SINGAPORE - In the K-drama series Squid Game, 456 debt-ridden contestants are invited by a mysterious organisation to take part in a series of children's games for an astronomical cash prize. The catch? These games put their lives on the line.
In a press conference with regional media, leading men Lee Jung-jae, 48, and Park Hae-soo, 39, and director Hwang Dong-hyuk, 50, share five things to know about the show, which is available on Netflix.
Enormous sets were built for the series, from a huge dormitory that houses all the contestants to a big mechanical doll used in the first game played in the show.
Lee says: "I didn't think the sets would be so big. I thought it might be produced using computer graphics but it was built in real life. And 456 people participated in the filming of the game, so the scale was amazing and almost overwhelming."
Model-actress Jung Ho-yeon, 27, who is part of the ensemble cast, adds: "The set that made an impression on me was the dormitory. It was like a colosseum, there was a sense of eeriness to it."
No more Mr Cool
Lee, known for his suave image in movies like The Housemaid (2010) and dramas like Chief Of Staff (2019), plays good-for-nothing gambler Ki-hoon.
Dressed in a dapper suit for the press conference, Lee jokes: "I was watching the final cut of the series and I was laughing so hard. I'm not used to seeing myself like this. I was behaving in such brainless ways."
Park (Prison Playbook, 2017 to 2018) plays Ki-hoon's childhood friend Sang-woo, a gifted student who took on a well-paying job after graduation.
Park says his role cannot be clearly defined as good or evil. "My character's really smart, which I'm not. But when he makes selfish choices, that's something I see in myself too."
Life or money?
When asked if they would be willing to take part in deadly games for the cash prize of 45.6 billion won (S$52.1 million) - as they do in the series - Lee and Park both decide against it.
Lee says: "My mother would not let me participate so I won't do it."
Park says: "I would say no. I am very content with the way my life is going so I won't be tempted to do it right now."
Lee and Park play childhood friends from a working-class neighbourhood who went on divergent paths.
Park says: "I think to Sang-woo, Ki-hoon symbolises things such as poverty that he doesn't like and wants to run away from, and it frustrates him to be around Ki-hoon."
Lee adds: "For a long time, Sang-woo was the only person in Ki-hoon's life that he could be proud of. But he made a wrong choice and landed in the same predicament as Ki-hoon, so there's extreme disappointment mixed with pride."
Reflecting real-life gambling
Director Hwang's previous works include films like My Father (2007) and The Crucible (2011), which have touched on dark subject matters like murder and sexual abuse.
He first completed the script for Squid Game in 2009 but did not receive enough backing as it was seen as "unfamiliar" and "not commercial".
He says: "After a decade, these deadly games start to resemble the way people gamble in real life, investing in cryptocurrency and so on. People started telling me the story is quite reflective of what's going on in the world so I expanded the story."
Squid Game is available on Netflix.