Films and series from South Korea: Snappy, merciless – and as topical as never before

Status: 01/13/2022 09:27 a.m.

South Korean films and series such as “Squid Game” are currently experiencing a boom. Often they reflect the problems in the country and society – sometimes in a very angry way.

By Kathrin Erdmann, ARD Studio Tokyo

The author wrote the script for “Squid Game” ten years ago, but it is more up-to-date than ever. Because not least because of the pandemic, private debt in South Korea has risen sharply, says economist Ain Jin Goel from Sangju University. “One reason is that politicians have not been able to get the overheated real estate market under control,” said Ain Jin Goel. “People thought: we also want to benefit from the boom, have invested and taken out very large loans.”

Young generation with high debts

Especially among young Koreans, the saying “Invest your debts” arose. But now many can no longer service their loans. According to the economist, every Korean has an average of 30,000 euros in the chalk. In addition, life is becoming more and more expensive, especially in a city like Seoul; rents have skyrocketed.

And a lot of money is also going into education, says Ain Jin Goel. “Korean parents want their children to go to university at all costs. And most educational institutions cost fees. So that adds up. And the mountain of debt is growing.”

A competitive society

South Korea is a very competitive society. After the end of the military dictatorship in the 1980s, the country experienced a phenomenal economic rise. Everyone wants to participate in this success. But the gap between rich and poor has recently been widening. A recent ranking on world inequality showed that the top ten percent earn, on average, 14 times as much as the bottom 50 percent of the population.

A fact that was already addressed in the film “Parasite”, which won several Academy Awards in 2020. The film is a bitterly brutal parody of the aloof world of the rich. In the film, a poor family sneaks into a wealthy household. In between, the film – which by the way means something like parasitic worms in Korean – degenerates into a splatter comedy.

“Hellbound”, “Squid Game” and the church

Things are also really brutal in “Hellbound”, a mystery series from Netflix about a radical church group that brings all alleged sinners to account. It’s a topic that also appears marginally in the series “Squid Game”. There it says in one scene: “You lost lamb. Don’t you hear the cries of lament from the people who were nailed to the cross today?”

The series shows what the Korean churches stand for, says Choi Joo Kwang. “Many churches need people because they secure their livelihood for them. It doesn’t matter whether they are believers or not. And there are certainly a lot of people who appear to be very believers on the outside, but behave very differently behind closed doors. Like this person in “Squid Game”. The man prays because he fears for his life. But if he wasn’t in need, he would certainly behave very differently. “

Choi Joo Kwang should know, because the 48-year-old is a pastor himself and has preached in one of the largest Christian churches in Seoul for a long time. But then he got out bitterly disappointed and now runs a café. Now he is a pastor without a church, only preaches online on Sundays because of the pandemic. “Unlike many other churches, where the pastor stands in front and holds his mass, the exchange is in the foreground with us. Each member reads a passage from the Bible and tells how they understand this passage. And that’s where the differences become apparent . Because we are all different people, “says Choi Joo Kwang.

Heartbreak series popular in Asia

Internationally, South Korea recently attracted attention with films and series that were always mercilessly brutal and yet also funny and snappy in their own way. In Asia, however, real heartache series have long been popular.

In 2019, for example, “Crash Landing on You” was a huge success in Japan. In the series, a rich entrepreneur crashes with a paraglider in the demilitarized zone and falls in love with a North Korean soldier.

South Korea: Success of Squid Game and other series

Kathrin Erdmann, ARD Tokyo, January 13th, 2022 8:14 am