SEOUL — Hit South Korean show Squid Game has officially become Netflix’s biggest original series launch, the streaming service said on Wednesday.
The nine-part thriller, in which cash-strapped contestants play childhood games with deadly consequences in a bid to win 45.6 billion won ($38 million), has become a worldwide sensation for Netflix since its launch less than a month ago.
The dystopian drama has inspired countless memes, Halloween costumes of the ubiquitious green tracksuits worn by contestants, and real world recreations of the various games. It has also sparked a debate within South Korea about toxic competitive societies and prompted new interest in the country’s culture and language around the world.
“Squid Game has officially reached 111 million fans — making it our biggest series launch ever!” Netflix posted on Twitter.
The series reached that total in just 27 days, since its release on Sept. 17, easily outpacing UK costume drama Bridgerton, which was streamed by 82 million accounts in its first 28 days.
Netflix gives limited information on viewing figures for its platform and cuts the data it does provide in various ways. The 28-day debut figures it released for Bridgerton and other shows included any account that watched an episode for at least two minutes.
Netflix co-CEO and Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos told a tech conference in California last month said the streaming service was surprised by how popular Squid Game has become.
“We did not see that coming, in terms of its global popularity,” he said.
The series was so popular that South Korean Internet service provider SK Broadband sued Netflix to pay for costs from increased network traffic and maintenance work because of the surge in viewers.
And a South Korean woman was in talks with the US firm about compensation after she was deluged with thousands of prank calls and text messages when her phone number was inadvertently highlighted as a key plot point in the series.
Netflix has it would spend more than $500 million on content produced in South Korea this year.
Even isolated North Korea has taken notice of the show. A North Korean propaganda website said on Tuesday that Squid Game exposes the reality of South Korean capitalist culture where “corruption and immoral scoundrels are commonplace.”
North Korea’s Arirang Meari site cited unnamed South Korean film critics as saying that the TV series shows an “unequal society where moneyless people are treated like chess pieces for the rich.”
“It is said that it makes people realize the sad reality of the beastly South Korean society in which human beings are driven into extreme competition and their humanity is being wiped out,” the article said.
North Korea has been imposing stiff fines or prison for anyone caught enjoying South Korean entertainment or copying the way South Koreans speak as leader Kim Jong Un steps up a war on outside influences and calls for better homegrown entertainment.
A sweeping new “anti-reactionary thought” law was imposed late last year, including up to 15 years in a prison camp for those caught with media from South Korea, according to summaries of the rules obtained by Daily NK, a Seoul-based website that reports from sources inside North Korea.
South Korean culture is routinely criticized in North Korea. In March, the Arirang Meari website said K-pop stars were treated like “slaves” by large companies and lived a “miserable life” in the South.
In Feb. 2020, a pro-North Korea newspaper based in Japan praised Academy Awards best picture-winning South Korean movie Parasite, calling it a masterpiece that “starkly exposed the reality” of the rich-poor gap in South Korea. — Reuters