HK can excel at its own game

Editorial | Mary Ma 8 Oct 2021

There's no denying Squid Game is an explosive success that promises to make American streaming service Netflix a fortune.

It's an interesting success story. Although the show is produced in the Korean language in a Korean setting, it has gone viral not only in Asian homes but also throughout he English-speaking world.

English-speaking audiences are not keen on subtitles, but Squid Game is a rare exception.

Complaints about the inaccurate English translation of the subtitles have not prevented the series from becoming Netflix's stunning hit of 2021.

This time around, the Korean wave has gone further than its last Gangnam Style sensation to become a tsunami.

Perhaps this is also what Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is expecting the new Cultural, Sports and Tourism Bureau to at least replicate - if not excel - Squid Game.

But the right conditions must be in place to nurture a similar success - including creative freedom.

Squid Game might be controversial to some, not only because it involves playing deadly children's games, but also because it offers a critical review of the adult world.

The brutal scenes and inherent ironies are bound to raise eyebrows among those who disagree with the script.

That's okay since the show is set in South Korea where studios can come up with ideas that look crazy to some - including the Gangnam Style dance after its debut in 2012.

But would it be less certain if it were set in China, where the entertainment industry is subject to strict censorship?

And would Hong Kong welcome a similar wave too?

According to the director of the show, Hwang Dong-hyuk, he first came up with the idea as early as 2008 but he never expected it to become such a massive hit.

But within 10 days of its release on Netflix, Squid Game occupied the No1 spot in 90 countries.

The plot sees people heavily in debt being invited to play children's games like Red Light, Green Light to win 45.6 billion won (HK$300 million).

However, the 456 players have to beat each other before scooping the prize. The catch is that if they lose, they die.

The players are given only one chance to quit early in the game to return to the real world.

Incredibly, many choose to re-enter the deadly game after languishing in their own realities.

It would be highly misleading to think the Korean wave is an overnight phenomenon - it has taken South Korea a decade or two to invest in creating and expanding its soft power.

It would be equally misguiding to play down Hong Kong's soft power. For example, films including Prison on Fire in 1987 and Internal Affairs in 2002 were blockbusters.

A current production, Zero to Hero - about the struggle of Paralympic athlete So Wa-wai - is also proving popular.

While it is crucial that the right person is chosen to head Hong Kong's new bureau, it's more critical to maintain a free environment for creative production.

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October 2021

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