South Korean director Hwang Dong-hyuk was a renowned filmmaker for more than 10 years before the huge worldwide success of “Squid Game“.
SEOUL: Many of the characters in the Netflix sensation “Squid Game” are loosely based on its South Korean director’s own life, and he believes his theme of economic inequality has resonated with viewers around the world. Hwang Dong-hyuk’s TV debut last month became the streaming giant’s most popular series at launch, attracting at least 111 million watchers. His dystopian vision sees hundreds of marginalized individuals pitting themselves against each other in traditional children’s games – which Hwang all played growing up in Seoul.
The winner can win millions, but the losers are killed. Hwang’s works have consistently and critically responded to social ills, power, and human suffering, and he has based many of his highly flawed but relevant characters on himself. Like Sang-woo, a struggling investment banker in “Squid Game,” Hwang is an elite graduate from Seoul National University (SNU) in South Korea, but struggled financially despite graduating. Like Gi-hun, a laid-off worker and obsessive gamer, Hwang was raised by a widowed mother, and the poor family lived in the kind of underground housing in the basement depicted in Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning satire “Parasite.” And it was one of his first experiences abroad that inspired him to create Ali, a migrant worker from Pakistan abused and exploited by his Korean employer, he said.
“Korea is a very competitive society. I was lucky to survive the competition and get into a good university, ”he said. “But when I visited the UK at the age of 24, a white airport immigration staff member gave me a scornful look and made discriminatory comments. I find it really shocking to this day. “I think I was someone like Ali back then.” Hwang studied journalism at SNU, where he became a pro-democracy activist – and he named “Squid Game” main character Gi-hun, after a friend and fellow activist. But democracy had been acquired by the time he graduated and he “couldn’t find an answer to what I needed to do in the real world.” At first, “watching movies was something I did to kill time,” he said, but after borrowing his mother’s video camera, “I discovered the joy of filming something and project it for others, and it changed my life ”. His first feature film, “My Father” (2007) was based on the true story of Aaron Bates, a Korean adoptee whose search for his biological father ultimately led to a death row inmate.