The land of K-drama just introduced a new superhero. She can’t fly, she has no super strength and she dresses dowdily. But she’s the only one who stands in the way of teenager-devouring jelly monsters.
Meet Nurse Ahn Eun-young. Her weapons of choice are a rainbow sword and BB gun and Netflix’s “The School Nurse Files” tells her story. It is based on the novel written by fantasy author Chung Se-rang.
“I’ve always wanted to visit the Philippines, but my work will reach the country before I do. I wish everyone in the Philippines good health and safe and bright days ahead,” she said to Super K. You can read more about Chung and her inspiration for the novel on the Inquirer Super website (inquirersuper.com.ph)
The titular role is played by Jung Yu-mi (“Train to Busan,” “Kim Ji-young: Born 1982”). She is Chung’s first choice to play the role. Jung talked about what it was like to have strange weapons for a superhero during the virtual press conference held on YouTube.
“When I first saw the weapons or tools I was a little baffled. At first, it was unfamiliar, but once I started filming, I felt that it was [the role] for me,” Jung said. Her character Eun-young protects the students of their school by beating the jellies. The jellies are the manifestations of the emotions of human beings. They can be good or bad, depending on the source. It’s an exhausting work especially since her only superpower is that she can see them.
That’s why the presence of Hong In-pyo brings so much relief for her. In-pyo’s superpower is to charge up an exhausted Eun-young. The role is played by Nam Joo-hyuk (“Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo,” “Bride of Ha-baek”).
“So this character Hong In-pyo after he realizes that he can power up another person, he became a new person. I think this is a unique quality to power up another person,” Nam said.
On the speed In-pyo accepted his fate as a power charger, writer Chung said that “as a classical Chinese teacher, In-pyo is well-versed in the fantasy literature from Asia. That’s why I think he adapted to the situation so quickly.”
Chung suggested that while Eun-young and In-pyo are perfect partners, her heroine could as easily find a partner in Filipino folktales and classic literature. “I think Nam Joo-hyuk beautifully portrayed a character who is both traditional and adaptable. I hope you enjoy the playfulness of the series where people casually transition into another world.”
Series director and cowriter Lee Kyoung-mi said during the Zoom interview with Super K that she was surprised to find out that someone as good-looking like Nam can also be funny at the same time. She said that Joo-hyuk added something to the screenplay to make the character his own.
Curiosity and fear
All the lives of the characters revolve around the jellies. The good one were given cute aesthetics while the bad ones were deliberately made to look disgusting but not too much that would put a lot of viewers off. Lee discusses the process.
“For the harmful jellies, I wanted to invoke a sort of fear and curiosity by using particular phobias that people had. For example, the phobia of the many holes or the circles,” she said. Trypophobia is defined as an aversion to clusters of small holes and bumps. The jelly on the first episode has qualities that could trigger this.
Jung said that it was not a problem acting with an unseen adversary. She said that part of the direction she received from director Lee Kyoung-mi is the description of the jellies that she has to defeat.
The actress said that she has always dreamed of doing an action film or project as a child after seeing “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” But “The School Nurse Files” is a completely new kind of action that she got to experience.
“It is a different kind of action. It could be something that others can dream of doing,” she said.
Director Lee could pinpoint the exact moment Jung hit the bullseye in performing Eun-young. It was on the first episode and she discovered that In-pyo could recharge her.
“Eun-young experiences being charged through In-pyo for the very first time. The way she (Jung) expressed her happiness when she realized she could be recharged through In-pyo. I felt that was the face of Eun-young,” Lee said. “So from then on until now we decided to really push forward with that particular expression because it captures Eun-young so well.”
This is a drama that empowers women. The lead character is a strong, independent woman who does not need a man. Friends, yes, whatever gender they may come. But even without a lover, she’d go on adventures on her own.
The director is a woman. Lee brings to life a fictional story of a woman written by another woman. To have a female director at the helm of a K-drama is very unusual. Female creatives are often delegated to do the screenplay or the job of an assistant director. So having a series shown on a platform like Netflix could possibly open doors for more female storytellers.
“I would say the biggest inconvenience would be that I am not given a lot of proposals to direct at all,” Lee said. “And the reason for that would be because the stories that are currently being developed have male leads. Most of them deal with the world of men. And so, for stories like these, I am way behind in line in terms of the number of the list of directors they would contact.”
She said that writing scripts was her way of saving herself. Lee added that perhaps this is the reason “why a lot of my female characters are very angry.” When she hears criticism that her characters are not likable and lack “this and that,” she chooses to ignore them. To her, all her characters look very cool.
Lee said that when she creates a female character, she makes them very loyal to their inner desires. It doesn’t matter if those desires are not ethically correct, as long as she is true to her feelings.
The director revealed that her favorite character in the series is Baek Hye-min. She is not human and her sole purpose is to eat jelly bugs to save the world.
“I am particularly fond of the character Baek Hye-min because she and Eun-young mirror each other,” she said.
Lee also talked about how she chose the scenes from the novel that she would use in the drama. She said that the novel that Chung wrote is bubbly and all-around happy. However, she dwelled on the story of death and the disappearances of people from the world. They were in the background but she chose to focus on it in the series.
“To me, Eun-young is a character who walks the very thin line between the world of reality and the imagined world. She is both the school nurse and a lonely killer,” she said. “You might notice in the novel when Ahn Eun-young speaks of death. She speaks of it in a very composed manner. That is because she has always been a killer that had to kill jellies.”
“The School Nurse Files” is now streaming on Netflix.