[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Squid Game" Episode 2
By William Schwartz | Published on
So a whole lot of people died in Red Light Green Light. That's the children's game played last episode where you have to stop moving when the person at the tree is looking at you. I called it Blooming Flowers because that's the silly sing-songy nursery rhyme the main player says at the tree before turning around again. But anyway, the death. The players are quite shocked by all the death, and predictably invoke the election clause to their contracts to end the game.
If there's any one word I would use to describe "Squid Game" it's predictable. One kind of surprising thing does happen this episode, but not really since it better sets up the premise of having to explain why people would willingly choose to continue participating in the bizarre death game. It's not a very serious spoiler to say that it's because all the players are financially destitute, and need money badly enough that the risk is worthwhile.
With that in mind, might as well explain our other perspective characters. Sang-woo (played by Park Hae-soo) was a big shot in the world of finance, but rather managed to make a mess of that. He's an old friend of our lead character Ki-hoon. Il-nam (played by Oh Young-soo) is an old man whose player number is one. I'm actually not totally sure whether Il-nam is his actual name or just a nickname since in Korean it just means man one.
Sae-byeok (played by Jung Ho-yeon) is a North Korean defector. Her parents appear to still be in North Korea. Or possibly China. Come to think of it that wasn't made very clear. Deok-soo (played by Heo Sung-tae) is a gangster debt collector turned gangster debt collected. And lastly, Ali (played by Anupam Tripathi) is an Indian migrant worker. Which is kind of vague, but he speaks Hindi with his wife at home rather than a regional dialect, so all we really know is that he's from somewhere in India.
If you found these character descriptions rather perfunctory, well, that's pretty much what it feels like watching the second episode explain who they all are. It's not exactly a waste of time. This information is all relevant. The issue is that none of these stories are especially remarkable, and the actors appear to be resorting to overacting to try and detract from the sheer quantity of cliches. "Squid Game" is clearly banking on its weird gimmick, even as we remain nowhere near a payoff.
Review by William Schwartz
"Squid Game" is directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, written by Hwang Dong-hyuk, and features Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, Oh Young-soo, Wi Ha-joon, Jung Ho-yeon, Heo Sung-tae. Broadcasting information in Korea: 2021/09/17~Now airing, Fri on Netflix.
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.