MANILA — One of the most common games that many Filipinos played in their childhood was Red Light, Green Light, more known locally as Pepsi 7-Up.
The rules are simple: the person tagged “it” will stand a good distance away from the other players. While “it” looks away from the other players, they must move towards “it,” but once “it” faces them, they must freeze on the spot. Any player caught moving by “it” is eliminated from the game.
The upcoming Korean series “Squid Game” takes the game to an extreme: any player caught moving is brutally shot dead.
Red Light, Green Light is one of several childhood games that are given deadly twists in “Squid Game,” which follows 456 participants competing with each other in order to win ₩45.6 billion (P1.94 billion).
Director Hwang Donghyuk, who also wrote the story, explained that he took the show’s title from a childhood game he used to play, which he thought was symbolic of today’s competitive society.
“This game could be the most symbolic children’s game that shows various aspects of the very competitive society that we live in today,” Hwang said in a virtual press conference on Wednesday.
“This is a story of people that used to play these games as children and they come back as adults to win the cash prize,” he said.
Through “Squid Game,” Hwang aims to both entertain the audience, and provoke them into thinking deeply about competition and survival.
“After watching it, you will start to think why [the characters] had to compete so hard and that will lead you to think, ‘Why am I living a life in such a competitive manner? Why do we have to compete all the time? Where did this all start and where is this leading us to?’” he said.
In the show, actors Lee Jungjae and Park Haesoo play childhood friends who are reunited in the games after facing financial difficulties.
Both actors admitted to taking on the project because they wanted to work with Hwang, known for directing films such as the comedy-drama “Miss Granny” and historical “The Fortress.”
“I thought it would be a fascinating story and I was really wondering how these games would be brought to life. Everyday on the set, it was filmed with excitement and I had a lot of fun,” said Lee, who starred in popular movies such as “Il Mare” and “The Housemaid.”
“The biggest reason [why I joined the series] has to be the script and how it depicted so many different types of people. The growth, the character arc and how each character developed, it was all just so charming and very intriguing,” said Park, who previously starred in the series “Prison Playbook.”
Joining Lee and Park are Heo Sungtae (from the series “Racket Boys”) and Wi Hajoon (who rose to prominence with the horror film “Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum”), and model Jung Hoyeon in her acting debut.
Jung shared that she auditioned for the series while she was in New York for fashion week.
“I actually put all of my energy into practicing acting and then I sent my taped audition. Then director Hwang wanted to see me in person so I flew to Korea straight from my schedule in New York,” she recounted.
Over a decade in the making
Hwang said the show’s story was inspired by his interest in comic books, adding that he finished the first draft of the script some time around 2008 to 2009. However, he failed to get “investments” for the series.
“At the time, it seemed very unfamiliar, something that’s very violent, so there were a lot of people who thought it was too complex, a little too complicated, maybe something not very commercial,” Hwang said.
“After a decade… people have told me that this story is quite reflective of what’s actually happening in the world. It reminds them of things that are happening in this very tough society, so with that I expanded the story about two years ago.”
The team also boasted about the large-scale sets that were used for the games, which were child-friendly in design but still gave off a threatening feel.
“I thought [the set was] gonna be computer graphics-made but then it was all built in real life and 456 people actually took part in it in-person so the scale was amazing and it was almost overwhelming,” said Lee.
“I wanted to put [the game sets] into a physical kind of setup so that all the characters and participants in the game can be physical in it and bring some realistic elements in it,” Hwang added.
“Squid Game” premieres on Netflix on Friday, September 17.