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Red Light, Green Light: A Not So Comprehensive Review of “Squid Game”

by Prashanthi Thota (‘23)  


Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of “Squid Game,” the South Korean drama that has taken the world by storm. Squid Game follows Seong Gi-hun (played by Lee Jung-jae) as he enters a survival game with 455 other players in order to win 45.6 billion won, or roughly $39,028,695.40 in the US. Even though the competition is made up of children’s games that he and the other players grew up with, he quickly realizes they come with a deadly twist. The show navigates through themes such as friendship, family, betrayal, and most importantly, the luxury of monetary prosperity. Also, don’t keep reading if you haven’t watched the show because there are spoilers! 

Why is it so popular? 

I don’t remember the last time a show became this popular this fast — no one was talking about it, and suddenly everyone was. My friends were talking about, my family was talking about it, even random strangers were talking about it. But why, and how, did it gain popularity this quickly? 

According to NBC News, the show was highly accessible thanks to Netflix. Netflix, with over 209 million subscribers, offers over 3,600 movies and 1,800 TV shows, so there’s something for everyone. What’s interesting is Netflix has become its own content house/factory, churning out 371 “Netflix Originals” in 2019 alone — and other streaming platforms such as Amazon Prime, Hulu, and HBO Max have jumped on the bandwagon. With Squid Game being a Netflix Original, those who own a Netflix account are able to watch it, and nowadays, everyone and their mom has an account. But what if you don’t? Well, first, get one. Second, you can either leech off of someone’s account or you can stream it off  some random website (we’ve all done that). 

The show also quickly gained popularity due to the mix of big-name actors and upcoming actors, which may resonate more with the Korean audience. Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo (who plays Cho Sang-woo), Wi Ha-joon (who plays Hwang Jun-ho), and Heo Sung-tae (who plays Jang Deok-su) are just a few named that have acted in popular Korean dramas. The rise of new actors in the show also lends to its popularity. Some names include Jung Ho-yeon (who plays Kang Sae-byeok), Anupam Tripathi (who plays Ali Abdul), and Kim Joo-ryoung (who plays Han Mi-nyeo). 

However, I quickly learned about the show through the sudden influx of memes across my Instagram explore page. In true human behavior, society took it upon itself to make memes about the show and its relationship with daily hardships we all face. And to someone who has never seen the show, after seeing hundreds of variations of the meme where Ali holds up Gi-hun by his shirt collar (you know which one I’m talking about), I was inclined to watch it so I knew what was going on and didn’t feel like an outsider. 


Although it’s not something I think about all the time, music is such an integral part of a show or movie. I came to acknowledge that the music used played such a vital role in this show that without it, I don’t think it would’ve been a good show. Period. 

The music was composed and chosen by Jung Jae-il, who is known for the music behind Parasite and Okja, both of which are popular South Korean movies. The music choice in Squid Game was used as an indicator for different events within the competition: classical music signaled the start/rules of a new game, that recorder song (“Way Back Then”) was used in flashback scenes, and that one song where the violin goes bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum and there’s that eerie voice going “ahhhh” (called “Pink Soldiers”) was played when the soldiers were involved in scenes. 

I’m no music expert myself, but one thing I enjoyed about the classical music specifically was how it juxtaposed the violent nature of the games, and I think Brett and Eddie from TwoSetViolin explained this much better than I could in their video, “This is Why the Squid Game Soundtrack is God Tier”. 

When Gi-hun wakes up for the first time with all 455 players, Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto, 3rd movement starts playing. As Eddie explains, the song is used to “hark the beginning of something [cheerful],” but as everyone knows, that’s not the case at all. This song is used multiple times, typically as the morning alarm for the contestants so that they wake up in a cheerful mood before their impending death. 

Another famous classical piece used was the Straus II – Blue Danube; even though you may not know the title, everyone knows what is it. This song was always played when the rules were being announced, and even though it’s such a harmonious and beautiful song to listen to, they were basically being set up to kill each other. One thing Brett notes that was really interesting was this song is typically used in waltzes — these dances are elegant and organized and calm, and in the first episode when the contestants are lining up for the game, he mentions how they’re all “waltzing to their death.” Although there were a few other classical pieces in the show that were not listed, I think the music was such an integral part for creating that distinct juxtaposition between the nostalgia of these games, and the sheer violence that ensued because everyone was that desperate for the grand prize. 


Every show has its motifs and symbolism, and Squid Game is no exception. Besides friendship, betrayal, and the other common ones, the one that stood out to me was debt. I think this is something we all know firsthand as students — it’s harrowing that we have to work for the rest of our lives paying off student loan debt, and unfortunately, privilege and social circles play a big role. Squid Game, beyond its violence and goriness, was relatable to everyone on some level in that sense. All 456 players are fighting for their lives to pay off their debts, and the VIPs watch from their comfy couches and watch people die. 

Even though debt was the most prevalent theme, I think the debt portrayed in this show was more relatable to the Korean audience more than the American. In America, in addition to student loan debt, we often refer to the national debt, which is about $28 trillion and growing by the second (seriously, look at the national debt clock, it’s scary). However, in Korea, personal debt is bigger than corporate/national debt. Even though South Korea is a highly developed nation, people say it’s impossible to live debt free, and if you’re really unlucky, you can be tied to a loan shark and it’s something you have to deal with for the rest of your life. According to the news agency Reuters, around fifty thousand South Koreans declared personal bankruptcy in 2020 alone, and the number keeps growing. It’s hard to pay off loans because banks can’t trust that you will pay them off, and oftentimes declaring bankruptcy can cause employment restrictions. This then causes people to look at alternative ways — maybe not playing deadly children’s games — to pay off their debts. 

What I Didn’t Like and Conclusion 

If I were to give this show a score, I would give it a solid 8/10. Although the show had impeccable music, cinematic scenes, and an amazing cast selection, I had so many questions.

First, what was the deal with Hwang Jun-ho’s character (the police officer) ending so abruptly? He just got up from the table after his brother shot him, and boom, we never see him again. I wanted to know what he would do with the games after he got caught, but I guess it was safe to assume that he did nothing because the brother was still alive and the last game kept on going.  

Second, the acting of the VIPs was subpar. It makes sense; usually American characters in foreign shows and movies have to enunciate very clearly in their English, to the point where their dialogue sounds so unnatural. Alongside that, I just felt like I never really knew why they were there. Did they donate all of the prize money? Why did it even start in the first place? What was the point of them visiting? There were so many unanswered questions with the VIPs, so I didn’t really appreciate that. Going with that, I also didn’t like the twist they had with the old guy being behind the games. I get that it was supposed to be some major twist, this “OMG!” moment, but it seemed so blah because he just dies at the end. I also hated that he was so ambiguous when Gi-hun kept on questioning him, but I guess that was the point of his character.  

Lastly, the ending. I’m not a fan of shows with open endings/endings left for interpretation, and Squid Game was exactly that: why did Gi-hun dye his hair red? Why didn’t he just get on the plane to meet his daughter? How was he planning to stop the games when he turned around? We just don’t know! I think it ended so suddenly, and it was just very underwhelming.  

Overall, this show was good. Would I watch it again? No. Am I still thinking about this show? No. Would I recommend it to someone who wanted to start watching Korean dramas? Sure! The one thing that came from this show was everyone’s appreciation towards foreign TV shows and movies, but I do find it weird how capitalistic everyone made this show: from everyone being a Squid Game guard for Halloween, to opening up Squid Game-themed restaurants, to everyone doing the Squid Game dalgona challenge on TikTok. At the end of the day, just make sure to say “no” if a man comes up to you on a train station when they ask you if you want to play a game. 

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