Squid Game lives up to the hype. It’s as if Hwang Dong-hyuk watched The Hunger Games (awful) and Battle Royale (good but overpraised) and decided to really get this sort of thing right. In his survivalist drama set in South Korea, 456 players, all drowning in debt for various reasons, compete in children’s games for the prize of ₩45.6 billion (the equivalent of $38 million). If the players win, they advance to the next game. If they lose, they die: gunned down on the spot (in the case of games 1, 2, 4, and 6) or falling hundreds of feet to their death (games 3 and 5). The six games are as follows:
Game 1: Red Light, Green Light. Players stand at the end of a field behind a starting line while a female Terminator-like robot looms at the opposite end. The players must cross to the opposite side of the field, moving only when the Terminator-bitch calls out “Green Light” and stopping when she says “Red Light”. Anyone spotted moving after “Red Light” is gunned down by machine-gun fire. By the end of this game, only 201 players are still alive. That’s 255 players slaughtered — over half the players wiped out in the first game.
Game 2: Honeycomb Candy: Each player is given a tin containing a honeycomb stamped with one of four shapes he or she chose randomly at the start of the game: a circle, a triangle, a star, or an umbrella. In order to survive, each player must remove the shape — completely intact, with no breakage — from the honeycomb tin within ten minutes. Any player who fails is shot in the yard. Those who choose a circle or a triangle have an easier task than those who choose a star or (especially) an umbrella.
Game 3: Tug of War: Players are divided into teams of ten, and they face off against each other by pulling on a large braided rope. Whichever team can drag the other team across the dividing line wins, and the losers die by falling to their immediate death, as the dividing line is a chasm several hundred feet deep. For my money, this was the most intense game to watch, as the lightweight team used shrewd (and very believable) strategies to knock the stronger team off balance and send them to their graves.
Game 4: Marbles. Players are divided into “teams” of two, but it turns out they must play against each other, not together against other teams as they did in Tug of War. This is unexpected, and people are suddenly confronted with having to save their skin by deliberating beating (and thus killing) a person they have become friends with over the course of the previous games. Marbles is an open-ended game: the pair of players can agree to roll marbles into a hole, or to play “guess how many I have in my hand”, etc. This game was less thrilling and scary to watch, but it was plenty more heartbreaking. By the end of the game, only 16 players are left.
Game 5: Glass Bridge. This one is nasty — a game of blind luck with little skill. At the start, the players stands at the opposite end of a gigantic room suspended several hundred feet above the ground. Between the entrance and the exit of the room are two bridges of side-by-side glass panels, each with 18 panels across. The players must cross the bridge to the other side of the room within 16 minutes. Each of the panels between the two bridges is made of one of two types of glass: tempered glass that can withstand plenty of weight, and regular glass that will shatter when stepped on and send the player falling to their death. By the end of this game only three players are left: Seong Gi-hun (the deadbeat main protagonist), Kang Sae-byeok (the North Korean defector who needs money to rescue her family members still across the border), and Cho Sang-woo (the brilliant university student wanted by the police for stealing from his clients).
Game 6: Squid Game. The final game is played on a field separating players into opposing teams of attackers and defenders. The attackers’ goal is to cross the center on one foot and then reach the home square at the other end; the defenders’ goal is to stop them. Since there are only two players remaining by this point (Cho Sang-woo has murdered Kang Sae-byeok), it’s a one-on-one show between Seong Gi-hun and Cho Sang-woo — a knife fight and brawl that’s very intense.
Here’s a review in pictures (the film is wonderfully shot) spotlighting the six games. Across nine episodes, Red Light Green Light is from the 1st, Honeycomb Candy from the 3rd, Tug of War from the 4th, Marbles from the 6th, Glass Bridge from the 7th, and Squid Game from the 9th.