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he Netflix series named “Squid Game” has taken the world by storm, making it the most trending show the world has yet seen and thanks to social media. Hwang Dong-hyuk is the creator of the series who actually wrote the script for it 10 years ago, but no media or film-making company wanted to produce it (big mistake on their end).

Squid Game focuses to presented the massive income inequality that is going on not only in South Korea but all around the world and the desperation such individuals have for financial gain. The show is about a very rich society giving the chance to poor people to win a big monetary prize by playing various playground games but those who lose are killed.

Although at first sight, it may look like a very simple show with a narrative that isn’t really that new or original, Squid Game hides a much deeper meaning and the creator had admitted to portraying not only the current socio-economic inequality in Asian countries but also some historical events that are affecting people within Korea even to this day.

Caution: This article does contain spoilers

The U.S. Imperialism in Korea

Sujagi flag, captured at Fort McKee in the attacks on the Salee River Forts, June 10 and 11, 1871, by Corporal Charles Brown of the USS Colorado (left) and Private Hugh Purvis of the USS Alaska (middle). Both were awarded the Medal of Honor. Captain McLane Tilton, USMC, (right) commanded the Marines. The photograph was taken on the USS Colorado, Captain George H. Cooper commanding, Flagship of Rear Admiral John Rodgers, commanding US Asiatic Fleet. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

America has some history with Korea that began in 1871 with the first expedition to Korea. As you would imagine, it did not go so well as over 650 American troops barged into the country, taking some defensive forts and killing over 200 of their soldiers. America retreated as to them the country was just not worth it (at the time).

In 1883 the first American diplomatic envoy arrived in Korea and that was when the countries signed a peace treaty that was followed by an agreement of trading goods between nations and allowing their fleets to pass. At the time Korea was still behind the rest of the world when it came to the industrial revolution, so help from America came in handy.

However, as the show portrays this was only the start of U.S. Imperialism within Korea. For example, in episode 7 (season 1) the rich people who come to the island to wager bets on who wins and who dies are seen as the Americans within Korean history, always winning off Korea’s back whilst Korea gets split into two. They are the only English-speaking VIPs that are present in the show, portraying them as Americans within Korean history.

This level of Imperialism goes much further when the English-speaking VIPs order the servers to satisfy them sexually as if they had ownership over Koreans as some sort of slaves. If we look at the history of U.S. Imperialism in Korea, it is pretty accurate.

The Korea war

North Korean soldiers attacking circa the 1950s (Source: KCNA)

For those that aren’t so knowledgeable about this field of history, The Korean war that took place between 1950 and 1953 is the war that had led to the split of Korea, creating North and South Korea. There are two very distinct scenes within the show that portray the effects of this war even in present times on the Korean population within both countries.

One of the scenes is present near the end of season 1 where two brothers have to face off in a duel with guns. There are a lot of emotions going on and shown on the faces of the actors, but at the end of the day it comes down to “kill or be killed.” That scene perfectly encapsulates the sort of emotions North and South Korean soldiers were living during the Korean war. They were all brothers of the same blood, from the same nation with a long history, yet finding themselves forced to kill one another.

Another scene represents the storyline of Sae-byeok, a defector whose mother is still trapped in North Korea whilst her baby brother is stuck in a children’s welfare center in South Korea waiting to be reunited. This is actually the sad truth for many Korean citizens in both countries. Since the end of the Korean war, only a handful of people actually managed to get out of North Korea alive. During the war, many were stuck on either one side or another.

Asian Financial Crisis from 1997

The photo was taken from the main financial trading center in South Korea in 1997 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Asian financial crisis from 1997 was the biggest economic hit on South Korea at the time. Thousands of workers had been laid off work from white-collar workers to factory workers. This is one of the first steps toward the economical inequality present in Asia today. This inequality is like a neverending vicious circle that does not allow the poor to get rich, nor the rich to become poor.

This was actually portrayed in the storyline of Gi-hun who used to work in a factory but was laid off with thousands of other workers. He tried opening a small food business several times, but every time it failed. These were the precautions suffered by not only South Koreans but most of the Asian population since the financial crisis in 1997. These are things that aren’t just present in the show, but they are affecting the lives of people right now.

For most, I presume it is an entertaining show, but for me, it looks like a cry for help from the world to awake to the reality of our world, or at least to the reality within Korea. There is a good reason behind why Hwang Dong-hyuk (the creator) chose to write, produce and direct the whole series alone so that he would portray the exact things that inspired him to create this story.

If you have already watched the show, I would recommend watching it again with all of this new knowledge you have acquired, just to see how well those scenes and the overall show portray the historical events presented here. For those who haven’t, I would still recommend watching it, despite its brutality.

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