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Hwang Dong-hyuk, the Brain Behind Squid Game

More than 140 million people have watched the show, making it the most popular TV program in Netflix’s history.

Hwang Dong-hyuk

Hwang Dong-hyuk

Source: Getty Images

Hwang wrote the script that would become Squid Game a decade ago, when he was broke and reading manga series such as Battle Royale, an inspiration for The Hunger Games. Squid Game’s anti-elitist plot—indebted people compete in a brutal, deadly competition for life-changing money—was based on his own experience. He’d had to rely on his mom for financial support after a movie project he was involved with failed and he unsuccessfully tried to recoup his losses at a horse track. Squid Game seemed like a natural fit for a world reeling from the Great Recession, but he couldn’t sell the project because investors and producers thought it was too dreary and gory.

Netflix bought the script as part of its $1 billion push the past few years to produce shows in Korean. Hwang originally conceived of it as a film, then he rewrote it for TV. And though it is extremely violent—456 contestants play kids’ games such as tug of war and marbles and get a bullet to the head from a masked goon in a pink jumpsuit if they lose—it has also resonated. Since the show’s release on Sept. 17, more than 60% of people with Netflix accounts worldwide were curious enough to watch at least two minutes of it. Based on internal estimates viewed by Bloomberg News, the show is expected to generate almost $900 million for Netflix from attracting and retaining subscribers.