Squid Game's director and cast talk about the life-and-death drama

Park Hae-soo as Sang-woo in Squid Game. (Photo: Netflix)
Park Hae-soo as Sang-woo in Squid Game. (Photo: Netflix)

If you've chanced across Squid Game on Netflix and watched a couple of episodes, you'll know it's a K-drama to be reckoned with (read our review of Squid Game here.)

In Squid Game, hundreds of desperate adults driven by crushing debt are invited to play children's games, but with a singular, absolute penalty upon being eliminated – death.

At a press conference ahead of the show's release last week, the director and cast acknowledged the spell-binding script of the series that has reached the No. 1 spot on Netflix's list of daily Top 10 shows.

Director Hwang Dong Hyuk said, "Squid Game was something I used to play as a child in the school yard or on the streets of my neighbourhood. I felt like this was a story of people that used to play these games as children and they come back as adults to play these games to win the cash prize. This was the game that was the most physical and one of my most favourite games, the most symbolic children’s game that shows various facets of the very competitive aspects of our society today."

456 people who struggle financially in life are invited to play a deadly series of traditional children’s games in Squid Game. (Photo: Netflix)
456 people who struggle financially in life are invited to play a deadly series of traditional children’s games in Squid Game. (Photo: Netflix)

Hwang also revealed that the script for Squid Game was written way back in 2008, just after he made his debut as a film director.

"It was actually right after my very first [film] debut, that was the time when I really frequented comic books stores; as I was reading I thought about creating a comic story in Korea, and I finished the script in 2009. At the time it felt very unfamiliar and violent, there were a lot of people who felt it was too complex. I wasn’t able to get casting and funding, so I had to put it to sleep then," recalls Hwang wistfully. "Now people tell me that it is quite reflective of the world that we live in, it reminds them of things that are happening in this very harsh society."

The cast also spoke glowingly of the script, the most compelling aspect of the series which drew them to it.

"There were various situations that played out in an intriguing way and I thought it would be a fascinating story. I was really wondering how these games would be brought to life. Every day of the set was filled with excitement and I had a lot of fun," says Lee Jung Jae, who plays the protagonist Seong Gi Hun, a deadbeat, divorced father who struggles to care for his aged diabetic mother and estranged younger daughter.

Lee Jung-jae as Ki-hoon in Squid Game. (Photo: Netflix)
Lee Jung-jae as Ki-hoon in Squid Game. (Photo: Netflix)

"The biggest reason has to be the script and how it depicted so many different types of people, the growth, the character arcs and how they developed, it was so very charming and intriguing. This universe that director Hwang created, I wanted to see for myself," says Park Hae Soo, who plays Sang Woo, Gi Hun's childhood friend and team mate in the game.

"When I started reading the script late at night, I ended up finishing it in one sitting until the next morning. That was how great the story was and I am a great fan of [director Hwang's] previous works," says Jung Ho Yeon, who plays Kang Sae Byeok, a North Korean fugitive who wants to win the prize money of 45.6 billion won to free her brother from an orphanage and search for her mother who was caught during an escape from North Korea.

The cast also spoke of the difficulties playing such multi-faceted characters who face life-and-death situations within the game, and the sophistication of having to make soul-crushing decisions.

Of his character Sang Woo, Park Hae Soo struggled with the character's demons as he developed throughout the series.

"It was quite difficult to interpret the inner feelings of Sang Woo, so I had a lot of conversations with the director. There were only reasonable choices that he could make that I had to follow, but as events developed and Sang Woo had many internal upheavals, that would be something that viewers would be excited to see," says Hae Soo.

"You can think about the choices that he made that you might have made differently, or even the same were you in his shoes."

For actor Heo Sung Tae to plays the gangster who rips off his underlings' money and eventually his own boss's, he faced the challenge of nuancing his acting to show a subtler and more conflicted side despite his gruff and coarse exterior.

"Because he’s part of a gang, he’s someone who tries to form a gang among the participants. Even though he’s a tough guy who plays a lot of tough roles, you can see he’s a softie. Although his character is a tough guy, he’s not 100% tough guy, because everything that happens in the series is life and death, so I had to be capable of conveying those emotions," says Sung Tae.

Watch the cast of Squid Game struggle to survive in this brutal and deadly series, currently streaming on Netflix.

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