Warning: Contains spoilers
Netflix’s “Squid Game” has audiences captivated by the show’s take on childhood games with a deadly twist. As 456 players compete for the ultimate cash prize, police detective Hwang Jun-ho begins to unravel the sinister organization behind it all. The actor who plays him, Wi Ha-jun, is among many members of the show’s cast that have risen to global popularity along with the show.
Before “Squid Game” was released, Wi had roughly 300,000 followers on Instagram, a number that has now jumped to over 8.3 million. On TikTok, countless viral videos and photo montages of the actor have gone viral.
So who is Wi Ha-jun and where else might his new fanbase be able to find him?
Where he’s from
The show gives viewers a look into the islands surrounding the mainland of South Korea, one of which is home to Wi. Originally from Soando, a small island off the southern coast of the Korean peninsula, Wi left at 19 to pursue his acting career. The actor mentioned during his appearance in the variety show “Problem Child in House” that he had to learn to speak in a Seoul accent, which is considered a standard in the South Korean entertainment industry. He even revealed that he went one year without speaking to his friends from home in order to get rid of his natural accent.
From serial killer to detective
Wi debuted his career with the short film “Peace in Them” in 2012, according to South China Morning Post. He later found himself in the spotlight as the lead in the horror film “Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum” (2018). Since then, Wi has mostly been cast in supporting roles. In the 2019 drama “Romance is a Bonus Book,” Wi starred alongside Lee Jong-suk, another popular actor in South Korea. As newer fans online look for more of Wi’s previous acting credits, several clips featuring the actor’s performances have gone viral on TikTok, including this scene with Lee.
Earlier this year, Wi took on the role of a serial killer in “Midnight.” In an interview with Newsis, Wi said “Since I’ve played the villain role many times, I wanted to play a detective with a sense of justice, and I got that chance in ‘Squid Game.’”
Wi is currently filming another drama called “Bad and Crazy,” set to release later this year.
That one VIP scene
A clip of the scene where Wi’s character speaks English to the VIP character has gone viral on TikTok, with fans noting how pleasant the actor’s accent is in the show. But it turns out that Wi was rather nervous about delivering the lines in English.
“When I was shooting the VIP scene, one of the things I was concerned about was having to deliver lines in English,” he told Vulture. “It was the first time for me to do a scene with non-Korean actors on set, so I did a lot of preparation, and I was very grateful for my co-actor because he had great energy, and just went into it. He made the overall environment very lighthearted, so I was able to really get into the role and get into that emotional scene.”
On working with South Korea’s top actors
In a surprise twist of events, the character Jun-ho finds that the brother he came to the island to look for is the Front Man behind the operation all along. Many viewers were also shocked to find South Korean superstar Lee Byung-hun was behind the mask. On working with the legendary actor, Wi said, “I knew ahead of time that he would appear, but when I actually met him my heart kept on racing.” Wi noted how Lee would take care of him both on and off set, and said he hopes to be able to work with the actor again for the next season.
Wi shared his admiration for Lee Jung-jae, who plays Gi-hun, in an interview reported by Star News. “It’s unfortunate that we didn’t share many scenes that overlapped. But I’m very inspired to see him take on a role so different from what he’s used to and still manage to completely transform into the character.”
On his popularity
When asked about whether he notices how popular he’s become, he told Star Today, “I haven’t gone out much, so I can’t really tell. I do sense it on Instagram, with the number of followers, likes and messages that I get. I’m amazed by it everyday, it’s as though I’m dreaming.”
“I’m embarrassed but thankful for the responses telling me how sexy or cool I am [in the show]. In terms of acting, I’m glad that I haven’t received much hate for my performance,” he said, adding how surprised he was to find that people enjoyed the VIP scene so much.
He sees himself in Jun-ho
Wi revealed to Deadline that he was drawn to the script by the idea that his character would be able to observe things “from the eyes of an owl — as an outsider.” While Jun-ho is unlike some of the darker characters that Wi’s been associated with, the actor sees himself in the “Squid Game” character.
“I have quite a lot of similarities with Jun-ho. To start with, I have an older brother who is very friendly with me. I also put high value in the orders, rules and disciplines that are in this world. I was told often that I should become an officer, soldier or a legal practitioner,” he said.
While viewers get to see Jun-ho leave the island in a daunting escape, the scene was quite a challenge for Wi, who has a fear of water. “It took a lot of time to overcome that fear. I took quite a few swimming lessons to shoot that scene, but I was able to complete it well so I’m very happy about the outcome.”
Water sports aside, the actor, who landed the cover of Men’s Health Korea’s October edition, appears to be quite confident in his athletic abilities. In an interview following his photoshoot with the magazine, Wi said, “I’ve been doing weight training since the military. I usually go to the gym five days a week to exercise, but these days due to COVID-19 I mostly train at home.”
Fun fact: In a separate interview with the magazine, he revealed a nickname he goes by is “Tyrannosaurus” because, as he puts it, “I resemble a dinosaur.”
Wi’s role wouldn’t have existed if the show’s Director Hwang Hong-hyuk had stuck to the original screenplay as a film. While his character has become a fan-favorite from the show, where he stands for season two is still up in the air. Though many fans are convinced his character is still alive, the director hasn’t yet confirmed whether he’d be in the series, and it seems Wi doesn’t know either.
Wi told Vulture: “I’m also dying to find out. I haven’t heard anything, so I really want to know what happened. If there is to be a season two, and if Jun-ho is to return, then I personally hope we can look into his relationship with his brother, as well as what made his brother make these choices and led him to being there. That’s my personal wish.”
Featured Image via Netflix (left), @wi__wi__wi (right)