Netflix's new survival drama 'The 8 Show' poses a different type of 'Squid Game'

The cast of Netflix's ″The 8 Show″ poses for cameras during a press conference at the Ambassador Seoul - A Pullman Hotel in Jung District, central Seoul, on Friday. From left are actors Ryu Jun-yeol, Lee Yul-eum, Park Hae-joon, Chun Woo-hee, Park Jeong-min, Bae Seong-woo, Moon Jeong-hee and Lee Zoo-young. [NETFLIX]

Actor Ryu Jun-yeol plays an average man who receives the rare opportunity to earn money merely with the passing of time — precisely, he gets an additional 30,000 won ($21) every minute. All he has to do is to take part in a simple survival game with seven others and stick to a few rules, like staying in his room during the night. In the end, he can walk out as a happy man with his entire prize money and a new life.

That is, as long as nobody dies.

“The 8 Show,” a thriller dark comedy, is loosely based on the Naver webtoons “Money Game” (2018-20) and its sequel “Pie Game” (2020-21) by cartoonist Bae Jin-soo. Though it may resemble other survival game shows like “Squid Game” (2021) upon first glance, the show differs from others in that money automatically piles up proportionally to time and that the participants all must stay alive. These features are what intrigued showrunner Han Jae-rim.

A still from Netflix's ″The 8 Show″ [NETFLIX]
Showrunner Han Jae-rim who helmed Netflix's ″The 8 Show″ [NETFLIX]

He calls “The 8 Show” a “tragicomedy,” as viewers embark on a deep dive into the consequences that the characters face when they are forced to cooperate inside a mysterious eight-story building.

“Everyone has to stay together, whether they like it or not,” Han said during a press conference for the upcoming Netflix series at the Ambassador Seoul - A Pullman Hotel in Jung District, central Seoul, on Friday. “The show presents the most primal human instinct of insatiable desire.”

Han was present along with main cast members Ryu, Chun Woo-hee, Park Jeong-min, Lee Yul-eum, Park Hae-joon, Lee Zoo-young, Moon Jeong-hee and Bae Seong-woo. Each actor’s character lives on one of the eight floors and are referred to in the show by their floor number.

Ryu’s character is introduced as the narrator of “The 8 Show” and functions as the “most relatable” among the contestants. He chooses the third floor, symbolizing his middle ground stance and pursuit for normality.

A still from Netflix's ″The 8 Show″ [NETFLIX]

The rest of the seven characters are all unlike each other, from a peacemaker and a brain to an opportunist and a man with a limp. Their differences result in bickering and conflicting opinions, which begin their descent into chaos. Jealousy rises as everyone finds out that the earning rate and size of the rooms are distributed differently according to each player’s floor. For example, the eighth-floor contestant earns the most and has the largest room.

Played by Chun, this character is impulsive and reckless, prioritizing pleasure above all. This becomes a problem when she’s also the most unpredictable, the actor said.

Park Jeong-min’s seventh-floor contestant, the “intellect,” becomes “unhinged” when his moral standards start to clash with the essence of the game.

A still from Netflix's ″The 8 Show″ [NETFLIX]

“The 8 Show” marks Han’s small screen directorial debut, after helming films “Rules of Dating” (2005), “The Face Reader” (2013), “The King” (2017) and “Emergency Declaration” (2022). But he’s brought back actors that he’s already worked with in the past, like Ryu and Bae from “The King” and Park Hae-joon from “Emergency Declaration.”

It was important that Han made sure the storyline's progression and transitions were quick and straightforward to keep viewers in their seats, eager to watch the next episode — a different approach from when he directed films.

“Because series tend to be longer than movies, it was easier to highlight each of the eight characters three-dimensionally,” he said. He would end every episode with an action done by a particular character, which would directly stretch into the next one. The opening sequences for all eight episodes have been separately customized to delve into each character as well.

“So, despite Ryu’s character being the narrator, the audience can equally immerse themselves into any of their favorite characters,” Han said.

A still from Netflix's ″The 8 Show″ [NETFLIX]

For several months, the cast and production crew were crammed into the same plaza setting that includes a fake swimming pool, a fake merry-go-round and a fake ice-cream store. Even the uniforms the characters had to wear had fake, printed-on neckties and pockets.

The theme surrounding all the fakeness alludes to heightening the contestants' desire for consumption and to encourage them to want to leave the game once and for all. But the only way to do so is for someone to die.

The premise of “The 8 Show” wasn’t the only thing that kept reporters on the edge of their seats that day. The press conference was also a spectacle, with apologies and statements from the actors and director — regarding their own private lives.

At one point, Bae stood up from his seat and apologized for “causing trouble” to his crew and staff for drunk driving in 2020. It’s only recently that he’s returned to acting after a lengthy hiatus, with him landing his first major role with “The 8 Show” since the incident.

“I know I’ve been a burden to my co-workers,” he said. “But I did my best for my part in this show to sincerely be less of a burden.”

Even showrunner Han was embroiled in a rumor last August when he was accused of dating one of the actors on set, Lee Yul-eum, who plays the fourth-floor character.

It took him almost a year to finally speak out, denying that they were ever romantically linked.

“She’s a very passionate actor and we just became very close because we were frequently discussing her role while filming,” he said, with Lee sitting at the opposite side of the stage from him.

A still from Netflix's ″The 8 Show″ [NETFLIX]

Ryu mentioned spending a lot of time “reflecting” on himself after he was accused of two-timing on ex-girlfriend, actor Hyeri, when dating actor Han So-hee, and was called a greenwasher for playing golf while also being an ambassador for Greenpeace.

But despite the adversity, the show's cast members are tight-knit, almost like a family, as opposed to the characters that they play.

“It really seemed like we were actually inside the survival game, and we’ve relied on each other like brothers and sisters,” Lee Zoo-young said.

“The 8 Show” premieres on Netflix on May 17.