Lee Jung-jae: “Ultimately, Squid Game is meant to give the audience dreams and hopes.”

At the end Squid game – the huge dystopian fantasy that has seemingly captivated the entire planet – Seong Gi-hun has barely survived a series of childhood challenges that turned deadly. Appearing with the game’s colossal prize money, he re-entered the world with red hair, as if a phoenix had caught fire. A radically changed man. But the series’ closing scenes hinted that Gi-hun’s fiery transformation was only illusory; clutching tightly to the calling card that started it all, he set out on the warpath for revenge. Let the games begin again.

The show’s second season is heading into production next year, but its star Lee Jung-jae was just as in the dark as the rest of us about Gi-hun’s next move. That is, except for what spoiler creator Hwang Dong-hyuk leaked to the press. Reluctant to share anything else about the subject or the character, Lee, with a knowing smile, only expresses his excitement to “play his dark side.”

If Squid game takes a turn for the serious, its brutally sweet first season will continue to stand the test of time not only as a cultural artifact of the pandemic, but also as a chilling depiction of South Korea’s debt crisis—a problem that could, after How Squid game they theorize, drive the most desperate to risk their lives for survival. But as the show’s audience has proliferated through TikTok trends (#SquidGame has over 78 billion views) and attempts to recreate the games (including an upcoming Netflix game show), have we lost sight of its meaning? Lee is more optimistic.

“I feel like Squid game it is not meant exclusively to deliver a social message to society,” he argues. “Ultimately, it is meant to give the audience dreams and hopes. Of course, it was an entertaining television show that helped us ask deep questions, but at the end of the day, it’s also entertainment.”

Four days before his first birthday Squid game, Lee took the Emmy stage to accept the award for Best Actor. Beating out the likes of Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong and Bob Odenkirk, Lee was making history in real time, becoming the first Asian actor to win the award. At that moment, however, he was not so concerned with the meaning of the trophy that sat in his hands. “I didn’t want to focus on discussing that element further,” he says of his era-defining victory. “Rather than the past, I think it’s more important to focus on now and today.”

However, it is impossible to ignore Squid gamethe exhilarating victory lap. Like other underrated international programming that Netflix releases, the series could easily have been relegated to the depths of the home page. But this was different. In its first four weeks, the show was watched by 142 million households, beating titans such as Strange things and Bridgerton to become the streamer’s most watched series. That’s a lot of eyeballs, but the actor prefers to express his gratitude for the “crazy amount of love” he’s received rather than quantify the personal impact the world’s biggest TV show has had. It’s true that not much has changed: already a beloved star in South Korea for over two decades, the only difference now is that he is approached by just as many fans outside the country.

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