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WATCH: How SQUID GAME was Brought to Livel; Check Out the Official Behind the Scenes

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Director Hwang Dong-hyuk began writing Squid Game as early as 2008, as a survival game “with more Korean characteristics.” While it would take another 12 years for production to begin on the series, the final result is nothing short of spectacular filmmaking—the result of a sharp script combined with vivid set design and fidelity to practical effects.

In a new behind-the-scenes video, Hwang and series Art Director Chae Kyoung-sun explained why getting the correct look and feel of the games was so narratively important.

“Aesthetically speaking, we created the places and displays trying to make the viewers think about the hidden intentions of Squid Game,” said Chae. That meant building into the sets a kind of nostalgia mixed with doom.

Actor Lee Jung-jae, who plays Gi-hun, Number 456, said the actors were taking pictures during their first day on set. Many admitted to being unprepared for the experience filming with the sets, all of which were actually built, some taking weeks to construct.

The games are based on older childhood games once popular in Korea. The crew also took inspiration from the wider culture when bringing each game to life.

“The first game, ‘Red Light, Green Light,’ was a kids’ game mostly played in the alleys back in the ’70s and ’80s,” explained Chae. “We referred to the illustrations of Cheolsoo and Younghee from textbooks back then when making the robot.” The robot was actually built.

Hwang explained that because the game was so simple and easy to play, it would make for the most arresting twist, when the players first learn the real stakes of the game. The game’s seeming simplicity is why Hwang made it the first one played by the characters.

For the second game, Honeycomb, the crew maintained fidelity with the props, i.e., the honeycombs were also real. The actors referred to the person on set making the treats as the “honeycomb master.” The entire set smelled of honeycomb during shooting.

Mimesis was key to production. While the third game, tug of war, wasn’t actually suspended over a chasm, Hwang wanted the set to imitate a playground. He wanted the fourth set, during the marbles game, to imitate a town.

“We put the most effort into that set,” explained Chae. “Our main concern was how to display the sunset. We thought it should also be a set on the border of fake and real.” The set within a set reinforces the artifice of the game and creates an uncanny feeling for viewers who are made to unconsciously realize they are watching a game within a show—another kind of entertainment game.

squid game behind the scenes
NETFLIX

The most unsettling set for the actors, however, was the one built for the fifth game, Glass Stepping Stones.

“It was actually terrifying,” admitted HoYeon Jung, who plays player 067.

The crew used real tempered glass elevated above the floor.

“A mere 1.5 meters can make you frightened,” Hwang explained. “The glass made them nervous. I think we could express the unnoticed rigidity and fear of the body.” In other words: “The game was real, and they felt real fear.”

For the final game, the titular “Squid Game,” the director wanted the action to return to the first setting. “We focused on the that place’s fairytale-like, somewhat uncanny feelings,” Chae explained. The intention was to bring the game full circle, now with only two remaining players, the journey at its end, the winner’s life inevitably changed.

“That’s the story of Squid Game we intended,” said Hwang. “It seems that all that’s left for the participants is just despair, fear, anger, and sadness. But like the outside world they were living in, they don’t lose humanity or hope for that humanity. So this is like Pandora’s Box.”

They may not lose hope, but hope itself, as in the myth, becomes a curse.

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