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Movies & TV

26th Sep 2023

REVIEW: Bargain deserves to be this year’s Squid Game

Rory Cashin


We guarantee you will devour this entire show in one sitting.

The comparisons between Bargain and literally the world’s most-watched streaming series go beyond the fact that both shows come from South Korea and feature some truly out there plot threads. The biggest comparison is that both shows are absolute compulsive viewing filled with massively original ideas, and in a just and fair world, Bargain would find an audience just as devout as Squid Game did.

The first three episodes of the six-part series were made available to JOE for review, and everything we’re about to describe takes place within the first half-hour episode, which will give you an idea of just how breakneck the tempo of this show actually is.

Bargain deserves to be this year’s Squid Games

Set in a hotel in a remote part of South Korea, we meet schoolgirl Park Joo Young (Jun Jong-seo), who has arranged to meet older businessman Noh Hyung Soo (Jin Sun-kyu) who is going to pay her $1,000 to take her virginity. Within a few minutes however, he finds himself strapped to a hospital bed, as Park is actually the auctioneer for an illegal organ farming operation.

One particularly desperate attendee, Guk Ryeol (Chang Ryul) is paying over the odds to obtain Noh’s kidney for his dying father, but just as the auction is reaching its crescendo, the entire hotel is struck and almost entirely decimated by an earthquake and landslide.

The survivors – so that would be the people running the auction, the kidnapped victims, the super rich auctioneers – all find themselves on different ruined floors of the hotel with no clear means of escape, and the already lawless situation only descends even further into madness.

Oh, and then we mention that each episode is presented as a single continuous take, dropping you into the thick of the action and never once letting up throughout?

You can watch the entire season of Bargain in about three hours.

By the end of those first three episodes, we were suffering from full-body exhaustion. Without giving too much away, as bad as everything is at the start, Bargain finds a way to make things even worse for everyone involved, pulling in inspiration from Parasite, The Raid, Old Boy and even little-seen J-horror Dark Water.

The action constantly revolves around the three main protagonists, forced to work together to survive the bedlam inside the crumbling walls, despite actively not having each other’s best interests at heart. This set-up leads to some fantastically dark comedic beats, such as Guk constantly saving the life of Noh, but only because he still intends on taking his kidney once they’ve made it to safety.

If the remaining half of the show manages to keep up the escalating stakes and tension of the first half, then we could have one of 2023’s best shows on our hands. If not, then we’ve got half of one of the year’s best shows, followed by half of one of the year’s biggest disappointments.

All six episodes of Bargain will be available to watch on Paramount+ from Thursday 5 October.

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