[Editorial] Historic wins for “Squid Game” at Emmys and what lies ahead

Posted on : 2022-09-15 16:40 KST Modified on : 2022-09-15 16:40 KST
The power of Korean content has been proven, but the era of streaming services leaves us with numerous things to consider
“Squid Game” lead actor Lee Jung-jae delivers his acceptance speech after winning an Emmy for his role in the series at the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards on Sept. 12 in Los Angeles. (AFP/Yonhap)
“Squid Game” lead actor Lee Jung-jae delivers his acceptance speech after winning an Emmy for his role in the series at the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards on Sept. 12 in Los Angeles. (AFP/Yonhap)

The South Korean series “Squid Game” made history on Monday at the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles. Its lead actor Lee Jung-jae took home the trophy for best actor in a drama series while director Hwang Dong-hyuk won the award for outstanding directing for a drama series.

This marks the first time that an Asian actor has won an Emmy Award for best lead actor and that a drama in a language other than English was honored for its directing.

Hwang, who wrote the script for the series himself and served as the show’s director, expressed himself in his acceptance speech, saying, “I truly hope ‘Squid Game’ won't be the last non-English series to be here at the Emmys.”

These Emmy wins for “Squid Game” show us once again how South Korean cultural content is breaking language barriers beyond film and popular music and now also through dramas and creating a major “cultural shift” by reaching people around the world.

Above all, it is also meaningful how South Korea’s popular culture has been able to resonate with people across the globe through universal concerns by turning their gaze toward the problems plaguing Korean society.

Lee Jung-jae, who portrayed the series’ protagonist, a down-on-his-luck debtor who risks his life in a deadly game, was straight to the point when he said in his acceptance speech that the drama was able to make “realistic problems we all face come to life so creatively on the screen.”

The New York Times said about “Squid Game” that the drama “found resonance beyond South Korea, tapping into a frustration over wealth disparities that is familiar to people around the world,” while Bloomberg said the show’s “reflection on the dark side of society captivated audiences around the world.”

Although Netflix, an over-the-top (OTT) media streaming service, has been the driving force behind the whole “Squid Game” craze, it has also left us with several issues to consider.

Netflix, which was able to unite the world during a pandemic, is an important platform that allows Korean and other non-English content to reach a huge global audience in one go.

Netflix invested 25.3 billion won in “Squid Game,” which Hwang Dong-hyuk had been envisioning for 10 years, and then released the series simultaneously in 190 countries on Sept. 17 last year.

Support for production costs of this size and simultaneously releasing the series in countries throughout the entire globe were conditions that were unimaginable for Korean content in the past.

However, the intellectual property or publication rights of the series belong to Netflix and there is also no running guarantee.

Compared to series produced in Hollywood, the production cost per episode for Netflix is significantly less. There have been those who point an “imbalance” out regarding Netflix’s behavior of taking huge profits from South Korean production companies and the Korean market.

While “Squid Game” has shown the power of Korean content, it has also brought up the necessity to discuss legislation and policies regarding OTT media services.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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