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Squid Game: un'analisi

Squid Game is Netflix's South Korean product that needs no introduction: the most viewed series in the world on the famous platform in 90 countries - with 111 million viewers in a month. Although it has not been translated into Italian (fortunately!) But only underlined, today it is on everyone's lips and if you have never seen it you feel excluded, so we might as well fix it.

The plot is well known: 456 people, with big money problems, participate in a series of deadly games for the race for the prize pool of 100000000 ₩. Whoever loses dies.

Squid Game cookingwiththehamster
Squid Game | ©

The formula is simple, but of great impact thanks to a fast pace, a magnetic scenography and brilliant and captivating photography.

The cast is superlative: Byung-hun Lee already a real-life friend of Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo (the latter, among other things, will play Berlin in the new Korean version of The House of Paper, coming soon on Netflix), as well as model Jung Ho-Yeon in her first role as an actress (her casting took place in a hotel room during New York Fashion Week), a part that she took very seriously enough to have studied the North Korean dialect to play his character. Beautiful and also very good, therefore, Jung Ho-Yeon appeared online in the gossip pages due to the strong friendship with Jennie of BlackPink (paparazzi on several occasions on the set), as well as already global ambassador of Louis Vuitton.

Wi Ha-Joon has already had the opportunity to make himself known to international audiences with Something in the Rain and Romance is a bonus book (you can find them in my list of favorite Netflix K-dramas).

The soundtrack, on the other hand, was created by composer Jung Jae-il, former author of the music of Parasite and Okja. In the case of Squid Game, he made extensive use of classical music to amplify the viewer's sense of alienating discomfort. Specifically, Haydin's trumpet concerto in E flat major (a fanfare-style virtuosity of 1796 - in the past this style was used to announce important characters or ceremonial openings), An der schönen, baluen Donau by Johann Strauss (composed for the male choral society of Vienna in 1866 to revive the spirits of the Austrians after the victory of Prussia in the Austro-Prussian war of the same year) and Tchaikovsky's Serenade for strings in C major (specifically the waltz, second movement).

Jung Ho-Yeon global ambassador Louis Vuitton squid game cookingwiththehamster
Jung Ho-Yeon Louis Vuitton global ambassador | ©

Horror show but also a costume phenomenon. Squid Game in a short time has become a series of gadgets (you can buy them here) that include the suits, the molds for making Dalgona Biscuits and the white Vans Slip-ons worn by the players (you can buy them here): since the release of the series sales of these shoes increased by 7800%!

Vans slip-on squid games cookingwiththehamster
Vans slip-on white | ©

A video game from the series is already being planned, while in Abu Dhabi the Korean Cultural Center of the United Arab Emirates recently organized a tournament with the same games seen on the small screen: those who lose obviously do not die, but remain on the sidelines to observe. the others. The prize up for grabs? A custom suit.

Squid Game Abu Dhabi cookingwiththehamster
Squid Game a Abu Dhabi | ©

The most die-hard fans have already made dozens of videos on YouTube where they show directing errors, translations not made in the Italian version and some clues or suppositions about a future second season (Netflix has not, however, confirmed or denied any news in this regard).

There are many fun facts, of which perhaps the most sensational are two: the first is the telephone number shown on the business card that really exists and is of the entrepreneur Gil-Young Kim, owner of a sweet shop. Since the series began, she has received thousands of phone calls, so much so that Netflix has offered her a generous refund.

squid game cookingwiththehamster
Squid game: il biglietto da visita | ©

The second concerns the famous labyrinth room with stairs, a clear reference to Escher's woodcut entitled "Relativity" (1953), but also to the Muralla Roja designed in the 1970s by architect Ricardo Bofil on the Costa Blanca of Calpe, in Spain.

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Relatività, Escher | ©

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Muralla Roja, Ricardo Bofil | ©

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Squid Game | ©

The whole story unfolds through the game theme - in the first episode you can see the same protagonist struggling with horse racing bets (gambling) and the gift to his daughter, a toy gun, ironic and grotesque reference in full southern style -Korean.

