South Korea’s Squid Game Parallels Country’s Real-Life Loan Shark Problem

Squid Game

Netflix’s Squid Game is the global phenomenon that has been declared by the streaming service as its most successful series launch of all time and that is due in no small part to the show being a compelling allegory on certain aspects of our own society, namely class inequality and late-stage capitalism.

The show centers around cash-strapped people in South Korea who get recruited by a shadowy organization into a macabre contest by leaving them with a mysterious business card. The 456 participants compete in a series of children’s games whose ultimate winner gets a life-changing sum of money, $38 million. However, the catch is that if you lose, you die.

Now it seems South Korea itself may have more unsavory parallels to the show than western audiences may realize.

According to a report from LA Times, the country is grappling with an underground world of illegal private lending that tempts South Korean citizens — especially business owners — into predatory agreements, complete with business card-toting henchmen on motorcycles who pass out the ads to people in desperation.

These lenders trap their clients with crippling interest rates, domineering collection methods, and the beginning of what is sometimes a steep slide into further debt.

Park Chui-woo was one such, real-life victim, who found himself maxed out on all lines of credit and facing a payday for the employees of his tiny chain of coffee shops. Upon calling the number from a business card dropped at his feet from a motorcyclist, he was greeted to “motorcycle-riding, tatted-up skinheads” to talk terms with Park, the report said. That included dropping off a wad of cash, from which they would stop at his store daily to collect the interest at an annualized rate of about 210%.

According to government regulators, there were about 300,000 reports of illegal lending advertisements in 2020, a 30% increase from the year before. What’s more, South Koreans’ average household debt rose to record levels in the second quarter of 2021, jumping more than 10% compared to the previous year. The Bank of Korea said people in their 30s are the most heavily burdened, having borrowed an average of more than 260% of their income. The exorbitant interest eventually led Park to have to borrow even more money from the loan sharks over three years.

Do you think Squid Game parallels anything about life here in America?