Netflix is quickly taking over the K-Drama industry, one brilliant piece at a time. On September 25, 2020, Netflix released their original series ‘The School Nurse Files’ starring Jung Yu Mi (Nurse Ahn Eun Young) and Nam Joo Hyuk (Hong In Pyo). All 6 episodes of the mini-series were released at once making it a perfect weekend binge. Plain horror or slapstick comedy too boring for you? It’s time you check out this series, made every bit with genius aestheticism and social commentary all under the garb of colorful little jellies. Here are 5 things that make the series truly brilliant.
The scene of action is a school set up by a private foundation, ‘Safe Happiness’ built by our male protagonist Hong In Pyo’s grandfather. We soon find out that the school building was built on top of a pond where lovers committed suicide out of despair. Over time, young people that were wronged in love were even thrown into the waters of the pond. The aquatic life in the pond grew monstrous from eating human flesh and the pond was ordered to be filled up. Safe Happiness decided, at the call of Hong In Pyo’s grandfather that a school would be built on top of it. Over time, In Pyo grew up and became a Chinese character's teacher at the school, just as his grandfather would have wanted. However, an even darker secret lingers in the basement, which only one company can sterilize – Ilgwang Sterilization. Only one instruction is given in regards to the basement – it must be sterilized every 6 months and solely by Ilgwang. However, it’s been quite a while since Ilgwang has not shown up to sterilize the place.
The Superhero and Her World
Ahn Eun Young works at Mon Lyeon High School as a school nurse. A friend of hers recommended this job to her. Ever since she was a child, Eun Young has seen things unknown to the human eye. Psychological evaluations proved futile and there was never any solution to this extra pair of eyes that she’d developed – one that was not physical but definitely spiritual. She can see ghosts, spirits, energy and everything else imaginable that should belong to another realm. Energy manifests itself in her world as jelly-like creatures that assume various worldly shapes. Even the slightest bit of negative emotion swells up and turns ugly at the bat of an eyelid. This beautiful symbolism perfectly captures just how important feelings and emotions are for the proper functioning of society. Negativity festers and ruins everything in its wake. While it appears insignificant and nothing out of the ordinary to the mortal eye, pain, hurt, anger, resentment, regret, and other such emotions carry enough weight to completely turn one’s life upside down. Even obsessive attachment can hinder one’s judgment, as we see from the story of Wan Su and Min Woo. Not all of these jellies are malicious, however. A calm whale-shaped jelly floats by over the school at night and tiny little octopus-shaped jellies hop around happily. Hong In Pyo is surrounded by a beautiful iridescent aura that protects him from any harm, representing all the good energy that he is made up of. What looks like literal gold and pixie dust, always surrounds anything that is positive and has healing energy.
At the mere touch of his hand, Eun Young feels energized and rejuvenated. The complication of the story creeps in when Eun Young and In Pyo transgress into the basement and the struggle that ensues is a perfect representation of the importance of mental health. As always, any sort of power is never exclusive to one, and therefore, there’s always a distinction of good and evil. While Eun Young uses her ability to help and protect, others, like Mackenzie, use it in manipulative manners, profiting off of the debilitating power of negative energy to reach one’s own ends. At the end of it all, when all is said and done, Eun Young’s colorful world of jellies stands no chance before the world she sees right through. Having found love at the touch of a hand, Eun Young considers her simple human relationship with In Pyo much more appealing than any supernatural realm of jellies and spirits.
