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'All of Us Are Dead' cast says series captures Gen Z feelings of dual identity

“You know how students are not children but not yet adults either? I’m like that. I’m neither human nor a monster," says one character from the zombie breakout hit that reached No. 1 on Netflix.
Lomon as Lee Su-hyeok and Cho Yi-hyun as Choi Nam-ra in Netflix's "All of Us Are Dead."
Lomon as Lee Su-hyeok and Cho Yi-hyun as Choi Nam-ra in Netflix's "All of Us Are Dead."Yang Hae-sung / Netflix

Halfway into the first season of Netflix’s “All of Us Are Dead,” high school student Nam-ra says: “We won’t be the first to be rescued. We’re not that important. We’re just students. Nothing more.” 

The new series follows a group of students attempting to survive a zombie apocalypse swarming a suburban high school in the fictional Korean city of Hyosan. Written by Chun Sung-il and directed by Lee Jae-kyu and Kim Nam-su, it’s the latest in a list of Korean zombie films and series that have gained huge global viewerships, including “Train to Busan,” “Kingdom,” and “#Alive.” 

“All of Us are Dead” became the No. 1 Netflix show in more than 50 countries, including the U.S. The show is currently No. 2 in the U.S.

In contrast to its predecessors, the show revolves around students and relatively young rookie actors Park Ji-hu, Yoon Chan-young, Cho Yi-hyun and Lomon — backed by a solid team of veteran actors. Based on a well-known 2009 Korean webtoon, or digital comic, the show includes moral messages about the role adults play in protecting children during times of crisis. 

A scene from Netflix's "All of Us Are Dead."
A scene from Netflix's "All of Us Are Dead."Yang Hae-sung / Netflix

In the season’s finale, the surviving students of the zombie apocalypse cross a wall and pay homage to those they lost after questioning and voicing feelings of being abandoned by the government. 

Nam-ra, a withdrawn class president that later turns into a half-zombie, says, “You know how students are not children but not yet adults either? I’m like that. I’m neither human nor a monster.”

For Cho, 22, who plays Nam-ra, the show depicts a dual identity many Gen-Zers feel, she said in an email interview with NBC Asian America.

“Everyone faces an identity crisis at one point in their life. As a teenager, I also felt like an adult but not yet an adult. I went through stages like that. In those aspects, I related to Nam-ra,” she said.

The series’ success comes after Netflix’s breakout hit, “Squid Game,” for which South Korean actor O Yeong-su, 77, won the country’s first Golden Globe Award as best supporting actor in January. “All of Us Are Dead” also features a star from “Squid Game” and hits on class divides. Lee Yoo-mi, 27, plays the role of Na-yeon, a wealthy character who looks down on her peer who lives in low-income housing.

A scene from Netflix's "All of Us Are Dead."
A scene from Netflix's "All of Us Are Dead."Yang Hae-sung / Netflix

“I was deeply moved by O Yeong-su’s performance in ‘Squid Game’ and even imitated his lines from the show to myself,” said Yoon, 20, who plays Cheong-san, a character who is both calm and bold. “After filming, ‘All of Us Are Dead,’ I was able to grasp how great of a show it was.” 

Park, 18, who played upbeat student On-jo, also recalled how she would look at Lee’s performance in awe.

“On set, Lee Yoo-mi was everyone’s photographer. All the photos uploaded on social media probably would have been taken by her,” she added.  

​​Yoon said he focused on practicing for auditions for a month, while preparing for his college examinations, juggling the pressure on both sides.   

“The director had told me, ‘You’re going to become the best actor,’” he said, adding that he passed the audition and got accepted into the Seoul-based Hanyang University the next day.

Yoon says he made sure to depict the subtleties in his character’s action scenes.

“In the script with my lines, I scribbled notes. In the script on my action scenes, there would be prosthetic blood on the page,” he said, describing how he was constantly absorbed in his character.    

“I learned a lot seeing Director Lee and Kim, the cast and staff all striving to do our best in our respective positions,” he added. “An actor has to score a goal for the staff’s pass to shine. There were always solid passes coming from the team, which was really encouraging.”

A scene from Netflix's "All of Us Are Dead."
A scene from Netflix's "All of Us Are Dead."Netflix

Lomon, 22, who played former-bully-turned-ally and heartthrob, shared his experiences of clinging onto a building for an entire day on set with Yoon. In the scene, the two best friends try to salvage a phone from the teacher’s office.

“We ate lunch together for a shoot the next day and could barely lift our spoons — a tragicomic memory,” he joked.

Lomon revealed he took private workout lessons with a trainer, ran 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) along the Han River in Seoul and practiced kicking for an hour each day to get into shape for his role.

Before filming on set, the actors took action and martial arts lessons to build their stamina. 

When asked about their favorite storyline, Park and Yoon both said it was when the students were locked in an auditorium after Cheong-san witnessed his mother turning into a zombie.

“It’s a moment when the two opened their hearts and felt a true connection,” Yoon said, who carried On-jo’s name tag behind his phone to portray his harbored feelings. “Even the morning sunlight felt warm.”

Cho said she discussed various ways to approach poignant campfire gathering scenes with her fellow actors, which appears in the finale, as well as episodes eight and nine, when the group waits and hopes that they might be saved by the military, a wish that evaporates after the government quickly abandons the students.

“For Nam-ra, the moments around the campfire would be etched in her memory,” she said, adding Nam-ra would have held onto her few moments of friendship closely.

Lomon also believed the campfire and burning embers were rife with symbolism.

In the penultimate episode, the group shares a final campfire experience with Nam-ra after On-jo spots a fire burning atop their bombed school.

“Since the flames were kept alive in our reunion with Nam-ra, I took it in as a sign of hope,” Lomon said. “Rather than having final words for her, I just want to give a hug and thank her for remaining alive.”