In accordance with the psychological, play is a voluntary and motivated entertainment (mostly fun) activity carried out for recreational purposes, a reason for lightheartedness.

If we go back to the Latin, we see that the Latin word ludus means game, leisure, pastime, show, school but also deception, joke, cheating, gym for gladiators.

It is the method by which children discover the world and with irony it is channeled into adulthood. The game is universal, all peoples of the Earth and from any social background have experienced it.

In Squid Game what destabilizes is the childhood myth linked to the game that is overturned in a macabre and grotesque sense into something cruel and perverse. It is not children who play but adults with real problems: those who play with their lives are a small circle of powerful people who, through their money, have fun with the lives of desperate individuals - who, I stress, decide to participate of their own free will, as well as the definition of "game".

This activity is so innate in the human being that the same creator of the Squid Game, rich and no longer stimulated to have fun, decides to participate in first person as competitor number 001.

The strength of Squid Game also lies in having staged a series of games typical of childhood in South Korea but also known throughout the world. This trick has allowed spectators from different and very distant nations to get involved.

The first game shown is the one in the subway and is called ddakji: Gong Yoo (actor much loved in Korea for the roles played in Train to Busan and Goblin) challenges the protagonist to be able to overturn shapes of colored paper with his own strength.

squid game ddakji cookingwiththehamster
Squid Game, ddakji | ©

The most iconic is 1, 2, 3, star, famous all over the world with different names. Here it is striking the presence of the huge robot doll capable of killing competitors with its laser gaze. The doll is a well-known character in South Korea: her name is Yonghee and is portrayed in primary school textbooks. She sings a song that reads "the mugunghwa flower has blossomed" (the Rose of Sharon, the country's national flower).

Squid Game 1, 2, 3, stella cookingwiththehamster
Squid Game, 1, 2, 3, stella | ©

Squid Game Yonghee cookingwiththehamster
Squid Game, Yonghee | ©

The Dalgona (달고나) cookie might sound like a cinematic gimmick, but it's actually a popular candy in South Korea dating back to the 1960s. It is prepared with melted sugar and baking soda.

Many people will remember the Dalgona coffee during the lockdowns during Covid-19 (here the recipe), this is instead a traditional sweet that has returned in vogue in recent weeks in kiosks and cafes in Seoul.

squid game biscotto dalgona cookingwiththehamster
Squid Game, biscotto Dalgona | ©

The tug-of-war is called juldarigi in Korean and is practiced at village festivals during the celebration of the full moon according to the Lunar Calendar.

Squid Game juldaijiri tiro alla fune cookingwiththehamster
Squid Game, juldaijiri | ©

At this point, however, we need to take a step back and try to see Squid Game within a very specific stylistic vein: survival horror.

In Italian "survival horror", is a category of video games based on the survival of the character, usually armed and with limited resources, whose purpose is to find makeshift weapons, equipment and escape routes, solving puzzles in a claustrophobic, often bizarre setting. and alienating.

The term survival horror was coined in 1996 by Capcom to advertise Resident Evil. However, it would appear that as early as 1992 it would have been used to mean Alone in the Dark. A final school of thought would lead this label back to Namco's scrolling horror series Splatterhouse (1988).

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Resident Evil | ©

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Alone in the Dark | ©

splatterhouse squid game cookingwiththehamster
Splatterhouse | ©

On a cinematic level, however, it is always the Japanese who have created the leader: Battle Royale (2000) by Kinji Fukasaku - based on the novel of the same name (Koushun Takami, 1999), is the cult film with Takeshi Kitano, Masanobu Andō and Chiaki Kuriyama (Kill Bill's famous Gogo Yubari).

The plot is simple: a class of difficult students are sent by the government to an island to kill themselves, until one remains. A brilliantly successful metaphor of Japanese society at the end of the 90s, so much so that it was copied and re-proposed abroad: the most striking case of literary and cinematographic plagiarism is the American Hunger Games (first novel of the 2008, the first film of 2012).

