K-zombies set to lurch into school in new Netflix series
K-zombies have taken over the Korean Peninsula from hijacking a KTX train headed to Busan, laying claim to an apartment complex and even in the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). But for the first time, K-zombies are going to be wreaking havoc on a school.
The highly-anticipated Netflix Korea’s zombie horror “All of Us Are Dead” sees high school students battle the bloodthirsty creatures in their isolated school.
The series is the first of 25 projects that Netflix Korea has lined up for release this year. After trailers for show dropped earlier this month, there has been much talk surrounding the soon-to-be-released zombie series.
Firstly, “All of Us Are Dead” is R-rated, raising anticipation among die-hard gore fans. It is also adapted from the immensely popular webtoon “Now at Our School” by the cartoonist Joo Dong-geun, which was published on Naver from 2009 to 2011. The webtoon is deemed to have set the benchmark for the K-zombie genre, way before director Yeon Sang-ho’s “Train to Busan” (2016) earned praise from audiences across the globe.
Before the series was picked up by Netflix, cartoonist Joo revealed that he started the webtoon because he wanted to “create a zombie narrative that conformed to local sentiments” and he always had the hope that his work would be adapted for the screen. However, Joo said he did not participate in any of the creative process for the Netflix series, deciding that it was best to leave it up to the producers.
At an online press event introducing Netflix Korea’s line-up for 2022, vice president of Netflix Korea Kang Dong-han personally chose “All of Us Are Dead” as a series he was particularly confident about.
“Personally for me, one of the highly anticipated series is zombie thriller ‘All of Us Are Dead’ which will be released on Jan. 28,” he said last week. “A lot of people have asked us how we could possibly create more stories with zombies, but we can recommend this series with confidence after seeing the final results. Our story is very distinguishable [from other prior zombie narratives] in the sense that it’s the young students secluded in a school that have to fight the zombies. The narrative has been established in a way that includes some highly-distinctive local sentiments.”
“All of Us Are Dead” takes place at an isolated high school when one of the students, as seen in the trailer, is bitten by a mouse in the school laboratory. She becomes the first infectee and starts spreading the virus both in and outside of the school.
Director Lee JQ, who is behind popular television series such as “Damo” (2003) and “Beethoven Virus“ (2008) on MBC, took the helm of the upcoming zombie series. He said at an online press event Wednesday that his work is distinguishable from prior zombie series — both Korean and foreign projects — because the protagonists are students.
“A lot of the zombie films and series center around adults,” he said. “This narrative is set in an enclosed space with young students who are yet to have been fully matured or socialized [...] I believe that our series is meaningful and offers a different form of entertainment because of the choices these young students make as they precariously stand on the border between life and death.”
While the series is set in a school, it intends to touch upon socially sensitive issues such as the highly competitive educational atmosphere Korean students face, school violence and class hierarchy.
“I do not believe that in-school problems, such as school violence, remain within schools,” director Lee said. “The problems expand into society as collectivism creates conflicts between the perpetrators and victims. I hope people can reflect upon themselves and think about whether [the problems of the protagonists] are actually their problems and issues they have to tackle as well.”
The cast elaborated on the reasons why their series stands out from others.
Actor Lim Jae-hyeok, who calls himself a maniac of the genre, singled out the students’ choice of weapons.
“A lot of content in the zombie genre really expands the scale of the narrative by having soldiers [expert fighters] fight the zombies or use guns to kill them,” Lim said. “Our series is scaled back in that sense because it takes place within a school facility. We use desks and mops to fight these creatures.”
“Our zombies are much faster and dynamic,” actor Cho Yi-hyun added. “Each zombie has different tendencies that stem from each individual’s characteristics.”
Director Lee admitted that he felt pressured by the overwhelming attention the fans of the original webtoon are paying to the upcoming series and personally met with Joo to map out the narrative.
“We [Joo and I] talked about a lot of things and I was able to get a glimpse into Joo’s viewpoints and construct the overall structure of our series based on what kind of hope people have and strive for and what is the meaning of being human and being an adult. I hope that when people watch the series, it can be entertaining, sure, but when they’re finished watching it, it can provide the grounds to expand their thoughts about living.”
The characteristics and personalities of each protagonist don't deviate far from the original webtoon: Nam On-jo (played by Park Ji-hu) is easygoing and friendly. When the zombie outbreak hits the school, she leads her friends and classmates as she is familiar with first aid techniques because of her father, who is a fireman. Chung San (played by Yoon Chan-young) is On-jo’s childhood friend who has a crush on her. His specialty in survival lies in his speed, and he will do anything to protect On-jo. Choi Nam-ra (played by Cho) is the class president who always has the best grades. She remains cold and distant from her classmates as her priority solely lies in studying, but she gradually learns the importance of friendship after the outbreak. Lee Soo-hyuk (played by Lomon) dreams of becoming a solider someday. Highly athletic, he stands on the frontline of the battle to protect his friends. Yang Dae-soo (played by Lim) is the class clown and the strong man of the group. Despite his gentle persona, he takes on the role of the shield to protect his friends. Yoon Gwi-nam (played by Yoo In-soo) and Lee Na-yeon (played by Lee You-mi) take on the roles of villains among the group. Gwi-nam has an inferiority complex and will do anything to survive this outbreak. He becomes a “presence that is even more threatening than the zombies,” according to Yoo. Na-yeon was born with a “gold spoon” — Korean slang for those born into rich families — and she lies at the center of every piece of gossip and rumor in her classroom, creating conflict where ever she goes.
Lee You-mi, who shot to global fame with her role in “Squid Game,” begged the audience to not “hate her too much” after seeing the series.
“Na-yeon can be really spiteful and hateful, but I want to hear responses that she was that way because I portrayed her,” Lee said.
The entire cast, including the stunt doubles and some 200 extras, took months to physically prepare themselves for the zombie scenes. The cast hinted that their zombies are especially sensitive to sound, which is why they use musical instruments such as drums to lure and distract them.
“[Another distinguishable point from prior zombie genres] is the amount of details and effort we put into zombie movements,” director Lee emphasized. “The choreography was created as part of a collaboration between two choreographers who used to specialize in different fields.”
BY LEE JAE-LIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]