Squid Game star Lee Jung-jae reflects on the Korean drama's massive success
Squid Game (TV series)
Don't be surprised if you see tons of people wearing green tracksuits and white sneakers this Halloween, because Squid Game is taking over.
In less than a month since its Sept. 27 release, the Korean survival drama went from completely unknown to must-see TV. And despite getting practically no promotion from Netflix, it's now the streaming service's biggest series launch ever and the first Korean series to hit No. 1 in the U.S. It's an international phenomenon, and Squid Game star Lee Jung-jae is shocked but "grateful" to see the series finding worldwide success similar to the Oscar-winning Korean film Parasite or K-pop music.
"I think there are many factors that played into this," Lee tells EW, speaking through a translator. "There were some films or TV series themed with the survival games before, but I think what sets Squid Game apart were the nostalgic childhood games that are very popular in Korea; they're very easy and straightforward for all the global audience to [understand]."
Squid Game stars Lee as down-on-his-luck gambling addict Seong Gi-hun, a.k.a. Player 456, who joins a competition with 455 other players for a chance at a cash prize big enough to not only settle all his debts, but also change his life in ways he could never have imagined. But the players soon learn that these seemingly innocent games are actually life-or-death, and only one person can walk away from the violent competition as the winner.
"There are many characters in the show who each have their own dilemmas and who also each have a reason why they so desperately have to win the game, and I think this desperateness was very vividly depicted in the show," Lee says. "This is probably an emotion that Koreans can best express compared with other people around the world, and I think the global audience really resonated with that aspect. So I think multiple factors really came together [to earn this success]."
Lee hopes that Squid Game's global success will help pave the way for more Korean projects to reach wider audiences. "There are many films and dramas that are being made in Korea that have very intriguing story lines, and some content are very beautiful aesthetically, visual-wise," he says. "And we also hear that there are many good actors in Korea — many viewers, the audiences in the Asian region, particularly say that there are a lot of great actors in Korea that put on performances that are worth watching. So I do think that we are really going through a phase in the history of Korean content where it's very fun and intriguing to watch what good content is emerging."
Watching the meteoric rise of Squid Game all across the world has been "encouraging," he adds. "I'm very happy about this, so I think this is a really good point in time. I do hope that more great Korean content gets to meet the global audience."