New Netflix series hopes for same success as its webtoon namesake
2020 has been a major disappointment for many movie lovers with most of the highly anticipated films of the year pushing back their premiere dates due to the coronavirus pandemic. But Netflix is offering those in need of some at-home entertainment a chance to quell their boredom with the release of a new original series titled “Sweet Home,” which is set to hit screens on Friday.
“Sweet Home,” based on the mega-popular Naver webtoon with the same title, which accumulated more than 500 million views, was visualized for the screen by star producer-turned-director Lee Eung-bok, who took the helm of other drama series which enjoy global fame such as “Guardian’ (2016-2017) and “Mr. Sunshine” (2018) on tvN and “Descendants of the Sun” (2016) on KBS.
“Sweet Home” centers around Hyun-su, a recluse and an outcast cut off from the rest of the world, who loses his family in an accident and moves into the ancient apartment building “Green Home.” He decides to take his own life, but before he can do that he finds himself in the midst of an apocalypse in which people turn into horrific monsters based on their greatest desires.
“What stimulated me was that a boy who wanted to commit suicide turns into a monster to save the world,” Lee said at an online press event for the series on Wednesday. “Hyun-su reminds me of actor Johnny Depp from 'Edward Scissorhands' — an image of someone who has a pure and innocent soul but is holding a spear in his hand.”
Hyun-su is played by actor Song Kang, who also immensely enjoyed the original webtoon, and admitted that he was pressured to portray a character based on content that already has a wide fandom.
“To put it simply, I categorized Hyun-su as having two different sides,” he said. “I drew out my innermost introvert to depict [normal] Hyun-su. As for the hallucinating Hyun-su [while he is turning into a monster], I tried to bring the darkest and most evil side of me to the surface.”
Fans of the webtoon expressed their anticipation for the series after trailers were released online last week, commenting how the visualization of the characters and the monsters closely resembled the webtoon. As Hyun-su faces the monsters, he must work together with the rest of the residents of Green Home to survive. The residents were portrayed by actors such as Lee Jin-uk, Lee Do-hyun, Kim Nam-hee, Ko Min-si, Park Kyu-young and Go Youn-jung.
Actor Lee Si-young took on a new character not seen in the original story, who was added to distinguish the screen project from the webtoon.
Lee portrays Seo Yi-kyung, a former firefighter and an ex-agent of special forces who is said to be a valued member of the residents as they fight for survival, each with their own weapon of choice.
“When I first met the director he said that he wanted to add a female character who can pull off really cool action scenes,” Lee said.
The actor is said to have started training six months prior to shooting to build up her body.
“There are action scenes in which I am in my underwear, so my outward appearance and how in shape I was physically was considerably [more] important [than for other projects],” Lee said.
The actor said that she felt a sense of catharsis while portraying a strong character.
“I think we wanted to say that even in the face of an apocalypse, weak beings can make it through the crisis for the people they want to protect,” she said. “And to have a female who is usually considered weak overcome a crisis with her toughness can move an audience.
Actor Park Kyu-young who portrays Ji-su, who also left a strong impression on Netflix users with her role in another original series “Extracurricular” earlier this year, said that she still cannot forget the day of her audition.
“If I was going to feature in ‘Sweet Home’ I dared to hope that I could be Ji-su,” she said. “Actually, in the audition I didn’t really have high hopes that I would be picked, but as soon as I left the audition set, the director called me and said to leave with a script. That memory is still very vivid for me.”
Actor Lee Do-hyun said that he was drawn to the moral element of the story.
“Yes, the story is really gory and creepy, but I think the series is meaningful in the sense that it has morals. I think this will become a chance for viewers to chew over what human desire means.”
Although it’s a local project, experts around the globe—such as studios specializing in special effects like Legacy Effects, Spectral Motion and VFX Studio Westworld, who participated in visualizing some of the most popular Hollywood projects such as HBO series “Game of Thrones” and Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” put their heads together to create the monstrous creatures.
Top choreographers Troy James and Kim Seol-jin participated in depicting the creatures’ movements through motion capture.
According to director Lee, almost every take of the 10 episodes is plastered with CGI technologies and it is said that it took him a year and a half to complete the looks of the monsters. He put forth all his effort because he did not want to “disappoint the fans of the original webtoon.”
For the director, there were many firsts that came with this series: It’s his first Netflix project, and a genre that deviates from his usual stories which put focus on romantic relationships, and also his first time working with many of the younger rookie actors. Due to the series’ reliance on up-to-date CGI technologies, “Sweet Home” may be one of the most costly Netflix projects to be made in Korea. The total production cost is estimated to be around 29 billion won ($26.5 million). Lee says he hopes it's worth it.
“To be honest, as you know ‘Sweet Home’ was a really expensive project,” Lee said. “And it’s something that’s never been tried before in Korea, so there were risks involved such as whether or not people will enjoy this kind of content, and we [did] make mistakes since it was our first time.
“But I think Netflix supports a different value system rather than just regarding economical efficiency,” he continued. “Which is why a series such as ‘Sweet Home’ can be brought to screen. I think if our series does well, it can become a positive stimulus for other creators in the industry and bring about a constructive competitiveness in which more entertaining content is produced.”
BY LEE JAE-LIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]