"I had to put it to sleep then" - Director Hwang Dong-hyuk opens up about struggles to get Squid Game made

Hwang Dong-hyuk had to wait for over a decade to see Squid Game on screen. (Image via Netflix)
Hwang Dong-hyuk had to wait for over a decade to see Squid Game on screen. (Image via Netflix)

Netflix's Squid Game may be in line to become the most-watched Netflix series of all time, but getting it made was no piece of cake for writer-director Hwang Dong-hyuk.

Squid Game is currently the number one show in 90 countries worldwide, and its viewership is only increasing.

The dystopian survival game, which is based on the Japanese Battle Royale format, is about 456 debt-ridden individuals, who in a bid to get rich, take part in a series of children's games with life-threatening consequences.

While Squid Game has found critical acclaim, it is the director Hwang Dong-hyuk's struggle to get the show out into the world that makes its success even more impressive.

Hwang Dong-hyuk struggled for 10 years for Squid Game to get accepted!

Hwang Dong-hyuk began working on Squid Game way back in 2008, and finished the first draft in 2009. It reportedly took him over 6 months to finish only the first two episodes.

Since then, it has been an uphill journey for the director to get the green light for the project. In an interview with RadioTimes, Hwang Dong-hyuk said:

“I was reading a lot of comic books, and I finished the script in 2009. At the time, it seemed very unfamiliar and violent. There were people who thought it was a little too complex and not commercial. I wasn’t able to get enough investment and casting was difficult. I dabbled in it for about a year, but I had to put it to sleep then.”

Ironically, Hwang Dong-hyuk himself was plagued with money struggles, and was forced to sell off his $675 laptop. The director eventually had to temporarily abandon Squid Game, which was originally supposed to be a film.

Hwang Dong-hyuk then made a shift to feature films, making hits like The Crucible, and The Fortress. His comedy musical Miss Granny is considered to be one of the most successful Korean films of all time.

Squid Game happens to be a scathing critique of capitalism, but it is not the first project where the director has touched upon social issues.

In The Crucible, the director explored the scandal at Gwangju Inhwa School for the Deaf in South Korea, an institute which has a long history of abusing its students. The film's impact was so strong that it led to major reforms about sexual abuse of minors.

For Hwang Dong-hyuk, films are more than just entertainment. They are a tool to bring about change in society, and that made Squid Game not only a creative project, but also a social responsibility for him.

"I took up filmmaking because I was so frustrated by all these unresolved social issues I saw. We can see through films how much we are changed by the world. You can't change society with just one movie, but looking at the repercussion of the release of this film, we can think about the power film has in terms of positively affecting society."

Despite the director's success in the film industry, it was only when Netflix entered the scene that he could make Squid Game. Hwang Dong-hyuk said:

"I wanted to write a story that was an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society, something that depicts an extreme competition, somewhat like the extreme competition of life. But I wanted it to use the kind of characters we've all met in real life."

The director has thanked Netflix for its contribution to the project, which was originally titled Round Six, a reference to the number of children's games played on the show. He said:

“Thanks to Netflix, there was no limit and I was given creative freedom to work as I wanted to.”

Squid Game's time of arrival is indeed ironic as it has dropped amidst worldwide economic and social turmoil due to the pandemic. With the world in disarray, Hwang Dong-hyuk's magnum opus doesn't feel like a dystopic alternate universe, but something that could very much be taking place right now, in some seedy underbelly of the city, funded by the rich and powerful.

While Season 2 seems nowhere in sight, the appreciation garnered by the show might convince Hwang Dong-hyuk to write another season. And rest assured, he won't have to wait another decade to make it.

Edited by Prem Deshpande
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