‘Squid Game’ makes history at U.S., breaking regional, language barrier

SEOUL-- Since its official release about a year earlier, South Korea's global sensation "Squid Game" has made history in the world's entertainment industry and helped the Korean content rise in power and influence on the world stage amid Hollywood's efforts for wider diversity and inclusion.

Written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk, the Korean-language Netflix original series about a deadly competition with 45.6 billion won (US$33 million) in prize money up for grabs has captured a total of six titles at this year's Emmys, becoming the first non-English program ever to win America's most prestigious TV awards.

Although it lost the best drama series honor to HBO's "Succession," it grabbed two major titles of best lead actor for Lee Jung-jae and best directing for Hwang at the 74th edition of Primetime Emmy Awards on Monday (U.S. time), along with four prizes in Creative Arts Emmys last week.

Like Bong Joon-ho's family satire "Parasite" (2019), the first Korean film to win the best picture Oscar, "Squid Game" made history in the U.S. entertainment industry that has been out of reach for non-English TV programs.

The history started at the Gotham Awards last year, where it won the best long-form TV series prize.

At Critics Choice Awards, it was nominated in three categories, including best drama series, and won two prizes for best foreign language series and best actor for its lead, Lee Jung-jae.

Actor Oh Yeong-su, who played the role of an old businessman secretly behind the death game, took home the best supporting actor honor to become the first South Korean actor ever to secure an acting trophy at the American awards show.

The all-Korean show was also recognized by Hollywood guilds, including the Producers Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Art Directors Guild Awards.

At the SAG Awards, in particular, cast members Lee and Jung Ho-yeon won best male actor and female actor, respectively, in the TV drama category, becoming the second Korean actors ever to have won the honor given by Hollywood actors, following Youn Yuh-jung from the immigration film "Minari" (2020).

Experts said "Squid Game" has benefited from the recent strong move to improve cultural diversity and inclusion in Hollywood.

"Hollywood has been increasingly accepting culturally diversified content, and Korean film, music and TV shows are in the frontline to be recognized by a U.S. audience," said culture critic Ha Jae-geun.

The emergence of global streaming services also helped the all-Korean drama reach about 190 countries while people around the world stayed at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the past, TV content was directly affected by regional borders. TV shows were accessible only to local people, as they were broadcast only over assigned channels.

Over the past decade, however, online-based streaming companies changed the way of enjoying TV content, providing simultaneous and uniform distribution to people around the globe in local languages.

As a Netflix original, "Squid Game" offers dubbed versions and subtitles in about 30 languages, playing a key role in expanding its popularity to the global level.

The nine-part series recorded a total of 1.65 billion hours of viewing in the first four weeks, becoming the biggest hit series in Netflix's history. It was the first South Korean-made TV show to top the streamer's weekly viewership chart in the United States.

"Netflix is working as a bridge linking Korea and the U.S., the world's strongest cultural powerhouse," culture critic Kim Seong-soo said. "U.S. viewers have now realized that there is much more entertaining content and can enjoy subtitled or dubbed versions."

In his acceptance speech after winning a best directing Emmy for "Squid Game," Hwang did not forget to mention the role of Netflix and thanked its CEO, Ted Sarandos.

"I want to give a huge thanks to Netflix," he said. "I don't think I made history by myself. It was you (Sarandos) who opened up the door for 'Squid Game' and invited us here at Emmys."

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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