Director Jung Joo-ri sheds light on labor exploitation in 'Next Sohee'
By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, Feb. 6 (Yonhap) -- Jung Joo-ri, director of Korean film "Next Sohee," said Monday she was struck by a tragic incident of a high school girl's death amid her assignment to a call center and wanted to focus on what pushed her into a dead end.
The film follows Kim So-hee (Kim Si-eun), a vocational high school student who works at an internet service provider's call center as part of a job training program and grapples with the harsh work environment.
The teenage girl growingly feels alienated at work and takes her own life months after the job training.
In the two-part story, police official Oh Yoo-jin (Bae Doona) tries to get to the bottom of her death and uncovers that uncomfortable truth behind the company and school.
Although the film was based on a 2016 incident, the director, also known as July Jung, thought the story was worth telling because problems related to vocational schools' job training programs still remain.
Jung unfolds the story from a larger context that exposes the structural problems behind the job training programs, which have long been criticized for not fulfilling their original purpose of giving hands-on experiences for students.
"Even after the incident, I learned that students who were assigned to job training programs lost their lives, were injured or committed suicide. So I decided to write a story and make it into a movie," Jung said in a media round interview. "It was hard for me to write the story. I felt emotionally hurt and exhausted."
The 43-year-old said she zoomed in on what made the ordinary girl make an extreme choice and asks what could have been done differently to save her life.
In the movie, So-hee is portrayed as a jubilant, hot-tempered girl who is excited about her office job at first but growingly seems lifeless.
"It was very impressive that several people who knew (the victim) said she was not the kind of person to commit suicide. I was curious about why she ended up like that and created the character," she said.
Jung's compelling social drama received critical acclaim, being selected as the closing film of the Critics' Week at Cannes Film Festival last year.
"As foreign audiences sympathized with the story, I felt the Korean audience could more closely relate to it," she said. "Maybe the domestic audience could watch the film with a critical eye as it is our own story."
It was her second feature film following her directorial debut "A Girl at My Door" (2014), starring Bae as a police official who takes care of a teenage girl abused by her stepfather.
Jung said she had Bae in mind for the detective role from the beginning and praised her performance that faithfully reflected her directorial intention.
"I think this kind of character and structure was possible thanks to Bae Doona ... She completely took in my script," she said. "She is my strongest ally."
"Next Sohee" hits local theaters Wednesday.
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