The Cinema Times, Kathmandu,
This article was originally published on SamuraiJournalist.
These days it seems like everyone is talking about the Korean survival drama Squid Game, which has become one of the biggest hits in the history of Netflix. It’s no wonder – with an intriguing premise, talented cast, and striking visual design, the show made it hard for viewers to look away from the screen. Still, there are plenty of details and hidden meanings that most people didn’t notice while they were cheering for their favorite characters. Before you scroll down to check them out, red light! This list is full of spoilers.
Sae-byeok tried to hide her North Korean accent
North Korean defector / tough woman Kang Sae-byeok quickly became a fan favorite, but even with all eyes on her, many viewers missed this important detail about the character – her adaptive accent.
Those who watched the dubbed version of the show, or even those who watched the original but were not familiar with Korean at all, missed the fact that Sae-byeok adapted her accent depending on who she was talking to. When she interacts with her little brother, her true North Korean accent comes out, but with other people, her accent is much more discreet, probably so that she can blend in better.
Il-nam’s true identity: the first clue
The revelation that sweet old man Oh Il-nam was the mastermind behind the twisted games was perhaps the biggest plot twist of the entire show, but looking back, there were many clues pointing to his true identity.
For instance, when they were playing Red Light, Green Light and everyone was petrified after learning how losers were eliminated, Il-nam was the very first person to really get into the game, and he did so with a huge smile on his face. At the time we thought the poor man had gone cuckoo, but the reason why he wasn’t scared is because he had designed the whole thing.
He wasn’t really scanned by the giant doll
People were too shocked by the rules of the game to notice this small detail in Red Light, Green Light, but when the giant doll turns its head around to scan the players for any signs of movement, she doesn’t seem to properly scan Il-nam.
Through the eyes of the doll, all players have a strong green outline and a green haze that turns red when motion is detected, but Player 001’s green haze is clearly not as strong as the others, which suggests the doll was programmed to avoid him.
Why Il-nam refused to take the umbrella shape
In preparation for the second game of the deadly tournament, players had to choose among four shapes – a circle, a triangle, a star, and an umbrella -, before knowing what they were going to do with them.
But Il-nam did know what they going to play, and although he “generously” allowed Gi-hun to choose first, he refused to take his umbrella instead of the star, because anyone who’s familiar with the game knows the umbrella is the hardest shape of all.
The Front Man discreetly took orders from Il-nam
Throughout the series we saw how the staff couldn’t care less about what happened to the players outside of the six official games, so looking back, this scene from episode 4 does stick out.
During the first dorm room fight, it seemed like the Front Man was showing mercy on an old scared man, but after the revelation that Il-nam was actually the mastermind of the game, it’s clear the Front Man wasn’t taking pity – he was taking orders.
Il-nam knew exactly how to win Tug of War
In the fourth episode of Squid Game, it seemed like our heroes were bound to be eliminated when it was revealed they had to play Tug of War and their team included three women and one old man – but Il-nam conveniently knew the exact way to win the challenge.
He says he knew the best technique from playing Tug of War in his youth, but as the mastermind of the games, it’s possible that he also accumulated a lot of knowledge from watching how the best teams played over the years.
Player 001 was not listed in the 2020 player file
This is the type of clue that seems so obvious once you’ve watched the entire series, but it went “whoosh” the first time we watched this episode. Remember when detective Hwang Jun-ho was going through those very well-organized folders, trying to find some information on his missing brother?
When he opens the folder for the 2020 games, the first page is for Player 002, and not Player 001, whose information is not there because Oh Il-nam wasn’t an actual player.
Il-nam’s original exit strategy was ruined by Gi-hun’s kindness
Knowing everything we know now, it’s clear that Il-nam needed an exit strategy before they reached game 5 (the glass bridge game). His safety could not be guaranteed there – even if he managed to secure the 16th bib, anyone could easily push him off the bridge.
That’s why he didn’t make an effort to find a partner in episode 6. His plan was to not get picked, so he could be “killed” and leave the tournament, but after Gi-hun unexpectedly chose him, he had to play along and wait to make his exit. Mi-nyeo was the one left without a partner instead, so she got to move to the next round.
The truth about Il-nam’s old home
For most of episode 6, viewers believed Il-nam was suffering from dementia, and they cried large tears for him when he confused the game’s fake set with the real neighborhood he used to live in.
We want those tears back, because that heartbreaking confusion was really just a nod to Il-nam’s true identity – the marbles game’s set WAS a reference to this old home, and he was having the time of his life. Also, did you notice the Squid Game symbols at the entrance of the house?
We never saw what happened to Il-nam
If Game of Thrones taught us anything, it’s that a character should be presumed alive unless there is a body. However, most viewers forgot that rule during episode 6 of Squid Game, as they were busy being emotionally destroyed.
In the scene where Il-nam is “eliminated,” we never actually see what happens to him. The camera is focused on Gi-hun’s reaction to the sound of the shot, but we see no blood and hear no body hitting the floor.
