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How Squid Game Helped Bring Korea to the Mainstream 

With 14 nominations for this years Emmy Awards, Squid Game took the world by storm with its release on Netflix in 2021! Now with prestigious honour of being the first ‘Foreign Language’ series to be nominated for Best Drama, the Emmy’s this year could easily be referred to as the Squid Game Awards. 

Following on from previous Korean film and television successes such as Parasite and Train to Busan, Squid Game has helped cement Korea’s standing in the world of moving image entertainment. 

With the Emmy’s on the horizon, we decided to delve into the world of Squid Game and Korean pop culture! 

How Squid Game Helped Bring Korea to the Mainstream

Is the playground Squid Game real?

For those unfamiliar with the series, the show gets its name from a traditional children’s playground game called, you guessed it, Squid Game. Very popular throughout Korea in the 1970’s, the game is played on a ‘court’ marked out on the floor.  

Squid Game Layout - Copyright: Netflix

With its combination of hopscotch and tag the game see’s two opposing teams face off against each other. The offence team must attempt to reach the small, areas of the ‘squids feet’ while the defenders attempt to stop them. 

This game has since had a resurgence around the world due to the show. Mainly with young adults rather than children, as it’s not exactly a child friendly show. 

The biggest show on Netflix!

Within the first 28 days of it’s premiere on Netflix in September 2021, Squid Game racked up 1.65 billion hours of viewing! That’s the equivalent to more than 182,000 years.

Family watching Netflix - Copyright: Netflix

Many would not have suspected a psychological drama from South Korea would ever be Netflix’s biggest show at its launch. And with a second season on the way, we might see a repeat of this staggering feat in 2023. 

The tracksuit look!

One of the most iconic elements from Squid Game is the green tracksuits worn by all players. This outfit may seem unimposing, but there are many ideas behind the choice of these tracksuits. 

Squid Game tracksuit - Copyright: Netflix

The first suggestion links back to the idea of childhood and ‘sports day’. With the players or students wearing one colour and the guards or teachers wearing another. This is commonplace in Korean sports days and is a link back to the series being titled Squid Game. 

A more complex and cultural reference is the idea of ‘baeksu’. This term translates to “white hands”, effectively those who do not work. Tracksuits, or ‘training-bok’ as they are referred to in Korea, are frequently linked to ‘baeksu’ or  ‘losers’ or ‘not financially independent’. This concept fits as the ‘players’ of the game are all brought together due to their poor financial situation. The aim for contestants is to be the last participant and walk away with a giant cash prize. 

It’s all about Korea

With the success of Squid Game and Parasite combined with the global phenomenon of BTS, Korea has truly made its mark in the world of entertainment. Directors such as Yeon Sang-ho (Train to Busan), Bong Joon-ho (Parasite) and Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) are now household names in the world of film. 

Fans at concert

K-pop sensations BTS are now considered to be the biggest boyband in the world. With multiple world records and awards to their name, BTS have taken the world by storm! In turn they have also helped introduce a whole generation to Korean culture. 

It doesn’t stop with just entertainment though! Korean restaurants and food outlets are becoming more and more commonplace across the UK. Shunning traditional ‘fast food’ outlets in place of a Bibimbap is the new norm for a number of people. 

Awards and Accolades

With Emmy nominations for Squid Game and its cast, the never-ending accolades for BTS and Oscar & BAFTA wins for Parasite, Korea can certainly be described as one of the most exciting countries for producing entertainment at the moment.  

Oscar Awards

The ‘Korean Wave’, as it is called, has been spreading around the world with no end in sight. 

Culture Share

The Korean Wave has helped share Korea’s rich culture and heritage across the globe. While films such as Parasite and Snowpiercer focused and spoke heavily on class elements, Oscar nominated drama Minari highlighted the struggles of a family relocating to the USA.  

South Korean Women

Groups such as BTS and TXT are regular guests on American chart shows, where  K-Pop has really taken hold. K-Pop idols are now helping expand the love of all things Korean with the promotion of K-Beauty products. 

The passion behind these films and groups have also led to a huge increase of global social media interaction. This has in turn allowed the sharing of different cultures between groups and worldwide travel to see their favourite performers. 


In 2019, South Korea saw its highest ever visitors to the country of 17.5 million people! This number had been increasing nearly year on year since 2000. With the global pandemic restricting global travel between 2020 and 2021 this number has tailed off. This record will no doubt be surpassed thanks to the recent freedom of movement and the country’s growing popularity. 

Join the Korean Wave by learning Korean with Cactus:

Have you read about Squid Game and the Korean Wave and want to learn Korean to join the Korean Wave and get ready for the next season of this hit tv show? Cactus offers a variety of great group language courses. Including online and in the UKacross the world and private classes. Learning a language has never been easier, and is a great way to uncover a different culture.

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For information on any of our classes, please call us on +44 (0) 1273 830 960 or contact us. Our multilingual team will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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