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7 life lessons from the K-drama hit, Squid Game

11 October 2021

Spoiler alert! Please do not proceed if you plan to watch the Korean drama (k-drama), Squid Game. Ever since it was released on 17 September 2021, the nine-episode-long Netflix hit has been the #1 series in 91 countries around the world and made history as the first Korean production to top the highly competitive US charts. It is on course to overtake the period-drama, Bridgerton, as the most watched show on Netflix. Squid Game was written, produced, and directed by 50-year-old Hwang Dong-hyuk, who incorporated some of his own life experiences into the series such as growing up amidst financial struggle and getting a break when he went on to study at the prestigious Seoul National University. Dong-hyuk was inspired by the 2000 Japanese film, Battle Royale, which is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite movies. In fact, Squid Game can simply be described as Hunger Games had Tarantino been asked to produce it.

Aside from the gripping plot and superb acting, Squid Game, is popular because it spotlights some real-life issues and offers advice for how best to tackle them. Here are the seven key takeaways:

#1 The love for money is the root of all evil

Squid Game follows the story of Seong Gi-Hun, a middle-aged man whose gambling addiction has left him heavily indebted to banks and loan sharks, and unable to pay child support or medical bills for his ailing mother. He joins 455 other individuals from different backgrounds who are also knee-deep in debt. All 456 players have the opportunity of a lifetime to win 45.6 billion won or $36 million by playing six children’s games with deadly consequences.      

Even after being allowed to go home post the first game which resulted in the deaths of 255 original participants, 187 of the surviving 201 participants returned voluntarily when the harsh realities of life make money more precious than living. Only one person survives in this winner-take-all game. The real winners were the 14 individuals who chose not to return.    

#2 Money doesn't buy happiness

Despite winning more money than he would ever need, Gi-Hun loses everything and seemingly, the will to live. The prize money remains untouched for more than a year until he uncovers the real identity of the Squid Game host. The game was created to entertain very wealthy individuals who wanted to gamble on people rather than horses – they too found that no amount of money can feed the emptiness in one’s soul.

#3 Things are not always what they seem

Throughout the story, Gi-Hun is the loser compared to his more successful childhood friend, Cho Sang-woo, who graduated from Seoul National University and becomes a successful banker. Unbeknownst to his proud mother and closest friends, Sang-woo had embezzled money from his clients and was on the brink of being arrested when he joined the games. The moral of the story is like the warnings about the deception of social media: don’t believe everything you see.

#4 Be careful who you trust

Sang-woo is the perfect example of what happens to normal people when money corrupts them. He goes to extreme lengths to win at all costs, including withholding valuable information from his friend ahead of the second game (sugar honeycomb) and then tricking the naive and too-trusting Pakistani immigrant, Ali, during the fourth game (Marbles). Kang Sae-byeok, who plays the North Korean defector, sums it be best when she says: “I don’t trust anybody here”.

#5 A good strategy trumps physical strength

The third game played is called tug-of-war which pits two teams of ten against each other. Gi-Hun leads a weaker team that includes an old man and women that emerges victorious against a stronger all-male. They succeed by adopting a better strategy, teamwork, and the ability to pivot when the plan no longer works. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your team and doing a similar assessment of your opponent is key to winning any game. That is why SWOT analysis is a core tool in strategy.

#6 Going last has its advantages

In most scenarios in life, you want to go first. However, Squid Game teaches us that when the game is unknown, there are advantages to going last. The life lesson is do not let other people’s path and timeline define you. Each unto his or her own.

#7 Be principled

The organisers of the game adhere to a set of principles that seem at odds with the degree of violence that they unleashed on participants. Participants had the right to leave the games unharmed if the majority agreed. They were also treated as equals and given the same conditions to win. It was refreshing to see that there is still honour among thieves.