Kang Sae-byeok, played by Korean model and actress HoYean Jung, was undoubtedly my favourite character in the popular Netflix drama, Squid Game. Though I found admirable qualities in the characters of Seong Gi-Hun, Abdul Ali and Hwang Jun-ho, Sae-byeok stood out for me as an inspirational character for women. Here are the reasons why I consider her an empowered woman:
*** Before reading any further, please be warned of spoilers ahead ***
Ambitious and Brave
- She shows ambition and bravery by defecting from North Korea, which is a risky and potentially life-threatening decision. She begins a new life from scratch, and plans to reunite her family against the odds abroad.
- She does not hesitate to sneak a knife into the games, and climbs into the ceiling through an air vent to spy on the game planners, while risking being caught by the guards or betrayed by Han Mi-nyeo. She enters the tunnel of the unknown without being sure of what to expect, and barely flinches when a rat surprisingly creeps up on her.
- She does not hide or cower away from the gangster, Jang Deok-su, when he tries to intimidate and attack her in the early stages of the game. She squarely faces off with him in front of everyone, despite the vast difference in their sizes and influential power.
Empathetic and Responsible
- In episode six, viewers watch Sae-byeok let her guard down as Ji-yeong reveals her personal life story. We see the softer, gentler side of her in the heartbreak that follows Ji-yeong’s death.
- She sacrifices herself for her mother and brother, in order for them to have a better life outside of North Korea. Her family’s well-being is her priority; even while on her deathbed, she plans ahead for their future by striking a deal with Gi-hun.
Intelligent and Strong
- She figures out what is best for her, and how to work the game to her advantage. She learns quickly from the past – the second time she enters the game, she has a plan to avoid the gas which puts the players off to sleep. Her mind is quick at calculating the tricks of the games.
- She is mentally and physically strong in each game. She strategically fights her way into the top three by using her intellect and foresight; this ensures she beats some of the other physically stronger opponents.
Independent and Determined
- She does not allow others to pressurize or persuade her easily, and she doesn’t conform to expectations. She lives and plays on her own terms, as seen in the way she communicates and interacts with the other players.
- After being stabbed by a shard of glass, she pushes herself to complete the game. She does not give up until her last breath. Her mind is set on her goal, and she does not let pain or the other players distract her from her plan.
Sae-byeok is a winner in my eyes. She is a character that can teach a younger generation of women how to find their place in the world, by being focused, persistent, smart and strong. Kudos to the show creator, Hwang Dong-hyuk, for including an epic, empowered Asian woman in this series.
Disclaimer: The writer of this article does not condone violence of any sort, and views ‘Squid Game’ as an allegory of modern society. The characters are analysed in light of this view, and not from the viewpoint of the literal brutal game.