After two years of consideration, it is not surprising that the unprecedented success of Netflix Squid game was not immediately reproducible. But it’s very surprising how few of the biggest television platforms have even tried to repeat this success. There has likely been a visible increase in the availability of Korean programming in the United States – perhaps in tacit recognition of this fact Squid game became Squid game Due to the surreptitious spread of word of mouth, there was no discernible increase in shows receiving a major promotional push in hopes of becoming NEXT Squid game.
Last but not least, Paramount+ is giving the new six-part drama a boost bargain, from writer and director Jeon Woo-sung. It’s often easy to see why.
A taut one-shot wonder.
bargain is of course not the next one Squid game. Nothing is. Or if something is, it will probably appear out of nowhere.
But it’s not a completely inappropriate comparison, especially thematically: I like it Squid game, bargain employs an elaborate genre exercise in class critique, in which the elite literally and figuratively prey on the economically disadvantaged. bargain could be a hair less cynical than Sconsideration gamebut in its often metaphorical hollowing out of a commodity culture that lists and monetizes the poor, right down to biological detail, it’s damn cynical.
And as it was Squid gamewill be easy for anyone who wants to ignore the show’s message – look at Netflix’s soulless decision to make a “reality” version of it Squid game — to concentrate on the formal elements bargainbecause Jeon Woo-sung’s direction is attention-grabbing, format-demanding and, at its best, quite remarkable.
It happens that between the provocative themes and the striking direction bargain has a story and characters that are stretched absurdly thin. But since the breathless episodes last between 35 and 37 minutes, you can avoid focusing on these mistakes as much as you want.
bargain begins with Park Joo-Young (Jeon Jong-Seo) staring listlessly out the window of a comfortable but remote hotel. All she can see in the distance are mountains and a reservoir. She waits for Noh Hyung-soo (Jin Sun-kyu), who has agreed to deflower Joo-Young for the agreed price of $1,000 (according to the sometimes spotty subtitles). Hyung-soo likes what he sees and is happy that Joo Young looks like her picture in a world where nothing is as advertised. But he doubts her virginity and demands to see blood. Ew.
He then tries to bargain down her price, one of several ways the show’s title can be taken literally. Hyung-soo is disgusting. The whole situation is disgusting. But no worry. It gets worse!
You see, despite her schoolgirl uniform and exaggerated giggles, Joo-Young is actually not an 18-year-old high school student. She’s an associate in an organ trafficking ring, and Hyung-soo – also not who he claims to be – is soon strapped to a stretcher and subjected to an auction where he sells his pieces to the highest bidders. Hyung-soo’s first kidney has just gone for well over $100,000 to Geuk-ryul (Chang Ryul), a dutiful son whose father is repeatedly usurped by wealthier patients on the transplant list as the hotel suffers an earthquake and then an landslide is shaken.
Hyung-soo, Joo-Young, and occasionally Geuk-ryul (whom everyone mostly calls “The Good Son”) spend the next 2.5 hours escaping the collapsed ruins of the hotel, where they will discover the people, their morals allows them to buy and sell the organs of unwitting victims and are also willing to do anything to survive. Add to that the prospect of stealing millions from the crumbling company’s coffers, and the stakes and the number of victims only rise.
At this point I should mention the conceit, or possibly gimmick, behind Woo-Sung’s adaptation of what appears to be a 2015 South Korean short film: Every Episode of bargain is designed to look like a single, continuous take, and if one were to remove the title sequences and episodic title cards, the show could be made as a continuous three-hour take – right down to some cheating in the lackluster final minutes that are designed to be one plan second season.
At this point, smart viewers have been trained to recognize masked cuts. bargain is full of them, some very, very obvious – when the camera observes figures falling from a high floor of the hotel through a perfectly symmetrical hole that runs from the roof to the basement, it is actually not an uninterrupted practical shot – and some take advantage of a chaotic environment where flickering lights, pockets of darkness, and clouds of debris provide distractions and technical feints.
Occasionally you’ll be asked, “How the hell did he do that?” Quality thanks to Woo-sung’s direction and Young-Ho Kim’s cinematography. More often, I simply enjoyed the coherent claustrophobic effect that comes from the technology as the characters start on the fifth floor of the hotel, make their way to the basement where two workers are disposing of the hollowed-out bodies, and then go back up through that Hotel looking for a way out.
The hotel is, as I said, a metaphor, as is generally the case in the escape subgenre. Out of The massive inferno To The attack To DreddStories like these use their settings as embodiments of a hierarchy in which the rich sit precariously at the top and do everything in their power to ignore and then oppress the strivers at the bottom.
It is also an easily segmentable environment suitable for episodic storytelling. The part in the basement—home to a fish-filled tank, gnarled corpse-dismemberment tools, and dingy, chipped tiles on the walls and floors—is like something out of one Seen Film in which the director stages torture and an escape attempt in the series’ most dazzling one-shot feat. A later episode features action in a very cramped hotel room; someone else becomes something out of it Reservoir Dogswith a lot of violent shouting and, well, bargaining, as the characters try to figure out who they can trust and what they need to do to survive.
The series’ production design is inevitably a malleable marvel, full of winding hallways and strategically placed cracks and chasms for characters to navigate or detect approaching horrors. Just because few of the endless uncut shots are actually longer than five or ten minutes doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of very complicated choreography at play.
I mentioned characters there a few times, and I probably should have put “characters” in quotes. bargain Mostly Hyung-Soo and Joo-Young bicker and fight, with occasional appearances from the Good Son, who shows up solely to demand that Hyung-Soo fulfill his responsibilities when it comes to the organs, however involuntary that donation was. He’s there for both a strange serious comedy and a running joke in which all these people, victims of circumstance, demand that other people take responsibility for things – medical justice, infrastructure improvements, decency – that ideally should be so should be the mandate of state and religious institutions. Chang provides a kind of dark laugh, and Jin offers both high drama and a broader brand of comedy, as his character spends most of the series grappling with the apocalypse in red boxers and shiny galoshes. It’s left to Jun to play the most fully realized character in a series where hardly anyone else has a name, making Joo-Young both a victim and a capable perpetrator, depending on the moment.
Don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the realism of the interactions between the main characters. Don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the practical geography of the hotel. And definitely don’t spend a lot of time trying to understand the business plan of this prostitution/human trafficking ring. This isn’t a series that thrives on common sense or nuance, which caused my interest to wane somewhat as the series headed toward an ending that felt more perfunctory than cumulative.
Nevertheless, it is an intense piece of directorial ingenuity and a pitch-black satire on the dehumanized state of contemporary culture. bargain is completely worthy of the initial curiosity and then the budding enthusiasm.