Jung Jae-il (‘Squid Game’ composer) on the critical ‘role that music should play in a scene’ [Exclusive Video Interview]

“That is the role that music should play in a scene,” declares acclaimed Korean composer Jung Jae-il (“Parasite”) about the role of a composer on a series like the Netflix blockbuster “Squid Game,” on which he juxtaposes the mood of each scene with a variety of musical styles, from bombastic percussion, to distorted synth-rock, to mellifluous orchestral pieces. For our recent webchat, he adds that “the music should not be in the foreground of the scene, but at the same time, music can show something completely different to the scene.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.

“Squid Game” was conceived by acclaimed feature writer/director Hwang Dong-hyuk, who not only created and produced “Squid Game” but also wrote and directed all nine episodes. The series stars leading man Lee Jung-jae as central hero Gi-hun, Jung Ho-yeon as the mysterious North Korean refugee Sae-byeok, Park Hae-soo as the calculating Sang-woo, Wi Ha-jun as undercover cop Jun-ho, Heo Sung-tae as the villainous Deok-su, recent Golden Globe winner O Yeong-su as old man Il-nam, Lee Yoo-mi as the stoic Ji-yeong, Anupam Tripathi as lovable migrant Ali and Kim Joo-ryoung as the delightfully unhinged Mi-nyeo.

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The global phenomenon centers on a group of people who have hit rock bottom, who each receive mysterious invitations to join a dangerous life-or-death version of their childhood games in order to win a cash prize of 45.6 billion won (equivalent to about 38 million US dollars). The games depicted on “Squid Game” are adapted from traditional Korean children’s games, but in this dystopian fable, if and when you lose a game, you die. The show sets up this riveting roller-coaster ride for audiences, who are kept guessing throughout each nail-biting episode who will be the winner and what is the purpose behind the deadly competition, with the 456 participants eventually culled to a lucky few who remain to play the final game in the season finale. Netflix premiered all nine episodes of the South Korean thriller on September 17 of last year, after which it became a word-of-mouth sensation and the streaming giant’s most popular series launch ever, topping Netflix charts in over 80 countries. Director Hwang is now writing the show’s second season, perhaps one of the most highly anticipated follow ups in years.

After all of its commercial success, “Squid Game” looks set to likely dominate at the Emmys when nominations are announced in July, following its three surprise wins at the 2022 Screen Actors Guild Awards, where Lee won Best Drama Actor, Jung won Best Drama Actress and the series’ stunt crew took home the stunt ensemble prize.

Jung, who collaborated with composers Kim Sung-soo (otherwise known as 23) and Park Min Ju on the score, has also joined the winner’s circle, having scored two nominations at the 12th Hollywood Music in Media Awards in November last year, for TV Show/Limited Series Original Score and TV Show Main Title Theme, winning the Original Score category against impressive competition including Christophe Beck (“WandaVision”), Nathan Barr (“Halston”), Natalie Holt (“Loki”) and Carter Burwell (“The Morning Show”). “I didn’t expect that at all,” he humbly admits, adding that “there were so many excellent and amazing works that were competing against mine.”

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