Korea wins Emmys for first time as 'Squid Game' dominates

Lee Jung-jae, winner of the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for ″Squid Game,″ left, and Hwang Dong-hyuk, winner of the Emmy for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for ″Squid Game,″ pose for the photos w

Korea's cultural rise and its place on the world stage were reaffirmed Sunday in Los Angeles when two Koreans became the first from the country to win Primetime Emmy Awards.

The victories came just over two years after "Parasite" (2019) won four Academy Awards and as K-pop dominates the global music scene.

Both Emmys were for "Squid Game" (2021). The outstanding directing for a drama series award went to Hwang Dong-hyuk, and the outstanding lead actor in a drama series award went to Lee Jung-jae.

Hwang won the award for his directing of "Squid Game," a Netflix Korea series in which Seong Gi-hun, portrayed by Lee, and 455 others play a series of deadly children's games to become the sole survivor and win 45.6 billion won ($34.8 million).

"Squid Game" received a total of 14 nomination.

In the 74-year history of the Emmys, no Korean has ever won an Emmy.

Lee You-mi won a Creative Arts Primetime Emmy Award for her role in "Squid Game." Creative Arts Emmys are for technical achievements, animation, commercials and guest actors. "Squid Game" won three other Creative Arts Emmys.

"I want to thank the TV Academy for this honor, and also huge thanks to Netflix, Ted Sarandos — I mentioned your name, okay?" Hwang said, speaking in English, quickly saying before the speech that he couldn't have his translator at his side due to time constraints.

"I truly hope 'Squid Game' won't be the last non-English series to be here at the Emmys, and I also hope this won't be my last Emmy either. I'll be back with season 2. Thank you!"

Other nominees in the category were Jesse Armstrong for HBO's "Succession," Dan Erickson for Apple TV+'s "Severance," Ashley Lyle, Bart Nickerson and Jonathan Lisco for Showtime's "Yellowjackets," and Chris Mundy for Netflix's "Ozark."

Lee won for his portrayal of Gi-hun. Lee beat Jason Bateman for "Ozark," Brian Cox and Jeremy Strong for "Succession," and Bob Odenkirk for AMC's "Better Call Saul."

From left, actors Oh Young-soo, Jung Ho-yeon, director Hwang Dong-hyuk, CEO Kim Ji-yeon of Siren Pictures, actors Lee Jung-jae and Park Hae-soo pose for the photos at the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards on Monday at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. [

In his acceptance speech, Lee thanked Hwang for his creative portrayal and critique of socioeconomic inequality, and most of all, warmly thanked his loved ones in Korea.

"To everyone watching from Korea, my dearest fans, friends and family who have always supported me, I want to share this joy with you," he said.

Lee, who dominated the small and silver screens with larger-than-life characters before "Squid Game," completely altered his image by portraying an indecisive, middle-aged man with an addiction to gambling and unable to provide for his family.

The Korean audiences, who were familiar with Lee's work, marveled at the actor's portrayal of desperation in the film as he crouches in a playground, wearing a green training suit and licking frantically at dalgona (melted sugar candy) in one of the twisted children's games.

Lee has already taken home various accolades for his performance in "Squid Game," such as a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Critics' Choice Award and a Film Independent Spirit Award.

The Emmy Awards, hosted by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, is one of four major American awards. The Emmys recognize excellence in the performing arts and entertainment in television and on streaming services, the Grammys music, the Oscars film and the Tonys theatre.

'Squid Game' earned a total of 14 nominations, the most ever for a foreign-language show. In the Creative Arts Primetime Emmy Awards, the show won a total of four awards. The outstanding guest actress award in the drama category for actor went to Lee You-mi. She portrayed Ji-yeong, Player No. 240, a young woman who has a traumatic past and befriends Sae-byeok, portrayed by Jung Ho-yeon, during the Squid Game.

Also in the Creative Arts Emmys, Chae Kyoung-sun, Gim En-jee, and Kim Jeong-gon won in the outstanding production design for a narrative contemporary program category for their work on "Squid Game."

"Squid Game" also won an outstanding special visual effects in a single episode award and an outstanding stunt performance award.

Lee Jung-jae, left, and and Jung Ho-yeon present the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series at the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards on Monday at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. [AP/YONHAP]

Since its release last September, "Squid Game" remains the most-watched Netflix series, with 1 billion views just 28 days after its release.

As Hwang hinted at his speech, he revealed at the backstage interview after the award ceremony that he was "halfway done" writing Season 2.

"I just finished writing episode 6, so it's kind of like halfway done," Hwang said, adding that the biggest difference is the character Gi-hun. "He's a different guy from Season 1. He's going for revenge, so he's not going to be as loose as Season 1."

According to a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Hwang is writing the script on Jeju Island. His deadline for the script is early next year.

Hwang has said that Season 2 of "Squid Game" will premiere on Halloween, 2024.