Editor’s Note: Spring 2022 will find the IU community immersed in Korean culture through Korea Remixed, a semester-long celebration of “the artists, writers, performers, and thinkers who make Korean culture integral to global culture in the 21st Century.” Learn more by clicking on the link above, and let the Korean titles in this blog post serve as an appetizer for the smorgasbord of events to come in the spring.
It has been almost two months since the wildly popular Netflix show Squid Game, a South Korean production, was released. Alongside the many K-dramas featured by Netflix, here are ten shows/films similar to Squid Game. Some are made in Korea, others elsewhere, but all explore themes of adversity, humanity, and resilience. Among the titles below, those with clickable links are available for checkout at Media Services or through IU online streaming services (the latter requires two-step authentication).
Tower of God
Twenty-Fifth Bam had been alone his whole life until he met Rachel. After Rachel disappears in a veil of light, Bam follows her, vowing to ascend the Tower in hopes of meeting her again. However, the Tower is a dangerous place full of ancient secrets, fearsome monsters, and nefarious humans. Each floor is protected by an Administrator who puts the daring challengers through grueling tests that will push them to their limits.
As he confronts Headon, the Administrator of the first floor, Bam learns that he is an “Irregular,” someone who was not chosen by the Tower but was able to enter it on his own, an extremely rare event inside the Tower. Regardless of this revelation, however, his path forward is clear. Be it wealth, power, glory, or even reuniting with Rachel, all desires will be realized at the top of the Tower.
Each year, in the ruins of what was once North America, the Capitol, the ruthless capital of the nation of Panem, forces each of its twelve districts to send a boy and a girl—the “Tributes”—to compete in the Hunger Games. Both sanctions against the population for rebelling and a strategy of intimidation on the part of the government, the Hunger Games are a national televised event during which tributes must fight each other until death. The sole survivor is declared the winner.
The young Katniss, 16, volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the competition. She finds herself facing over-trained adversaries who have prepared all their lives. All she has is her instincts and a mentor, Haymitch Abernathy, who won the Hunger Games years ago but is now nothing more than an alcoholic wreck. To hope one day to return home, once in the arena Katniss will have to make impossible choices between survival and her humanity, between life and love.
Escape Room and Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (sequel)
In Escape Room, a group of teenagers is abducted and forced to solve a chain of deadly logic puzzles. If they succeed, the surviving teens enter the next themed room (a bank lobby, a picturesque beach, a New York City side street), and hopefully advance to freedom. In Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, two of the previous movie’s players must complete a new series of escape room-style puzzles. The presence of this pair of former competitors—Zoey (Taylor Russell) and Ben (Logan Miller), both of whom survived the first Escape Room—immediately establishes this new movie’s emotional stakes, because nobody wants to relive the same nightmare twice. Photo credit: Escape Room: Tournament of Champions. Wikipedia.org. 19 November 2021, http://www.impawards.com/2021/escape_room_tournament_of_champions.html
Alice in Borderland
In Alice in Borderland, deadbeat Arisu (Kento Yamazaki) has no job and little ambition to do anything with his life other than play video games and hang out with his friends. One day, while he and two of his besties are goofing around in the famously busy Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, they cause enough commotion to attract the attention of the cops. They hide in a bathroom until the coast is clear, but, when they emerge, they find Shibuya completely deserted, along with the rest of Tokyo.
With no idea what’s going on, the group follows signs instructing them to go to a game arena. They arrive and learn that whatever alternate reality they’ve entered has at least one rule: They must participate in a series of games, or they will be killed. That may sound like a blast to Arisu, except these competitions have all the absurdity and deadly trappings of the video games he loves, and he won’t be playing them from the comfort of his couch. With no choice but to compete, Arisu must fight to survive and team up with others who’ve found themselves stuck in this strange world. Otherwise, it’s game over.
