The hit series Squid Game was released Sept. 17 and has since become a worldwide sleeper hit. Somehow, this South Korean drama reached mass appeal in western markets, pushing itself to the top of Netflix’s U.S. charts.
Part of Squid Game’s success may be due to its ability to expose Americans to the genre that is very popular in east-Asian media: the “death-game” or “gambling” genre.
If you’ve never been exposed to this type of media before, Squid Game is extremely nuanced. If this genre is your preference, here are five other series that may pique your interest:
Gambling Apocalypse: Kaiji
If there is one show that exemplifies the death game genre, it’s Gambling Apocalypse: Kaiji. This Madhouse-produced anime series is adapted from the manga of the same name by the famous author Nobuyuki Fukumoto.
The series follows the titular character, Kaiji Ito, as he competes in a series of dangerous gambles to pay off a debt accrued from co-signing for a former friend. The games range from a card-based version of rock-paper-scissors to walking across an electrified high-rise steel beam, a la “Squid Game’s” glass walkway.
The original manga is so popular it’s been adapted into live-action films four times. In Japan, a series of three films were created directly adapting the manga and sharing the same name. The anime was created to promote these films but ended up surpassing them in quality.
In China, a film titled Animal World was created, loosely adapting the source material, and bizarrely enough, starring Michael Douglas as the main villain. Also, the Chinese version has a kung-fu clown killing insectoid humans in a hallucinatory train sequence. Oddly enough, this film is available on Netflix in the U.S., if you feel like watching it.
Both Squid Game and Gambling Apocalypse: Kaiji are thinly veiled criticisms of oppressive capitalism and overly demanding labor markets. The characters are put in these situations due to a society that has systematically stripped them of opportunity and extracted their value, leaving nothing left. The games are metaphors for capitalistic practices where injuring others for personal gain is encouraged.
The Platform is a 2020 Spanish thriller directed by Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia. The plot centers on a facility where individuals are randomly assigned to a different floor each month. The top floor is labeled as number one, and each floor downward has a larger number.
Each day, a platform full of food is lowered down the facility, with every individual getting their sustenance from this platform. As the platform gets lower and lower, there is less food, leaving residents on the bottom floor to fight over the scraps. The main character Goreng wakes up in this hell and must navigate it for 6-months.
Squid Game and The Platform both share the same message about the effects of inequality. Individuals willingly stick themselves inside a hellish scenario and fight each other for the chance to move up in the world. Meanwhile, those who survive are the ones willing to cooperate with each other in the hope of mutual gain.
As the Gods Will
This is a 2013 Japanese movie directed by Takashi Miike and adapted from the manga of the same name by Muneyuki Kaneshiro. The plot revolves around a group of high school students who suddenly find themselves competing in a series of fantastical death games directed by an unknown mystical entity.
If the red-light green-light sequence in Squid Game got your interest, it was copied from the opening of this movie. In fact, all the games in this movie are based on children’s games, much like Squid Game.
While interesting, this movie is awful. The acting is over the top and the special effects create bizarre, computer-generated monsters that’ll give you nightmares. It’s unlike Squid Game, where the gore was limited but effective. As the Gods Will has a level of gore that looks like someone sprayed cherry syrup everywhere. The movie is more of a curiosity than anything else.
Oldboy, unlike other media on this list, does not take place inside some strange facility or weird death game-like scenario. Instead, it takes place within the busy streets of a South Korean metropolitan area. Oldboy is directed by Park Chan-Wook and adapted from the Japanese manga of the same name by Garon Tsuchiya.
Oldboy centers on Oh Dae-su, a South Korean businessman who is perpetually drunk and mistreats his family. One day, he finds himself suddenly being kidnapped and locked inside a motel room. He is kept there for 15 years. Dae-su plots his escape but suddenly wakes up in a briefcase in the middle of a park, free at last. He then seeks to find the one who imprisoned him and get his revenge for the majority of the plot
While there is no death game present in Oldboy, it maintains the same air of mystery as Squid Game. The main character does not know why he’s in the situation or who’s responsible for it. The discovery of this mystery is what motivates the main plot.
For the longest time, Oldboy was one of, if not the only South Korean film cinema lovers knew. Recently, with the success of Squid Game and Parasite, South Korean cinematography has begun to become more prevalent. Oldboy is a great film to watch if you’ve become interested in this cinematic region and would like to know it’s history.
The quintessential death game movie. Battle royal is a 2000 Japanese film directed by Kinji Fukusaku and based on a novel of the same name by Koushun Takami. The plot involves a group of delinquent Japanese students being put on an island and forced to fight to the death by the Japanese government.
Battle Royal gained fame around the time The Hunger Games was released, due to the similar plots. However, the movies cannot be more different. Battle Royal for one is more violent than The Hunger Games and features a larger cast. There really is no “main” character per se, which adds to the tension of the movie, as you don’t know who’s going to win.
While it doesn't do anything nuanced, Battle Royal is a good movie to watch if you have free time and are interested in consuming a foreign film.