‘Squid Game’ strikes nerve in debt-ridden South Korea

Youngkyu Park / Netflix by way of AP

This undated picture released by Netflix reveals South Korean solid members, from remaining, Park Hae-soo, Lee Jung-jae and Anupam Tripathi in a scene from “Squid Game.” Squid Activity, a globally well known South Korea-generated Netflix clearly show that depicts hundreds of fiscally distressed figures competing in fatal children’s video games for a likelihood to escape critical credit card debt, has struck a uncooked nerve at home, wherever there is increasing discontent over soaring domestic credit card debt, decaying position marketplaces and worsening income inequality.

SEOUL, South Korea — “Squid Video game,” a brutal Netflix survival drama about determined older people competing in lethal children’s games for a possibility to escape significant financial debt strike a very little as well near to residence for Lee Chang-keun.

The demonstrate has captivated world wide audiences because its September debut, getting to be just one of Netflix’s biggest hits. It has struck uncooked nerves at property, exactly where there’s rising discontent above soaring own credit card debt, decaying job markets and stark cash flow inequalities worsened by financial crises in the earlier two many years.

In the dystopian horrors of Squid Activity, Lee sees a reflection of himself in the show’s protagonist Seong Gi-hun, a laid-off autoworker coping with a damaged relatives and battling with frequent business enterprise failures and gambling complications.

Seong gets beaten by gangster creditors into signing off his organs as collateral, but then gets a mysterious provide to engage in in a series of six conventional Korean children’s games for a shot at successful $38 million.

The South Korea-manufactured exhibit pits Seong versus hundreds of other financially distressed gamers in a hyper-violent level of competition for the top prize, with losers getting killed at each and every round.

It is elevating disturbing issues about the potential of one particular of Asia’s wealthiest economies, where by folks who as soon as crowed about the “Miracle of the Han River” now moan about “Hell Joseon,” a sarcastic reference to a hierarchical kingdom that ruled Korea ahead of the 20th century.

“Some scenes ended up extremely difficult to look at,” reported Lee, a worker at South Korea’s Ssangyong Motors who struggled with economic complications and melancholy right after the carmaker laid him and 2,600 other workers off when submitting for bankruptcy security in 2009.

After a long time of protests, courtroom battles and governing administration intervention, Lee and hundreds of other Ssangyong workers returned to work in recent a long time. But not ahead of a spate of suicides among the co-workers and spouse and children associates who were being plunged into economic misery.

“In Squid Video game, you see people scrambling to survive after staying laid off at get the job done, struggling to function fried hen diners or working as ‘daeri’ motorists,” who get compensated for driving drunk people house in their have automobiles, Lee mentioned. “That reminded me of my co-personnel who died.”

Lee reported he and his colleagues struggled to obtain work and were being backlisted by other automobile companies that regarded as them militant labor activists.

A 2016 report by Korea College professional medical scientists claimed at the very least 28 laid-off Ssangyong personnel or their family members died of suicide or serious overall health difficulties, together with all those linked to put up-traumatic tension problem.

Squid Match is just one of several South Korean shows encouraged by financial woes. Its dark tale of inequality and class has drawn comparisons with Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning “Parasite,” a different pandemic-era strike with gorgeous visuals and violence exposing the underside of South Korea’s financial accomplishment tale.

South Korea’s swift rebuilding from the devastation of the 1950-53 Korean War has been magnificent –- from Samsung’s emergence as a world technologies giant to the huge popularity of K-pop and flicks that is growing outside of Asia — millions of South Koreans now grapple with the dim aspect of that rise.

“Class complications are significant in all places in the world, but it appears South Korean directors and writers tackle the challenge with far more boldness,” said Im Sang-soo, a film director.

In Squid Game, Seong’s difficulties trace back again to his firing a decade before from the fictional Dragon Motors, a nod to Ssangyong, which usually means “double dragon.”

Hundreds of personnel, together with Lee, occupied a Ssangyong plant for weeks in 2009 to protest the layoffs right before currently being dispersed by riot law enforcement who besieged them, assaulted them with batons, shields and h2o-cannons and dropped tear gasoline cannisters by helicopter.

That violent standoff wounded dozens and is woven into Squid Game’s narrative. Seong has flashbacks about a Dragon coworker killed by strikebreakers whilst organizing fellow game contributors to produce barricades with dormitory beds to block murderous sneak evening attacks by additional vicious opponents on the lookout to remove the level of competition.

In the long run, it is each person for by themselves in Squid Game’s cruel fight royale between hundreds of folks ready to hazard even their lives for a shot at releasing by themselves from the nightmare of insurmountable debts.

The display functions other crushed or marginalized people, like Ali Abdul, an undocumented manufacturing facility employee from Pakistan with severed fingers and a manager who refuses to pay out him, epitomizing how the state exploits some of the poorest people today in Asia while disregarding harmful functioning problems and wage theft.

And Kang Sae-byeok, a pickpocketing North Korean refugee who experienced known practically nothing but tough everyday living on the streets and is desperate for revenue to rescue her brother from an orphanage and to smuggle her mother out of the North.

Numerous South Koreans despair of advancing in a modern society wherever excellent work opportunities are increasingly scarce and housing costs have skyrocketed, enticing a lot of to borrow seriously to gamble on risky money investments or cryptocurrencies.

Household financial debt, at more than 1,800 trillion ($1.5 trillion), now exceeds the country’s yearly financial output. Challenging periods have pushed a document-very low start level reduce as battling couples steer clear of having infants.

Squid Game’s worldwide success is rarely a lead to for pride, Se-Jeoung Kim, a South Korean law firm primarily based in Poland, wrote in a Seoul Shinmun newspaper column.

“Foreigners will appear to you, expressing they far too viewed Squid Game with fascination, and may possibly inquire no matter if Ali’s condition in the drama could definitely take place in a state that is as wealthy and neat as South Korea, and I would have absolutely nothing to say,” she explained.

Kim Jeong-wook, a different Ssangyong employee who spent months with Lee perched atop a chimney at a Ssangyong manufacturing unit in 2015, demanding their work back again, explained he could not enjoy Squid Game just after episode a person.

“It was way too traumatic for me,” he stated.