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Battle Royale | ©

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Hunger Games | ©

2000 is the year of Gantz, Hiroya Oku's hugely successful sci-fi horror death game manga series (followed by three films).

gantz squid game cookingwiththehamster
Gantz | ©

Without a doubt, the product that most resembles Squid Game is As the Gods Will (Takashi Miike, 2014), based on the manga of the same name by Muneyuki Kaneshiro and Akeji Fujimura.

More than just inspiration, here we can talk about plagiarism (as well as between Battle Royale and Hunger Games): the protagonists of both films must survive timed deadly games. Specifically, there are the same recurrences of style in the 1, 2, 3 star game and the theme of infantilism - the tug-of-war game would have been plagiarized by a Korean TV show in 2014.

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As the Gods Will | ©

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As the Gods Will - Squid Game | ©

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Korean tv | ©

However, in As the Gods will the protagonists are students who are forced to participate in deadly games and unwillingly to get a cash win. Furthermore, As the Gods Will is permeated with the determinism of a higher god, while Squid Game is not. In the first the delight is in the pleasure of perverted gods, while in the second it is the prerogative of rich wealthy men who pay to see desperate people die one after the other - in Squid Game there is a rigid pyramidal structure in which everyone from bottom to top , they depend on the money that is upstream, the prime mover combined with the hunger for wicked fun.

Hwang Dong-hyuk, author of Squid Game (2021), defended himself from the allegations of plagiarism by claiming to have written his work two years before the release of As the Gods Will, although this statement really seems to waver.

Finally, it is also worth mentioning Alice in borderland (2020) by Shinsuke Sato, taken from the manga by Haru Aso. The protagonist participates in a deadly video game, another rhetorical figure of the contemporary generation of Japanese.

It is interesting to underline that in As the Gods Will and Alice in Borderland the protagonists are shown actually playing video games on consoles: the first is not surprisingly Resident Evil 6, thus creating an effective meta-filmic reference.

alice in borderland squid game cookingwiththehamster
Alice in borderland | ©

"I wanted to write a story that was an allegory or a fable about modern capitalist society, something that described extreme competition, kind of like the extreme competition of life. But I wanted to use the kind of characters we've all encountered in real life."

The author said, adding that he used the "squid game" as the title of the series precisely because it is a competitive and aggressive game like today's South Korean company.

As we know, the development of South Korea has happened extremely fast and only in recent years (I talked about it here). Thanks to the empires of cosmetics and pop music (I talked about it here), the "korean wave" has become a global and pervasive phenomenon. Despite the sweetened self-promotion of this nation, starting from Parasite (2019) the Western world has begun to witness a fierce criticism of Korean society and work by Korean artists - in this case thanks to Bong Joon- I have.

In these works (as it appears in many K-dramas, in which becoming homeless or being persecuted by loan sharks appears very simple) the ferocious South Korean capitalism is described in particular detail.

parasite squid game cookingwiththehamster
Parasite | ©

South Korea is today the country with the worst income inequality, characterized by a lot of money in the hands of a few companies, a real estate market out of control (in less than five years the price of houses in Seoul has increased by 50%), the 'widespread scourge of alcoholism, a social, family and school pressure comparable perhaps only to that of Japan in the late 1980s and 1990s.

With the global pandemic the situation has obviously worsened: the state has reduced the rules on loans, allowing unprecedented access to credit and causing a dramatic increase in individual debt. It therefore seems that today South Korea is about to experience the same drama of the bursting of the speculative bubble that folded Japan in the late 1980s (since then the country has not yet recovered): the financial problem worries citizens more than Covid, as well as the profound social inequalities and the lack of jobs for a generation of hyper-educated young people who define their country as "hell" - and that paradoxically the Squid Game are not even shown on the contrary, the protagonists are adults with no future.

Real, financial and social problems that are the same as in many countries today and that make Squid Game somehow universal. Precisely for this reason, its profound and extreme success is captured.

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