‘Squid Game’ strikes nerve in debt-ridden South Korea

“Squid Sport,” a brutal Netflix survival drama about determined adults competing in lethal kids’s video games for an opportunity to flee extreme debt, hit a bit too near house for Lee Chang-keun.

The present has captivated world audiences since its September debut on its option to turning into Netflix’s greatest hit ever. It has struck uncooked nerves at house, the place there’s rising discontent over hovering private debt, decaying job markets and stark revenue inequalities worsened by monetary crises previously twenty years.

Within the dystopian horrors of “Squid Sport,” Lee sees a mirrored image of himself within the present’s protagonist Seong Gi-hun, a laid-off autoworker dealing with a damaged household and combating fixed enterprise failures and playing issues.

Seong will get crushed by gangster collectors into signing off his organs as collateral, however then receives a mysterious provide to play in a sequence of six conventional Korean kids’s video games for a shot at profitable $38 million.

The South Korea-produced present pits Seong in opposition to a whole lot of different financially distressed gamers in a hyper-violent competitors for the final word prize, with losers being killed at each spherical.

It’s elevating disturbing questions on the way forward for certainly one of Asia’s wealthiest economies, the place individuals who as soon as crowed in regards to the “Miracle of the Han River” now moan about “Hell Joseon,” a sarcastic reference to a hierarchical kingdom that dominated Korea earlier than the twentieth century.

“Some scenes had been very exhausting to look at,” stated Lee, a employee at South Korea’s Ssangyong Motors who struggled with monetary difficulties and despair after the carmaker laid him and a couple of,600 different staff off whereas submitting for chapter safety in 2009.

After years of protests, courtroom battles and authorities intervention, Lee and a whole lot of different Ssangyong staff returned to work lately. However not earlier than a spate of suicides amongst co-workers and relations who had been plunged into monetary distress.

“In `Squid Sport,’ you see characters scrambling to outlive after being laid off at work, struggling to function fried rooster diners or working as `daeri’ drivers,” who receives a commission for driving drunk individuals house in their very own vehicles, Lee stated. “That jogged my memory of my co-workers who died.”

Lee stated he and his colleagues struggled to seek out work and had been backlisted by different auto corporations that thought-about them militant labor activists.

A 2016 report by Korea College medical researchers stated a minimum of 28 laid-off Ssangyong staff or their family died of suicide or extreme well being issues, together with these linked to post-traumatic stress dysfunction.

“Squid Sport” is certainly one of many South Korean reveals impressed by financial woes. Its darkish story of inequality and sophistication has drawn comparisons with Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning “Parasite,” one other pandemic-era hit with beautiful visuals and violence exposing the underside of South Korea’s financial success story.

Netflix tweeted Wednesday that “Squid Sport” has develop into its greatest authentic sequence launch after reaching 111 million followers.

South Korea’s fast rebuilding from the devastation of the 1950-53 Korean Warfare has been spectacular — from Samsung’s emergence as a world expertise large to the immense recognition of Okay-pop and films that is increasing past Asia — although tens of millions of South Koreans now grapple with the darkish aspect of that rise.

“Class issues are extreme all over the place on the earth, nevertheless it appears South Korean administrators and writers deal with the difficulty with extra boldness,” stated Im Sang-soo, a movie director.

In “Squid Sport,” Seong’s troubles hint again to his firing a decade earlier from the fictional Dragon Motors, a nod to Ssangyong, which implies “double dragon.”

A whole lot of staff, together with Lee, occupied a Ssangyong plant for weeks in 2009 to protest the layoffs earlier than being dispersed by riot police who besieged them, assaulted them with batons, shields and water-cannons and dropped liquified tear gasoline by helicopter.

That violent standoff injured dozens and is woven into the “Squid Sport” narrative. Seong has flashbacks a couple of Dragon coworker killed by strikebreakers whereas organizing fellow sport individuals to create barricades with dormitory beds to dam murderous sneak night time assaults by extra vicious opponents seeking to get rid of the competitors.

Finally, it is each particular person for themselves in a merciless battle royale between a whole lot of individuals keen to threat even their lives for a shot at liberating themselves from the nightmare of insurmountable money owed.

The present options different crushed or marginalized characters, like Ali Abdul, an undocumented manufacturing unit employee from Pakistan with severed fingers and a boss who refuses to pay him, epitomizing how the nation exploits a number of the poorest individuals in Asia whereas ignoring harmful working circumstances and wage theft.

And Kang Sae-byeok, a pickpocketing North Korean refugee who had recognized nothing however tough life on the streets and is determined for cash to rescue her brother from an orphanage and to smuggle her mom out of the North.

Many South Koreans despair of advancing in a society the place good jobs are more and more scarce and housing costs have skyrocketed, engaging many to borrow closely to gamble on dangerous monetary investments or cryptocurrencies.

Family debt, at over 1,800 trillion ($1.5 trillion), now exceeds the nation’s annual financial output. Robust instances have pushed a record-low start fee decrease as struggling {couples} keep away from having infants.

Squid Sport’s world success is hardly a trigger for pleasure, Se-Jeoung Kim, a South Korean lawyer based mostly in Poland, wrote in a Seoul Shinmun newspaper column.

“Foreigners will come to you, saying they too watched Squid Sport with fascination, and will ask whether or not Ali’s scenario within the drama might actually occur in a rustic that is as rich and neat as South Korea, and I might don’t have anything to say,” she stated.

Kim Jeong-wook, one other Ssangyong employee who spent months with Lee perched atop a chimney at a Ssangyong manufacturing unit in 2015, demanding the corporate to rehire the fired staff, stated he could not watch Squid Sport after episode one.

“It was too traumatic for me,” he stated.


AP Leisure Author Juwon Park contributed to this story.

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