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. 

Oldboy

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 matching his and hers films, 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 explanation 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. So that one year later, they are each mortified at how juvenile their behaviour was, when they were the tender ages of nine and eight, all that year ago. But every one in a million, the boy and girl fail to grow up. And they continue parading their new dress and telling their endless and 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 real 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.

Dunkirk.

Dunkirk.

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 you won’t be able to play it. This is one of those video games you can only watch, and who the hell 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. Because if you’re watching a film on your iPhone, you’ll obviously be somebody who regularly checks up on their Facebook page.

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

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