TV

Squid Game is Netflix’s biggest launch hit, craze hits China

SEOUL/BEIJING – 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 (S$52 million), has become a worldwide sensation for Netflix since its launch less than a month ago.

“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 costume drama Bridgerton, which was streamed by 82 million accounts in its first 28 days.

And even though Squid Game is not available in China and unlikely to pass censors because of its brutally violent content, it has already built up a huge following in the country, with fans dodging strict Internet controls to stream the show and snapping up merchandise such as its unique outfits.

This photo taken on October 12, 2021 shows a man in a small shop making dalgonas, a crisp sugar candy featured in the Netflix series Squid Game, in Shanghai. AFP

It is already a hit in cities such as Shanghai, where a crowd formed Tuesday at an eatery selling dalgona – the crisp sugar candy featured in one episode – with customers gathering at its Squid Game-themed sign to take photos.

China’s ever-nimble manufacturers also raced to tap into demand, with products – including the bright pink uniforms and eerie masks worn by anonymous guards – popping up across the giant online shopping platform Taobao.

Vendor Peng Xiuyang said his sales had spiked by around 30 per cent thanks to demand for Squid Game merchandise.

He had never heard of the show when a customer asked last month if he sold the masks – a plain black full-faced covering printed with squares, triangles or circles.

But now vendors like him and plastics manufacturers in the eastern hub of Yiwu are all rushing to meet demand – from both domestic and international buyers.

“Our customers are those who have seen the series and want to join in the trend,” he added.

With Halloween coming up, the spine-chilling masks have become his most sought-after product.

The lack of official availability has not stopped Chinese audiences from finding ways to watch the show – including easily available unofficial streaming sites or file-sharing.

The piracy problem is so widespread that South Korea’s ambassador to China, Jang Ha-sung, recently told a parliamentary audit that he had asked Chinese authorities to take action.

“Our assessment is that Squid Game, which is gaining global popularity, is being illegally distributed on around 60 sites in China,” Jang said, testifying remotely from Beijing.

As fascination with the show swirls among China’s tech-savvy youth, the hashtag “Squid Game” got nearly two billion views on social media, and related topics have been trending for weeks.

Users discussed how they would pass the challenges featured in the show, and wondered what a Chinese version of Squid Game would be like. - REUTERS/AFP

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