Squid Game loses big prize, but still made history with actor and director Emmy wins

Actor Lee Jung-jae (left) and director Hwang Dong-hyuk were the first South Koreans to win in their respective categories. PHOTO: AFP
The cast of Succession, which won the Emmy for Best Drama Series. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Squid Game came so close, but it was not close enough.

As the momentum built towards the end of the three-hour telecast of this year’s Emmy Awards, the drama series win for the hit South Korean series Squid Game seemed imminent, which would make it the first non-English drama to win in this category.

After all, just minutes before that biggest and final prize was handed out, show creator Hwang Dong-hyuk clinched best directing for a drama series and leading man Lee Jung-jae was named best lead actor for a drama series in quick succession.

Even though American satirical black comedy-drama Succession eventually prevented a home run. one cannot deny the 74th Emmy Awards on Sept 12 (Sept 13 morning Singapore time) was a landmark day for Asian television.

Squid Game, which premiered on Netflix in September 2021 and told the dystopian story about cash-strapped contestants risking their lives for wealth, ended up winning a total of six of its 14 nominations.

Lee and Hwang are the first Asians to win in their respective categories.

At the Creative Arts Emmy Awards held a week earlier, Lee Yoo-mi won guest drama actress while the show triumphed in technical categories like Production Design for a Narrative Contemporary Programme (One Hour or More), Special Visual Effects in a Single Episode and Stunt Performance.

In his acceptance speech for the directing award, Hwang, 51, said: “People keep telling me that I made history. But I don’t think I made history by myself, because it was you who opened up the doors for Squid Game, inviting us here tonight at the Emmys. So I have to say we all made history together.

“And I truly hope Squid Game won’t be the last only non-English series to be here at the Emmys. And I also hope this won’t be my last Emmy either.”

In a backstage interview with American journalist Marc Istook, Hwang remarked “we are still missing something, the Best Drama”, but added that the team would return with Squid Game’s second season.

“Wait for that,” he teased.

Remote video URL

In Lee’s acceptance speech, the 49-year-old thanked Hwang for making a “realistic problem come to life”, shown creatively on the screen with a great script and amazing visuals.

He added in Korean: “Thank you to everyone watching in Korea.”

Remote video URL

Squid Game’s supporting cast members Park Hae-soo and O Yeong-su lost the Supporting Actor accolade to Matthew Macfadyen (Succession), while Jung Ho-yeon was edged out of the Supporting Actress category by Julia Garner (Ozark).

The global phenomenon has been billed as Netflix’s biggest original series launch, and in his backstage interview, Hwang said he is “halfway done” with the new season and had just finished writing its sixth episode.

“The biggest difference is (Lee’s) character. He is a different guy from Season One because he is (now) going for revenge.”

Remote video URL

One could be forgiven for feeling deja vu when media dynasty drama Succession and sports comedy Ted Lasso took the night’s top trophies.

Best drama series was what Succession had won in 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted its production schedule.

Ted Lasso also was a repeat winner, claiming best comedy for the second straight year for its tale of an American football coach leading a British soccer team.

Its stars Jason Sudeikis and Brett Goldstein were second-time winners of best comedy actor and supporting actor.

Likewise, voters honoured Euphoria star Zendaya as best drama actress and Jean Smart of Hacks as best comedy actress - their second wins for each in those categories.

Remote video URL

American comedy-drama The White Lotus was named best limited or anthology series, and also bagged the prizes for supporting actor (Murray Bartlett) and supporting actress (Jennifer Coolidge).

Remote video URL

This year’s ceremony was held at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, with American actor-comedian Kenan Thompson hosting the star-studded event.

Remote video URL

The opening performance featured a medley of leading television theme songs, including tunes from The Brady Bunch (1969 to 1974), Law & Order (1990 to present), Friends (1994 to 2004) and Game Of Thrones (2011 to 2019).

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.