Like everyone else in the world, I found myself bingeing the raved about Korean Netflix show 'Squid Game'.
But unlike many others, I don't think it's worth the hype. (Cue the dramatic music.)
Don't get me wrong, the show isn't bad. Not at all.
The premise is simple: 456 people, all of whom are struggling financially, risk their lives and compete against one another in a series of children's games to win ₩45.6 billion (S$52 million).
It's not exactly a new concept (see: Alice In Borderland, Battle Royale, Hunger Games, etc), but it is exciting enough to lure viewers into the world of the story.
There are also many aspects about the show that should be applauded, such as the production, set designs, art direction, and cinematography.
Just take a look at these:
The cast is perfect too. The range of emotions each actor portrayed was simply mesmerising.
Coupled with the profound themes and social commentary on the negative aspects of capitalism, it's understandable why the show appeals to the masses.
It's unique and vastly different from the usual K-dramas we often see on Netflix.
But there are two main issues I have with 'Squid Game'— Plot and characters, arguably the two most important elements in a show.
There were a number of wasted opportunities that made a potentially great show turn into an ordinary one.
***Warning: Major spoilers ahead***
Many questions were left unanswered which, to be fair, may or may not have been deliberate.
There's no official announcement for a second season yet, so we don't know for sure.
Either way, I felt that the first season should have been able to stand on its own without leaving too many gaps and loopholes, especially since director Hwang Dong-hyuk has no concrete plans for a second season right now.
The biggest twist in the show is when Player 001, Oh Il-nam, the old man with a brain tumour and dementia, was revealed to be the mastermind behind the entire thing.
He created and designed the games, and voluntarily participated in them.
This then begs the question: Was he in any danger at all during the games?
Some viewers theorised that Il-nam respected the rules of the games and wasn't given special treatment. They also theorised that he didn't care about staying alive or dying, and that he just wanted to have some fun.
But he wasn't actually killed after being 'eliminated' from the marble game, so was he really subjected to the same outcome as the other participants?
Wouldn't this then go against the games' established principles? In one of the episodes, the Front Man espoused the equality of the games, saying how every participant has a fair chance of winning. But is it really fair though, if Il-nam could escape death as he liked?
And how was Il-nam assured safety? (If safety was a concern.) Sure, he could have easily gotten away with the individual games, but in the tug-of-war game, he could have actually fallen to his death, right? Was that just pure luck or was it planned somehow?
Another loophole in the show is the toilet. Yes, the toilet.
We see in the third episode that Han Mi-nyeo, the crazy lady who would do anything to win a game, practically begging the masked men to go to the toilet.
Judging by how strict the masked men were, it surprised me that in the next episode, Min-yeo and Jang Deok-su, the gangster who gambled all his money away, spent some 'sexy time' in the toilet without any trouble.
Naturally, I have a lot of questions about this. How easy is it for a participant to sneak into the toilet and do what they want? Why weren't they supervised?
The masked men
This brings me to my next point. How committed are the masked men to their job? And who are they?
Are all of them men? How were they chosen? Did they accept the job voluntarily or were they coerced?
The masked men have a hierarchy and are subjected to strict rules, such as getting executed instantly if a participant sees their face.
It's revealed in the later episodes that some masked men have been secretly working with a participant (the doctor) to collect and sell the organs of dead players.
But how do these men know each other? Did they infiltrate the establishment for their own motives? Why didn't the Front Man interfere earlier?
And are the masked men paid for their job? If yes, why did some of them have to resort to other money-making schemes? And if not, why would they sign up for a job with such harsh consequences for failure?
The Front Man
Speaking of the masked men, I have a number of issues with their leader— the Front Man.
It was revealed that his real identity is Hwang In-ho, and he won the game in 2015.
Assuming he received loads of money for being the winner, why was he living in a cramped apartment? (We saw this when his brother, Jun-ho, tried to find him in the second episode.)
And how did he become the Front Man? Does this mean that the winners would eventually have to be the Front Man in the future? How is the Front Man chosen?
Now let's move on to the ending of the show. There are polarising views about this on social media.
A year after the game, main character Seong Gi-hun, who emerged as the winner, continued to live like a drifter, refusing to use the blood-stained money he won.
Yet after he found out who Il-nam truly was, he decided to change his life by dyeing his hair, and introducing Kang Sae-byeok's brother to Cho Sang-woo's mother. What was the reason for this, though? I couldn't comprehend why Gi-hun decided to bring two strangers together.
And didn't Gi-hun participate in the games for his mother and daughter? So why did he choose not to board the plane in the end?
It was constantly depicted throughout the show that Gi-hun held some form of morality in his life. Judging by how he still led a poor life despite having all the money, it's implied that he's guilty of his selfishness.
Yet, he chose the games over his daughter yet again. Did he not learn anything from his experience?
Loopholes aside, there were some moments in the show that actually got me hooked, although the lack of pay-offs was disappointing.
For instance, Il-nam's character in the first half of the show and his friendship with Gi-hun were compelling and got my eyes glued to the screen.
But Il-nam's reveal in the last episode felt like a clichéd plot device purely for shock value, throwing away all the effort and time contributed to his character and relationships.
More importantly, his reveal cheapens the game. His reasoning for creating it and participating in it appeared quite shallow. (He was rich and bored.)
I mean, in a behind-the-scenes interview, director Hwang said that he has planned 'Squid Game' since more than a decade ago, so I was expecting more depth from the show.
The same was felt with undercover policeman Jun-ho. I was initially very excited to see how his storyline would unfold.
It seemed like he would be key to unraveling the entire network.
However, the extensive development and time invested to his story felt wasted.
It was essentially just to reveal that actor Lee Byung Hun was his brother and the Front Man.
Following the reveal, Jun-ho was shot by his brother and (seemingly) died.
I can't help but feel cheated. Again, there's a possibility of a second season so who knows? Jun-ho might still be alive.
Due to these loopholes, the characters in the show appeared slightly one-dimensional.
More could have been done to flesh out their motivations and personalities.
Although their backstories were briefly shown, it wasn't enough for me to empathise or root for any of them.
And of course, I can't talk about characters without mentioning the foreign VIPs. Where do I even begin?
I think many would agree with me on this— the foreign VIPs ruined the show.
Their acting was cringeworthy and their line deliveries were awkward, not to mention the '69' joke which went on for far too long.
I found myself skipping through their parts because it was too hard to watch. Their introduction also made the show feel westernised, which is a shame.
Okay yes, I have high expectations
I know I've mentioned a lot of negativities about the show and yes, maybe my expectations were too high.
But with a great concept and a wonderful cast, it feels wasted that the plot and characters aren't powerful enough.
Nonetheless, 'Squid Game' is still number one in Netflix Singapore and in the top 10 in many other countries, including the U.S.
If you turn off your brain for a while and allow yourself to be entertained by the games, actions and colours, you'll understand why.
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Top images via Netflix Korea/Instagram.