In the violent, competition-driven world of Hwang Dong Hyuk’s Squid Game, great performances are a combination of a talented cast and a skilled stunt team. The series’ premise highlights the animalistic nature of mankind in the face of survival-at-any-cost, and that violent nature is portrayed realistically with the guidance of talented stunt coordinator Park Young-Sick.
“When the movement and the emotion come together, that renders the best result,” says Young-Sick on balancing performance and choreography. Young-Sick worked closely with Squid Game director and creator Hwang Dong Hyuk, defining the the visual aesthetic for so much the series and its individual characters.
Young-Sick started with a deep passion for sports, which naturally led him to down a path that began as a stunt double and evolved into his current career as a stunt coordinator. His passion, work ethic, and sheer understanding of movement are what makes him a standout member of the team behind Netflix’s most viewed show of all time.
Young-Sick spoke to Awards Focus about his experience training the cast of Squid Game, finding the marriage between the director’s vision and his own, and understanding the life-changing effect the series has had on his life.
Awards Focus: Every aspect of stunt work is high intensity, high strain, and incredibly demanding on the body. Can you walk me through how you turned your passion into a highly decorated career?
Park Young-Sick: I have worked in this field for quite some time. In my early days I started playing sports which was a stepping stone into my stunt career. Back in 2003, I was a stunt double for the Hong Kong actor Tommy Long. Following that, I came back to Korea to continue my stunt career. I found opportunities that allowed me to become a stunt coordinator on many different projects with some exceptionally compelling scripts. It is a blessing to be able to work consistently without any breaks. The project that I was most honored to be a part of and most successful is Squid Game.
AF: How did the show’s budget and schedule affect your choices as stunt coordinator?
Young Sick: We start off our planning knowing our budget in advance. In most cases we conduct our stunts according to our plan. However, if there are inevitable circumstances, sometimes I have to reduce the amount of stunts I have prepared or I have to adjust some of the action scenes that I have prepared on sight.
In those cases, I focus on what is happening in real time and I discuss those details with my teammates to ensure we bring out the optimal outcome even when there are unexpected developments to the scene we’re shooting. I would say it’s not so much about the budget but the inevitable circumstances such as the weather that changes our preparations.
AF: In cases where an actor cannot be cleared for a stunt, how do you work with the camera operator and director of photography to sell the stunt performer’s performance as the actor?
Young Sick: With Squid Game we did not encounter this issue as much as with other projects. In other projects, there are circumstances where the post production CGI would have to switch the face of the actor using their technology.
In Squid Game, we did not use many stunt doubles because there were not many action scenes that were too difficult for the actors to pull off.
In this case, the actors are willing to perform the stunts themselves. For other projects, when there is a stunt double we would be working with some layers to ensure that the double’s face is not shown.
There are so many ways to ensure that the stunt double’s performance looks like the actor’s on screen so I cannot tell you every detail but I work very hard to adjust what is visible to the camera and the audience.
AF: What was the most challenging and consequently the most rewarding moment for you working with Hwang Dong Hyuk?
Young Sick: Honestly I enjoyed every moment working with director Hwang. He is very meticulous and detailed. He would ask why an actor would fall in this kind of way during a specific fight scene and he would dive into the little details of that action.
As a stunt coordinator, I tend to think more in a way that is movement and action oriented while our director would focus on the emotional side. So when the movement and the emotion come together, that renders the best result. That is why I truly enjoyed working with him.
AF: The finale is epic in every sense of the word, from the plot reveals to the action, and incredible stunt work. How are you preparing for the demands of the finale while also knocking out prior episodes throughout the season?
Young Sick: That was a scene where a lot of video based storyboarding had to take place and we went into the shoot with absolute perfect preparation. We actually had to think about whether the game would be prioritized or the fight.
Director Hwang thought since the last game required for the two finalists to kill each other, we could focus more on the fighting aspect of the scene. Based on his comments, we went about two rounds of video storyboarding and found the optimal sequence. Although this does not happen often, the scene was shot identical to the way it was prepared.
Director Hwang pointed to what should be the main focus of the scene and based on those main focuses that he made out to us, we are able to add some specific methods and ideas to build something together. It was truly an enjoyable and entertaining experience for me.
AF: It was great seeing the SAG Awards acknowledge the show’s performances at this year’s ceremony, and certainly your series is a big contender for the Emmy Awards. What emotions and feelings have you had during this monumental moment?Young Sick: Well I am standing at the center of it all and I am just feeling so excited… it almost feels unbearable. I am grateful and honored in every aspect. In Korea we do not have any big award ceremonies for stunt work and that is why I feel even more taken back. It makes me think, “Am I really being offered this award or are they just giving out the award without any reason?” I am thinking of all these random things because it was so surprising. So I just want to say that I am absolutely grateful for all the experiences I am having.