Squib Game" was his first feature and ironically there is supposed to be Urdu dialogue, but Anupam is listed as speaking English, Korean and Hindi. 

Jung Hoyeon played a North Korean defector and created quite a stir from her role that launched her to a huge Instagram following.  Prior to this role she was well established as a fashion model and had only been in video shorts.  Surprised to learn she has been known for her red hair.  Don't be surprised when she makes a bigger splash, not just in Korea, but in the English speaking world.

If this got you hooked on Korean films you could check out some of the following:

Parasite won 3 Oscars:

"Crash landing on You" (2019)

Right now I am enjoying "Designated Survivor:  60 Days" (2019) and feeling it provides the same tension as the American original.

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