Writer and director Hwang Dong-hyuk first came up with the idea for a Netflix limited series Squid game in 2008, but it took him 10 years to see it happen. Thirteen years ago, the Korean filmmaker was deemed that his script (at the time a series) was too unrealistic and violent to be commercially viable.
Putting all his effort into the script made him understand, so he had to lie down to focus on other projects. But in 2018, he picked up the story for the first time in a decade and reconfigured the feature into a series after seeing the webtoon boom in Korea. He took it to Netflix, which had just started doing business in the country, and company executives felt the idea had become timely enough to give it the green light.
“The feedback I got after 10 years was real, very real – that there might be people playing this game somewhere in the world,” says Hwang. The Hollywood Reporter through an interpreter. “And I think the pandemic also hastened the situation a little bit more. And so the fact that this story isn’t unrealistic anymore, it’s no longer absurd, but it’s something very relatable a decade later, which makes me a little sad in terms of as a person, but it also brings me joy as a creator. “
Filmmaker who can count 2011 crime movies Silent and 2017 Fortress of his credits, said his concept has become more realistic over time as “the gap between the rich and the poor has widened” over the past decade. He also said climate change and the emergence of cryptocurrencies and virtual currencies created the idea of Squid game more authentic.
“[It’s] It’s almost like a lottery now – almost like a gamble where people have practically doubled or really increased their fortunes overnight,” he explains. “And I feel like the world is moving towards astigmatism. More and more people are really not dreaming about the future, and that makes people want to gamble, really take it all and put it all on the line and hope for the best. And I think these changes have created an environment where the idea of people putting their lives first to play children’s games is no longer something so absurd.”
The show, which stars Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, and Jung Ho-yeon, is rather violent, as the contestants fight for their lives through various games – with the only survivor best win big prize money. But Hwang never intended to show violence just for the sake of sensation. To him, the brutality of the show – and the use of guns – is much more symbolic.
“When we describe the removal of games, I want to show that removal means death,” he said. “In South Korea, we don’t use guns, so guns are actually a very impractical weapon in North Korea. Personally, I think it’s very unrealistic to remove people from actually using guns in some way, meaning it’s non-violent because it’s more symbolic than factual. It is a simple and symbolic expression of the equal removal of death. “A Squid Game spin-off defending organ harvesting from players excluded from the challenge called for a more grounded realism. “There is news of this happening in the world. real world,” Hwang noted. “I include it because it’s something of our reality. I don’t mean to show violence or gore for the sake of it, but neither do I. intentionally trying to control the level of expression for the benefit of the viewer or because it’s a Netflix series. I just wanted to show it as organically as possible.”
In 2008, Hwang sent scripts to a few famous Korean actors at the time, but they turned them down. This time, he specially features Lee and Park – who play Seong Gi-hun and Cho Sang-woo respectively, two childhood acquaintances who are surprised to find themselves reconnected during deadly trials. – in the mind of the program. For other roles, he wanted to cast relatively unknown actors, and the crew went through the audition process to find them.
Meanwhile, Jung, who plays a North Korean defector named Kang Sae-byeok, was one of the actors who auditioned for the role. Squid game marks her acting debut: Jung is a Korean model who has just become a global ambassador for Louis Vuitton.
When viewers think Squid game, they can think not only about gameplay and violence but also about production design. Much of the show, which became Netflix’s most-watched series, was shot on audio tracks with some CG added. Hwang explained that the game in the first episode of the series (“Red Light, Green Light”) was shot in a large, open space with a blue screen, allowing the filmmakers to alter the background in post-production.
“We took some inspiration from hotels in Las Vegas. … Do you know of hotels with fake sky painted on the ceiling? I wanted to create a space that makes people wonder, ‘Is that fake or real?’ Hwang said. “So you’ll see in the first game, we’re actually mixing a fake sky with a real sky. And for the stairs, we took inspiration from works like Comparative by MC Escher for structure. In total, there were six games in which the contestants had to compete, based on games the contestants might have played as children, such as red light, green light, and tug of war. Hwang said that this was actually the hardest prequel to do since the number of actors involved at the beginning of the game was huge, before the massacre failure: 300 additional people, 20 martial arts actors, and 10 members of cast.
“It’s the first match and one of the first days on set, and it has to go well because that’s what will make the first impression on the audience,” Hwang said. “It was really challenging both physically and psychologically. It has to have a big enough impact that people want to see the rest of the series. I’ve been just imagining it for over 10 years, and to make it come true… It’s just the most challenging scene in so many levels. “
This story first appeared in the independent November issue of The Hollywood Reporter. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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