Inside South Korea’s real ‘Squid Game’ of debt, shame and social pressure


Angela, a 62-year-old proprietor of a Midtown nail salon, used to ship some of her earnings again to some of her family members in Seoul. She nonetheless sends cash to her older sister — however stopped giving funds to her son and daughter, each of their early 30s, about three years in the past.

She’s hesitant to offer particulars — and even asks that an alias be used fairly than the American title she’s often called within the salon — however instructed The Post she disapproved of the costly purses, make-up and garments she discovered her married daughter was shopping for. She was much less forthcoming about her son however stated he lived above his means in a approach that was overseas to her. She stated she doesn’t know if he has bank card debt.

“I’m scared to find out,” Angela stated. “I don’t ask but I tell him ‘no more money.’”

Angela stated she hasn’t seen “Squid Game,” the No. 1 present on Netflix and a cultural juggernaut that shines a tough, if metaphorical, gentle on South Korea’s excessive value of residing and the large bank card debt and shame that goes together with it.

“I know what it’s about,” she stated. “There may be some truth to it but it also makes us (South Koreans) look bad”

Unfortunately for Angela, the wildly widespread and violent collection about 456 determined, debt-ridden South Koreans taking part in a collection of kids’s video games to see who will survive and win a $38 million prize — and who will likely be shot within the head at point-blank vary — will not be going away. Earlier this month “Squid Game” creator Hwang Dong-hyuk confirmed he’ll make a second season.

The desperation of debt in Korea was drawn on by “Squid Game” creator Hwang Dong-hyuk (left).
The desperation of debt in Korea was drawn on by “Squid Game” creator Hwang Dong-hyuk (left).
Getty Images; Netflix

“Squid Game” didn’t come out of skinny air. Analysts of each South and North Korea instructed The Post the collection illustrates the flip facet of the so-called “Miracle on the Han River” – the astonishing rise of the South Korean economic system for the reason that finish of the Korean War.

In 1953, greater than half the inhabitants of South Korea lived in abject poverty and greater than half had been illiterate. But by the top of 1996, the nation had turn into the twenty ninth member nation of the OECD, which is made up of superior international locations.

But South Koreans, particularly millennials and the even youthful era, paid a worth for such fast progress in such a brief quantity of time, consultants say.

“South Koreans were so eager to have better times because we had to go through such hard times,” Jinah Kwon, a lecturer on the Graduate School of International Studies at Korea University instructed The Post. “That eagerness to have a better life led them to do everything they could. But all that compressed capitalism made everything a little crazy.”

Kwon stated the training system particularly — particularly for the reason that Nineteen Seventies — was very robust on Korea’s youngsters. Kwon routinely went to highschool at 8am, not returning house till 11pm.

But, regardless of all these years of examine and exhausting work, South Koreans beneath 40 face daunting financial challenges.

Household debt in South Korea, the place a mean home can now value upward of one million {dollars}, has skyrocketed lately and is now the best in Asia. It’s now virtually double the US common, in accordance with statistics from Nodutdol, a New York-based Korean diaspora group.

The common Seoul family is $44,000 in debt, according to a 2018 study from the Seoul Institute. Credit playing cards with huge limits are straightforward to acquire — and the impulse to make use of them is made worse by the extraordinary competitiveness of South Korean society, Kwon and others stated.

South Korea has one of the best suicide charges on this planet. Suicide has been the primary trigger of demise for younger individuals since 2007, according to a 2020 report from Statistics Korea.

So many individuals, many of them younger, have dedicated suicide on Seoul’s Mapo Bridge up to now decade that metropolis officers positioned suicide prevention messages on the handrails, some studying, “You are a good person.”

“South Korea can be very unforgiving,” Greg Scarlatoiu, the chief director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea who lived in Seoul for 20 years together with his South Korean spouse, instructed The Post.

The idea for "Squid Game" didn't come out of thin air. Household debt in South Korea, where an average house can now cost upward of a million dollars, has skyrocketed in recent years.
The thought for “Squid Game” didn’t come out of skinny air. Household debt in South Korea, the place a mean home can now value upward of one million {dollars}, has skyrocketed lately.

