“Squid game” is entertaining for the world. But there is a different feeling in South Korea

Hong Kong – Why do South Koreans watch “Squid game”? Because everyone else is.

Horror series with nine episodes on Netflix It hit #1 in 90 streaming service markets around the world, including South Koreawhere it was made.

“I got to the point where I couldn’t have a conversation without watching the show,” said Jong Dun, a security analyst in Seoul, the capital of South Korea.

But the show also stirs up tension as it relentlessly tackles a problem particularly entrenched in South Korea: debt and the never-ending struggle to pay it off.

The “Squid Game” cast includes some of South Korea’s biggest stars, including Lee Jung-jae as the protagonist, Seong Gi-hun, an indebted father who receives a business card from a stranger offering him a way out. Along with 455 other contestants – from all walks of life but all in debt as well – agreed to compete for a cash prize of 45.6 billion won (about $38 million) by playing a series of traditional Korean children’s games, only to find this disqualification discovered. From each round means death.

A card with a phone number on one side is given to the 456 participants of the Netflix Squid Game.Yongkyu Park/Netflix

“There is a dissonance between Korean pride that this Korean show dominates Netflix worldwide, and unease at what the show seems to reveal about Korea,” said Sidarbog Saiji, associate professor of Korean and East Asian Studies at Busan National University. in Busan, South Korea. “Koreans like to be #1, but #1 at the cost of the kind of airiness of your soiled clothes is a bit different.”

South Korea also produced “parasite,” Saggy said the 2020 Academy Award winner for Best Picture also focused on themes of inequality, may have added to that annoyance.

However, the Squid Game is very popular in its native land.

The show was released on September 17 just before Chuseok, a Korean holiday similar to Thanksgiving When families gather, it’s the perfect time to binge-watch. The increase in network traffic led an ISP to sue Netflix to cover its costs.

The enthusiasm also extended to real life. A Seoul street vendor who served makers of Squid Game with dalgona, a brittle sugar candy in the center of a game, told Reuters he’s seen a boom in business.

One of the games in “Squid Games” on Netflix involves carving shapes like circles, stars, and triangles into a piece of honeycomb candy called Dalgona without letting it break.Yongkyu Park/Netflix

Thousands of curious South Koreans also tried the eight-digit phone number that appears on the business card, which the show makers didn’t realize would reach a real person. The owner of the number, and even people with similar numbers, are inundated with calls and messages at all times.

On Wednesday, Netflix said it was working with the series’ local production company to address the issue, including editing scenes to remove the number.

Park Saeha, a senior student studying economics at Yonsei University in Seoul, said the Squid Game was “spelling-binding because it was so straightforward and straightforward.”

“Even though I’m young, I can easily relate to the difficult realities of a highly competitive society,” she said.

This intense competitiveness may be one reason for South Korea’s success, with a period of rapid industrialization beginning in the 1960s that turned it into the world’s tenth largest economy. But as in many other countries, a college degree and a white-collar job do not guarantee the financial security they are used to, Saji said. with the average income From about $42,000 a year, many Koreans now find they have to borrow to keep up.

Driven by low interest rates, household debt in South Korea has grown significantly in recent years, and is now equal to the country’s annual GDP. (In the United States, by contrast, household debt is about 80 percent of GDP.) People may accumulate debt due to credit card spending, unemployment, or gambling losses, but a large portion of it is related to real estate.

Housing prices are rising rapidly, especially under President Moon Jae-inThe average price for an apartment in Seoul is close to $1 million. Lending restrictions and efforts to cool the housing market have done little to rein in household borrowing. In addition to housing, some Koreans, especially young people, are also borrowing money to invest in cryptocurrency.

People look at the skyline of Seoul from the observation deck of Mount Wumun last July.SeongJoon Cho / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Ko Se Wong, a commentator on Korean culture in Germany, said many Koreans are starting to borrow from legitimate financial institutions such as banks. When this avenue is exhausted, they may switch to second-tier lenders who charge higher interest.

In a worst-case scenario, he said, borrowers resort to shark lending operations that can charge triple-digit interest rates, “and then get pushed into situations that you can’t really get out of.”

According to some estimates, 400,000 Koreans owe sharks.

“When you look at the characters on the show who are involved in this game, it represents that demographic of Koreans who are in the worst possible situation because of their personal debts,” Ko said.

Recently widely shared Facebook shareCoe said he was shocked when a friend told him he was living paycheck to paycheck, despite having a good job.

Coe said the friend “doesn’t strike anyone as a wasteful,” but he struggles to put up with the trappings of middle-class life: an apartment, a car, and the occasional travel with his wife and children.

“Everything is paid for by loans, I tell you,” Ko told his friend. “We don’t have the money.”

Security analyst Young said the “Squid Game” plot was easy to accept because it “dealed with such familiar stories of debt-burdened people you encounter in real life.”

A scene from “Squid Game” on Netflix.Yongkyu Park/Netflix

“The story stems from a deeply rooted perception of how society views failure, especially individual financial failure,” he said.

Bankruptcy in South Korea is generally seen not as an opportunity to start over but as a devastating fate. This is emphasized in “The Squid Game,” as Saeji put it, when contestants are given the option to leave but choose to continue playing even at the risk of their lives.

“In the ordinary world, it is not just about the death of their bodies, it is the death of their pride. It is a shame to be a failure in front of your family,” she said.

Viewers in South Korea say the show is unsettling as it injects death and violence into court games such as red light, green light and tug of war.

Kim Hearn-sik, a Seoul-based pop culture critic, said the show plays on childhood nostalgia “and with it the innocent times when you weren’t having any problems.” “However, the story tells you that escaping from reality is not the answer.”

The “Squid game” is “essentially a Korean story, featuring games that people remember playing as children,” Don Kang, vice president of Korean content at Netflix, told NBC News in an email. “So we knew it would resonate with our members here.”

The doll acts as a “it” person in a deadly version of Red Light, Green Light in “Squid Game”.Netflix

Its popularity in the West was even more surprising. But Korean cultural exports have been sweeping Asia for years, and Netflix was already betting on their growing allure. The company is spending $500 million this year on Korean content, the same amount it has spent in the past five years.

Saji said that after decades of Western cultural influence, the success of the “Squid Game” shows that South Korea can make a television show using Hollywood I feel like “they could do it better.”

While “Squid Game” isn’t the first story about a fight to the death, Oh Dong Jin, director Hwang Dong Hyuk, who has a film degree from the University of Southern California, said it made it impactful in his own way. A prominent film critic in South Korea.

“Every movie borrows this and that from other movies. So, what matters is how creatively you can borrow from different references.” So, even from that point of view, the traditional kids games the show uses make the Squid Game quite original.

Margie Kim, a housewife in Seoul watching the “Squid Game” with her family, said that while she was enjoying the video’s sharpness and pop-art-influenced imagery, the underlying messages were also important.

“I feel the pain of what our society is going through,” she said. She said the show deals with many pressing issues — income inequality, youth unemployment, a rapidly aging society — and it’s something her entire family can relate to and talk about.

“A lot of middle-class people and ordinary people live with a lot of debt,” she said. “I can totally sympathize with the people who joined the game.”

Jennifer Jett reported from Hong Kong and Stella Kim from Los Angeles.

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