Episode 1 of Squid Game begins with an introduction to just what squid game actually is. This happens to be an old childhood game, with kids divided into two teams – that of defence and attack. In order to win, the attackers must touch a small closed-off spot. However, if the defenders push you outside the closed off game area, you die. Metaphorically, of course.
This forms the basis of what we’ll be working with here, as we jump forward in time. Gi-Hun is a down-on-his-luck guy with a serious gambling problem. His Mother is broke and Gi-Hun scrounges what funds he can and ends up betting on the horses.
It’s risky but seems to work given he wins four and a half million won. Unfortunately Gi-Hun owes a hell of lot more to loan-sharks (160 million won to be precise) and in the ensuing chase, loses all the cash he’s just gained to a pickpocket. As a result, he’s forced to sign a contract to these loan-sharks, confirming he’ll pay up or lose a kidney. He even signs it with a bloody fingerprint too.
Given it’s his daughter Ga-Yeong’s birthday, Gi-Hun tries to win her something from a claw machine. And the prize he wins her? A lighter in the shame of a gun. Tensions are high between Gi-Hun and Ga-Yeong’s Mum, as she berates Gi-Hun bringing the girl back late, despite only being 10 minutes past their allotted time.
In the morning, Gi-Hun is approached by a wealthy salesman carrying a briefcase. He wants to play a game. For every round of ddakji Gi-Hun wins, he’ll gain 100,000 won. If he loses? He’ll have to give up that same amount of money. And the game does not go to plan. In fact, every time Gi-Hun loses, he receives a swift slap to the face for his troubles – a worthy substitute for plunging further into debt.
This is all a test though, encouraging Gi-Hun to move onto bigger and better games. Gi-Hun’s life is a mess and on top of money owed to loan sharks, he also owes 250 million to the banks. Handing over a business card, the strange man walks away after telling Gi-Hun there’s only a few places left.
Gi-Hun is riding a high over his win but things take a depressing turn when he heads home. It turns out Ga-Yeong is going to the US with her family. However, if Gi-Hun can show that he’s financially dependable he may be able to stop that. And that is incentive enough for Gi-Hun to enter the games.
After being knocked out with sleeping gas, Gi-Hun awakens to find himself in a strange room, monitored by numerous people wearing red hooded jackets. There are 456 contestants in total, and all of them are inside this strange room.
A fight soon breaks out between contestants 101 and 67, with the former accusing the girl of being a North Korean spy. Gi-Hun jumps in though and manages to stop things escalating… but not for long.
The doors open, revealing these strange hooded figures in numbers. They explain that the group will be there for six days, competing across six different games. There’s a lot of money on the line and it seems that every single person in this room is in massive debt, just like Gi-Hun. The actual amount of money is still being kept under-wraps but it does feel like it’s going to be a lot.
Each player signs a consent form and has their picture taken, ready to ascend up the colourful staircases to where the game room is. This happens to be a large open area where the players are forced to stand behind a white line. A strange man in a black mask oversees everything, known simply as The Front Man, who watches all of this transpire across numerous monitors.
The first game is “Red light, green light.” With a giant robotic girl standing on the other side of the large field and snipers at the ready, gunshots echo across the playing field for anyone who can’t keep up. Basically the contestants need to get from point A to point B during green light. When it’s red light though, if anyone moves then they’re eliminated. (ie: shot dead)
As numerous gunshots echo across the playing field, contestants are eliminated as they try to run away.
With time running out, Gi-Hun is saved by another contestant whom we later learn is called Ali. He, Sang-Woo and Gi-Hun all make it over the line with less than a second left. Those left on the field once that timer ends though are shot dead.
With the game over, the roof suddenly covers the entire field as the camera pans out. These guys are on an island and it seems there’s no escape. Oh no…
Squid Game starts with a delightfully surreal opening chapter. The games are sadistic, playing into the whole SAW idea, while managing to add a real artistic flair with the bold colours and use of classical music.
While the game of Red Light, Green Light is a simple one, it’s given a menacing edge here and it seems like the games are only going to get tougher from here on out. This definitely has echoes of Alice in Borderland from last year too.
The characters are interesting and engaging, with each of the contestants given incentive to actually compete and win these games, given they’re all in massive amounts of debt.
This looks like it’s going to be another surefire Korean hit and the ending hints that we’ve got lots more drama to come in the upcoming chapters. Bring it on!