Squid Game characters drawn from director Hwang Dong-hyuk's life
SEOUL : Many characters in Netflix sensation Squid Game are loosely based on its South Korean writer-director's life and he believes its theme of economic inequality has resonated with viewers around the world.
Hwang Dong-hyuk's television debut last month became the streaming giant's most popular series at launch, drawing at least 111 million watchers.
Its dystopian vision sees hundreds of marginalised individuals pitted against each other in traditional children's games - all of which Hwang played growing up in Seoul.
The 50-year-old's works have consistently and critically responded to social ills, power and human suffering, and he based several of its flawed yet relatable characters on himself.
Like Sang-woo, an investment banker in Squid Game, Hwang is a graduate of South Korea's elite Seoul National University (SNU) but struggled financially despite his degree.
Like Gi-hun, a laid-off worker and an obsessive gambler played by Lee Jung-jae, Hwang was raised by a widowed mother and the poor family lived in the kind of subterranean semi-basement housing portrayed in Bong Joon-ho's Oscar-winning satire Parasite.
And it was one of his first experiences abroad that inspired him to create Ali, a migrant worker from Pakistan abused and exploited by his Korean employer.
Hwang said: "Korea is a very competitive society. I was lucky enough to survive the competition and entered a good university. But when I visited the UK at age 24, a white staff member at airport immigration gave me a dismissive look and made discriminatory comments. I find it shocking to this day. I think I was someone like Ali back then."
Hwang studied journalism at SNU, where he became a pro-democracy activist - and he named the main character in Squid Game, Gi-hun, after a friend and fellow campaigner.
At first, "watching films was something I did to kill time".
But after he borrowed his mother's video camera, he "discovered the joy of filming something and screening it for other people, and it changed my life".
His first feature-length film, My Father (2007), was based on the true story of Aaron Bates, a Korean adoptee whose search for his biological father led him to a death row inmate.
In 2011, his crime drama Silenced - inspired by a real-life sex abuse case involving children with disabilities - was a commercial hit, as was his 2014 comedy Miss Granny, partly inspired by his single mother.
Squid Game references traumatising experiences that have shaped the psyche of modern South Koreans, including the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the 2009 layoffs at SsangYong Motor, both of which saw people take their own lives.
He never imagined it "would become the global sensation that it is now".
"I think viewers around the world deeply relate to the theme of economic inequality portrayed in Squid Game," he said, "especially in times of a global pandemic". - AFP