Squid Game’ takes China by storm despite censors over violent content

It’s not available in China, but Netflix’s global sensation Octopus game has already built up a huge following in the country, with fans avoiding strict internet controls to stream the show and snatch merchandise as its unique outfits.

The dystopian South Korean thriller has become the most popular Netflix series launch ever, the streaming giant said on Tuesday, but it is unlikely it will pass China’s censors because of its brutally violent content.

Still, it’s already a hit in cities like Shanghai, where a crowd formed Tuesday at a diner selling dalgona — the crispy sugar candy in an episode — where customers gathered at its squid-themed sign to take pictures.

“People were posting jokes related to the show in group chats when I started watching,” a customer with the surname Li told AFP.

“It’s pretty fast and therefore quite exciting,” the video producer said of the series.

After buying the candy, Li and his friend filmed their attempt at a challenge from the show, where participants try to cut shapes from the snack without cracking it.

Squid Game features a group of society’s most marginalized and indebted people who are forced to compete in a series of children’s games until all but one of the participants are dead. The “winner” gets $ 38 million.

As the show became an international hit, China’s increasingly fast-paced manufacturers were driving up demand, with products — including the pink uniforms and spooky masks worn by anonymous guards — popping up across the giant online shopping platform Taobao.

Supplier Peng Xiuyang told AFP that his sales had increased by about 30 percent thanks to demand for Squid Game goods.

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

But now suppliers like him and plastic manufacturers in Yiwu’s eastern hub are all in a hurry to meet demand – from both domestic and international buyers.

“Our customers are those who have seen the series and want to be part of the trend,” he added.

As Halloween progresses, spine-cooling masks have become his most coveted product.

Illegal distribution

The lack of official availability has not prevented Chinese audiences from finding ways to view the show — including easily accessible unofficial streaming sites or file sharing.

The problem of piracy 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 in about 60 locations in China,” Jang said, testifying externally from Beijing.

As the fascination of the show swirls among China’s technically savvy young people, the hashtag Octopus game got nearly two billion views on social media, and related topics have been in trend for several weeks.

Users discussed how they would cope with the challenges of the show, and wondered what a Chinese version of Squid Game would be like.

But one user said, “It’s not like it would pass censors if we did such a show ourselves … if it was too violent, it would just be taken down.”

For now, fans just want to have fun.

A customer in Shanghai named Yang said: “I have seen (the snack) being sold online, but this is the first time I actually find it.”

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