Squid Game fans in China can get their hands on the iconic green tracksuit and dalgona candy. Collage: VICE / Images: Courtesy of Dongguan Zibo Technology Co., Ltd. and HECTOR RETAMAL, AFP
This spooky season, one of 2021’s most talked-about games is emerging as the hottest contender for Halloween outfits. We’re not talking about the Olympics, but Squid Game.In the massively popular Netflix series released on Sept. 17, debt-ridden participants pit themselves against one another in deadly versions of children’s games, all for the chance to win an obscene fortune.
As soon as the hype around the South Korean survival drama started to snowball—and before Netflix even dropped its official Squid Game merchandise—a variety of bootleg Squid Game merch was already being pumped out in China, where, ironically, the show isn’t even officially available for streaming. Sold by Chinese merchants who are eager to cash in on the Squid Game fever, Squid Game-inspired products are now making their way to the rest of the world.Anny Zhang, a salesperson at a costume shop in the southern province of Guangdong, told VICE that they started selling Squid Game merchandise at the end of September. One of their best-selling items is the number 456 tracksuit sported by Squid Game protagonist Seong Gi-hun.
Another popular item Zhang sells are the red jumpsuits worn by the unflinching workers in the game, complete with masks printed with basic shapes.
“The square and triangle masks are more popular than the circle one. It might be because the circles are in charge of dismembering dead bodies, so they aren’t so popular,” Zhang said.In the show, the masked workers are governed by a strict hierarchy. The ones donning a mask with a circle are located at the bottom of this food chain and in charge of doing all the grunt work.
Despite some controversy over the accuracy of the show’s subtitles, global viewers are finally catching on to the gripping allure of K-dramas with the record-breaking Squid Game debut. Drawing views from 111 million accounts in 17 days, Squid Game is officially Netflix’s “biggest series launch ever,” said a company tweet on Wednesday.
However, you can’t actually stream Squid Game in China without scaling the Great Firewall. Netflix is available in over 190 countries, but China isn’t one of them.This hasn’t stopped Chinese viewers from binging the series and engaging in fervent Squid Game discussions online. On Chinese microblogging site Weibo, posts containing the Squid Game hashtag have garnered a total of close to 2 billion views. In these online spaces, people are discussing the success of the South Korean series, attempts at making their own dalgona candy at home, and fan art of their favorite characters.
Besides the riveting characters tugging at our heartstrings, another unlikely breakout star of Squid Game is dalgona, a traditional Korean candy featured in one of the deadly games. If dalgona sounds familiar, it’s probably because of the tsunami of dalgona coffee content that flooded our social media feeds in quarantine last year. Now, everyone is curious about the original candy that inspired the frothy coffee creation.
In the Squid Game episode featuring the candy, players had to carve out a design stenciled onto a brittle disc of dalgona—they must keep it intact or face instant death. Riding on the dalgona candy wave, cafes in China (and around the world) are now offering a much less violent version of the challenge to visitors.Xu Lu, a 24-year-old in China’s Zhejiang Province, opened a dalgona candy stall near a local college at the start of October, selling pieces of the candy for 6 Chinese yuan ($0.93) each. Lu’s candies have mainly attracted a younger crowd, likely due to the popularity of Squid Game.
“I’m a K-drama fan myself. I recently watched Squid Game, and was attracted by the dalgona candy game. I thought I could do it myself and let the people around me taste and experience the show,” said Lu, who taught herself how to make dalgona candy through online tutorials.
With Halloween coming up and the viral success of Squid Game infiltrating audiences beyond China’s Great Firewall, there’s probably more where these merch came from. With reporting from Viola Zhou. Follow Koh Ewe on Instagram.Follow Viola Zhou on Twitter.