Few things in life are more enjoyable than sharing one’s interests. So it’s awesome that the South Korean show Squid Game has become such a big thing. Since eschewing Hollywood as a source of entertainment I’ve had to go further afield for screen entertainment, and South Korean dramas more than fill the gap.
Some time ago I wrote a roundup of some of my favorite K-dramas for the site Hollywood in Toto, and I’ve discussed other shows here. In light of Squid Game becoming Netflix’s top streamed show at the time of this writing, I wanted to do a brief review and recommend other shows connected to Squid Game. You know, like tentacles from a squid’s body.
Who doesn’t like calamari?
Squid Game: The Death Game subgenre of horror benefits greatly from this K-drama treatment, with its heavy focus on plot and character development. The genre doesn’t work if you don’t care at least a little bit about the characters, and the K-drama format excels at making even the antagonists sympathetic. Squid Game does a great job of keeping you watching episode by episode, building dread, and even if there aren’t a lot of surprises, you can’t turn away. Extremely gory, with an unnecessary sex scene for the American Netflix audience, it entertains throughout. Just don’t expect a fully satisfying ending.
Lee Jung-jae, the male lead of Squid Game, starred in a terrific show called Chief of Staff. Here he plays the polar opposite of the scummy character from Squid Game: a refined, educated chief of staff to a particularly disgusting lawmaker. A lot comes together in this show: politics, the press, espionage, and class distinctions. If you’re not familiar with South Korea’s politics (I’m not), some of it can be a bit confusing at first, but the emphasis on personal relationships, character, and ethics makes it a gripping watch. Two seasons, ten episodes each. Definitely worth your time if you dig high intrigue and politicking.
Wi Ja-hoon, who played the cop in Squid Game, starred in Something in the Rain, a romantic drama in which he played the female lead’s younger brother. Something in the Rain tells the story of an older woman (early 40’s) who gets romantically involved with her younger brother’s best friend, and the complications that arise from it. Themes of socioeconomic class, family responsibility, and social pressure take center stage. There’s a subplot about workplace sexual harassment that kind of goes nowhere, and the middle-to-end of the 16 episode-long story drags until it runs out of ideas. I kind of liked it, I watched all of it, and I wish it had a better conclusion.
O Yeong-su, who was Squid Game‘s player 001, had a smallish part in the romantic K-drama Chocolate as, what else, a very old man at death’s door. I really wanted to like Chocolate. It was about food and medicine and family discord and romance, but it did none of them well except for the food. I wanted to like it so much that I endured all 16 episodes of it. But it just never ignited. The female lead was entirely passive, even somnolent throughout, and the male lead didn’t manage to develop any chemistry with either her or the viewer. You’d think a show featuring a former brain surgeon who reluctantly goes to work at a hospice would excite some affect at some point. It didn’t. Still, the views of Greece were nice, and the food photography was vibrant.
There’s a lot more from South Korea besides Squid Game, and if you dug that, you’ve got a lot of great TV to watch.