Squid Game, another shaggy dog story from S. Korea

Squid Game

There is a famous Hol­ly­wood adage which states that the audi­ence only ever remem­bers the final reel. In oth­er words, it’s all down to the end­ing. And the dizzy hys­te­ria that Net­flix’s Squid Game was first greet­ed by on its arrival has now been tem­pered by a gen­er­al sense of dis­ap­point­ment with its ending. 

And, with­out in any way spoil­ing it for any­one who’s yet to sam­ple its delights, here’s what the prob­lem is.

Squid Game, as pret­ty much every­body knows by now, is about two things. On the one hand it’s a quest, as hun­dreds of indi­vid­u­als set off on a jour­ney to win it. And of the hun­dreds who set off, only one can even­tu­al­ly emerge tri­umphant. The catch being, once you’re elim­i­nat­ed, you are lit­er­al­ly killed. 

So on the oth­er, it’s about the sort of soci­ety that pro­duces the kind of des­per­a­tion that its cit­i­zens are pre­pared to go in pur­suit of a prize know­ing they’re almost cer­tain­ly going to get killed in the attempt. It is then a cri­tique of the kind of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety that South Korea exemplifies. 


And the it, the prize they’re all quest­ing after? A big bag of mon­ey. Which then pos­es a conun­drum. Giv­en that the series so clear­ly looks down on cap­i­tal, what are we to make of the per­son who even­tu­al­ly wins it? The one we’ve pre­sum­ably been root­ing for, when all he or she has been doing it for is money? 

Clear­ly, it’s a sto­ry that demands a rev­e­la­tion explain­ing why it was that they were all put through all that. It needs, in oth­er words, some sort of gen­uine­ly sur­pris­ing and mean­ing­ful twist. And, in a word, Squid Game comes up short. 

Any­one famil­iar with Kore­an cin­e­ma will not be ter­ri­bly sur­prised at this. We’ve been here before, most notably with Park Chan-wook’s Old­boy. Which is what used to be called a shag­gy dog sto­ry. Which is a joke that goes on and on before final­ly fail­ing to deliv­er a punch­line. The joke being at the expense of the lis­ten­er for hav­ing wast­ed their time wait­ing for one – for the ulti­mate shag­gy dog sto­ry, see my review of Christo­pher Nolan’s The Pres­tige here.

The prob­lem being, nei­ther Old­boy nor Squid Game, or for that mat­ter The Pres­tige, are intend­ed as shag­gy dog sto­ries. Rather, they just get blind­ly intox­i­cat­ed at the prospect of for­ev­er increas­ing the ten­sion by con­tin­u­al­ly rais­ing the stakes. 

They know the reac­tion that this will pro­duce in the audi­ence, and it thrills them. And they refuse to acknowl­edge that at some point, that audi­ence is going to demand some answers to all the ques­tions that that ten­sion has so impres­sive­ly generated. 

The Pres­tige. Seriously?

Sure­ly, they rea­son, if you’ve just watched all nine hours of a 9 episode tele­vi­sion dra­ma, and 8 ½ hours of it has been that engross­ing, you’re not going to mind if that last half hour leaves a bit to be desired?

Alas no. Because, as with all clichés, this one too is true. It real­ly is only ever the last reel that the audi­ence ever remem­bers. And that’s what we’ll all remem­ber about Squid Game. That, and the inex­plic­a­ble hoopla that its arrival was first greet­ed with. But that as they say is anoth­er story. 

You can see the trail­er to Squid Game here:

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The Beguiled and Dunkirk, a fab new shampoo ad and video game

The Beguiled.

The Beguiled.

Dunkirk and the Beguiled are the lat­est his and hers films from Christo­pher Nolan and Sofia Cop­po­la. And if noth­ing else, they’re a slight improve­ment on the ones that they last produced.

