October 26, 2021
'Squid Game' strikes nerve in debt-ridden South Korea

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

The present has captivated international audiences since its September debut on its method to turning into Netflix’s largest 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 in the previous 20 years.

Within the dystopian horrors of “Squid Game,” Lee sees a mirrored image of himself in the present’s protagonist Seong Gi-hun, a laid-off autoworker dealing with a damaged household and combating 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 sequence of six conventional Korean kids’s video games for a shot at profitable $38 million.

The South Korea-produced present pits Seong in opposition to lots of of different financially distressed gamers in a hyper-violent competitors for the last 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 concerning 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 were very hard to watch,” stated Lee, a employee at South Korea’s Ssangyong Motors who struggled with monetary difficulties and despair after the carmaker laid him and a couple of,600 different workers off whereas submitting for chapter safety in 2009.

After years of protests, court docket battles and authorities intervention, Lee and lots of of different Ssangyong staff returned to work in current years. 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 Game,’ you see characters scrambling to survive after being laid off at work, struggling to operate fried chicken diners or working as ‘daeri’ drivers,” who receives a commission for driving drunk individuals dwelling in their very own vehicles, Lee stated. “That reminded me of my co-workers who died.”

Lee stated he and his colleagues struggled to seek out work and have been backlisted by different auto corporations that thought-about them militant labor activists.

“Squid Game” 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 Game” has turn out to be its largest unique sequence launch after reaching 111 million followers.

South Korea’s speedy rebuilding from the devastation of the 1950-53 Korean Struggle has been spectacular — from Samsung’s emergence as a worldwide know-how large to the immense reputation of Okay-pop and films that’s increasing past Asia — although thousands and thousands of South Koreans now grapple with the darkish facet of that rise.

“Class problems are severe everywhere in the world, but it seems South Korean directors and writers tackle the issue with more boldness,” stated Im Sang-soo, a movie director.

In “Squid Game,” 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 lot 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 fuel by helicopter.

That violent standoff injured dozens and is woven into the “Squid Recreation” 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 seeking to get rid of the competitors.

In the end, it is each particular person for themselves in a merciless battle royale between lots of of individuals keen to threat even their lives for a shot at liberating 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 a number of the poorest individuals in Asia whereas ignoring harmful working circumstances 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. Powerful instances have pushed a record-low start charge decrease as struggling {couples} keep away from having infants.

Squid Recreation’s international 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 Game with fascination, and may ask whether Ali’s situation in the drama could really happen in a country that’s as wealthy and neat as South Korea, and I would have nothing to say,” she stated.

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, stated he could not watch Squid Recreation after episode one.

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

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AP Leisure Author Juwon Park contributed to this story.

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