Seong Gi-heon, the main character in the Korean drama Squid Game, is by every definition a loser. He had a run of bad luck, losing his job, then failing at a business, leaving him deeply in debt to both the bank and some bloodthirsty gangsters. Still, some of his problems are of his own making. He demonstrates his flawed grasp of money matters by siphoning cash from his mother’s bank account and then, rather than spending it on his daughter’s birthday, goes to the racetrack. After several losses, he wins, but then loses his winnings to a pickpocket.
If he can’t find a way to pay his debt to the gangsters he will have to give them a kidney. Things are looking desperate for Gi-heon, played by Lee Jung-jae, when he’s approached by a well-dressed stranger in a subway station. The stranger, played in a cameo by Gong Yoo, offers him the option of playing a game in which he could win real money. At first Gi-heon is not sure. The man seems suspicious. Yet when Gi-heon learns that his ex-wife may take his daughter overseas, he decides to play. He needs the cash prize so he can apply for child custody.
Being a gambler, he’s prepared to play the odds. Considering how unfairly the game of life has treated him, how bad could these mysterious games be? What he does not know is that the children’s games he’s about to play can have deadly consequences. The first game, a simple version of the children’s game red light, green light, proves fatal for more than half of the participants, but the blood-splattered players can’t stop playing until a majority of them agree the game should be stopped. That’s not likely as each player is out of options in life and needs to win the cash prize.
Gi-heon’s fellow players include Cho Ang-woo, a supposedly successful neighborhood friend, played by Park Hae-soo; an elderly man Oh Il-nam, played by Oh Young-soo; a police infiltrator, Hwang Jun-ho, played by Wi Ha-joon; and a North Korean defector, Kang Sae-byeok, played by Jung Ho-yeon. These players may have to develop some camaraderie to beat the odds.
Lee Jung-jae gives an affecting performance as a man who spent his life playing a game he is unable to win. The award-winning actor has mastered various film genres from the romantic Il Mare to the heist film The Thieves to the film noir New World to the period film The Face Reader. This drama has given him yet another chance to create a memorable character. Gi-heon may be a loser but viewers will want him to survive and win.