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Why Squid Game's success makes Lee Jung-jae "hugely sad"

Emmy winner Lee Jung-jae star worries that art is imitating life a little too closely when it comes to Netflix's Squid Game

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Why Squid Game's success makes Lee Jung-jae "hugely sad"
Lee Jung-jae
Photo: Mathew Tsang (Getty Images)

Squid Game was a serious sensation, a critically acclaimed crossover hit, a pop culture punchline, and a ready-made Halloween costume all rolled into one. It was also, remember, a dystopian horror full of prescient commentary on capitalism. Like The Hunger Games before it, Hollywood frequently misses the point (or perhaps proves it) by gleefully buying into the entertainment value of bloodsport. But star Lee Jung-jae has definitely not forgotten the Netflix series’ message.

Speaking to The Guardian about the show’s massive success, the actor says, “I’m happy about it, of course, but it’s bittersweet. Yes, it’s great that audiences are consuming Korean content around the world. And they appreciate it. But if you think about the themes of Squid Game–how far are we willing to go to accumulate personal wealth; the lengths people are forced to go to–the fact it resonated with so many around the world is worrying. You get a sense this is the reality for so many people globally. And that makes me feel hugely sad.”

Lee won an Emmy for his role on Squid Game, at a ceremony that also featured an appearance from the show’s giant, murderous doll as a comical gag. Yet actually participating in those deadly scenes was far from humorous. “[We] had to express the experiences of these characters being pushed to those extremes,” he shares. “Doing that? It was terrible. The more beautiful the game set was, and the more childish and fun it seemed, the more horrific it was for the characters, and therefore us as actors.”

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“I do think about what happened in that show,” Lee says of the series’ impact. “It’s impossible not to. And it made me think about what I’m not doing. Many of us live obliviously. It made me rethink how I look at the world. It couldn’t not.”