Il-nam’s “elimination” was perfectly timed
After Gi-hun’s kindness ruined Il-nam’s original exit strategy, the old man had to improvise a convincing “elimination” during the marbles game, and he really pulled it off.
Looking back at episode 6, it’s clear that it would have been impossible for him to fake his own death with too many people around, so he stretched out the challenge as much as he could by walking around the set looking for his house. As we already knew from the end of that episode, he wasn’t forgetful at all – he timed everything perfectly.
Sang-woo’s betrayal of Ali is even more painful in Korean
A vital piece of information lost on most viewers is the nature of the relationship developed between Sang-woo and Ali. In episode 5, according to the English translation, the former says, “just call me Sang-woo,” and then Ali starts calling him “Sang-woo,” but that’s not what actually happens in Korean.
In that scene, Sang-woo tells Ali he can call him “hyun,” which is the word a man uses for his older brother, or a very close male friend. His betrayal hurt even more in Korean, because as Ali was desperately looking for him at the end of episode 6, he called out, “hyun!” – like he was looking for his older brother.
How Ali’s fate was foreshadowed
Episode 6 is generally considered the most memorable episode of Squid Game, however, looking back, episode 2 is arguably more important, not only because it taught us the main characters’ backstory, but also because it foreshadowed their end.
In episode 2, after confronting his boss about his paycheck, Ali takes something valuable from the floor and makes a run for it. In episode 6, the same thing happens again, but this time it’s Sang-woo who’s taking the marbles and leaving Ali behind.
How Deok-su’s fate was foreshadowed
Deok-su met his maker in episode 7, but his destiny was foretold way back in episode 2, in the scene where he’s being chased by a group of men he owes money to.
In order to escape them, he jumps off a bridge and into the water. A similar thing happens to him during the glass bridge game, the difference being that he didn’t make the decision to do that, and there not being any water there to break his fall. Good riddance!
How Mi-nyeo’s fate was foreshadowed
Mi-nyeo was one of the most divisive characters in Squid Game, and while a lot of viewers didn’t like her, she won some hearts by leaving the show in style – after foreshadowing her own end.
After her team survived Tug of War, she told everyone how powerful she felt once she laid back. Fast forward to a few episodes later, and she laid back one last time, with gangster / bully Deok-su in tow. We thank her for her service.
How Sang-woo’s fate was foreshadowed
Out of the games in episode 2, Sang-woo is faced with the reality of the crushing debt he cannot pay, and he decides to end his own life – until an insistent knock on the door stops him from doing so.
During the final match of the tournament, he’s offered mercy, but the perspective of going back to reality with no money does not interest him, and he goes through with his initial plan of ending his life.
How Gi-hun’s fate was foreshadowed
We all know Gi-hun emerged as the winner of the disturbing tournament, but at what price? His strongest motivations for joining/rejoining the games were keeping his daughter in Korea and helping his elderly mother, and he failed both tasks.
The series didn’t foreshadow his win, but it did foreshadow what would happen to his mother. In episode 2, he tried to trick Sae-byeok into trusting him by swearing on his mom, and he probably regrets that now.
How detective Jun-ho’s fate was foreshadowed
In episode 3, detective Jun-ho manages to infiltrate the tournament by neutralizing a masked van driver and throwing his body in the water, and before he does that, he even plants his own National Police Agency ID in the man’s jacket.
Cut to the dramatic episode 8, when the identity of the Front Man is finally revealed, and Jun-ho ends up falling in the water in a very familiar way.
Mi-nyeo’s meaningful line was lost in translation
It must have been an enormous challenge to translate Squid Game to English, and while their work is appreciated, some fluent Korean speakers weren’t happy with the choice of words in key moments such as this one.
When Mi-nyeo is trying to find a partner for the marbles game, the English sub says one thing, the English CC says another, and in reality, her line is actually something like,”I just never got to study, but I’m very smart.” Her being smart and wanting to study but never getting a chance to adds another layer to her character and to the show’s criticism of class and capitalism, but that was lost in translation.
The games were listed on the walls the entire time
In the first few episodes of Squid Game, we saw how some characters were willing to risk everything they had in order to get some clues about their next challenge. If they only knew that the clues were right there on the walls the entire time.
Most viewers didn’t see the drawings until the final three players returned to their dorm room in episode 8 and almost all beds had been cleared, but if you pay close attention, the images are noticeable quite early on.
Those symbols were everywhere
The first time we saw the circle, triangle and square that are symbolic of the series was when the salesman handed the invitation card to a desperate Gi-hun in episode 1. From then on, they appeared on several occasions – you just need to pay attention.
For instance, they were in the tiny hair clip worn by the giant doll in the first game of the tournament. In other less obvious ways, the shapes were featured on the door of Il-nam’s “”house”” in the marbles game, and during the dinner scene in episode 8.
