It’s been described by critics as “bonkers” (EW) with parallels to Squid Game (NYT), and the dark, binge-worthy disaster series earned high praise from audiences at Cannes Series, the TV equivalent of the Cannes Film Festival.
Bargain begins with a group of strangers who have gathered at a mysterious remote motel. The men have been lured there thinking they it’s a brothel, only to discover they’ve been trapped into an organ trafficking ring. When an earthquake traps them all inside the building, and with no one to trust, they each have to figure out how to survive in their own way.
Watercooler’s Felipe Patterson sat down with the showrunner Woo-sung Jeon during the Toronto Film Festival to ask him about how the series evolved from his short film, what viewers might miss, and what he recommends from his own watchlists — including from his childhood.
Felipe Patterson: Bargain explores some unique themes and concepts. Can you share what drew you to these themes?
Woo-sung Jeon: In short, it is a survival game between truth and lies.
Felipe: Is there any subtext or undercurrents that people might overlook?
Woo-sung Jeon: I really tried to explore the Korean capitalistic society in this series, and if you don’t know the Korean economic system, there might be some things that you will miss. But I also put a lot of metaphors that the audience can see. For example, you have ups and downs throughout the series for the characters, there are different doors one person can enter and the other person cannot. So, hopefully those are the little metaphors the audience can pick up.
Felipe: Can you explain the relationship of the characters Noh and Park Joo Young?
Woo-sung Jeon: These are two people who have never met before and don’t know anything about each other. Due to this unexpected incident, they form a partnership, but at the same time, they’re constantly lying to each other and trying to figure out a way to survive the situation.
Felipe: This is intended to be a drama, but there are some comedic moments in the series. How do you find a balance between drama and comedy?
Woo-Sung Jeon: As for me, I try my best to put in as much comedy as I can in a drama that keeps a straight line. Because I don’t think comedy itself always ruins the tone. I mean, drama is really the base of the series. It’s a little bit of elements of comedy thrown in, and I didn’t really have a big tonal shift change, but I also wanted to get some laughs out of the audience when we could.
Felipe: For people who want to go deeper, can you think of any films or shows with similar characters/themes that they may want to watch after seeing Bargain?
Woo-Sung Jeon: So recently, I recommended a Korean show called Mask Girl that’s on Netflix and a Japanese drama called Gannibal. So those two I recommend to watch.
Felipe: Are there any films or shows you watched to get you in the headspace for this series?
Woo-Sung Jeon: So I did watch a lot of films with a similar concept, and out of the films I was inspired mainly by, I would say the best of them would be 1917 by director Sam Mendes.
Felipe: What movies or shows had a big impact on you growing up?
Woo-Sung Jeon: Some films that have impacted me are 3 Women, directed by Robert Altman, and Vengeance Is Mine, directed by Shôhei Imamura.
Bargain is now streaming on Paramount+. Created by Seung-Min Byun, Bargain was directed by Woo-Sung Jeon and co-written by Woo-Sun, Byeong-Yun Choi, and Jae-Min Kwak. Photos: Courtesy of TVING Co/Paramount+.