New zombies, sinking island part of Korean series’ ‘double-edged sword’
Fans of the K-pop group Girls’ Generation’s Yuri will have a fun and fascinating time seeing the singer, actress, and theater performer in a more relaxed, “less regimented” light via Disney+’s Korean adventure-variety show “The Zone: Survival Mission 2.”
In the eight-part series, Yuri aka Kwon Yu-ri and her co-hosts, top comedian Yu Jae-seok and actor Lee Kwang-soo (Song Joong-ki’s best friend), are thrust into survival-themed simulations by an AI machine with tasks they have to execute and endure in four hours.
The series, conceptualized by the wacky minds behind “Running Man” and “Busted,” debuted its sophomore season last Wednesday with a three-episode rollout on Disney+.
Season 2’s early episodes feature challenging missions set on, among others, a ghost-infested hospital, a picture-pretty but fast-sinking Puldeung Island in the middle of the ocean during a stressful game of golf, and around the university campus of KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) in gloriously rustic Daejeon.
Succeeding missions will see the trio at their wits’ end as they attempt to recreate a series of childhood games on a shaking suspension bridge and, in another episode, try to escape a waterpark full of zombies! What to do?
At the recent press con that Inquirer Entertainment attended before the launch of Season 2, Yuri, who was joined by Jae-seok, Kwang-soo and producers Cho Hyo-jin and Kim Dong-jin, intimated how she’s been raring to return to “The Zone” set not only because of the satisfying thrill of completing missions, but also because of how the tasks simulate what we all go through on a daily basis.
She explained, “For every challenge, the boys and I have to hold it out for four hours — that’s how we survive. But the missions have been kicked up a notch this time around. You have to do your best because if you don’t complete the mission, you’ll have to stay longer in the game. On the other hand, time is taken off the four-hour limit if we succeed.
“If you really think about it, it’s like what each of us has to go through in our daily lives. We have to work effectively to save time. So, the less efficient you are, the more time is needed to finish the task.”
For producer Cho, part of the adjustments was due to a world adjusting to the state of the global health crisis that began rearing its ugly head in 2000 — like stepping out of our self-imposed isolation as we venture further into the open world.
“Viewers who watched Season 1 were aware that we were filming during the lockdowns,” he noted. “For the first season, we thought of situations related to surviving the pandemic — that was the catchphrase of the show.
“But by the time we did Season 2, the pandemic has become an endemic, so we were already starting to get back into our everyday lives. And we found ourselves holding it out in tough new situations [related to living outside a bubble]. So I think the fans will be able to put themselves in the trio’s shoes when they watch Season 2.”
In Jae-seok’s case, the brand-new episodes presented him and the other members of the cast with opportunities to introduce some of South Korea’s cool but little-known places.
“I remember all the places we shot in, but the place where we played golf was a highlight,” he said. “But while it featured beautiful scenery, we were soon thrust into some very natural disaster-ish moments! That really took me aback.”
Viewers who have seen Episode 2 will understand where Jae-seok’s fear or trepidation was coming from: He, Kwangsoo and Yuri had to finish playing golf before the sandbar was completely submerged in water as soon as high tide set in!
Moreover, the experience made them realize things they didn’t know about themselves. “I played a little golf in the mid-2000s, but not recently,” he shared. “So that experience was relatively new to me — and I really didn’t play well. Meanwhile, Kwang-soo has been playing golf for about a year now, so I thought he would ace it. “He’s really tall (about 6-foot-3), so it looks nice every time he swings the club. But while he looked very confident, I was surprised at how bad he was at playing golf (laughs). The ball just rolled over a short distance.”
For Kwang-soo, the fun part quickly dissipated when their first mission drove his easily creeped-out imagination to play tricks on him. “They said we had to submit ourselves to a medical checkup in this hospital,” he related. “But they didn’t tell us that the place was haunted!
“From out of the blue, we started seeing ghosts and isolated hallways, and the busy ambience just turned chilly all of a sudden! I was really surprised at how good the planning was—and it was really scary. You know, we’ve been doing a lot of horror-type episodes. So we thought we knew what to expect, but this particular episode really went beyond our imagination.”
Explaining the show’s perpetual fascination with all things creepy, Jae-seok added, “The horror-themed situations the creators put us in are sometimes very scary, because they play well to our biggest vulnerabilities. That’s part of why this show clicks—it’s scary and fun at the same time. “It’s a double-edged sword, really. You find yourself at your wit’s end but, at the same time, you’re also excited about the whole thing. It’s so much fun because everything’s so well-prepared. So when I’m screaming, I’m scared on the outside, but inside, I feel rewarded and happy and excited.”
Cho said that another aspect of Season 2 that’s beneficial to the show is the trio’s easy chemistry. “Their bond is even more natural now, which makes them even more fun to watch,” he explained. “They get along really well, like family. They’re like siblings who bicker and bark at each other. So I think that’s the most fun part this time around.
“Another thing, our audience really liked the zombies in Season 1. That’s like the ‘flagship’ of ‘The Zone.’ So, for Season 2, we thought of a virus that fits an endemic, instead of a pandemic—which is why we have a new type of zombies!”
Which episodes did they find most significant and, after two eventful seasons, what did they get better at?
“The first episode was really memorable because we went to the medical checkup feeling comfortable and relaxed,” Yuri answered. “And because they wanted us to be fully immersed in the situation, there were a lot of extras hired to portray doctors and patients clad in medical gowns.
“All of a sudden, there were scary zombies and ghosts. And the way they appeared was just shocking—it truly freaked me out! It was way better than Season 1. And what was even more shocking was that I thought the other two would look after me, but they just ran away (laughs)! So I thought, ‘OK, now we’re talking!’
“As to what I got better at, I think I’m bolder now with my actions. I got more frank — and that’s a good thing. I now speak up whenever I feel like talking.”
Kwang-soo, on the other hand, said that he loves the last episode of the season because of how he had contributed to the Z coins they gathered in the challenge.
However, he said he didn’t think the episodes had changed him at all. He mused, “I thought long and hard about this, but I don’t think there is anything that I got better at. I didn’t change much. I’m still the way I am.”
For Jae-seok, two episodes stood out for him: “The first episode at the hospital was as memorable as the episode where we were driven around the university campus. The students were very welcoming, as was the couple whose wedding we gatecrashed. In fact, the bride and groom looked so happy to see us that day.
“In terms of how our show changed me, I’m not sure if this translated to the audience at all, but I personally think I’ve become a little braver, a bit more courageous and proactive. I don’t know why people here are laughing over my answer, but that’s my personal reflection.”