|Actor Kim Dong-hee poses for a photo after an interview with The Korea Times at a studio in Seoul, Thursday. Courtesy of Netflix
By Kwak Yeon-soo
Actor Kim Dong-hee landed a breakout role in "SKY Castle" in 2019, leading to parts in dramas such as JTBC "Itaewon Class" and Netflix Original "Extracurricular."
For Kim, playing Oh Ji-soo in teen crime drama "Extracurricular" was not the kind of role he was used to playing.
The 21-year-old actor's character Ji-soo is a smart high school student who has never caused any trouble at school. However, there is a secret he is hiding from everyone else.
His "extracurricular" activity is coordinating a few young sex workers, communicating via texts and a phone app to disguise his voice. Abandoned by his parents, this is the only way Ji-soo makes a living. His simple goal is to earn enough money to go to college.
It is initially easy for Ji-soo to hide his crime in after-school hours because he's a loner. However, his anonymity does not last because his classmate Bae Gyu-ri (Park Joo-hyun) finds out about his criminal endeavors. She insists on joining the illegal scheme and the two become crime partners.
If the story sounds a little troubling, Kim agrees.
"Teen crime and prostitution are dealt with in the series, but the plot goes down a different road," he said during an interview with The Korea Times. "It not only sheds light on the dark side of youth, but raises question on responsibility and shows how horrible the consequences are for teen criminals."
The 21-year-old actor revealed that sympathizing with his character Ji-soo was much more difficult than he expected. While Ji-soo is involved in a serious crime, he could be seen as a victim trying to survive by breaking the law.
"It would be a lie to say I understood him perfectly well. I felt like there was a big wall between me and Ji-soo that I wouldn't be able to break through," he said.
"Toward the end of the series, Ji-soo is caught up in a whirlwind of emotions ― fear, guilt and anxiety. He's on the brink of suicide. He wants to escape but there is nowhere to go and no one he can rely on."
Kim recalled that the most difficult scene was apologizing to Min-hee, a popular girl who leads a dual life by engaging in prostitution.
"I cried for a few dozen times, trying to pull out the feeling of standing on the edge of a cliff. It was very sad," he said.
On the "Nth Room" case that triggered public outrage at the involvement of teenagers as perpetrators, Kim said he was shocked to learn about a similar case in real life. "I was deeply shocked and upset that such a story happened in real life. I think those who committed these crimes should receive harsh punishment," he said.
When asked whether he is concerned about being typecast as a uniform-wearing student (Kim has appeared as a student in web drama "A-Teen," hit series "SKY Castle," "Itaewon Class" and "Extracurricular"), Kim said he thinks of it as a privilege because he won't be able to wear it 10 years from now.
"My goal is to continue acting steadily. I'm in no rush, so I don't mind playing the role of a student," he said. "In the future, I want to become an actor who can fit into any role and have a positive influence on the public."