For some South Koreans, “Squid Sport” hits too near dwelling

South Korea Squid Game
South Korean homeless individuals collect to get free lunch supplied by a Christian group in Seoul, South Korea, October 13, 2021.

Ahn Younger-joon/AP

Seoul, South Korea — “Squid Sport,” a brutal Netflix survival drama about determined adults competing in lethal kids’s video games for an opportunity to flee extreme debt, hit somewhat too near dwelling for Lee Chang-keun.
The present has captivated world audiences since its September debut on its strategy to turning into Netflix’s greatest hit ever. It has struck uncooked nerves at dwelling, the place there’s rising discontent over hovering private debt, decaying job markets and stark earnings inequalities worsened by monetary crises previously 20 years.
Within the dystopian horrors of “Squid Sport,” Lee sees a mirrored image of himself within the present’s protagonist Seong Gi-hun, a laid-off autoworker dealing with a damaged household and scuffling with fixed enterprise failures and playing issues.

Seong will get overwhelmed by gangster collectors into signing off his organs as collateral, however then receives a mysterious provide to play in a collection of six conventional Korean kids’s video games for a shot at successful $38 million.

FILE PHOTO: The Netflix series
The Netflix collection “Squid Sport” is performed on a cellular phone in a September 30, 2021 photograph.


The South Korea-produced present pits Seong in opposition to tons of of different financially distressed gamers in a hyper-violent competitors for the final word prize, with losers being killed at each spherical. 

It’s elevating disturbing questions on the way forward for one among Asia’s wealthiest economies, the place individuals who as soon as crowed in regards to the “Miracle of the Han River” now moan about “Hell Joseon,” a sarcastic reference to a hierarchical kingdom that dominated Korea earlier than the twentieth century.
“Some scenes have been very exhausting to look at,” mentioned Lee, a employee at South Korea’s Ssangyong Motors who struggled with monetary difficulties and melancholy after the carmaker laid him and a pair of,600 different workers off whereas submitting for chapter safety in 2009.
After years of protests, courtroom battles and authorities intervention, Lee and tons of of different Ssangyong staff returned to work in recent times. However not earlier than a spate of suicides amongst co-workers and members of the family who have been plunged into monetary distress.
“In ‘Squid Sport,’ you see characters scrambling to outlive after being laid off at work, struggling to function fried rooster diners or working as ‘daeri’ drivers,” who receives a commission for driving drunk individuals dwelling in their very own automobiles, Lee mentioned. “That jogged my memory of my co-workers who died.”
Lee mentioned he and his colleagues struggled to search out work and have been backlisted by different auto corporations that thought of them militant labor activists.
A 2016 report by Korea College medical researchers mentioned not less than 28 laid-off Ssangyong staff or their family members died of suicide or extreme well being issues, together with these linked to post-traumatic stress dysfunction.
“Squid Sport” is one among many South Korean reveals impressed by financial woes. Its darkish story of inequality and sophistication has drawn comparisons with Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning “Parasite,” one other pandemic-era hit with beautiful visuals and violence exposing the underside of South Korea’s financial success story.
Netflix tweeted Wednesday that “Squid Sport” has change into its greatest authentic collection launch after reaching 111 million followers.
South Korea’s fast rebuilding from the devastation of the 1950-53 Korean Struggle has been spectacular – from Samsung’s emergence as a world know-how large to the immense reputation of Okay-pop and flicks that is increasing past Asia – although thousands and thousands of South Koreans now grapple with the darkish facet of that rise.
“Class issues are extreme all over the place on the planet, but it surely appears South Korean administrators and writers deal with the problem with extra boldness,” mentioned Im Sang-soo, a movie director.
In “Squid Sport,” Seong’s troubles hint again to his firing a decade earlier from the fictional Dragon Motors, a nod to Ssangyong, which suggests “double dragon.”
A whole bunch of staff, together with Lee, occupied a Ssangyong plant for weeks in 2009 to protest the layoffs earlier than being dispersed by riot police who besieged them, assaulted them with batons, shields and water-cannons and dropped liquified tear gasoline by helicopter.
That violent standoff injured dozens and is woven into the “Squid Sport” narrative. Seong has flashbacks a few Dragon coworker killed by strikebreakers whereas organizing fellow recreation members to create barricades with dormitory beds to dam murderous sneak evening assaults by extra vicious opponents trying to remove the competitors.
Finally, it is each particular person for themselves in a merciless battle royale between tons of of individuals keen to threat even their lives for a shot at releasing themselves from the nightmare of insurmountable money owed.
The present options different crushed or marginalized characters, like Ali Abdul, an undocumented manufacturing facility employee from Pakistan with severed fingers and a boss who refuses to pay him, epitomizing how the nation exploits among the poorest individuals in Asia whereas ignoring harmful working situations and wage theft.
And Kang Sae-byeok, a pickpocketing North Korean refugee who had recognized nothing however tough life on the streets and is determined for cash to rescue her brother from an orphanage and to smuggle her mom out of the North.
Many South Koreans despair of advancing in a society the place good jobs are more and more scarce and housing costs have skyrocketed, engaging many to borrow closely to gamble on dangerous monetary investments or cryptocurrencies.
Family debt, at over 1,800 trillion ($1.5 trillion), now exceeds the nation’s annual financial output. Robust occasions have pushed a record-low beginning fee decrease as struggling {couples} keep away from having infants.
Squid Sport’s world success is hardly a trigger for delight, Se-Jeoung Kim, a South Korean lawyer primarily based in Poland, wrote in a Seoul Shinmun newspaper column.
“Foreigners will come to you, saying they too watched Squid Sport with fascination, and should ask whether or not Ali’s scenario within the drama may actually occur in a rustic that is as rich and neat as South Korea, and I’d don’t have anything to say,” she mentioned.
Kim Jeong-wook, one other Ssangyong employee who spent months with Lee perched atop a chimney at a Ssangyong manufacturing facility in 2015, demanding the corporate to rehire the fired staff, mentioned he could not watch Squid Sport after episode one.
“It was too traumatic for me,” he mentioned.

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