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[Interview] Music & Entertainment

Squid Game: Bloody battle for survival reflects reality – director

Hwang Dong-hyuk's series based on Korean games becomes Netflix’s most popular show

By Sep 29, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Squid Game
Squid Game

Netflix original South Korean drama “Squid Game” is making history again for K-content, topping the platform’s global chart as the thriller series has become the most popular show in 66 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and France.

"Squid Game will definitely be our biggest non-English language show in the world, for sure," Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said on Sept. 27 during an industry conference. “There's a very good chance it's going to be our biggest show ever.”

The dystopian series is about 456 cash-strapped players who risk their lives in mysterious survival games that promise a reward of 45.6 billion won ($38.4 million).

BATTLE FOR SURVIVAL REFLECTS REALITY

Squid Game’s director and writer Hwang Dong-hyuk said the deadly drama has gripped viewers across the globe as it reflects the reality of a bloody battle for survival.

Hwang has planned the survival drama since 2008 but could not make it earlier because of a view that the content was too bizarre, the director told The Korea Economic Daily in an online interview on Sept. 28.

“But now, after ten years or so, we are living in a world where such brutal survival stories suit. I have had a lot of feedback that it reflects reality. Sadly, that’s how the world has changed,” said Hwang.

How close a drama or a movie is to reality is what Hwang sees as the most important goal as a  director.

“I wanted to create a realistic story, not a story only for a few fanatics,” said the director of box office hits such as Silenced and Miss Granny. “It was important to put reality and fantasy together in a balanced way.”
Hwang Dong-hyuk, Squid Game director and writer 
Hwang Dong-hyuk, Squid Game director and writer 


SIMPLICITY WITH DETAILED NARRATIVE

Hwang pinpointed simplicity with a detailed narrative as a key factor of Squid Game's success.

“Simplicity is the secret to popularity. All the games are simple,” Hwang said. “But unlike other game genres, the narrative is detailed. I assume people love the series as they become immersed in it by empathizing with the characters”

There is a lot of meaning in the artistic choices, including the red hair taken on by the main character Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae), Hwang said. In the final scene, Gi-hun has dyed his hair red.

“If I were Gi-hun, I would do something I would never normally do, I thought. So, the craziest thing that came to mind was red hair,” he said. “But I think that contains Gi-hun’s anger.”

He set the prize of 45.6 billion won after long and intense deliberation.

“I initially wrote a scenario with a prize of 10 billion won about ten years ago. But it has become a relatively small amount of money now. When I looked at most lottery jackpots in Korea, they were around 40 billion won. So, we set the prize at 45.6 billion won, 100 million won per player. It’s also easy to remember.”

DALGONA CANDY CHALLENGE

Squid Game features a twisted version of children’s games in South Korea such as the Dalgona candy challenge. Players must carve shapes out of the wafer-thin snacks -- made from sugar and baking soda -- in the game, which sparked a trend on TikTok.

TikTok users around the globe are trying to make the candy for the same challenge.

“I considered overseas markets when I planned the drama. It has always been said that what is Korean is what is most global. BTS, Psy and the director Bong Joon-ho proved it,” Hwang said.

“But I didn’t know Squid Game would be this successful. We joked about whether we should enter the Dalgona business as soon as possible,” he said with a laugh.

COMPETITION, CORE GROWTH FACTOR FOR K-CONTENT

Korean entertainment products, known as K-content, have great potential thanks to cut-throat competition in a country that has seen such fast enormous economic growth, Hwang said.

“Korea is a very dynamic country. It is the only divided country in the world and it achieved rapid growth in a short period of time, overcoming war and division,” he said.

“Competition is very fierce, creating a driving force to take the lead internationally. That’s why we can produce the most culturally advanced products, I think,” Hwang said.

He took a cautious stance on another season of Squid Game as he lost six teeth during the series.

“I am worried if I can make a second season. But if I don’t do it, it will cause an uproar because so many people love it,” he said. “I will have to think about it later.”

Write to Hee-Kyung Kim at hkkim@hankyung.com

Jongwoo Cheon edited this article.

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