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  • Writer's pictureFabioIMPoppi

"Next Sohee"

Exploitation of labor, particularly among young workers, and the crushed dreams of those who have nothing but their aspirations, are underexplored themes in cinema, especially in films made after the Reagan era. These issues are crucial, reflecting growing societal insensitivity toward the inherent exploitation within capitalism.

"Next Sohee" (2022), directed by Jung Ju-ri, is a South Korean drama that follows Sohee, a high school student who begins an externship at a call center despite studying pet care. She tries to stay hopeful while struggling with her tasks and feelings of inadequacy. However, the pressure eventually overwhelms her, leading to her death. Detective Oh Yu-jin is assigned to the case and uncovers the real reasons behind Sohee’s demise.

The opening scene showcases Sohee’s passion for dancing, which quickly fades at the call center, where the claustrophobic cubicles and mechanical agents repeating scripts highlight a poignant irony.

The most disturbing aspect is the pervasive betrayal. Sohee is failed by the South Korean government with its abstract competitiveness criteria, her school that sends her into a soul-crushing job, employers who exploit her externship, and her parents.

Adults consistently fail Sohee, pushing her to her limit while urging her to "endure" and not disappoint her colleagues. But when she needs support, adults are absent.

“You have to endure,” her teacher insists, reflecting the pressure on South Korea's youth to meet societal expectations. "Next Sohee" starkly reminds us of the struggle of young South Koreans trying to survive in the oppressive “Hell Joseon.” From the implied threats of being “red-tagged” from future employment to suspensions for misbehavior, societal pressure crushes Sohee until she can no longer bear it.

"Enduring" also reflects the stigma around mental health support. As Sohee sinks deeper into despair, adults dismiss her distress. After her death, they deny any “signs” of mental strain, depicting the state of mental health in South Korea. Public prejudice against mental healthcare remains high, and the government has left most of the burden to social organizations. "She just went quietly," says the last person who saw her alive—a grim reality for many South Koreans suffering in silence.

Although set in South Korea, "Next Sohee" resonates globally, speaking to societies where labor exploitation is quietly accepted but will not quietly vanish.

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