Haven’t you watched “Squid Game”? Here’s what you can’t miss.

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The players in the game – an unemployed autoworker, a North Korean refugee, a fraudulent investor – are all debtors, dejected by circumstances and weakness and desperate enough to participate in the “kill or be killed” scenarios imagined. through games, but invisible. presumably autocratic creators. (The potential payout, accumulating in a glass sphere as competitors are knocked out, runs into tens of millions of dollars.) The setup is a commentary on South Korea’s rigid class stratification. and a pretty obvious allegory: Losers in the Korean economy’s rigged game, players have a chance to win in the more equal and merit-based (supposedly) arena of the squid game, but at the risk of ‘almost certain death.

But there is a difference between referring to something and actually illuminating it, or using it as the basis of an authentically human drama. “Squid Game” has nothing to say about inequality and free will beyond simple truisms, and its characters are superficial assemblages of family and battlefield clichés, thrown on an obviously ridiculous premise. (The cast members, led by South Korean stars Lee Jung-jae and Park Hae-soo, are working valiantly and with some success to give players real nuances of emotion.) His goal, common at the moment. , is to be loved. himself with his audience by confirming their received ideas. Like another recent South Korean hit, Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar-winning film “Parasite,” the series does this with room to spare.

And what that also accomplishes, of course, is to cover up the violence, which is more than mildly disgusting in its scale, graphic presentation, and calculated gratuity. Long before the hero, Gi-hun (Lee), played the titular game in the final episode with a steak knife stuck in his hand, I had had enough. Apologists can argue that the combination of pragmatic expedition and cartoonish exaggeration in the murder has aesthetic and thematic resonance, but nothing on screen supports this. There is little dread and even less emotion, just the logistical satisfaction of the body count.

“Squid Game” director and screenwriter Hwang Dong-hyuk is a feature film director (“The Fortress”, “Silenced”) who is making his television series debut. He and his cameramen keep the story readable and the footage consistently well composed, and he stages the action with lackluster skill. But it doesn’t have a distinctive style, which is especially noticeable as the series is clearly a throwback to a slightly earlier generation of South Korean films from directors like Park Chan-wook and Kim Ki-duk, whose stylistic panache and biting spirit made it possible for outraged violence to be an organic part of their stories. In “Squid Game”, it’s just empty, bloody calories.


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