SEOUL – South Koreans shared congratulations on social media Tuesday for the multiple wins by “Squid Game” at the Emmy Awards, but the overall reaction was subdued as the country grows accustomed to its increasingly prominent role in global entertainment.
From K-pop sensations BTS and BLACKPINK to the movie “Parasite” that won four Oscars, South Korean pop culture is now a global phenomenon. While it was big news that “Squid Game” became the first South Korean drama to win an Emmy, many South Koreans weren't as surprised by such triumphs as in the past.
South Korean social media were flooded with messages after the star of the Netflix drama, Lee Jung-jae, won the award for best male actor in a drama series, and its creator, Hwang Dong-hyuk, the award for best drama director on Monday. Both were the first Asians to win in those categories.
President Yoon Suk Yeol congratulated Lee and Hwang, saying the entire nation was celebrating their accomplishments in a show that resonated with viewers around the world.
“(We) hope that (you) will continue to be active with your work and appear in good works that move hearts around the world,” Yoon said in a message to Lee he shared on Facebook.
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon wrote on Facebook that he was proud that South Korean artists are producing work that is “enthusiastically celebrated and emphasized by the whole world.”
Ordinary citizens also wrote congratulatory messages on social media. But some messages were critical of the drama, and the level of elation was much lower than when Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” became the first non-English-language film to win best picture at the Academy Awards in 2020 and won three other Oscars.
The president at the time, Moon Jae-in, and his advisers began a regular meeting by clapping to celebrate the Oscars, and South Korean media extensively played up the news.
Several hours after the Emmy wins by “Squid Game," the news was still on the front pages of the internet editions of major South Korean media outlets, but not at the top, which was dominated by domestic politics.
“People are getting used to (major awards),” film critic Kim See-moo said. “Bong Joon-ho took home four Oscars for ‘Parasite,’ another one of our actors won an Oscar for ‘Minari’ and then Park Chan-wook won best director at Cannes (for ‘Decision to Leave’). South Koreans no longer think there are any entry barriers for these awards, and they think anyone has a shot at winning if they put in the hard work.”
Kim noted that South Koreans are less familiar with the Emmys than the Oscars, partly because Korean dramas previously didn’t have a large presence in the United States.
“South Korean TV dramas have been huge in Asia for years, especially in markets where people share similar emotional sentiments with South Koreans,” Kim said. “‘Squid Game’ became a broader global hit because it tackled the intense global issue that is inequality, but also took a refreshing approach by telling that story through a brutal and deadly competition of children’s games.”
“As a Korean, I’m very proud of (the drama),” Choi Hyun Sik, a 32-year-old office worker, told The Associated Press. “I once again came to realize how popular ‘Squid Game’ was.”
”(Lee) made an award speech in English but at the end he spoke in Korean and highlighted his fans and people in South Korea, so I was really touched by that,” said Jeong Ye-won, a 22-year-old university student.
Squid Game is a brutal survival drama about desperate adults competing in deadly children’s games for a chance to escape debt. In the drama, Lee stars as the show’s protagonist, Seong Gi-hun, a laid-off autoworker coping with a messy divorce and struggling with constant business failures and gambling problems.
Associated Press journalists Yong Jun Chang and Juwon Park contributed to this story.