“They really have put a lot of work into repackaging shows from other countries in a way that makes them extremely accessible to other audiences,” says Chen, who points out that Squid Game represents a culmination of these efforts. Money Heist, Dark, Spanish school drama Elite and France’s Lupin all walked so Squid Game could run, to put it another way.
Now, with Squid Game having proved that “stories don’t need to be told in English to be hits in English-speaking countries”, as Chen puts it, some industry experts are expecting an acceleration of investment in other countries from Netflix’s streaming rivals, and more marketing space given to non-English language titles than they would have received pre-Squid Game. Apple TV+, for example, has recently been promoting a new South Korean production titled Dr Brain (starring Parasite’s Lee Sun-kyun) to UK audiences with regular trailers and posters both across their social media and on the platform itself, preceding other shows and movies. “Six months ago, they might not have advertised it with the same ferocity,” one source tells BBC Culture. “Post-Squid Game is a whole other ball game.”
More South Korean content
The most obvious likely effect of Squid Game’s success is more South Korean content being fast-tracked on to screens around the world. There certainly seems to be an appetite for it: in late October, an article on The Guardian full of suggestions of K-dramas to watch if you enjoyed Squid Game was one of the top 10 most-read articles on the site, up there with whistleblower reports about Facebook’s internal practices and rumours of another impending coronavirus UK lockdown.
“People are discovering Korean content to a degree like never before,” says Paquet, noting that this “slow-building process” began two decades ago with films like Park Chan-Wook’s cult beloved Oldboy. “There were movies which did [manage to] connect with a certain number of people abroad. This last year or two, though, feels like a big leap ahead, with more almost certain to follow.” One source at a major streaming service backs up that theory. Interviewed under the condition of anonymity, they suggest to BBC Culture that with Hollywood film and TV productions still in catch-up mode following the pandemic shutdown, streamers may well begin licensing other existing South Korean shows to both capitalise on Squid Game’s success and keep their platforms packed with new content. “Everyone is wondering what the next Squid Game is, if they can make their own by investing in South Korean creators and until then, how they might be able to bridge the gap in the short term by buying in existing shows that aren’t already available [in Western markets],” they explain. “This was already happening of course but after Squid Game, [there’s] a lot more urgency.”
Already South Korean shows are being given more visibility on platforms. In November, Yeon Sang-ho’s violent fantasy series Hellbound enjoyed a marketing push that sought to capitalise on Squid Game’s success, displayed prominently in users’ libraries in a way that you suspect might not have been the case had Hwang Dong-hyuk’s show not enjoyed such massive success. Hellbound subsequently overtook Squid Game as Netflix’s most-watched show for that month, topping charts in 80 different countries within 24 hours of premiering.