For the past few months, my brother has been insisting that I should watch Korean mini-series Squid Game on Netflix.
Having sleepless nights after watching Korean horror movie: The Tale of Two Sisters (2003) - not to mention the American remake of it The Uninvited (2009) that made me lose more sleep- I was adamant on not watching any more far-eastern violence.
Our repeated dinner conversation bored my mom and sister-in-law: “When are you watching Squid Game?” “No Squid Game, No Prawn game! Leave me alone la!” “Please give it a chance! Watch one episode only. If you don’t like it then don’t continue. How about we watch it together?”
This was an offer that I couldn’t refuse and I agreed on one condition: that I watch each episode in three or four parts as I don’t have patience for series in general.
Funny enough, we started calling it “Prawn Game” which made me totally forget the series’ original title. When sharing the news with my Spanish friend over Zoom that I was watching “Prawn Game” he looked perplexed and corrected me instantly, to which I gave the typical Arab answer accompanied with a hand shrug: “Ya sidi! Prawn or squid! It’s all seafood!”
The first episode was a bit slow for my taste and I didn’t really get the Asian humour side of it. But once the games started, I was hooked. The main characters of the series are all struggling with financial debts and take part in these games in order to win the prize of $35 million.
The idea of adults competing through games they played as children was genuine and brilliant. The first game ‘green light, red light’ was something similar to what we played as children ‘move and stop’ (how we tortured our poor aunts to give the orders out!).
Even the marble game brought fond memories of painful, dusty fingernails and never wining (I always sucked at aiming!). This proved how childhood games are universal though methods and rules may vary.
As expected, the show was tremendously violent and gory, not to mention names in English subtitles didn’t match the Korean pronunciation.
However, the main concept of how people behave around each other when put in survival situations was clever. Would you sacrifice others in order to save yourself or choose altruism and be humane till the end while going through series of physical and psychological discomforts that clouds your sane judgement by the minute?
The main characters have different personalities which shape their decisions and outcomes. You can’t help but sympathise with all characters- even the corrupted ones- and try to understand their ulterior motives.
The screen that separates you from the barbarity that’s happening before your eyes is what keeps you semi-objective the whole series.
O Yeong-su the 77-year-old actor is one of the most interesting and surprising actors in the series, along with the main character Lee Jung-jae.
The unusual choice of an old man - who had experienced all those games as a child - as one of the main characters was original.
Squid Game became a global phenomenon and is the most watched series on Netflix since its release in September 2021. It received many awards including The Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor (O Yeong-su) and the Screen Actor Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance for both male and female categories.
It took the series ten years to come on screen as director Hwang Dong-hyuk couldn’t find producers to fund it until Netflix took interest. Squid Game is original, engaging and makes you re-think all aspects that makes a human. Highly recommended.
Rasha al Raisi
The writer is a certified skills trainer and author of The World According to Bahja