‘Squid Game’ director Hwang Dong-hyuk: World is facing ‘limits of capitalism’

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SEOUL, Nov. 18 (UPI) — Hwang Dong-hyuk, director of the chart-topping Netflix series Squid Game, said Thursday he made the show to raise questions about a modern system of capitalism that makes many people “feel like they are standing on a cliff every day.”

“In the 21st century, I thought that maybe we were seeing the limits of capitalism,” Hwang said at the Seoul Digital Forum, a one-day event held in the South Korean capital. “Everybody is now in this huge competition, and once you fail at the competition, then you cannot ever recover from it. You’re pushed more and more to the bottom of society.”

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Squid Game, which is the most-viewed series ever on the streaming giant, centers around 456 people playing a series of children’s games for a $40 million cash prize — with death as the consequence for losing.

Hwang said the show’s protagonist, Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae), is left asking questions about who is behind the cruel game, and why it is being played.

“I wanted to ask the same question to all of us,” the 50-year-old director said. “Not just in Korea, but in other capitalist societies, to everybody living in the 21st century experiencing so much pain and enduring difficulties…Who has created this system of competition, who has pushed us into a system that makes us feel like we are standing on the edge of a cliff every day?”

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The nine-episode series, which premiered in September, swept to the top of the Netflix charts in all 83 countries where it was available. Squid Game was viewed for more than 1.65 billion hours over its first 28 days, according to a new tracker launched by the company this week, more than twice as much as its nearest competitor, the steamy period drama Bridgerton.

Named after a real-life Korean children’s game, Squid Game focuses on desperate, debt-ridden characters and those living on the margins of society, including a factory worker from Pakistan and a North Korean defector. While many details of the show are specific to South Korea, Hwang said he consciously tried to depict scenarios that would resonate all over the world.

“Immigrant workers, the elderly, the unemployed — these characters represent the underdogs, not just in Korea,” Hwang said. “[They are] representatives of the marginalized groups that other countries can relate to.”

The director also revealed some personal details behind the hit series, including which Squid Game competitor he most closely identifies with.

Hwang said he saw parts of himself in the two main characters: Gi-hun, who strives to hold onto his humanity throughout the brutal game, and Cho Sang-woo (Park Hae-soo), a disgraced businessman who is ultimately willing to do anything to survive. It was the more ruthless Sang-woo that Hwang believed most people, including himself, would emulate if forced to play the game.

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“Sang-woo is not a bad guy, but a realistic guy, and he is the closest to people of today,” Hwang said. “In that sense, I think I’d be closest to Sang-woo once I was in the game.”

The director confirmed last week that a second season of Squid Game is on the way. On Thursday, he also teased what social issues are on his mind for his next project.

“For my next work, I want to focus on the aging population and the conflict between generations,” Hwang said. “I’m interested in those issues, so I may want to talk about that.”