Actors Shin Hyun Soo, Lim Se Mi on ‘Duty After School’ and the global success of Korean content

The stars, who will be seen in the military sci-fi thriller helmed by director Sung Yong Il, also talk about the distinguishing feature of South Korean content and their love for Indian films

Published - April 25, 2023 05:43 pm IST

Lim Se Mi and Shin Hyun Soo in a still from ‘Duty After School’

Lim Se Mi and Shin Hyun Soo in a still from ‘Duty After School’

Fighting aliens and zombies in dystopian realities may be a regular fare that fascinates teenagers. But what if it was to become your reality? A group of senior school students are turned into a platoon of soldiers to fight the world’s first war against extraterrestrial forces in Duty After School. An adaptation of a manhwa (Korean Comic) and webtoon written by Han Il Kwon, Studio Dragon’s latest military sci-fi thriller is helmed by director Sung Yong Il (Class of Lies, Dr Frost).

Given South Korea’s hyper-competitive education system, college admissions are the incentives given to coax students into mandatory conscription. Forgoing hagwons (cram schools) for military training and trading books for heavy artillery, these high schoolers are turned into frontline soldiers in a war for survival.

The ensemble cast is headlined by actors Shin Hyun Soo and Lim Se Mi, who in an exclusive with The Hindu, revealed how they were deeply impacted by the premise of the webtoon.

Shin Hyun Soo, known for his work in Bossam: Steal The Fate and Twelve Nights, plays Lee Chun Ho, a commander for whom the law of the land is sacrosanct. Though unyielding towards his young trainees, he is forced to keep his sensitive side under wraps. An actor known for his flair for comedy, Shin Hyun Soo confesses it was the thrill of shooting this particular genre which drew him in. ”Even though this was a new genre for me in my given acting experience, I was more excited than worried. The webtoon has such a powerful narrative it had me spellbound. There was more anticipation than difficulty, to be honest.”

“I wouldn’t say I believe in the existence of extraterrestrials, but as the earth contains many different kinds of lifeforms, I tend to consider a possibility of lifeforms that is yet unknown,” he says.

Shin Hyun Soo in a still from ‘Duty After School’

Shin Hyun Soo in a still from ‘Duty After School’

Playing the school homeroom teacher Park Eun Young is the versatile Lim Se Mi (True Beauty, The Empire). She is someone whose recent filmography shows an inclination towards intense realistic characters. ”I have been a fan of the webtoon and it was the resilience of Park Eun Young that drew me in. Throughout my career, I have been able to change and develop, thanks to the many directors, writers, and colleagues who have helped me highlight different aspects of my personality. My motto has always been, ‘Do it when you get the chance,’ and I don’t think that will ever change,” she says.

The immersive storytelling, from slice-of-life narratives to otherworldly experiences that come backed by powerful performances and high-quality production, has amplified the appeal and popularity of Korean content worldwide. Talking about why Korean dramas have captured the imagination of the global audience, Lim Se Mi says she is reminded of what BTS member RM had said in Europe on how the history of Korea had shaped its people. “As you know, Korea is a divided country, and within its history, it has had to endure pain, solidarity, survival, and endeavour. We have had to continue the zeitgeist, change with the zeitgeist, and accept the zeitgeist. I believe that the passionate, fiery moments from trying to survive and protect what we have, are melted into our works of now, and that is what makes the world find them special,” answers the actor thoughtfully.

Lim Se Mi in a still from ‘Duty After School’

Lim Se Mi in a still from ‘Duty After School’ | Photo Credit: Studio Dragon

Lim Se Mi also reveals the distinguishing feature of South Korean content is that its essence remains Korean, without being compromised to gain traction. “We are grateful for all the interest in Korea and our work. However, there have been no effects or changes in our storylines or the mindset of the actors given the global popularity of Korean dramas. I believe this has only given us a chance and for the world to empathise and show solidarity with us through our stories”.

ALSO READ: K-Dramas coming to Netflix in 2023: ‘The Glory’ Part 2, ‘A Time Called You’, ‘Doona!’, and more

Recently, BTS member Jungkook’s impromptu Naatu Naatu performance on his live show clocked 16 million views in real-time. With Indian films gaining popularity internationally in recent years, both actors reveal being fans of Raju Hirani’s 3 Idiots and SS Rajamouli’s mega hit RRR.

“These are some of the films I have truly enjoyed watching. Indian films are admirable and their unique feature is the wide canvas of expression. Celebrating life in its many forms, which only India can showcase, is what I find appealing,” says Shin Hyun Soo. Lim Se Mi also confesses to being a fan of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black, adding, ”Indian films have strong energy which make viewing pleasurable. I sincerely hope to visit India with a project that they will love.”

Duty After School: Part Two is currently streaming on Viki

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