Director of “The Squid Game” took characters from his own life

Many of the characters from the hit Netflix series "The Squid Game" they are based on the life of their South Korean director, who thinks his themes of economic inequality and the problems of modern capitalism resonated with viewers around the world.

South Korean Hwang Dong-hyuk’s series had the streaming giant’s most successful debut at its launch in September, drawing at least 111 million viewers.

His dystopian vision features hundreds of marginalized people clashing in traditional childhood games, all of which Hwang played as a child in Seoul.

The winner can win millions, but the losers die.

Hwang’s works pose critical views of social problems, power, and human suffering, and he based several of his imperfect but close characters on himself.

As Sang-woo, a beleaguered banker on the show, Hwang studied at the elite Seoul National University, struggling financially despite his degree.

Like Gi-hun, a fired worker and compulsive gambler, Hwang was raised by a widowed mother and his poor family lived in an underground apartment similar to the one featured in the award-winning film. "Parasites"by his compatriot Bong Joon-ho.

And one of his first experiences abroad inspired him to create Ali, a Pakistani migrant worker abused and exploited by his Korean employer, the director told AFP.

"Korea is a very competitive society. I was lucky to survive the competition and get into a good university"he declared.

"But when I visited the UK at the age of 24, a white migration official at the airport gave me a disparaging look and made disparaging remarks. I find it shocking until today", he counted. "I think that day I was like Ali", said.

Social downfall

Hwang studied journalism and became a pro-democracy activist, calling the main character of "The Squid game" Gi-hun by a friend from that time.

But the country became democratic by the time he graduated and "I couldn’t find an answer to what to do in the real world".

At the beginning, "watching movies was something I did to pass the time"he commented.

But then, with a video camera from his mother, he discovered "the pleasure of filming something and showing it to other people".

That "I change my life", he claimed.

His first feature film, "My father", from 2007, is based on the true story of Aaron Bates, an adopted Korean whose search for his biological father led him to a prisoner sentenced to death.

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In 2011, his crime drama "Silenced", based on a real case of sexual abuse involving children with disabilities, was a commercial success, as was his comedy "Miss granny", from 2014, inspired in part by her mother.

Three years later, yes historical drama "Strength" tackled a 17th century Korean king who faced a brutal Chinese invasion.

"The Squid Game" refers to several traumatic experiences that shaped the mindset of today’s South Koreans, including the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the 2009 layoffs at SsangYong Motors, which led to several suicides.

"With the reference to the SsangYong Motor layoffs, I wanted to show that anyone from the middle class in the world we live in can fall to the bottom of the social ladder"Hwang told AFP.

Absurd and weird

Jason Bechervaise, professor at Korea Soongsil Cyber ‚Äč‚ÄčUniversity, considers Hwang to be "an established and well-valued filmmaker for over 10 years" that "find ways to entertain the audience".

"Hwang is part of a capitalist system and the success of his series means that he benefits from that system, but that does not mean that he should not fight with his very nature."he told AFP.

Areum Jeong, a Korean film scholar at the Sichuan University-Pittsburgh Institute, said the director often sparks social debate, since before the Netflix series.

"Silenced" on board "injustice, moral corruption, unresolved issues in the Korean judicial system, and eventually prompted viewers to demand legislative reforms"he told AFP.

Hwang wrote "The Squid Game" a decade ago but the producers were not interested, the script seemed to them "too absurd, weird and unrealistic".

But the rise of streaming services made some materials more viable there than in the movies, and he took up the project with the prospect of working with Netflix.

However, he never imagined that "it would become the worldwide sensation that it is now".

"I think viewers around the world relate deeply to the issue of social inequality" portrayed in the series, "especially in times of pandemic", he pointed.

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