“This is a country that’s undergone spectacular changes and growth in a relatively short time. A lot of people have been left behind. Many got into debt because of the incredible pressure to keep up, to be the best and purchase the best. They see no way out.”

“Shame is very big in Korean culture,” he added. “They call it choi moyon — saving face. In the US, failure is the mother of success. You can declare bankruptcy and no one thinks anything of it. Look at Trump. In South Korea it’s very hard to come back from failure.”

“Squid Game” creator Hwang’s inspiration for the collection got here from his personal monetary crises, the worst of which occurred after the worldwide meltdown in 2008.

“I was very financially straitened because my mother retired from the company she was working for,” Hwang, who has refused interviews in latest weeks as a result of he was so overwhelmed with requests, instructed The Guardian final month. “There was a film I was working on but we failed to get finance. So I couldn’t work for about a year. We had to take out loans — mother, myself and my grandmother.”

Hwang took refuge in Seoul’s comedian guide cafes, studying survival books like “Liar’s Game.”

lecturer Jinah Kwon.
“South Koreans were so eager to have better times because we had to go through such hard times,” says lecturer Jinah Kwon.
Dylan Goldby for NY Post

“I related to the people in them, who were desperate for money and success,” he stated. “That was a low point in my life. If there was a survival game like these in reality, I wondered, would I join it to make money for my family?”

“Squid Game” got here out of an amusement he performed as a baby that’s not in contrast to tag and entails tracing squid shapes on a area.

“I used to be good at fighting my way to the squid’s head,” Hwang stated. “You had to fight to win.”

Though Hwang has seen a lot of the world, not simply South Korea, locked in a sort of Squid Game as a result of of rising financial inequality, he stated the issue is especially unhealthy in his homeland.

Gordon Chang, writer of “Losing South Korea,” stated it’s no coincidence that “Squid Game” and one other Hollywood juggernaut — the Oscar-winning movie “Parasite” — present South Koreans in a poor gentle.

Seoul’s Mapo Bridge has became of a scene of suicides.
Seoul’s Mapo Bridge has grew to become of a scene of suicides.
Getty Images

“The filmmakers are leftist and they’re from a generation in South Korea that hates America,” Chang stated. “They’ve made South Korea look horrific — even though it’s really not that bad. They all think they’re involved in this existential struggle.”

Chang added that the leftist authorities of South Korean president Moon Jae-in is making an attempt to “destroy democracy and restore unification with North Korea.”

And all of it provides as much as nice propaganda for North Korean chief Kim Jong Un, consultants say.

“Kim’s got to be thrilled at how South Korea is being depicted to the world,” Michael Madden, a nonresident fellow at the Stinson Center and an skilled on North Korea, instructed The Post. “He’s always railing about the influence of the West and the consumerism of South Korean and American society. He’s got to be loving ‘Squid Game.’”

Kim has been recognized to rail in opposition to what he calls the “decadent lifestyle” of the West. Though he and his household are recognized for his or her secret consumption of all kinds of luxurious merchandise imported underground from abroad, Kim presents himself as a stern nationalist out to protect conventional Korean values.

North Korean state media has known as “Squid Game” an instance of the “beastly” nature of a “South Korean capitalist society where mankind is annihilated by extreme competition,” depicting an “unequal society where the strong exploit the weak.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a plenary meeting of the Workers' Party central committee in Pyongyang, North Korea in this photo supplied by North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 8, 2021.
“Kim’s bought to be thrilled at how South Korea is being depicted to
the world,” says Michael Madden on North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (above).

But Sean King, an Asia specialist at Park Strategies, stated he disagrees that “Squid Game” is a takedown of South Korea and its individuals.

“What ‘Squid Game’ does is allow people in other countries to see South Koreans as people with the same problems they have,” King stated. “They can relate to South Koreans extra. It humanizes them even when they’re being proven in a foul gentle. It makes them extra like us, which long-term will not be good for Kim.

“He doesn’t like people relating more to South Koreans.”