Squid Game spoilers follow.
Squid Game has become the biggest series launch in Netflix history, and pretty much everyone has been raving about it. But if there’s one part of the show that’s received notable criticism in the west, it has been the VIP characters.
Introduced in the seventh episode, the English-speaking VIPs arrive at the games to spectate and bet on the contestants in person, and some western viewers have been vocal about the characters’ acting and dialogue.
John D Michaels plays VIP One, and speaking to The Guardian, he discussed how English-language scenes in Korean shows might come across as unnatural.
“I think the first thing to dispel is this myth that they just pick us up off the street,” he said. “It’s different for every show, but non-Korean performers often act with dialogue that is translated by a non-native – sometimes even by Google Translate – so it can sound unnatural.
“And often we don’t have the scripts for the rest of the show. We are only given our scenes, so we have no idea of the tone.”
Michaels added: “If I was editing a Russian actor speaking Russian, I wouldn’t have any idea if he was saying his lines correctly or if his intonation was natural.
“There might be two takes. One of them could be perfect, the other wooden. If I’m editing it, the wooden one might move faster or cut more smoothly or the continuity might be better, so I’d just go with that.”
As The Guardian points out, this sort of thing also happens when TV and movie productions in Hollywood try to insert their own foreign language scenes, which sometimes end up coming off as awkward to native speakers.
Comparing K-dramas with Hollywood, Michaels said that K-dramas are “a welcome alternative”, and should continue to “stand on their own” and avoid becoming ‘westernised’.
“Unless otherwise asked, we are not playing westerners as we know them,” he added. “We are generally providing an interpretation of what a westerner is from the point of view of a different culture.
“For western viewers, there can be this kind of uncanny valley feeling that comes from that. But as an actor, unless I feel that it’s pointlessly abusive, it’s not my place to challenge a director’s view of my culture. And as a human being, I can learn from it.”
There’s been no word yet on a second season, but creator Hwang Dong-hyuk appears to be open to the idea of a sequel after seeing how incredibly popular the survival drama turned out.
“I was so tired after finishing season 1, I couldn’t really think of season 2,” he previously said to IndieWire. “But now that it’s become such a hit, people would hate me if I don’t make a season 2, so I feel a lot of pressure and think I’d have to.”
Squid Game is streaming now on Netflix.