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Beyond Squid Game: 15 Other Asian Death Game Thrillers

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

This autumn has been all about Squid Game, which became Netflix's biggest original series launch of all time. While the sensational K-Drama about financially strapped players competing to the death in warped children's games may have seemingly come out of nowhere to international audiences, the death game genre is a popular screen staple in Asia.

If you enjoyed Squid Game, you may want to check out what else the genre has to offer. Below are 15 other live-action thrillers revolving around deadly yet inventive games that test the physical, mental and moral limits of players.

Battle Royale
1. Battle Royale (2000)
The OG of bloody death game thrillers, Fukasaku Kinji's violent dystopian classic drafts a junior high school class of students to a remote island, and pits them against each other in a brutal battle for survival. Each equipped with a random weapon and an exploding collar around the neck, the students have three days to kill or be killed. Only one winner may leave the island alive. As the hours tick down, the desperate teens – including Fujiwara Tatsuya, Shibasaki Ko, Ando Masanobu and Kuriyama Chiaki in breakout performances – band together and turn against each other in shocking fashion. Arguably the most influential live-action Japanese film of the post-2000s, Battle Royale encapsulated and redefined the death game genre in many ways, such that every other entry on this list probably owes something to it.

The Werewolf Game: The Beast Side
2. 13 Beloved (2006)
Also known as 13: Game of Death, this Thai thriller directed by Chukiat Sakveerakul melds black comedy, violent action and scathing social satire. In a performance that won him Best Actor at the Thailand National Film Association Awards, Krissada Sukosol Clapp plays a desperate man who has just lost his job and his girlfriend. At the end of his rope, he receives a mysterious call inviting him to participate in a secret game with a 100 million baht prize. All he has to do is complete 13 tasks in one day, the first of which is to just kill a fly. Task #2: eat the fly. From there, the tasks steadily and alarmingly escalate from degrading himself to committing acts of crime and violence while evading the police.

Liar Game
3. Liar Game (2007-2012)
Based on Kaitani Shinobu's manga, Japan's live-action Liar Game franchise started out in 2007 as a late-night series starring Toda Erika and Matsuda Shota as a naïve college girl and a genius swindler, respectively, who become unlikely partners in an underground gambling tournament. The hit show jumped to primetime for its second season in 2009, and then to the silver screen in 2010 and 2012. The psychological thriller turns probability puzzles into nail-biting gambles of collusion and deception, with Matsuda's mysterious con man serving as the perennial foil to the sinister organization pulling the strings and the scheming players vying to win at all costs. Though Liar Game stops short of being an all-out death game, losers are saddled with crippling debt that traps them in a vicious cycle.

Real Onigokko 3
4. Real Onigokko (2008-2015)
Yamada Yusuke's 2005 novel Real Onigokko is set in an alternate world where a mysterious dictator announces a seven-day Onigokko game to catch and kill everyone with the surname Sato. The Japanese fantasy horror about tag gone terribly wrong has inspired six films in the Real Onigokko (a.k.a. Chasing World) series, as well as the TV drama Real Onigokko: The Origin, all in which the targeted fight for survival in the death game. The first two films of the series follow the premise of the novel, while the third to fifth films form a trilogy targeting those with the blood type B. The sixth film, Sono Sion's Tag, takes things in a whole other direction with high school girls as the targets of the trippy, gory carnage.

A Million
5. A Million (2009)
Eight people from different walks of life join a reality TV program in hopes of winning A Million dollars. Little do they know, it's in fact a deadly survival show. In this Korean film, the participants – including Park Hae Il, Shin Min Ah, Lee Min Ki and Jung Yoo Mi – are taken to a remote area in Australia to play seven rounds of game, in which one of them would be eliminated each time. Park Hee Soon acts as the wicked director of the show who live-broadcasts the brutal challenges and deaths on the deep web with his own hidden agenda. Given that they're under surveillance and have nowhere to escape, the players are compelled to betray each other and fight to survive in order to win the huge prize money.

6. Kaiji (2009-2020)
Directed by Sato Toya, this Japanese film series is based on Fukumoto Nobuyuki's manga Gambling Apocalypse: Kaiji, which duly earns its dramatic title. Battle Royale's Fujiwara Tatsuya intensely overacts as Kaiji, an impoverished, unemployed guy who adds to his own misery by gambling fruitlessly. A debt collector shows up one day and presents him two options to clear his debt: a ten-year payment plan or one night on a mysterious gambling ship. Choosing the latter, Kaiji unwittingly enters an extreme tournament of high-stakes card games and survival challenges against other similarly desperate individuals. To the victor goes the riches, while losers sign their lives away. Their games serve as entertainment for wealthy decadents who wager on their fates (sound familiar?). The first Kaiji film in 2009 was followed by sequels in 2011 and 2020 that don't hesitate to take things in increasingly overblown directions.

 The Incite Mill -7 Day Death Game
7. The Incite Mill -7 Day Death Game- (2010)
Fujiwara Tatsuya, a true regular of the genre, joins another death game in J-horror master Nakata Hideo's psychological thriller based on a novel by Yonezawa Honobu. Ten strangers are taken to a locked and secluded facility to be monitored for a psychological experiment that offers a high hourly wage. There, each person is given a weapon and told that the game ends after seven days... or when there are only two surviving members left. All will be rewarded handsomely even if nothing happens over the seven days, but players start turning up dead by the second day. Distrust and paranoia underline this psychological game of survival that recalls Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None.

