Squid Game: Mania in Korea Is Driven by Nostalgia and New Talent 

Squid Game Mania in Korea Is Driven by Nostalgia and New Talent

Squid Game
Everett Collection

Squid Game has become a breakout success for Netflix as the streamer’s biggest non-English-language series.

However, viewers in the show’s home country are divided over its merits.

A promotion event by K-pop girl band Itzy on KBS Cool FM radio recently deviated into a discussion of the survival show. While they were supposed to be promoting their single “Loco,” three of the band’s five members talked about their reactions to the series.

One, Chaeryeong, said she found it too violent and could only stomach some of it. That’s a common criticism of “Squid Game,” in which the majority of the 456 contestants in a mysterious contest are brutally eliminated.

“Regardless of its popularity, ‘Squid Game’ is too violent for my taste,” Kwak Young-shin, a 20-something woman who describes herself as a Korean drama addict, tells Variety. “My father, on the other hand, stayed up all night binge-watching the series and only dragged his feet to our holiday Chuseok celebrations the next morning.”

For many South Koreans, the show’s appeal resides in  its use of childhood games and activities.

The price of dalgona, an old-fashioned brittle candy featured in one of the “Squid Game” contests, has soared from around KRW1,000 ($0.84) per piece to a reported KRW7,000 ($5.88).

The Squid Game mania in Korea is reflected by the incidents of fans calling up the telephone numbers depicted in the show via obscure business cards given to prospective contestants.

A local politician was reported to have offered KRW5 million (more than $4,000) to buy the number that belongs to a person living in his district and who had been plagued by hundreds of nuisance calls.

On Wednesday, Netflix said it would edit out the number: “We are working to resolve this matter, including editing scenes with phone numbers where necessary.”

Efforts to capitalize on the show’s popularity have been victims of their own success. Netflix Korea established pop-up game experience installation at Ogem World, in the heart of Itaewon, Seoul’s nightlife district. It garnered huge interest from the Korean general public, but had to be shut down ahead of schedule, due to infringement of social distancing regulations.

Despite setbacks, social media has made major stars of some of the show’s on-screen performers.

Model-turned-actor Jung Ho-veon who portrays North Korean refugee Kang Sae-byeok, has become the most followed actress in Korea with 15.6 million Instagram followers–in a country with a population of 52 million.