An Irregular Update - 1/8/2022
The Sequels, the Silence, and the Southeast
So my last update noted how Squid Game, despite being the only South Korean drama discussed in the English language press at all last year, was far from the only South Korean serial style television drama of note even in the month of its release. Now, you might respond to that by saying, well, OK, but it was the only serial drama of note on Netflix internationally. And that’s the only streaming anyone watches is on Netflix anyway, so can English language press really be held to blame for only thinking that Squid Game was important?
To this my response is- that even in the Netflix context, Squid Game is far from the only South Korean drama produced for the platform. You might have heard about the Joseon-era zombie show Kingdom back when it was new in 2019. It received a lot of English-language press at the time, though the sequel series and prequel movie were nowhere near as well-documented. But for the most part new South Korean Netflix dramas appear about once a month. Squid Game was just one of many such series.
Its predecessor in August was D.P, a grim drama about military police rounding up deserters in a country with mandatory military service. October had My Name, a gangster genre piece. November saw Hellbound, a supernatural thriller about ethereal entities announcing and then enacting a series of seemingly random murders. December had The Silent Sea, a foreboding science fiction piece taking place in a water-deprived future. And in a few weeks we’ll have All of Us Are Dead, a zombie show taking place at a high school.
None of these titles are any less serious than Squid Game. They’re actually all quite comparable in terms of the resumes of the people who created them. Yet there’s a good chance you haven’t even heard of any of these shows. Which isn’t to say they’re all masterpieces. Squid Game wasn’t a masterpiece either quite frankly. But it was, from my perspective as someone doing actual regular articles on the subject, incredibly annoying for Squid Game articles to continue to trickle in months later that were obviously written by people with no idea that these other shows even existed.
Adding further insult to injury, all of these titles ranked reasonably well on the Netflix leaderboards. They just didn’t rank highly for very long- and more unfortunately, they tended to do disproportionately well in Southeast Asia. But even in South Korea, the Southeast Asian media market is very much ignored in its relevance, despite that market being the principal driver for nearly all South Korean media export growth over the last several years. The few English language articles that even deigned to mention this often did so in very condescending terms, as if the Southeast Asian markets don’t actually matter. Racisms within other racisms- all in the context of Netflix proving there is no racism, by graciously granting us the gift of Squid Game. More to come.