Duty After School is a sci-fi action thriller directed by Seong Yong-il, which was adapted from the popular webtoon on the Naver Webtoon platform. This platform was also the source for the adaptation of the zombie series film, All of Us Are Dead (2022), released by Netflix. This series stars a line of young stars, including Shin Hyun-soo, Lee Soon-won, Im Se-mi, Kwon Eun-bin, Kim Ki-hae, Kim Min-chul, Kim So-hee, Kim Su- gyeom, Kim Jung-lan, and Moon Sang-min. This series has ten episodes with an average duration of 70 minutes. Unlike the zombie subgenre, few high-quality South Korean sci-fi films exist. Who would have thought that this series could deliver more?

Millions of foreign objects fill the entire planet. These foreign objects are purple balls measuring about 3 meters that float and spread in the sky all over the Earth. Initially thought to be signs of an invasion, the balls seemed to stay still and not move. Humans have made every effort; however, where and why these objects are up there is still a mystery.

A year later, a ball fell to Earth for the first time in South Korea. The ball contained an alien creature that quickly massacred a platoon of soldiers. Seeing a global threat, the government created a new policy regarding compulsory military service, which required grade 3 high school students to undergo military training as a reserve for the national army.

This series’ story focuses on the students of classes 3-2 of Seongjin High School. With a variety of intellectual backgrounds and attitudes of students in this class, they are forced to deal with situations that are out of the ordinary in exchange for points for the CSAT (College Scholastic Ability Test) exam. When the threat came to their School, commanded by Lieutenant Lee Chun-ho (Hyun-soo), they had to work hand in hand to survive against the aliens.

The plot of the series, which seems like a typical alien invasion, is different from what we think. There is sharp social criticism behind the story. However, it’s a good idea to look at the general presentation of the story before talking about this.

Similar to All of Us Is Dead, both are set at the School and same age protagonist; in many of its moments, the story almost runs non-stop at a fast pace. One by one, with a relatively balanced portion, each character is brought closer to the audience with the figure of Kim Chi (video recorder) as a story guide for the audience. Two strong figures among the students, the lieutenant and his assistant, Won-bin, appear naturally as the story progresses.

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The story is also thick with a human side and is closely related to the behavior of teenagers who are often far from polite and respond to anything as a joke, even in a precarious situation. Inserts of romance and drama make his human side feel stronger. As a result of the situation and continuing to live together, the bonds of friendship grew even stronger, including with their commander. They are like a small family and a warm atmosphere approaches many scenes. However, the drama is frequently presented excessively and forcefully, typical of this Korean series. Sometimes reason and logic seem to be thrown away.

When the mysterious ball fell to the ground for the first time, the military leader treated the object recklessly and rashly through frontal actions. The leader also doesn’t use his brain when sending troops of high school kids entirely inexperienced on the battleground. The attitude of the adults is similar to the teenagers. In a life or death situation as critical as this, they instead argue points for CSAT and their future. This, of course, makes no sense. Behind it all, brilliantly, the filmmaker and scriptwriter (and the webtoon) use all these absurdities to convey the story’s message in a very effective and classy style.

For high school students in South Korea, CSAT scores mean everything to them. The exam, which lasts up to 8 hours, will determine the place of study and later jobs, positions, and status, which is all about their future. Even if the world ends, CSAT scores are still more important than anything else, ignoring reason and sanity. This series portrays the situation brilliantly. All the characters’ silliness and loss of common sense are due to this factor. Sane-minded people seem to be evil figures with hidden agendas, even though they want all to survive. The final episode, with all its brutality, clearly explains the intended message. Noble values are more worth fighting for than money, status, fame, etc.

The Duty After School series proves South Korea can produce high-quality sci-fi thriller films with solid subtext. For all its technical accomplishments, there is little else to talk about. The filmmaker adequately packaged the action scenes with tension to the mystery. Even so, the young cast played charmingly and naturally. Watching this series is reminiscent of two classic Western sci-fi masterpieces, Invasion of Body Snatchers (1956) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), which both have strong subtexts. Apart from the excessive Korean-style melodrama, Duty After School, with its social criticism, is at the same level as these classic films.

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His hobby has been watching films since childhood, and he studied film theory and history autodidactically after graduating from architectural studies. He started writing articles and reviewing films in 2006. Due to his experience, the author was drawn to become a teaching staff at the private Television and Film Academy in Yogyakarta, where he taught Film History, Introduction to Film Art, and Film Theory from 2003 to 2019. His debut film book, "Understanding Film," was published in 2008, which divides film art into narrative and cinematic elements. The second edition of the book, "Understanding Film," was published in 2018. This book has become a favorite reference for film and communication academics throughout Indonesia. He was also involved in writing the Montase Film Bulletin Compilation Book Vol. 1-3 and "30 Best Selling Indonesian Films 2012-2018." Additionally, he authored the "Horror Film Book: From Caligari to Hereditary" (2023) and "Indonesian Horror Film: Rising from the Grave" (2023). Until now, he continues to write reviews of the latest films at montasefilm.com and is actively involved in all film productions at the Montase Film Community. His short films have received high appreciation at many festivals, both local and international. Recently, his writing was included in the shortlist (top 15) of Best Film Criticism at the 2022 Indonesian Film Festival. From 2022 until now, he has also been a practitioner-lecturer for the Film Criticism and Film Theory courses at the Yogyakarta Indonesian Institute of the Arts in the Independent Practitioner Program.


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