"Bargain": A Dark Journey Inside South Korean Drama's Latest Export

By Felix Hawthorne October 6, 2023

"Bargain," a new grimly humorous South Korean drama, is set to premiere on Paramount+, showcasing a dark reflection of a society defined by desperation and the brutal class divide.

The unanticipated triumph of “Squid Game” broadened the path for more South Korean dramas to enter the US market. A booming partnership between Paramount and Seoul-based CJ ENM is now bolstering this trend. Their latest collaborative offering, “Bargain” may lack the irresistible charm of “Squid Game,” but it certainly mirrors its major theme – a grotesque rendition of a society where life is quotidian and death by class divide a looming reality.

Notably, there are several similarities between "Bargain" and other renowned South Korean productions such as the Oscar-winning film “Parasite,” where a penniless family cunningly exploits a wealthy one. This strain of drama has its roots in the late 1990's economic crisis that battered South Korea’s middle class, fueling themes of desperation and survival at the expense of others.

Modeled on its predecessor "Squid Game," which Netflix aims to extend via a game show inspired by the series, "Bargain" brings forth these themes to disturbing extremes. The story unfolds in a hotel room where Hyung-soo (played by Jin Sun-kyu) meets Joo-young (portrayed by Jun Jong-seo) for a planned paid sexual tryst. However, an unexpected turn of events reveals a gruesome ring that seduces men to the hotel, drugs them and conducts organ auctions.

Just as this horrifying narrative gets underway, a devastating earthquake sends everything into disarray. It compels the trapped victims to form unlikely alliances in a desperate bid for survival. The narrative unfolds, revealing more about the characters' pasts while emphasizing Joo-young's talent for deception.

A remake of a 2015 short film, "Bargain" may sometimes divert into odd terrain, but its gripping, dark humour keeps it captivating. In a world of streaming, this show stands out, evoking diverse reactions from its viewers.

The rise of streaming platforms has created room for global content, balancing fiscal reasons with a push to diversify cultural perspectives. As "Squid Game" proved, audiences are not deterred by subtitled shows if the storytelling compels them. While "Bargain" has its flaws, it stands out for its unpredictable plot and serves as a testament to the ingenious work surfacing from South Korea. For those fascinated by the storylines of "Squid Game," this six-episode investment is worth considering. The first episode of "Bargain" is slated to premiere on October 5 on Paramount+.