Interview | Movies

Choi Yi-hyun and director Lee JQ on zombies and the emotive storytelling of ‘All of Us Are Dead’

Cho Yi-hyun in All of Us Are Dead | Photo Credit: Netflix

Bullies, mean girls, friendships and heartbreaks — just your regular high school fare until the school becomes the epicentre of a contagious virus that turns students and teachers into zombies. The series, All of Us Are Dead, continues to top Netflix’s viewing charts three months after its release in January.

An adaptation of the popular 2009 Naver Webtoon of the same name, it is directed by Lee Jae-gyu (popularly known as Lee JQ), who admits that he is “dumbfounded” by the show’s global success. In an virtual press conference, he says, “There is a universal fandom of the genre in western narratives, but the Korean zombie genre finds resonance in its emotive storytelling,” he says. “It was interesting to see how students, who are still at the cusp of adulthood, react in a bloody battle for survival, and what drives their decisions as opposed to adults.”

Director Lee Jae-gyu on the sets of All of Us Are Dead

Director Lee Jae-gyu on the sets of All of Us Are Dead | Photo Credit: Netflix

For his cast, Jae-gyu chose a host of relatively new and upcoming actors “who could be dimensional” in their portrayal. And Cho Yi-hyun ( Hospital Playlist 2, School 2021), Park Ji-hu ( House of Hummingbird), Park Solomon ( Sweet Revenge), Lee You-mi ( Squid Game), and Yoon Chan-young ( Doctor John) have proved to be just that.

Lessons to play dead

Yi-hyun, 22, plays the cool-headed class president, Choi Nam-ra, who steps in to help her classmates survive the zombie outbreak. In an email interview with The Hindu Weekend, she shares that her character touched a chord with Gen Zers. “Nam-ra is calm and has a strong personality. Her attitude through the zombie apocalypse is a reflection of the mindset of the current generation — speaking her mind and willing to take charge, whatever be the risk,” she says.

 Cho Yi-hyun

 Cho Yi-hyun | Photo Credit: Netflix

Some of her most challenging sequences, both physically and emotionally, came after her character gets infected. “The process of going back and forth between half-human and half-zombie was not easy. I needed to get the emotional quotient right. I took ‘zombie lessons’ from a choreographer, to get my facial expressions and body language right,” she says, adding, “ Twilight was a great reference, too — to imagine a ‘vampire’ lurking within me.’’

Not another Squid Game

In recent years, South Korean entertainment has been exploring the zombie genre ( Alive, Train to Busan, Kingdom) to address systemic socio and political issues. The bloody battle of survival in All of Us Are Dead highlights the country’s socio-economic disparities, toxic masculinity, and acts of violence and bullying that have been a severe issue in schools.

Yoon Chan-young and Lomon in All of Us Are Dead

Yoon Chan-young and Lomon in All of Us Are Dead | Photo Credit: Netflix

Director Jae-gyu recalls how nervous he was about the show being tagged the next Squid Game. “Then Director Hwang [of Squid Game], who is a close friend, told me that I should not feel burdened, but be grateful that the show has opened the gateway for Korean content.”

K-dramas, a thriving sub category of Korean pop culture, are now a part of global mainstream entertainment. Yi-hyun says it’s an exciting time for storytellers and young actors like her. “As the number of OTT platforms has increased, so has the demand for content. The genres and characters have become more diverse and it’s influencing the stories we tell,” she says. (Her social media saw over a million subscribers within hours of All of Us Are Dead’s première.)

Yoon Chan-young and Park Ji-hu on the sets of All of Us Are Dead

Yoon Chan-young and Park Ji-hu on the sets of All of Us Are Dead | Photo Credit: Netflix

Though Season 2 is yet to be announced, Yi-hyun is optimistic. “My character, Nam-ra, says at the end, ‘There are a few people like me, so I’ll take care of them.’ Judging from that line, I look forward to seeing what will unfold next... More confrontations for sure, and possibly a love angle with Soo Hyuk (Park Solomon).

All of Us Are Dead is currently streaming on Netflix.

Others to watch

Jung Ho-yeon: Her debut as a North Korean deflector in the 2021 hit show, Squid Game, has catapulted her into international stardom.

Jung Ho-yeon

Jung Ho-yeon | Photo Credit: Netflix

The 27-year-old became the first Asian actor to bag the Screen Actor Guild Award for Outstanding Performance in a Drama as well as pose on the cover of Vogue. The actor and model recently featured in The Weeknd’s music video, ‘Out of Time’, and has been signed on for two Hollywood projects — director Alfonso Cuaron’s next production, Disclaimer, and Joe Talbot’s The Governess.

Yoon Chan-young: He plays the heroic Lee Cheong-san, who sacrifices himself to save his classmates, in All of Us Are Dead. The 20-year-old won the Best Young Actor award for Everything and Nothing, and Doctor John, and was recently seen playing a marijuana farmer in the series Hope Or Dope. The actor has been signed on for the fantasy series, Delivery Man.

Yoon Chan-young

Yoon Chan-young | Photo Credit: Netflix

Choi Hyun-wook: The affable Ji Woong in Twenty Five Twenty One has received several nods for his acting abilities, bagging Best New Actor at the 2021 SBS Drama Awards for Taxi Driver and Racket Boys. The 20-year-old will next be seen in Weak Hero with Park Ji-hoon.

Choi Hyun-wook

Choi Hyun-wook | Photo Credit: @choi_hyunwook

Kim Ji-Yeon (aka Bona): Playing fencing gold medallist Ko You Rim in the hit coming-of-age drama Twenty Five Twenty One was a turning point for this singer-turned-actor. Bona made her debut with Hit the Top in 2017 and was the lead in the 2018 teen drama, Girls Generation.

Kim Ji-Yeon

Kim Ji-Yeon | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Park Solomon (aka Lomon): The reformed delinquent Lee Suhyeok from All of Us Are Dead, he gained recognition with his 2017 role in teen drama, Sweet Revenge. The model and actor has recently been signed on to star in the Disney+ series, Third Person Revenge, opposite Shin Ye-eun.

Park Solomon

Park Solomon | Photo Credit: Netflix


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Printable version | Apr 25, 2022 12:58:59 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/when-twilight-met-zombieland/article65331432.ece