Why is Squid Game such a huge international hit?

Originally published at: Why is Squid Game such a huge international hit? | Boing Boing

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In the past year, 97% of Netflix’s US members have chosen to watch at least one non-English-language title.

Along these lines, I’ve enjoyed Fauda, Giri/Haji, and Babylon Berlin, and Katla. Also, I prefer just to read the English subtitles and listen to foreign languages (even though I don’t understand them) than the English dubbing.

My wife was watching Squid Game with English dubbing and subtitles and it was very distracting that the subtitles didn’t match the audio as they were trying match words to mouth movements.


One major reason it’s a hit is because its message about how late-stage capitalism and debt is screwing us all over taps into a universal feeling in every country where Netflix is available.


I really like the cadence of spoken Korean, but unlike German (simple conversational), French (train station, basic directions, enough to politely say I don’t speak French), Spanish (about the same), and Russian, Arabic, Italian, even Japanese (a few basic pleasantries), I literally don’t speak a single word of it. I find that when I hear a foreign language where I can pick up even one or two words here or there, my brain kind of sets it aside and says, “okay, that’s comprehensible, and so I don’t need to worry about it”, but with languages where I know nothing, it demands my constant attention.

I like Squid Game so far, but I find it a little harder to sit though than most subtitled shows.


The theme of disregard for human life displayed by the “haves” who run the game against the “have nots” who play it resonates with people, too. Those in control pit the players against each other, and use money as motivation. Will that buy happiness for the players who want better lives for themselves and those they love? :woman_shrugging:t4:


Apparently, my partner used to be so good at dalgona that the local street vendor banned her from playing. (If you can release the shape, you could win another honeycomb or a small prize)


And how that inhumanity is wrapped up in a pretty package to make it all seem more palatable (literally—the losers are disposed of in coffins wrapped in a neat little bow).

That’s one way the set and costume design shine: everything in the game is superficially bright and cheerful compared to the desaturated dreariness of the outside world.


From what i’ve seen online the translation of the show is fairly uneven, with a lot of subtext and subtlety missing. Basically if you don’t know Korean you’re missing a lot and aren’t even watching the same show. For now i’ve held off on watching, mainly because my life is stressful and i don’t need Squid Game in my life right now. But its also a good excuse to wait and see if Netflix puts out a better translation


play to survive

I did that in the military, guess I survived.


Episode 4 when it’s all about the tug-o-war strategy is some pretty good storytelling and cinematography.


There’s nothing particularly unique about any of the individual parts, but it’s put together quite nicely! I think this is a case of nailing the execution.


In the past year, 97% of Netflix’s US members have chosen to watch at least one non-English-language title.

I find that incredible, and it’s a great sign. A fair amount of people I have met prefer dubbing, certainly when I was younger. I’d heard explicit complaints they “didn’t like” having to do all that reading while following the plot.

My pet theory is that most people weren’t that great of readers. Not just reading comprehension, but speed as well. I was always surprised in school (yes, including college) at how slow and stilted people were when they read text off a page. And I imagine that is what the complaint about subtitles was back then, some 20 years back, people having trouble juggling the reading and the plot.

Internet is life these days, and everyone reads all the time. I imagine this means in part, our society has simply gotten better at reading.


Marketing, social media campaign. Was bombarded by ads for it on various platforms, then people I know began bombarding me with inquiries as to whether I’d seen it yet and if I’d watch it. I mean, BoingBoing has had, what, three articles so far on a show released less than a month ago? Just saying.


For many viewers, Squid Game is probably their first taste of Korean cinema. South Korea has one of the most active and, quite frankly, best cinema industries in the world, and for people who are used to Hollywood fare, the pure, uncut Korean stuff is really fresh and new.

Korean cinema avoids the Hollywood traps of (a) shoehorning in a happy ending, (b) neatly tying up loose ends and (c) working in a love story where it does not belong. For those just now getting into Korean cinema thanks to Squid Game, I highly recommend “Memories of Murder,” “Mother,” “Oldboy” and “Save the Green Planet.”

ETA: Also “Barbie,” “The Man from Nowhere,” “Voice of a Murderer” (which is a true story), “Chaser,” “Moss,” “I Saw the Devil,” “Going by the Book,” “Hansel & Gretel,” “May 18,” “New World,” “A Taxi Driver,” “Welcome to Dongmakgeol,” “To Catch a Virgin Ghost,” “Children” (also a true story), “The Five,” “Sea Fog,” “The Yellow Sea,” “The Phone,” “The Terror Live,” “The Host,” “Train to Busan,” “Tabloid Truth,” “Public Enemy” (but not the sequels), “Deranged,” “Maestro,” “Hello Ghost,” “My Dear Enemy”…I really like Korean movies is what I’m saying…Lot of movies about serial killers in there…


I mean their music videos alone are a marvel. Just watch any random Kpop music video


What I have observed in Korean cinema, which as far as I have seen is unique, is that male characters cry freely. Just about nowhere else!

It is pretty sparse in most other film industries.


No doubt. Korean music videos are an elevated art form in some cases having budgets in the high six figures (in USD, not KRW).

Like this:

Or this:

Oof, what a film. Most people are familiar with it from its legendary hallway fight scene but it’s so much more than that. That’s definitely one of those rare films that has stuck with me long after seeing it.


Even as someone who doesn’t speak Korean, I have enough pattern recognition to understand when I’ve heard the same phrases a dozen times (even if I don’t understand them) and the translation changes (in a way that doesn’t fit the context).

Yet, despite knowing the translation misses: I disagree that it falls into just “violence porn”. I can’t tell what I missed, but what I got is nothing like that. I’m not telling you to go out and watch it, because it is stressful, but I suspect the “if you understood Korean you’d get so much more,” is both true but also not really relevant. (Also, apparently, there are multiple versions of the subtitles on Netflix, and not all of them have the same problems- I haven’t dug into it, because again, I got what I needed from the subtitles).

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I find that the more I learn a language the less I feel I know. It’s easy to criticize translations when you only understand the initial layers of a language. The more you understand of both the original language and the target language the less direct your translation will be. Good translation is an art form and I’ve learned to take the less literal translations as just that.

TL;DR those complaining about the inaccuracies don’t understand the process.


Not to mention that, after translation, the script will usually go through what is called a “localization” process to make it more understandable to people who do not understand the cultural background and for whom a throwaway remark that touches on a common saying or popular local trend from years ago will be nonsense without a long and detailed explanation.

As a translator myself (though not of fiction), I like to think of it as, “Of course it doesn’t mean exactly that in English. It doesn’t mean anything at all in English because it is not in English. The final product of the translation is in English and it should be in good, natural English that maximizes understandability to readers who speak English.”

It is interesting for me watching things in Korean because, although I do not understand Korean at all, the language shares a lot in common with Japanese, and so I can often deduce what they are actually saying based on the incomplete English subtitles because Japanese will often have the exact same turns of phrase.