Ultraviolent Korean TV show Squid Game has become a Netflix smash hit with its story of hundreds of indebted men and women competing on a deadly game show in twisted children’s games for a £27 million cash prize.
The nine-episode series has soared to number one on the streaming giant’s rankings with blood-soaked scenes of bullets fired into contestants’ heads, bodies piled high and graphic dissection as their organs are harvested afterwards.
Each episode revolves around a traditional Korean children’s game, with some like Grandma’s Footsteps and British Bulldogs, and the winners progress to the next round of a gruesome Hunger Games-style ladder.
Adding to the depravity, the contestants are poor people who are enticed to compete to win a grand prize of 45 billion won ($38m, £27m, AU$52m).
A contestant is covered in blood after another player’s head is blown off in a hellish version of a Grandma’s Footsteps type game played in one of the early episodes
Sae-byeok is played by top fashion model HoYeon Jung, 27, (pictured) in her first-ever screen role
Terrifying masked assassins roam around in the game show and kill the contestants who fail
The unlikely heroes are Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae), a failed father and gambling addict, and his flawed childhood friend Cho Sang-woo (pictured) (Park Hae-soo), a disgraced banker wanted by the police.
Adding to the depravity, the contestants are poor people who are enticed to compete to win a grand prize of 45 billion won (pictured: a still from the show)
The unlikely heroes are Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae), a failed father and gambling addict (pictured)
The unlikely heroes are Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae), a failed father and gambling addict, and his flawed childhood friend Cho Sang-woo (Park Hae-soo), a disgraced banker wanted by the police.
The candy-coloured sets of this fictive game show appear like a children’s playground, but they are anything but, as masked men strapped with machine guns stand-by to shoot the losing contestants.
But not even the dead are spared, as a doctor is sent to dissect the losing players’ corpses to harvest their organs after each round.
As the story progresses, the contestants are increasingly pitted against each other, culminating in the final round, the eponymous Squid Game, in which the chief protagonist Gi-hun must kill his childhood friend Sang-woo.
Slate Magazine says: ‘There are literally hundreds of such deaths in the show’s nine episodes, with a bonus dissection scene, if what you really crave is to see some intestines.
‘And almost everybody on the show is afraid, all the time—the actors are constantly trembling, crying, and shaking, under the most extreme forms of duress.
‘If you can stand all that, you should watch this show.’
Many say it’s the game show narrative which makes it addictive, with the audience intrigued as to what will be the next stage in the grisly game and who will progress to the next rank.
NME says: ‘Thematic intelligence aside, Squid Game is also a white-knuckle watch, thanks to its visceral competition element. The twists, rules and set-ups of the games are finely calibrated to elicit maximum tension and excitement.’
This fast-paced narrative structure runs alongside well developed protagonists with captivating back stories who the viewer hopes will survive the onslaught.
Other reviewers argue it’s these characters who keep you coming back for more.
The i newspaper says: ‘The main reason viewers are sticking with the series is because the characters are complex, interesting and in all cases – even the baddies – entirely captivating …
‘As the games progress, you find yourself attached to certain players and hoping for the demise of others.’
Every episode is now available on Netflix, with a dubbed English version or with the original Korean audio and subtitles.
The horrifying gunmen in masks who marshal the games and shoot dead those who fail to progress to the next round
The show has been likened to the Hunger Games and Takeshi’s Castle
The candy-coloured sets of this fictive game show appear like a children’s playground, but they are anything but, as masked men strapped with machine guns stand-by to shoot the losing contestants
Released on September 17, the show entered the Top 10 two days later and climbed to No. 2 the following day, and was at No. 1 by September 21.
With the massive success of the series, there are already questions about whether there will be sequel.
But writer and director Hwang Dong-hyuk, who has had massive success on the big screen in recent years, said he might have to return to movies before he gets there.
‘I don’t have well-developed plans for Squid Game 2,’ he told Variety. ‘It is quite tiring just thinking about it. But if I were to do it, I would certainly not do it alone. I’d consider using a writers’ room and would want multiple experienced directors.’