Simple, sweet and fatally fictional: The merchant who makes the traditional South Korean children’s treat featured in the global cultural phenomenon “Squid Game” – and once associated with post-war poverty – has landed a real jackpot.
Netflix’s hit series stars a group of South Korea’s most marginalized and most in debt, competing in children’s games for the chance of 45.6 billion won ($ 38 million), with deadly consequences.
In a particular challenge, contestants attempt to cut shapes, including a star and an umbrella, out of a crispy candy called a dalgona, without it cracking – and those who fail are killed.
The life or death game was inspired by the experience of director Hwang Dong-hyuk who grew up in Seoul in the 1970s: but then the prize for a child who managed to remove the form was another free dalgona. .
Hwang has always been determined to earn an extra treat and remembers using several tactics in his efforts, including licking the candy to loosen the shape and using a heated needle on briquettes – techniques repeated in the biting dalgona challenge scene. of the show.
“I would leave the dalgona maker extremely baffled if I pulled off the most difficult umbrella shape,” the director said in a YouTube video recently.
But the candy was a difficult prop to manage on set as it softens easily, especially during the wet rainy season in South Korea, so Hwang and art director Chae Kyung-sun hired “dalgona experts” to that the candies are freshly made on site.
These specialists were Lim Chang-joo and his wife Jung Jung-soon, who produced between 300 and 400 dalgonas in three days of filming.
Today, their modest roadside booth in Seoul’s theater district – little more than an umbrella, awning, and their gear – is one of the hottest places in the South Korean capital.
Orders for 2,000 won (about $ 1.70) candy start to pile up as soon as they open, and before long, customers have to wait six hours, some giving up and leaving empty-handed.
In about 90 seconds, Lim melts a single serving of sugar over a burner, before adding baking soda, flattening it into a circle, and perforating it with the customer’s favorite shape.
It offers a wider range of choices than the four forms in the series – and recently added an “N” for Netflix.
“I never imagined it would get so popular,” Lim told AFP of the series, adding that his life has now become “super hectic.”
“Of course I’m happy because my business is doing well and dalgona has become famous in other countries.
“I hope they make and eat their own dalgonas,” he added.
– Financial crisis –
Historians say dalgona first appeared in the 1960s, when the South was still beset by post-war poverty when desserts – like ice cream or chocolates – were not widely available. available and prohibitively priced.
Very sweet, with hints of nuts and bitterness, the candy was extremely popular, with many vendors setting up their stalls near schools.
Lim and Jung started their dalgona operation with 30,000 won after shutting down their 20-year-old sewing business during the Asian financial crisis of 1997.
The candy endured throughout the South’s rise to become the 12th largest economy in the world, after decades of rapid economic growth during the postwar authoritarian rule.
And “Squid Game” is the latest manifestation of the country’s ever-growing influence in popular culture, embodied by K-pop sensation BTS and the Oscar-winning film “Parasite”.
“South Korea has always been at the crossroads of modern and pre-modern, Western and Eastern tools, and preserves the past while sacrificing everything for the future,” said Michael Hurt, who teaches cultural theory at the University. National Arts of Korea. .
“Dalgona is a nexus element in a nexus culture. “
© 2021 AFP