the Netflix series named “Squid Game” has taken the world by storm, making it the most trending show the world has ever seen and thanks to social media. Hwang Dong-hyuk is the creator of the series who actually wrote the script 10 years ago, but no media or filmmaking company wanted to produce it (big mistake on their part).
Squid Game focuses on showcasing the massive income inequality that occurs not just in South Korea, but all over the world, and the desperation these individuals have for financial gain. The show is about a very wealthy society giving poor people a chance to win a big prize by playing various playground games, but those who lose are killed.
Although at first glance it might look like a very simple show with a narrative that isn’t really new or original, Squid Game hides a much deeper meaning and the creator had admitted to portraying not only socio-economic inequality present in Asia country, but also some historical events that affect people in Korea even to this day.
Warning: this article contains spoilers
America has a history with Korea that began in 1871 with the first expedition to Korea. As you can imagine, it didn’t go so well as over 650 American troops stormed into the country, taking defensive forts and killing over 200 of their soldiers. America pulled out because to them the country just wasn’t worth it (at the time).
In 1883, the first American diplomatic envoy arrived in Korea and it was then that the countries signed a peace treaty which was followed by an agreement for the exchange of goods between the nations and allowing the passage of their fleets. At the time, Korea was still lagging behind the rest of the world in the industrial revolution, so America’s help came in handy.
However, as the show shows, this was only the beginning of US imperialism in Korea. For example, in Episode 7 (Season 1), the wealthy who come to the island to bet on who wins and who dies are seen as the Americans of Korean history, always winning Korea’s back while the Korea is divided in two. They are the only English-speaking VIPs on the show, portraying them as Americans in Korean history.
This level of imperialism goes much further when English-speaking VIPs order waiters to sexually satisfy them as if they owned Koreans as slaves. If we look at the history of US imperialism in Korea, it is quite accurate.
For those who are not so familiar with this area of history, the Korean War that took place between 1950 and 1953 is the war that led to the split of Korea, creating North Korea and South Korea . There are two very distinct scenes in the series that depict the effects of this war, even in the present day, on the Korean population of the two countries.
One of the scenes is present towards the end of season 1 where two brothers have to face each other in a duel with firearms. There are a lot of emotions going on and showing on the actors’ faces, but ultimately it comes down to “kill or be killed.” This scene perfectly encapsulates the kind of emotions experienced by North and South Korean soldiers during the Korean War. They were all brothers of the same blood, from the same nation with a long history, but found themselves forced to kill each other.
Another scene depicts the storyline of Sae-byeok, a defector whose mother is still trapped in North Korea while his baby brother is stuck in a children’s welfare center in South Korea waiting to be reunited. This is actually the sad truth for many Korean citizens in both countries. Since the end of the Korean War, only a handful of people have made it out of North Korea alive. During the war, many were stuck on one side or the other.
The 1997 Asian financial crisis was South Korea’s greatest economic blow at the time. Thousands of workers had been laid off, from white collar workers to factory workers. This is one of the first steps towards the economic inequality present in Asia today. This inequality is like an endless vicious circle that does not allow the poor to get richer, nor the rich to become poor.
This was actually portrayed in the storyline of Gi-hun working in a factory but being laid off along with thousands of other workers. He tried several times to open a small food business, but each time it failed. These are the precautions that not only South Koreans, but most of the Asian population have suffered from since the financial crisis of 1997. These are things that are not only present in the series, but which affect the lives of people in this moment.
For the most part, I assume it’s an entertaining sight, but to me, it feels like a cry for help from the world to wake up to the reality of our world, or at least the reality in Korea. There’s a good reason why Hwang Dong-hyuk (the creator) chose to write, produce, and direct the entire series alone so that he depicts the exact things that inspired him to create this story.
If you’ve ever watched the show, I’d recommend watching it again with all that new knowledge you’ve gained, just to see how well these scenes and the whole show depict the historical events presented here. For those who haven’t, I would still recommend watching it, despite its brutality.
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