Betrayal, Wits, and Ambition: How the K-Drama “Squid Game” Took Over the Internet


Lukas Werner

The breathtaking visuals, unique soundtrack, and interesting characters in “Squid Game” are all contributors to its massive rise in popularity.

Megan Snyder and Stella Rask

Song Gi-hun’s life has been nothing but miserable. 

From struggling to pay off debts, losing custody of his daughter, and being robbed of his gambling money, the character’s hope gradually diminishes. 

Everything changes for him when a strange man at the subway offers him one hundred thousand won (South Korean currency) if Gi-hun beats him in a simple game. After many attempts, Gi-hun finally wins. As promised, the man gives him the money along with a mysterious card, inviting him to play additional unknown games in order to win more money. 

Gi-hun then learns his daughter is leaving the country with his ex-wife, unless he is able to prove that he can support his daughter financially. As a result, he desperately calls the number on the card. Without knowing what to expect, he gets picked up by a van and drugged to sleep.

Upon waking, he finds himself in a large room with 455 other desperate people hoping to pay off their debts by winning the cash prize. 

Then the first game begins. However, the unsuspecting people learn of one rule that wasn’t stated before:

If you lose or break the rules of the game, you die. 

This suspenseful nine-episode Korean drama throws you for a loop with shocking betrayals, cliff-hangers, and many twists and turns along the way.

Despite premiering recently on September 17, the show has already become Netflix’s biggest hit and has amassed a shocking 111 million viewers worldwide.

The brutality of the show reflects the complexity of classism and wealth inequality by illustrating the extreme lengths each character will go to receive the money.

It also offers social commentary on Korea’s changing economy — criticizing the exploitation of the poor by the rich, and the myth that hard work always generates a reward in a capitalist society.

In addition, many scenes throughout the show are filled with colorful scenery, childhood games, and calming classical music, which strikingly contrasts much of its emotional and disturbing content. 

From a Pakistani factory laborer and a pick-pocketing orphan to a businessman who graduated from a prestigious university, all of the characters have unique stories, yet face serious financial struggles. Each player of the game has a background that connects with issues very prevalent in modern Korean, and even global, society — allowing many viewers to empathize and relate to each individual. 

For lead actress Jung HoYeon, one of Korea’s top models, “Squid Game” was her first acting role. The debut boosted her fame, giving her the label of most followed Korean actress on Instagram, now with nearly 20 million. She revealed her worries about being suited for her powerful character Sae-Byeok in an interview with The Korean Herald, saying she turned to writing in a journal to get more acquainted with the character’s personality.

“I tried many ways to become the real Sae-Byeok, and writing a diary was one of them,” Jung said. 

Lee Jung-Jae, the actor that plays Gi-Hun, reveals in his interview with Forbes that he’s ecstatic that Korean media is growing in popularity around the world.

“At the same time I hope the series and its success will open doors for more Korean films and series to reach global audiences,” Jung-Jae said. 

Jung-Jae also expressed that there was difficulty in the process of portraying the character Gi-hun, because he was so accustomed to playing villain roles. Yet when looking for other aspects of himself he could portray through his acting, the role of Gi-hun really stood out to him.

“When I read the script, I saw how kind-hearted Gi-hun was, and I liked that he didn’t lose that human side of him even in the most extreme situations,” Jung Jae said, “I think that’s also why a lot of viewers rooted for him. I put a great deal of thought into bringing this character to life, which gradually changed the way I breathe and think and eventually transformed me into Gi-hun.” 

Overall, the series’ stunning visuals, soundtrack, and dark themes draw the viewer in. By tackling relevant subjects in the Korean economy while still entertaining the audience, “Squid Game” has the potential to be a gateway to more Korean media representation and is a perfect series for those who enjoy dystopian thrillers.