The number 456 seems to follow Gi-hun
Eagle-eyed viewers have noticed that the number 456 seems to follow Gi-hun throughout the series – in fact, we see it on three different occasions.
The first time we saw the number was when he collected his earnings at the race track – 4.56 million won. The second time, of course, was when he became player 456 in the games. The third and final time was when he became the winner of the tournament and got 4.56 billion won richer. Ah, and in case you were wondering, that’s about 38.6 million dollars.
A meaningful gift box
You’d think a birthday gift from a father to his daughter would be perfectly innocent, but in Squid Game, everything seems to have a hidden meaning.
The black gift box with the beautiful ribbon foreshadows what’s coming up in the games, not only in the design of the coffins, but also in the violence the participants face. As you may recall, the present inside was a weapon-shaped lighter, which reference the way losers of the tournament are “eliminated” and then cremated.
Mi-nyeo never called Deok-su “babe”
One of the biggest challenges of translating Korean shows to English is the fact that Koreans don’t usually call people by their names – instead, they use certain “titles” that are very unique to their language.
Mi-nyeo, for instance, called Deok-su “oppa,” which is what women call men who are slightly older than them. Funnily enough, though, Netflix translated “oppa” several different ways throughout the series – “honey,” “babe,” “old man,” depending on the situation.
The hidden meaning in Il-nam’s name
There are several details in this series that English-speaking audiences didn’t really get, and this particular one involves the mysterious man behind it all: Oh Il-nam, the creator of the games.
In Korean, “Il” can mean “one,” and “nam” can refer to “male” or “man.” Put together, his name can be interpreted as “first man,” as in Player 001, which was his number in the deadly tournament.
Why people kept saying Sae-byeok’s name was pretty
On more than one occasion, after Sae-byeok revealed her name, we saw another character saying what a nice name it was, but English audiences never were told why.
Sae-byeok means “Dawn” in Korean, and that’s indeed a very pretty name. When Gi-hun finally hears it for the first time in episode 4, he mentions how nice it is, before quickly adding that it “doesn’t really suit you, though.”
They weren’t playing Red Light, Green Light
The first episode of the series forever changed the way we see Red Light, Green Light, but although the series made the game truly iconic, that’s not technically what they were playing.
The Korean name for this popular game is literally translated to English as “the mugunghwa flower has bloomed,” and that’s what the giant doll says before she turns her head around. The mugunghwa flower, by the way, is the national flower of Korea.
How Korean children actually play with the sugar candy
English-speaking audiences were already familiar with a couple of the games featured on the series since they are popular in many countries, but most people outside of Korea were probably unfamiliar with the sugar candy from episode 3.
Translated to English as Honeycomb, the candy is called Ppopgi or Dalgona in Korean, and the idea is that if the child manages to perfectly cut out the shape stamped in the candy, they get a second one for free. As we saw in Squid Game, that’s very difficult to do.
Why the chaotic stairs looked familiar
If you started watching Squid Game and were slightly freaked out because those chaotic stairs looked weirdly familiar, worry not – there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for that.
Those stairs were inspired by M. C. Escher’s famous Relativity lithograph, with its impossible visuals and gravitational perspectives. In the show, the maze-like quality of those spaces created a feeling of discomfort and uneasiness, and of being transported to a situation where the “real-world” rules don’t apply.
The hierarchy of the staff members
As we learned throughout the show, staff members had a very clear hierarchy with very clear rules. On the bottom were the circles, then the triangles, and then the squares. When detective Jun-ho sneaks into the tournament as a circle staff member, he’s reprimanded by a square for talking without his supervisor’s approval.
Curiously, however, even though the squares were on top, they weren’t the ones with the weapons – the only pink jackets to carry weapons were the triangles.
All players chose blue in the challenge with the recruiter
In the first episode, when everyone’s questioning the way they were brought to the mysterious location for the tournament that’s about to begin, they are shown the footage where they played the game of paper tiles against the recruiter.
According to the images we see in the video, all players went for the blue paper tile instead of the red, which led some viewers to theorize that maybe the choice of paper tile color defined how you were recruited – blue for players, red for staff members.
The actor who plays the Front Man is named in episode 6
In the emotional rollercoaster that is episode 6, Sae-byeok and Ji-yeong are opening up about their past and plans for the future, when Ji-yeong mentions a line from a famous Korean movie, Inside Men, and she specifically names actor Lee Byung-hun.
Cut to two episodes later, when the mysterious Front Man finally removes his mask, and whose face do we see? That’s Lee Byung-hun himself. Squid Game did humor, too!
A call-back to the first episode
A funny moment from the last episode of Squid Game happened when the now super rich Gi-hun asked the banker if he could borrow 10,000 won (around 8 dollars) from him.
That’s a call-back to the first episode, when Gi-hun did the same to the loan shark who had just assaulted him. Ironically, he didn’t get the money then, when he needed it the most, but he did get the money in the last episode, when he had billions of won in his bank account.