Back in 2006, they’d offered up anoth­er pair of his and hers, with the Pres­tige and Marie Antoinette. The for­mer has a denoue­ment that’s so mes­mer­i­cal­ly obvi­ous, that you imme­di­ate­ly dis­miss it as soon as it occurs to you, oh, about 90 sec­onds into the film. Only to dis­cov­er hours lat­er, that yes, that is the expla­na­tion – it’s the one you always sus­pect when it comes to magicians.

The Prestige, really?

The Pres­tige, real­ly?

It’s like lis­ten­ing to one of those jokes that nine year old boys tell. You know what the punch­line is hours before they get to it, but you indulge them any­way. While Marie Antoinette is like watch­ing his eight year old sis­ter parad­ing in her brand new dress, which she refus­es to take off for days. And each time you encounter her, you’re expect­ed to gasp duti­ful­ly in cowed admi­ra­tion. Marie Antoinette is so vac­u­ous and so vapid, that you’d have had dif­fi­cul­ty sit­ting through the entire three min­utes had it been offered up as a sub-Adam Ant pop promo.

What usu­al­ly hap­pens to every­one at that age is that, almost over night, they grow up. But every one in a mil­lion fail to do so. And they con­tin­ue parad­ing their new dress and telling those remark­ably unfun­ny, shag­gy dog sto­ries well into their twen­ties and beyond.

Marie Antoinette.

Marie Antoinette.

Here we are then ten years on, and the pair have pro­duced anoth­er cou­ple of films that, once again, are com­plete­ly devoid of any substance.

The Beguiled is a whol­ly un-nec­es­sary remake of a Clint East­wood film, with Col­in Far­rell step­ping in as the soli­tary man way­laid in a house­hold lord­ed over by women. Had it been the lat­est 60 sec­ond Tim­o­tei ad, we could all have sat back and lux­u­ri­at­ed in its glam­orous, glitzy, glossy sur­face. But nine­ty min­utes of pret­ty girls in vin­tage dress­es, their immac­u­late hair back-lit just so, glid­ing in and out of the house from the gar­den begins to pall after a while. I love soft porn as much as the next guy, but even I drift­ed off after a while.



While Dunkirk prides itself on not giv­ing any of its char­ac­ters any sort of back sto­ry or his­to­ry, rob­bing them all of any depth or indi­vid­u­al­i­ty. What you have instead is a cast of inter­change­able dark haired sol­diers, let’s call them Play­ers, who need to get from the bot­tom of the screen (France) to the safe­ty of the top of the screen (Eng­land). But in their way, and com­ing at them from all direc­tions, are a suc­ces­sion of cre­ations designed to pre­vent them – tor­pe­does from the sea, Messer­schmidts from the air, and orders from above etc.

MV5BMTc1ODcyNjk2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjcyOTYwMTE@._V1._CR50,63,895,1375_UY1200_CR75,0,630,1200_AL_The only indi­vid­u­als who are giv­en any form are the Mark Rylance and Cil­lian Mur­phy char­ac­ters, because they’re iso­lat­ed from every­one else on a small boat on its way in the oppo­site direc­tion, from Eng­land to France, which after all is what the sto­ry is sup­posed to have been about. So that they lit­er­al­ly get giv­en space to stand out from the crowd.

Oth­er than which, it’s just the loud­est, most tech­no­log­i­cal­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed ver­sion of Space Invaders you’ll ever see. But who wants to watch a video game you can’t play?

A Separation.

A Sep­a­ra­tion.

If you want a real test for Dunkirk, try watch­ing it on your iPhone. Then try watch­ing, say, A Sep­a­ra­tion – reviewed ear­li­er here. Of course you should nev­er watch a film on any­thing oth­er than the largest screen with the finest sound sys­tem you can find. But two min­utes into A Sep­a­ra­tion, you’ll be lost in the depths of its mes­meris­ing sto­ry. Two min­utes into Dunkirk you’ll be won­der­ing if there’s any­thing hap­pen­ing on your Face­book page.

You can see the trail­er for the Beguiled here, and for Dunkirk here.

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