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“It’s unbelievable,” Squid Game creator Hwang Dong-hyuk said just before 8 p.m. on Monday night as he reached the end of the show’s first red carpet event in Hollywood. The writer-director was commenting on the reception he and his actors have received since arriving in Los Angeles days earlier, but the adjective could easily apply to, well, everything.
Squid Game debuted Sept. 17 on Netflix and it took only 17 days “and 111 million global fans” for the nine-episode series to become the streamer’s biggest series ever, and the first to surpass 100 million views, per Netflix. The South Korean series received a crush of critical praise, dominated the cultural conversation and enjoyed a high-profile media blitz, so Netflix invited Hwang along with cast members Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, Jung Ho-yeon and Lee Byung-hun to the West Coast to ride the wave and fuel to the awards conversation.
Squid Game follows Lee’s character, Seong Gi-hun, after he receives a mysterious invitation to join a game. The invite, which has been sent to 456 participants, welcomes (desperate) individuals from all walks of life only to lock them in a secret location where they compete with one another in a series of traditional Korean children’s games. The consequence of losing is death as the contestants battle it out to win 45.6 billion won in prize money that can pull them out of their misery.
The Nov. 8 all-guild event, held at Neuehouse Hollywood, hosted a capacity crowd for a screening of episode six, “Gganbu,” and a Q&A session moderated by The Hollywood Reporter’s Rebecca Sun. It also featured accessories that typically greet movie and TV stars at such events with autograph seekers and fans screaming, “I love you!” from beyond the red carpet. It’s not much of a surprise considering the international fame stars like Lee and Park had prior to the show, or even for model-turned-actress Jung, who has 23.4 million Instagram followers and a deal with Louis Vuitton as a global ambassador.
But Hwang is still processing how famous he has become in the United States. The director, whose previous credits include My Father, Silenced, Miss Granny and The Fortress, accompanied his cast to Saturday night’s LACMA Art+Film Gala where they rubbed elbows with Leonardo DiCaprio, posed on the same red carpet as Jeff Bezos and Billie Eilish and listened to a speech by Steven Spielberg. On the museum grounds, The Hollywood Reporter spotted the crew receiving well wishes from well-heeled guests while agreeing to pose for selfies, but for Hwang, the true barometer of the show’s success came earlier at a local restaurant.
“I loved LACMA and I loved meeting famous people and celebrities, but I have to say one of the most amazing moments was on my first day here we went to a restaurant and two waitresses actually recognized me and gave me free dessert,” he recalled, through a translator. “That has to be one of my favorite moments. I’m not even an actor, I’m just a director, and they still recognized me.”
Another favorite moment was hitting up the Hancock Park home of Netflix’s co-CEO and chief content officer. “Ted Sarandos warmly welcomed us to his home and provided us a wonderful, amazing dinner, so we really enjoyed that,” Hwang added.
The dinner was part of an itinerary that also included press interviews, photoshoots, the LACMA gala and some free time for the crew to enjoy the city. THR has learned that Jung mixed in some additional business as she was spotted dining with UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer on Friday night at San Vicente Bungalows in West Hollywood, where the pair was accompanied by several other unidentified reps.
Asked about her favorite moment of the L.A. trip, the actress said it was the experience of watching the legendary Spielberg accept his award during the LACMA gala. “I’m kind of out of my mind right now because we’ve been very busy with press interviews and photoshoots, and I’m just so grateful and honored that everyone is interested in Squid Game,” she explained. “But my favorite part was hearing Steven Spielberg’s speech. I actually never got to say hi to him, but hearing him, it was like a movie. The speech had a beginning, middle and end that was very dramatic, almost like a movie. It was perfect start to finish.”
Speaking of endings, much of the buzz during their trip has been about whether or not there will be a season two. Considering the overwhelming success, it would seem a slam dunk, but both Hwang and Netflix are being careful to not reveal too much. “I do have a basic storyline for season two — it’s all in my head — and I am currently in the brainstorming stage. It will happen, someday, but as for when I cannot tell you the details,” Hwang told THR. A Netflix spokesperson added: “A second season is in discussions but not confirmed yet.”
Needless to say, the fans will be waiting — even the famous ones. At Monday’s screening, actors Jimmy O. Yang and Harry Shum arrived together and were happy to talk about their passion for all things Squid Game.
“First of all, the show is just amazing and absolutely so fun and so intense to watch,” Yang explained. “But at the same time, as Asian actors, it’s so great to see representation like this. It’s not even in English and it became a worldwide phenomenon. I feel really seen in it.”
“I was expecting to see some squids in the first episode, so I guess I was disappointed at first,” joked Shum before getting serious. “It’s a really great show that is more than just a series of playful kid’s games with violence sprinkled in. It’s a social commentary on the way the world has been functioning. To be able to see this rollercoaster ride the characters are on with these elements that make you think of childhood, like the doll, it’s just instantly iconic. I’m happy to be here to support a show like this.”
It’s not the first time they’ve turned out for the show, either. Both were quick to point out that they teamed with friends including Awkwafina to dress up like the characters for Halloween. Said Yang: “As an Asian kid, we didn’t have a lot of fun characters to dress up as while growing up. Now you can just put on a sweater and it’s like, ‘Boom. Squid Game.’ It’s great. We love it.”
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