Squid Game: The Rise of Foreign Media
An article highlighting a new Netflix show and its effect on the increase of foreign media.
Written by: Andrea Brazis
A recent Netflix show has taken the world by storm. “Squid Game” has become a $900 million dollar show in a matter of months and even claimed the number one streaming spot for 24 consecutive days, falling in the top 10 right behind “Ginny and Georgia.” Currently, it’s on pace to become the most popular show watched on Netflix, with over 100 million global viewers within the first few weeks of release.
“Squid Game” is a South Korean survival drama created by screenwriter and film director, Hwang Dong-hyuk. The beginning of the show follows financially struggling individuals, as their lives slowly take a downhill slope. A series of events lands them in a survival challenge featuring a variety of children's games, with the promise of prize money that could ultimately save their failing lives and financial statuses. “Squid Game” was originally filmed in Korean and it includes a predominantly Korean cast. However, different dubs and subtitles allow viewers to understand the show in whichever language they know best.
It’s no surprise that “Squid Game” has become a popular topic of conversation, for more reasons than one. Aside from the content of the show itself, “Squid Game” is also one of the first foreign shows to take off this rapidly and maintain popularity. Since its release, there’s been a significant increase of people interested in learning the Korean language.
Duolingo, among other language-teaching websites, has seen a sharp increase in users. According to an article from Learning English, 40% more people in the U.S. signed up to learn Korean only two weeks after the show’s release. An article by Salon said, in regards to Duolingo, “approximately 32% of these learners are now adding Korean lessons to their class itinerary.”
Prior to “Squid Game,” multiple other Korean media became extremely popular in a short time, including “Train to Busan,” “The Handmaiden” and the 2019 Best Picture Oscar winner “Parasite.” As time’s gone on, foreign films have gained more respect, therefore generating more public interest.
Many think that this increase of Korean language interest may have also stemmed from the worldwide popularity of both K-dramas and K-pop. Korean-based media has become somewhat of a “fad” many times throughout history, and has continued to maintain popularity.
Typically, people prefer to watch movies and media that are originally in their native language — media that doesn’t require a dub or translated subtitles. It’s convenient and therefore more appealing. “Squid Game” reopened this topic of conversation as its Korean base has created global interest for people around the world.
Ultimately, foreign media allows you to open a door of opportunity to indulge in cultures outside your own.
When “Squid Game” first came out, pop culture saw much discussion about the topic “dubs vs. subs”; an article by sportskeeda explores this age-old debate. Both dubs and subtitles have their own pros and cons. While dubbed versions may be convenient for the translation, it can be very frustrating and distracting visually when the dub doesn’t match the actors’ lips. However, subtitles are not much better: many people find them distracting to follow, and sometimes inaccurate.
Many people are very skeptical about the concept of dubbing. Creating a good dub often takes weeks or even months, in order to get the correct stress, tone and speech rhythm to convey the messages of the storyline. Dubs are typically a good choice if you are more focused on the content of the storyline rather than the actors’ individual performances physically and emotionally. Also, dubs serve as an excellent option if you are fully paying attention to the show and/or multitasking (doing homework, checking your phone, eating, etc.).
Although dubs have shown popularity, subtitles have proven to be the superior choice for watching foreign films. An article titled “Squid Game Dubbed vs Subbed - Which Version Should You Watch?” in Collider said, “if you are the type of person that values art in its most unaltered forms, then you should go for the subbed version.”
The article continues to explain that watching the subbed version allows viewers to fully experience the actors’ individual performances physically along with their language including the emotion and tone. In a Good Morning America interview, “Squid Game” director Hwang Dong-hyuk said, “please watch the subtitled one. If you don’t see the acting, the performance from the real actor, then you’re not seeing anything. You are missing most of the ‘Squid Game’ fun.” Whatever language the TV show is originally in, is what the creator intended; and therefore will include actors and audio in their purest form, without additives or adjustments.
Watching subbed versions of foreign films is also a significant cultural experience for individuals that are unfamiliar with native speakers’ linguistic tendencies and interactions. Specifically, “Squid Game” makes many references that reveal information and pieces of South Korea’s rich history and beautiful culture.
So where does this leave foreign media today? Well, many articles have recently emerged on this topic, specifically one by Hello Student titled, “Why foreign cinema can be better than Hollywood.” The article discusses three primary reasons.
The first explains the importance of exploring different cultures and different perspectives. We’re all human and therefore share many similar experiences; foreign media allows viewers to experience universal touchstones, such as financial crisis, marriage and puberty, to name a few.
Second, it says that seeing someone else’s norm can be beneficial as well as intriguing. Hello Student says, “... in foreign cinema, [the minute details of a show’s props, costumes, and language] mean so much more. They are a portal into the lives of people who live hundreds of miles away from us!”
Last, it stresses the importance of learning different stories. Contrary to Hollywood, foreign media is generally crafted with purpose, using meaningful themes, sharing multiple perspectives, and creating unique plot twists.
Another article by Sarah Fischer, from Axios, says, “Amercians are consuming more foreign content than ever.” In 2020, the top international markets were the U.K. (8.3%), Japan (5.7%), Canada (3.2%), Korea (1.9%) and India (1.5%).
Netflix has been a catalyst for the increase of interest, as it continually provides a plethora of foreign media options. Many producers admire the concepts and storylines created by foreign filmmakers; so much so, that they will often replicate the media in an Americanized version as well.
COVID also provided a large window of opportunity for foreign media. While media production was limited and halted in some cases, audiences became somewhat impatient. U.S. viewers looked to foreign media productions for entertainment to fill the visual void.
Across the board, other foreign content is becoming popular as well, including but not limited to: music, social media, television and news. The article says, “if content succeeded here in the U.S., it had a better chance of succeeding internationally.” Hello Student concludes that “expanding your horizons by dipping in and out of foreign films can expose you to so much more than the Hollywood machine and who knows, you might even learn a thing or two along the way.” Ultimately, foreign media allows you to open a door of opportunity to indulge in cultures outside your own.
We as a whole strive to stay connected to those around us; we have a hunger for learning and exploring things that are unfamiliar to us. It’s likely that foreign media will continually grow as worldwide demand increases.