The basement has long been used as a symbolic stand-in for what’s unknown or the Id, as Freud would have it. The human mind is divided into the Id, the Ego, and the Superego. The Id is always right at the bottom, covered by the Ego in the middle which is further held in place by the Superego. While the superego acts as a form of ‘discipline’, keeping the unwanted and the “wrong” down in the unconscious, the ego is the middle ground where everything is stable. The Id is the home for anything repressed, reject, and “obscene”. Whatever the human mind considers inappropriate is shot down to the unconscious where it lingers until it can manifest itself in the conscious mind. Nothing can stay hidden forever, especially not the Id and as much, the negative energy lurking within the basement, in absence of proper sterilization is oozing out into the school premises. The basement held all the pain of what could only be thousands of lives, human or otherwise that were lost to this pond and within this pond, once it got filled. The overflow of this energy starts affecting students one by one until In Pyo turns the Apji Stone within the basement over, uncovering something that can only be called a hell-hole of negativity. With the Id now finally out into the world, it wreaks havoc, turning the students into zombie-like mindless creatures, running to jump off the roof. This represents just how fatal oppressed emotions can become. Bottling things up and putting a tight lid on it can never ensure that they won’t resurface to threaten one’s very existence. The basement becomes a macrocosm for the struggle inside every person’s heart, their reservoir of emotions, and how they choose to deal with the same. Unless the pain and hurt you’re harboring deep inside is acknowledged, dealt with, and cleansed on a regular basis, it will take monstrous forms to haunt you in your present.
When Eun Young defeats these hideous manifestations, all that remains is a million heart-shaped jellies that dissolve into the ground like vapor, taking the idea further that nothing is inherently evil, even when they look like mud monsters. All they need is the right amount of goodness shown to them. While Eun Young delivers this via a BB gun and pellets charged with In Pyo’s energy, anyone else can do that with self-love.
After thorough research and through In Pyo’s knowledge of the Chinese characters, the duo finds out about the “breathing hole”. As it turns out, Hong In Pyo’s grandfather was well into the study of Feng Shui. Feng Shui, literally meaning “wind and water,” is a traditional Chinese concept linking the destiny of man to his environment. Grandfather had been able to locate the breathing hole, which happened to be under the site of the school, and by controlling the breathing hole, one would be able to bring massive luck to one’s side. The breathing hole had an unimaginably powerful aura that drew those with weak aura in. As a result, people would keep jumping into the pond, having been drawn in by the energy of the breathing hole, which was why the pond would have to be gotten rid of. The fact that it only affected those with weak auras explains why not all of the students are affected by the energy from the basement at any instant. The energy of the breathing hole was attracted to human laughter and as such, In Pyo’s grandfather aimed to channel the energy through building a school over the pond and having the kids perform laughing exercises regularly. This also explains why the students burst alternatively into hysterical laughter and wailing whenever the energy would be affecting them. The transgression into the basement also drew in bad luck mites in huge numbers which led to the creation of Hye Min, existing only to exterminate those mites. Having lived thousands of life cycles in this very neighborhood, living for one purpose only until a limited amount of time, she knew the lore behind the breathing hole and her lead helped the duo hugely in their investigation.
The Social Commentary
One thing ‘The School Nurse Files’ gets across perfectly well is the fact that some evils in society are so insanely ridiculous and sickening that there has to be some external supernatural force controlling them for them to be acting this way. Homophobia, ableism, discrimination based on wealth, class, and status should never be existing in human society in the first place. Yet the fact that they do and the fact that they keep ruining lives is an extremely real and menacing truth. Kang Sun, Eun Young’s friend faces an unfortunate passing due to an accident and he makes it evident that no one cared because he was poor and insignificant. His existence as a ghost represents a nexus of conflict between the human and the other, symbolizing the gaps among various social classes. This sentiment can be referred to as the “Han”. It is an inherently Korean sentiment defined as ‘a sense of unresolved resentment against injustices suffered, a sense of helplessness because of the overwhelming odds against, a feeling of total abandonees, a feeling of acute pain of sorrow in one’s guts and bowels’. In Korean ghost stories, ‘Han’ is not a grudge against an assailant but a feeling of self-pity which holds spirits back from peacefully crossing over to the light. After meeting the one long lost friend that understood him, Kang Sun disseminates into thin air. When the basement is opened up and the negative energy let loose, it makes the teachers and students lose their minds as they look down on Radi and Hye Min for being a couple, Hye Min for being poor and a potential new student (and in turn, In Pyo) for having a disabled leg. To any good human being, such behavior is unacceptable, to say the least, and it seems as though people would have to be seriously possessed by evil to act that way. Yet in the real world, it still persists but along with it, live thousand of Ahn Eun Youngs ready to fight for what’s right.