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Upon its release on Sept. 17, 2021, “Squid Game” quickly became an international phenomenon. But before it became Netflix’s most popular series of all-time, Hwang Dong-hyuk, its creator, had paid a physical price to make it happen: Six (six!) of his teeth had fallen out during the show’s production. Hwang, who’d famously had dreamed up “Squid Game” years before as a movie, with the story born out of his own financial struggles during the Great Recession, had written and directed every episode of the show — and that stressful immersion had taken a toll.
“I was so scared of going to the dentist,” Hwang said. “I hate those things.”
He feels confident, though, that he can avoid future dental crises as he embarks on writing the show’s second season. “This time, I hire some more people to help me,” Hwang said with a laugh, during a video interview for Variety’s Showrunners Sitdown With Kate Aurthur presented by FX.
“Squid Game” is the story of the woeful Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae). After losing his job and his family, Gi-hun has become a deadbeat dad to his daughter, and an irresponsible son to his mother. He’s invited to participate in a deadly game — one that exploits people with his sorts of problems — with 456 contestants and a huge cash prize at the end: if, that is, he survives to win it.
Hwang’s “Squid Game” is a deeply political critique of global capitalism, with the children’s games that serve as the series’ engine bringing out the best in some of its contestants, and the worst in others. Debt is crushing these people, which has led them into a contest that will almost certainly kill them.
“I did not think it was a uniquely Korean story — I felt that these issues were currently either happening or something waiting to happen in any part of the world,” Hwang told Variety.
Though Hwang designed Season 1 of “Squid Game” to be self-contained, its ending perfectly set the show up to continue. “There are very small loose knots throughout the first season, so to speak, things that I didn’t conclude, and put in little rooms for further expansion,” he said.
He confirmed that Lee will be back, as will Lee Byung-hun, who plays the sinister Front Man who oversees the games. When pressed about whether audiences will see Gong Yoo — who plays the show’s dapper, slapping salesman, and also starred in Hwang’s 2011 film “Silenced” — he smiled, and said, “Yeah, you might.” Most other characters are dead, of course, but Hwang said, “They can come back in dreams — like maybe in Gi-hun’s dream.” (He may have been joking.)
There will be yet more games in the show’s second season, Hwang said — he didn’t want to give away too much. Given how huge the series was, especially compared to its cost, he did say he thinks “Squid Game” will have an increased budget this time: “Yes, I believe so. I cannot tell you how much, but yes, we’ll have bigger budget and I’ll get paid a little bit more.”
During the in-depth conversation, Hwang answered all our questions, and discussed what he’s learned from watching fan’s “Squid Game” videos on YouTube, his favorite scene from Season 1 and his shock that children were watching the show. He also talked about his biggest career disappointment, and what he still wants to do as a creator.
As for whether the eventual second season of “Squid Game” will be its last, Hwang isn’t sure. “It’s tough to tell,” he said. “Maybe. Maybe not. Let’s say 50-50.”
Can he spare the teeth, though?
Breaking into a grin, Hwang said: “I have a good dentist now. I can replace all this with implants.”
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