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Everyone seems to have latched on to some standout angle from Squid Game, the South Korean sci-fi horror series that, after only one month of streaming, has reportedly achieved the incredible feat of becoming Netflix’s biggest-ever worldwide debut.
Whether it’s the unicolor track suits catching everyone’s eye right in time for Halloween or those clean white Vans kicks (or even just the addictive psychological horror tension that comes from waiting for the next contestant to die), it’s the kind of show that pushes all kinds of hot pop-culture buttons. But for Squid Game star Lee Jung-jae, there’s probably a super-basic reason why the show has surged to global-phenomenon status.
Lee plays main character Seong Gi-hun (aka Player 456), the down-and-out gambler who just wants to win some easy cash when he first agrees to the game’s mysteriously secretive participation process. For Lee, the series’ success isn’t about the horror that ensues or the inferred social commentary — or even those cool slip-on shoes. Instead, it’s something much simpler: Everybody can relate to the childhood delight of playing a game, he says… even if Squid Game takes that idea and twists it in terrifyingly grown-up ways.
“I think there are many factors that played into this," Lee recently told Entertainment Weekly while reflecting on Squid Game’s success. “There were some films or TV series themed with the survival games before, but I think what sets Squid Game apart were the nostalgic childhood games that are very popular in Korea; they're very easy and straightforward for all the global audience to [understand].”
He probably has a point. After all, no one could get too bogged down with the basic rules of "Red Light, Green Light" before that game — which marks the first moment viewers find out the deadly consequences of being on the losing end — ditched the whole fun-and-games vibe and pivoted into a playground bloodbath.
Lee also said the personal stakes for Player 456 and other characters help get viewers invested in whether Squid Game’s desperate contestants will be able to reach the finish line. “There are many characters in the show who each have their own dilemmas and who also each have a reason why they so desperately have to win the game,” he explained, “and I think this desperateness was very vividly depicted in the show.”
If you’re done with Squid Game but are still desperate for more dystopian binging, check out our hit list of more sci-fi and horror flicks that scratch that rat-in-a-maze itch for dystopian suspense.