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SYFY WIRE Squid Game

'Squid Game' was apparently rejected for nearly 10 years before Netflix finally rolled the dice on sleeper hit

By Josh Weiss
Squid Game 103 Still

It's hard to imagine a world not gripped in the crushing tentacles of Squid Game fever, but the incredible fervor surrounding the sleeper hit from South Korea is about a decade in the making. According to a new report by The Wall Street Journal, the show (written and directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk) was passed over by numerous studios over the last 10 years before Netflix decided to scoop up the project, which was originally titled Round Six when it was first announced two years ago.

Dong-hyuk reportedly started writing the scripts while living with his mother and grandmother, but was forced to put the whole thing on pause when he found himself strapped for cash like one of the game's contestants (at one point, he was forced to sell his laptop for $675). The eventual pitching process wasn't any easier with "potential investors and actors" balking "at the brutal killings and implausibility of individuals competing to the death for money," writes WSJ.

The premise became a lot more believable in the wake of the COVID-19 health crisis, which — among other things — starkly underscored the glaring wealth gap between rich and poor. "The world has changed,” Dong-hyuk told the paper. “All of these points made the story very realistic for people compared to a decade ago."

Squid Game is a story of underdogs, relatable for people who struggle, that resonates with younger audiences, much like how the K-pop band BTS became a voice for millennials," added Suk-Young Kim, head of theater and performance studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. "Korea is no longer an exotic site where only a certain dedicated fandom culture exists. It’s a major cultural hub with rising prominence in Hollywood and on Billboard charts."

Squid Game (whose first season is now streaming on Netflix) is one of the hottest shows in the world right now, currently occupying the top spot of IMDb's list of the 100 most popular TV programs. It's also leading Netflix's "Most Watched" charts across most of the globe. While Netflix is exploring the possibility of a second season, Dong-hyuk reportedly does have other commitments at the moment.