Anyone who has watched Squid Game knows that anti-capitalism was a major theme in the Korean thriller. Director Hwang Dong-hyuk said it himself: "I wanted to write a story that was an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society," he told Variety. That's a large part of why when Netflix first announced a reality show based on the series — one in which 456 contestants would compete for a chance to win $4.56 million — the news was met with skepticism. Many pointed out the apparent contradiction of a competition show inspired by a show that cautions against extreme human competition.
"For us the anti-capitalist allegory is only one very small part of Squid Game," Tim Harcourt, an executive producer of the reality show Squid Game: The Challenge, told TV Guide. "I often say to people, Star Wars is about swashbuckling rebels overtaking an empire, but people don't necessarily just focus on that as being about freedom or being about anti-imperialism. So for us, that was one element."
Harcourt expanded on other themes from the original series that stood out. "It was about how people come together when they're required to beat the game," he continued. "It was also about how we're ingrained from childhood to be competitive. These games are all childhood games, and they're super-sized and it brings out this childhood competitive spirit in everyone."
For the executive producer, there's also a clear difference between the Korean drama and Squid Game: The Challenge. "Director Hwang's vision was about need — the players are all in desperate times," Harcourt said. "For us, it was about opportunity."
As the reality show progresses, viewers begin to learn the contestants' motivations for entering the competition. "These are players who wanted to win that money because of the opportunity offered rather than need," Harcourt said.
"Director Hwang touched on something universal — this game that he designed is ingenious in itself," executive producer John Hay added. "And it's an amazing motor for looking at character under pressure, and that question of character under pressure sits at the heart of a lot of great unscripted as well as great scripted shows." Hay said that's why the original series invited translation.
Earlier this year, the series also drew criticism when Variety and other publications reported that some contestants needed medical attention during the filming of the first game, "Red Light, Green Light." Harcourt addressed the reports. "Before we even embarked upon anything, we tested everything and ran through all the proper controls," he said. "On that first game, it was quite a cold day, it was quite a long shoot." The executive producer said that part of the shoot being long was because of the process required to check every contestant's movement in the game. In "Red Light, Green Light," players are eliminated if they do not remain still when the gigantic robot doll turns its head.
"We had a whole team of independent adjudicators checking who moved. But everyone was prepared for that," Harcourt said. "And all appropriate measures were taken. So we're confident that we did the right thing by people."
The first five episodes of Squid Game: The Challenge are available to stream on Netflix, with the next batch of episodes premiering Nov. 29.