How the makers of 'Squid Game' cracked its cinematic code

Michael Ordoña, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Chae says, "Director Hwang told me when he was little, they would play in the alleyways and when the sun set, the moms would call them. It's very nostalgic for a lot of Korean people. We had sunsets on [each of the four walls], so whenever we'd shoot, from whichever angle ... the sun was seen."

The filmmakers expressed the gap between haves and have-nots in details such as the players' Spartan sleeping quarters. The things they were given — "We went for the Walmart or Costco look, where commodities are stacked really high. They're treated as less than human," Chae says.

There's also class strata among the contestants themselves. "There are differences in power: There's male, there's female, there's non-Korean people. I wanted to portray [this] through the different heights of the beds and the layers and the steps," Chae continues.

Meanwhile, the "VIPs" lounge in luxury and observe on monitors as players are shunted down desired paths.

"The mazelike corridors, the walls are really high. The contestants don't know where they're going because they can't see over the walls. The VIPs have a bird's-eye view," Chae adds.

Colors are carefully deployed, especially green, pink and black.

Costume designer Cho Sang-kyung says, "I suggested dressing the characters in matching tracksuits commonly sold in the past in supplies stores in front of schools. As we decided on green, I explained to the director that we should dress masked characters in the contrast color, pink."

"Green is the color most often used in training suits worn by elementary-school students," says Hwang. "This is a story about people putting their lives on the line while playing games they played as a child.


"As to the pink jumpsuits worn by the soldiers and the managers ... When you encounter someone wearing a jumpsuit, you become kind of afraid, but I wanted the contestants to feel ... like they're coming into an amusement park, not to be too threatened at first. So we decided to use a fun and relaxing color: hot pink.

"Black, obviously, is a symbol of death. If you look at the coffins, it is [black] wrapped with a hot-pink ribbon."

The competitors are assigned numbers; few are known by their names. It's significant one of the oldest players is assigned the number 1. The protagonist, down-on-his-luck everyman Gi-hun, gets the last number, 456 — he's at the very bottom of the food chain. But the meaning of the number of his hometown friend, Sang-woo, who's in the middle in some ways, is less obvious to non-Koreans: 218.

Hwang says, "218 is a profanity; it's a curse word in Korean."

After ruminating over "Squid Game" for more than 10 years, Hwang says it was in the shooting of the very first game, Red Light, Green Light, he felt everything coming together, that the contrasts would work.

"A giant doll would be looming over them and there would be a killing spree, a shooting, set in a childish game," he says. "We did this slow-motion filming for the actors who were being shot. Afterward, I played it together with 'Fly Me to the Moon' … Everything I had been thinking in my head was unfolding before my eyes. I had mixed feelings of it being beautiful, sad, desperate and hilarious at the same time. That was the moment I felt, 'I am making something that hasn't been seen anywhere.'"


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