Departing from two decades’ worth of domestic and personal dramas and returning to his roots as Japan’s maestro of mayhem, Kinji Fukasaku has delivered a brutal punch to the collective solar plexus with one of his most outrageous and timely films, “Battle Royale.”
This film is based on first-time novelist Koshun Takami’s phenomenally successful dystopian fiction (made even more popular when adapted to a manga) about a sinister game that forces kids in junior high to kill or be killed over the course of three days on a deserted island. The object of unprecedented controversy in Nippon, the film has racked up huge B.O. since its mid-December opening, preceding its international premiere in L.A. at the American Cinematheque’s tribute to the helmer and a slot in the Rotterdam fest.
On a dark road, taxi driver Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) comes across a scared female motorist stranded in a broken-down vehicle. He pulls over—but not to help her. When the woman’s head is discovered in a local river, her devastated fiancé, Kim Soo-hyeon (Lee Byung-hun), a trained secret agent, becomes obsessed with hunting down her killer.
Once he finds Kyung-chul, things get twisted. After brutally beating the murderer, Kim lets him go free, and a demented game of cat and mouse begins.
Fifty strangers facing execution have to pick one person among them to live.Photo credit: Circle: Film Review. The Hollywood Reporter. 30 June 2015. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-reviews/circle-film-review-806035/. Accessed 19 November 2021.
High school student Kaname Sudou receives an invitation from a classmate to play Darwin’s Game, a mobile game he has never heard of. However, as soon as he opens the application, a green snake suddenly pops out from his phone screen and bites his neck, leaving him unconscious. Waking up in the infirmary without any signs of a snake bite, he is told by the school to take the rest of the day off. Although he is puzzled by what has happened, he dismisses the surreal experience as a hallucination and boards the train home.
Unfortunately, his curiosity gets the better of him and he uses the application once again. As the application appears to be just like any other battle game, Kaname breathes out a sigh of relief and decides to start his first match. However, the pleasant surprise is short-lived, as his in-game opponent unexpectedly appears right in front of him and attempts to hunt him down with a knife.
As he desperately runs for his life, Kaname puts two and two together and realizes that Darwin’s Game is not an ordinary game, but rather, it’s a brutal fight for survival.
Lonely high school student Yukiteru Amano spends his days writing a diary on his cellphone, while conversing with his two seemingly imaginary friends Deus Ex Machina, who is the god of time and space, and Murmur, the god’s servant. Revealing himself to be an actual entity, Deus grants Yukiteru a “Random Diary,” which shows highly descriptive entries based on the future and forces him into a bloody battle royale with 11 other holders of similarly powerful future diaries.
The last person standing is designated the new god of time and space. Yukiteru must find and kill the other 11 to survive. He reluctantly teams up with his stalker, Yuno Gasai (who also possesses such a diary). She takes it upon herself to ensure his safety. But there’s more to the her than meets the eye: she might have other plans for her unrequited love…
Gyakkyō Burai Kaiji
Owing to an increasing debt, Kaiji Itou ends up resuming his old lifestyle. One day, while walking on the street, he stumbles upon Yuuji Endou, who is hunting Kaiji due to the money he owes to the Teiai Group. Unaware of this, Kaiji eagerly follows Endou, hoping for a chance to participate in another gamble, but soon finds out the loan shark’s real intentions when he is kidnapped.
Given that Kaiji is unable to pay off his huge debt, the Teiai Group instead sends him to work in an underground labor camp. He is told that he will have to live in this hell for 15 years, alongside other debtors, until he can earn his freedom. His only hope to put an early end to this nightmare is by saving enough money to be able to go back to the surface for a single day. Once he is there, he plans to obtain the remaining money needed to settle his account by making a high-stakes wager. However, as many temptations threaten his scarce income, Kaiji may have to resort to gambling sooner than he had expected. RW
Student blogger Richard Wu began working in Media Services this year (2021). Richard is a pianist, and his focus at Indiana University is music. This is his first Media Beat blog post.