South Korean film and television has been slowly but surely overtaking the world in the past few decades, most notably with the recent Academy Awards wins for Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite.” Nobody can argue that this mainstream popularity is not deserved, especially when considering the high quality of work done by directors like the aforementioned Bong Joon Ho, as well as Park Chan Wook and Na Hong Jin, just to name a few popular examples.
The latest and the most prevalent of these South Korean masterpieces in our society today is “Squid Game,” the newest Netflix production that is taking over mainstream consciousness of the U.S. and, frankly, the rest of the world.
Created, written and directed by Hwang Dong Hyuk, “Squid Game” is a nine-episode long survival thriller, following a group of 456 people as they compete in a series of puzzling and dangerous tasks. Saying more would only spoil the well thought-out story.
The first thing that will catch an audience member’s eyes is the colorful cinematography that fantastically contrasts the brutality of the content present within the show’s narrative.
The color scheme of the show is filled with pink and green shades, verging on the complementary Christmas colors of red and green. This creative decision seemingly creates discomfort in a visual aspect at all times, even during the more quiet moments in an otherwise constantly stressful viewing experience.
Brutality in South Korean cinematography is nothing new for anyone who is at least familiar with it on a surface level, the best example being almost every film that Park Chan Wook, of the “Oldboy” and “The Handmaiden” fame, ever created. Still, the brutality of “Squid Game” is necessary and almost always used to progress the narrative and character arcs, never coming across as overly gratuitous, or like the creator just aimed shock value to keep the audience engaged.
Some of the acting and character highlights are definitely the portrayals of 001 and 067 by Oh Yeong Su and Jung Ho Yeon, respectively. Oh Yeong Su gives life to one of the best elderly characters on television in recent years, and it is almost impossible to watch his portrayal and not shed at least a few tears.
Ho Yeon, on the other hand, is given much less freedom in the writing of her character, but the grace and care with which she performs the coldness of 067 makes her more compelling than most other characters in the show.
Finally, it would be a crime not to mention the unassuming and non-intrusive soundtrack that follows every big reveal and tense moment of the show. The composer Jung Jae Il crafted every composition to perfectly fit the slow-paced buildup of the show’s mysteries and horror, adding audible tension whenever the music is present.
The only issue that the show has is the fact that it indulges in its own buildup too much. Almost every narrative beat is drawn out to the point of zoning out, and while the payoffs are almost always worth it, the journey towards them can feel slightly strenuous.
If you are a fan of South Korean cinema and television, thrillers, mysteries or all of the above, please believe the hype and watch “Squid Game.” If you are somebody who does not indulge in mainstream pop culture because it “all feels the same,” swallow your pride, do yourself a favor and watch this episodic work of genius.
4 out of 5 stars