Nathalie Tomada – The Philippine Star

October 2, 2021 | 12:00am

Squid Game lead stars Lee Jung Jae and Park Hae Soo said that Netflix’s hit Korean show’s “twisted” kiddie games felt real on set.

In the nine-part series, Lee Jung Jae (The Housemaid, Il Mare) and Park Hae Soo (Prison Playbook) are Gi Hun and Sang Woo, respectively, childhood buddies who end up as two of the 456 debt-ridden and desperate players in a mysterious survival game dangling a prize money of 45.6 billion won (or two billion in Philippine peso). All they have to do is just play popular games from their childhood. But then again, what’s a thrilling drama without a catch? Death is the price to pay for those eliminated from the competition.

Director Hwang Dong Hyuk, the brains of this series, described his two main characters in a recent virtual interview attended by The STAR: “They share the same childhood roots and memories. They went to school together in the past. Their foundation is the same. As time passes, they take different paths. One (Sang Woo) goes on the path of success and the other (Gi Hun) goes on the path of failure until a certain point.

“Then, they end up meeting at the same place, the game arena. We live in an extremely competitive society, but because we live in such a society, people who were on different paths can end up in the same place. This is the harsh reality.”

To make the game arena realistic and the actors feel that they were playing for real, director Hwang relied little on computer graphics and built “large and formidable” sets. These included the now fan-favorite, creepy giant of a robot doll, which set the dark and violent tone in the Red Light, Green Light game of Episode 1.

Lee recalled that he was “really shocked” upon setting foot on the set for the first time. “(It) wasn’t something that I had expected… It was actually real life. The scale was overwhelming,” the 48-year-old actor shared during a roundtable with select Filipino press.

“What surprised me the most (was) I thought they would do the tree and the huge doll with CGI or special effects. But when I arrived there, (the doll) was actually there. To top it all, it was actually working mechanically. It almost made me feel that I had to be quick with my actions. It also helped a lot with my acting.”

The same goes for Park. He found the Red Light, Green Light set, plus the huge doll, “overwhelming.” Another favorite of the 39-year-old actor was the alley set because “it brought a lot of feelings and memories from childhood to life.”

Lee added, “It really felt real. A lot of efforts were put into making it feel real. In addition to the set, actors tried really hard to bring in the personal stories of the individuals they were portraying.”

Park noted that filming the game scenes were physically demanding.

“It was very physical and very violent, all six games at that. (Filming) was very challenging. But the most memorable I would say was the last round. It was the most physical and emotional of them all because it was towards the end. It had a lot of complex emotions at play.”

He further remembered that since there were many cast members, each time an actor left as his or her character got eliminated, the rest would be feeling sad on set. “There are many other characters, in addition to the people here (in this presscon), who poured their hearts into their characters. I saw them being eliminated and removed which resulted in a feeling of emptiness. We’re all wearing the same tracksuits, so I think I felt the same feelings that Sang Woo felt.”

Nevertheless, the two stars were quick to say they would pass up the opportunity to play in Squid Game in real life, no matter how huge the prize money is.

Lee joked, “No, my mom wouldn’t want me to,” while Park said, “No, I’m very happy and content right now.”

But if they did have the 45.6 billion won in their hands, they have a couple of ideas on how to utilize it. Lee said, “There are many ways to use it. I would donate it.”

As for Park, “20 percent would go into the ALS fund, 20 percent into stocks, maybe one million won to everyone here, and the rest to protect the environment.”

In a separate interview, director Hwang told The STAR that he created Squid Game back in 2008, even before he released three major hit films Silenced, Miss Granny and The Fortress, but no one would pick the story up because it was found to be “complex” and “not commercial.” But given the times the world is in now, he believes the timing of the series — a social commentary on the perceived losers in society — couldn’t have been any more fitting.

Meanwhile, Squid Game is poised to become Netflix’s “biggest show ever,” as per Ted Sarandos, co-CEO of the international streaming service. He has been quoted in US media as saying during the recent technology conference CODE 2021 in California that “Squid Game will definitely be our biggest non-English language show in the world, for sure,” eclipsing the success of the Spanish heist series La Casa de Papel and the French heist drama Lupin.

According to, Squid Game is the first K-drama to top the daily Top 10 of Netflix US following its Sept. 17 global debut. It also said it became the No. 1 Netflix show in Southeast Asian countries including the Philippines, as well as in Oman, Bolivia, Ecuador, and “ranked high” in 39 other countries like the UK, France and Germany.

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