Director Lee Kyoung-mi transforms original content into her own style
Original series “The School Nurse Files,” starring actors Jung Yu-mi and Nam Joo-hyuk, shot onto Netflix’s Top 10 list after its release on Sept. 25 and remains in the No. 2 spot today.
Adapted from the novel “School Nurse Ahn Eun-young” by popular sci-fi and fantasy writer Chung Se-rang, the story — which is about an eccentric school nurse and exorcist Eun-young battling jelly-like substances that only she can see —already had a wide fandom.
Anticipation was high about how these “jellies” would be imagined on screen—and fans were curious to see how director Lee Kyoung-mi, who took the helm of the series, would portray the narrative of the original novel.
Lee, whose directorial debut came in 2008 through the feature film “Crush and Blush,” is known for her distinct narrative style which has been called both refreshing and bizarre. A consensus reached by audiences is that her style deviates far from conventional storytelling methods.
While she had some experience working with Netflix when she directed the “Love Set” episode of the four-part original series “Persona,” “The School Nurse Files” is her first official content on Netflix that's available to audiences in over 190 countries.
“It is a very new and exciting experience for me,” Lee said in an online press interview on Monday. “In films, the fate of the film lies on what kind of reviews it gets from the press screening—the reviews certainly impact box office sales a lot, so I would get nervous around that period—but it was very pleasant before the series was released on Netflix. There’s no process for it—the series is simultaneously released globally and the thought of meeting a diverse range of audiences [over the platform] was very exciting.”
Over the course of the interview, Lee talked about what message she wanted to portray to the global audience and how she infused the plot from the novel into the series. The following are edited excerpts.
I thought the main character had the potential to be turned into a heroine and decided to set the first season as a prequel of the story. I told Chung that despite the book’s overall bright and warm atmosphere, I also saw that it covers stories on life and death, and I wanted to focus on those.
After those two points were cleared, if Eun-young was to develop into a heroine, she needs ground for her own narrative—about her obstacles, hardships and struggles, and I redistributed the characters and episodes into a timeline.
I think that’s one of the biggest differences from the novel, the fact that Eun-young struggles to find the significance in her existence [and her abilities]. Also in the book, what the characters feel or think is expressed in words, but if I were to visualize that, I couldn’t explain them all in narration or monologues, so I contemplated over how I could convey the atmosphere using colors, screen tone and CGI technology.
What I also felt while reading the book was that Eun-young is someone who’s in between two worlds—she lives in the real world but there’s also this other surreal world that only she can see. I thought of her mission as being similar to that of a lonely killer—she has to take care of the presence that’s only visible to her to protect the real world. I wanted to approach Eun-young as not a ready-made heroine, but as a person on a journey to get there by asking questions about her being, and focus on her choices to see how she ventures ahead.
Like Chung wrote, they were remnants of people’s desires and how they are manifested differently into [shapes, colors and sizes]. In the design process I wanted them to be creatures that bring about two opposite feelings when seeing them. [In one way] they are cute, but I also wanted them to feel gross. They may be soft and cute, but they are not an all-friendly presence.
As for my experience working with Netflix—everything was a first for me. I’ve never done seasonal content, or used so much CGI technology, or worked on a script that is based on an original work. It was difficult, but one of the reasons I decided to take on this project was that the cultural trend is changing and if this is something that everyone has to go through, I thought it would be best to experience it as quickly as possible. All in all, it was hard, but I enjoyed it immensely.
Most people say that if you can’t avoid it, enjoy it, but since then I came to the clear realization that there are things that you just have to cope with. That led me to write that dialogue—at the end of the sixth episode when Eun-young breaks down sobbing after she realizes that her powers were back. It's similar to how I felt as I decided to take on this project again. So that scene is also special to me.
BY LEE JAE-LIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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