Surveillance, capitalism and cruelty: Human nature critiqued in Netflix's 'The 8 Show'

A still from Netflix's ″The 8 Show″ [NETFLIX]

Netflix original series “The 8 Show," centering on a survival game that humorously depicts the downfall of capitalism and power dynamics among a small group of people, is actually not all about competition and seeing who wins.

Park Jeong-min’s character, 7th Floor, looks around at the countless surveillance cameras surrounding him. “It must be entertaining to watch,” he utters, referring to the viewers watching the game that he and the others are involved in.

Though this particular scene is the key to how the eight characters keep the game going, it was also a “cathartic representation” of the theme of “The 8 Show,” showrunner Han Jae-rim said.

The show made a grand entrance to screens since its release earlier this month and continues to be the most-viewed Netflix TV show in Korea, and is No. 2 worldwide as of Thursday, according to analytics company FlixPatrol.

In this black comedy, eight strangers randomly come together and live on separate floors of an amusement park-like setting, hoping to earn life-changing sums of money in a limited amount of time.

Seeing that the money automatically piles up with the passing of time, the contestants become desperate to extend the period they can stay in the game. They soon find themselves embroiled in extreme conflict due to differing opinions and desires.

Actors Ryu Jun-yeol, Chun Woo-hee, Park Jeong-min, Lee Yul-eum, Park Hae-joon, Lee Zoo-young, Moon Jeong-hee and Bae Seong-woo play characters that are each referred to by their floor number.

Han and leads Ryu and Chun separately sat down with the press on Wednesday and Thursday at a cafe in Jongno District, central Seoul, holding interviews about their roles and the series. The following are details from each of them, but beware, as spoilers are up ahead.

Han Jae-rim is the showrunner of Netflix's ″The 8 Show″ [NETFLIX]

Very meta

While Ryu’s 3rd Floor is supposed to function as “the average man” by being the narrator as well as the only one with a character arc, Han based Park Jeong-min’s 7th Floor, the voice of reason, on himself. The character is the first to realize that the eight characters must entertain the unknown hosts of the game in order to prolong their stay. He arguably makes the best attempt initially, sensationally playing the recorder with his nose.

While writing the script, Han soon realized that his own situation was equivalent to the eight characters, in that his main focus was to entertain the viewers of “The 8 Show” and its fictional viewers in the series, thus he took a meta approach.

One route he took was never to disclose the identity of the game’s host.

“I actually think that the viewers are the host, because they’re watching these eight characters trying so hard to be amusing,” he said. Though the show has been compared to “Squid Game” (2021) for having a similar survival game premise and colorful setting, “The 8 Show” intentionally makes the audience feel subconsciously responsible for everything that happens among the characters, since there is no other entity to blame.

“It can be more stressful to viewers this way, seeing the characters fight,” Han said. “'Squid Game' focuses on the thrill, but we want our viewers to think.”

Ryu Jun-yeol stars as 3rd Floor in Netflix's ″The 8 Show″ [NETFLIX]

Becoming the peacemaker

Listening to Ryu talk about “The 8 Show” was like streaming a podcast on his life philosophy. There were many moments in the show that could have been smooth sailing for the characters, he said, but making the wrong choices led them to disputes.

“Humans make mistakes, reflect on themselves, bite off more than they can chew and soon realize that it wasn’t worth it,” Ryu said. “It’s like an endless cycle.”

That got him wondering, what would we have to do to be at peace? It may require some concessions at times, but couldn’t we try to use lemons to make lemonade?

For example, in the show, most characters complain about wanting to change floors because the money is distributed differently — the higher the floor, the more money one receives. Ryu’s 3rd Floor, however, seems content with it. The fact that he doesn’t let greed take over him is what the actor related to the most, and is what he aspires to be.

He mentioned his latest greenwashing controversy, in which he was accused of being a hypocrite for being an ambassador for Greenpeace while engaging in activities that harm the environment, like playing golf.

“I’ve received so much love over the years that I wanted to give back to society,” he said, “but I think I was too greedy about heightening my public image. I’ve looked back on myself, and realized that it would be better to do it discreetly, rather than flaunting it.”

Chun Woo-hee stars as 8th Floor in Netflix's ″The 8 Show″ [NETFLIX]

No layers

Chun’s role in “The 8 Show” has been highly acclaimed by critics and viewers alike as a fresh move for the actor, compared to her previous roles that tended to be more serious or fit for rom-coms, like her characters in the film “The Wailing” (2016) or in the JTBC series “Be Melodramatic” (2019).

Chun adopted a higher-pitched voice to play the glamorous yet eccentric bimbo 8th Floor, who prioritizes pleasure and entertainment — resulting in some unethical moments. While the seven other characters came into the show because of their financial troubles, 8th Floor joined for the sake of having fun. She splurges her money on extravagant goods and outfits, unlike the others.

Viewers may be puzzled as to who exactly this woman is and what made her turn out like this, but to Chun, “It doesn’t matter.”

“She strictly behaves according to her primal instincts,” she said. “There’s just no layers to the character. She doesn’t form any sort of relationship with the other characters or have any sentiment toward them, so the simpler and more straightforward she was portrayed, the more definite her character became.”

The only backstory revealed about 8th Floor in the show is that she was a has-been performance artist, which makes complete sense, Chun said.

“All that matters to her is that she’s being entertained — social status isn’t something that bothers her at all.”