8. Gantz (2011)
A two-part film adaptation of Oku Hiroya's seinen manga, the Japanese fantasy action thrillers Gantz and Gantz: Perfect Answer unleash a death game... after death. Ninomiya Kazunari and Matsuyama Kenichi are friends who get killed while saving a man. They wake up in a room with a mysterious black orb that sends them and other recently deceased participants on dangerous missions to slay alien creatures. Completing the missions earns points that go towards redeeming the players' lives – but only if the aliens don't kill them for good first. Directed by Sato Shinsuke, the blockbuster Gantz films go big with the action sequences, special effects and boss battles against giant monsters.

Mysterious Island
9. Mysterious Island (2011)
Reality game show contestants fight for their lives on a Mysterious Island in this low-budget suspense thriller that became a sleeper box office hit in China. Eight players sign on for a Survivor-style show to find a treasure on a deserted island, but instead find themselves up against deadly dangers from the eerie environs and possibly fellow contestants or supernatural forces. This ensemble B-movie, with an A-lister in Mini Yang as the scream queen, throws together horror jump scares and survival game thrills into a campy yet entertaining mess that keeps you guessing on what in the world is going on in the film (and the minds of the filmmakers).

The Werewolf Game: The Beast Side
10. The Werewolf Game (2013-2020)
The Werewolf Game horror novel series by Kawakami Ryo has been adapted into eight films and one TV series since 2013. Similar to the Mafia game, in the Werewolf game, players are assigned different roles – werewolf, villager or a special identity. At night, the werewolves kill villagers; during the day, the villagers vote to kill off suspected werewolves. This party game favorite isn't much fun for the players when it's executed for real. Starting with 2013's The Werewolf Game: The Villagers Side, each adaptation mainly involves students being kidnapped or recruited into the Werewolf Game, with each entry adding variations to the death games and the mind games. The stories' main characters are usually high school girls (notable leads include Sakuraba Nanami and Tsuchiya Tao), but the most recent film of the series, 2020's The Werewolf Game: Death Game's Operator directed by Kawakami Ryo himself, features a male game operator as its protagonist.

As the Gods Will
11. As the Gods Will (2014)
And the gods began their games… Based on the manga by Fujimura Akeji and Kaneshiro Muneyuki, this mysterious fantasy thriller wastes no time with setup or character development. After a Daruma doll appears out of nowhere and causes heads to literally explode, a bored high school boy (Fukushi Sota) and his classmates are suddenly forced into playing bizarre games, with losers being immediately and unceremoniously offed in blood pellet-spattering manner. They play fantastically contorted takes of various children's games including Daruma-san ga Koronda, Japan's version of Red Light, Green Light. With Miike Takashi at the helm, this film is wickedly over-the-top with its cartoonish gore and larger-than-life games.

Big Match
12. Big Match (2014)
Fancy watching another Big Match with Squid Game star Lee Jung Jae? In this action-packed film thriller directed by Choi Ho, Lee Jung Jae plays a footballer-turned-MMA fighter who gets falsely arrested for murder after his brother (Lee Sung Min) goes missing. While in custody, he receives a phone call from hacker and mastermind Ace (Shin Ha Kyun), who maps out gambling games for the rich. Realizing that his brother's life is in Ace's hands, the beleaguered hero abruptly becomes a pawn in a dangerous game as he breaks out of prison and races to fulfill missions while getting chased by the police and gangsters.

Liar Game (2014)
13. Liar Game (2014)
Korea's TV adaptation of Liar Game arrived in 2014, seven years after the first season of the Japanese drama. Lee Sang Yoon and Kim So Eun play the two protagonists (with slightly different character backgrounds from the Japanese version), while Shin Sung Rok takes on an original antagonist role as host, game analyzer and one of the planners of the TV reality show Liar Game. The leading pair trick, cheat and betray in order to win the opponents' money and ultimately attain the ten billion prize money, all while constantly struggling with trust issues throughout the game. In comparison to the original version, the Korean adaption comes with less games but more emphasis on the emotions and relationships of the contestants.

Animal World
14. Animal World (2018)
Kaiji got a stylized Chinese film adaptation in 2018 with Li Yifeng in the leading role as the indebted protagonist pulled into the dark gambling game. In comparison to the original manga and the Japanese adaptations, Animal World casts the struggling hero in a more sympathetic yet complex light via a sob story background and unexpected Joker-like fantasy action sequences. Stakes are raised both with the story itself and the storytelling style. Directed by Han Yan, the film ambitiously throws out metaphysical musings and boldly kinetic visuals that are alternately gripping and disorienting. Perhaps strangest of all, Michael Douglas – yes, that Michael Douglas – co-stars as the cane-flicking boss of this animalistic world.

Alice in Borderland
15. Alice in Borderland (2020)
Before the great success of Squid Game, Netflix's Japanese original series Alice in Borderland also came out strong in late 2020 with death game thrills. Adapted from Aso Haro's same-titled manga, the sci-fi survival thriller stars Yamazaki Kento and Tsuchiya Tao as game addict Arisu and mountain climber Usagi, who are among the players forced to compete in life-or-death games in a mysteriously empty, parallel-world Tokyo. Each game is symbolized by a playing card that designates its level of difficulty and area – strength, team battle, wits or betrayal. Survivors receive "visas" that extend their lives until the next fatal game. Besides exhibiting great visuals in a VR-like high-tech world, Alice in Borderland explores the significance of finding hope in a hopeless world, as players strive to solve puzzles for the sake of staying alive and trying to get out of Borderland.

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Published October 25, 2021

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