It seems the Korean entertainment industry is focusing on mental health and suicide as subject matter for their shows recently. Most attempts have been successful at presenting these difficult subjects with a non-prejudiced lens and an optimistic light. Death’s Game is the latest to join this list of mental-health shows, which, according to me, catapulted as a genre in the country after the success of The Glory. Now, I know that show doesn’t have anything to do with mental health or suicide; it’s basically a revenge thriller; however, it brings to light the effects of school bullying and such, which I believe could’ve been a tiny impulse for these deep-dive shows. While Daily Dose of Sunshine was the most straightforward of the lot, really pushing the envelope when it comes to all things mental health and the taboo around it in the country, Revenant was the show from last year that was most impactful. Specifically, it’s a show that tackles the subject of suicide in a creative and empathetic manner. I’ve always said that the horror genre is a reflection of our environment. It’s simply the most creative outlet for deep and dark subject matter that may otherwise be hard to talk about. Although Death’s Game is not technically a horror show, it’s quite a horrifying one, which in my book is the same thing (Jaws is one of my favorite horror movies, so make of this what you like).
Death’s Game follows Yee-Jae, a man who is crestfallen when he doesn’t get a job at his dream company. For the next 7 years, he struggles to keep himself going, working hard and living in his own version of “hell” (according to him at least) after having witnessed a man die in front of him on the day of the interview for said dream job. Yee-Jae finally tries his hand at getting his dream job again at the Taekang Group (the Samsung equivalent in this universe), but after being showered with compliments by the CEO, he’s left jobless yet again. For all this while, Yee-Jae’s been working only odd jobs, having had to deal with COVID-19 as well. At least Yee-Jae has a loving girlfriend who never leaves his side, even after she becomes an award-winning author. He also has a mother who cares for him deeply; he’s the apple of her eye, yet all he can think about is how much of a disappointment, not just to himself but to them as well.
I suppose this is how human behavior works; at the end of the day, we’re to blame for everything, not just our own misfortune but for others’ as well. I think we can look at Yee-Jae’s encounter with Death as one of the many stages of grief. While Death may appear to be an antagonist at first, she’s simply opening Yee-Jae’s eyes to life. When Yee-Jae meets Death, he’s filled with rage. He’s almost got an “I don’t care” attitude, but as soon as he sees what the real hell is like, he starts to take a step back. Yee-Jae is angry at God, himself, the man who killed himself, and Death. Why should he be punished when he simply tried to end his pain? Well, because he doesn’t understand what makes something so painful that death is the only means to end it. Initially, Yee-Jae uses his anger to try to keep himself alive in his many lives. His mind is clouded with the many questions and possibilities of Death’s Game. However, after a few lives, he starts to connect some dots. He sees how he can exploit the memories of his previous lives for advantages in his new ones.
I suppose you could consider this his form of bargaining in some way. He hopes to set things up for himself (selfishly), unbeknownst to Death, while trying to talk her into giving him hints on how to survive her game. It’s much later that Yee-Jae meets Ji-Su again. She’s radiant as always, and she reminds him of everything he missed out on by leaving her behind. Yee-Jae tries hard to keep himself in Ji-Su’s life, in the form of a new persona. He tells her his story, revealing everything he’s been through after dying under the pretense of wanting to be a writer like her. Just before he’s about to die, he tells Ji-Su the truth. What he doesn’t know is that it’s the night when she’s going to die too. I suppose this is what leads him into depression, but bear with my thoughts here. With no Ji-Su in the world, what’s the point of him trying to fight Death? He’s already lost everything; what’s a lifetime in hell to him?
In Part 2 of Death’s Game, which is much more articulate and thrilling, Yee-Jae decides to use his next life for revenge. For Tae-U, who killed Ji-Su by ramming into her and Gun-U (Yee-Jae’s body at the time) in his luxury car, it was simply another one of his psychopathic escapades, but for Yee-Jae, it sparked many lifetimes of hate. I suppose if Tae-U thinks he’s God, then Yee-Jae is Satan in his world. This is when Yee-Jae makes it his mission to avenge Ji-Su. Although it seems like this is the most important step for Yee-Jae to get closure before he goes to the infernal plane, he’s completely missed out on one very important part of his life. His time with his mother. Humans are technically creatures of habit; I suppose if you get stuck at work and try to “live” your life, you forget about the people who care for you the most.
Death’s main mission is to have Yee-Jae realize how much he’s hurt his mother by leaving her behind. All he really cared about was how easy things would be for him if he simply ended his life. He doesn’t even stop to think for a second how devastated it would leave her when she spent most of her life dedicated to him. Yee-Jae is such a fool that he only understands his mother’s feelings when he wakes up with her memories. He has to see his life in her shiny eyes to truly see how important it all is. I suppose this is when he accepts his fate and lives on as his mother, the most precious life to him. Yee-Jae’s biggest flaw is that he’s foolishly selfish. In the end, he realizes that no matter how terrible his life is, he can endure it for another hug and another smile from his mother, maybe even Ji-Su. At the end of the day, it’s all about the small things in life.