The recently released film “Next Sohee” depicts the tragic story of Kim So-hee, a high school student who worked at a call center in South Korea and ultimately took her own life due to the psychological toll of her job. Directed by July Jung and starring Bae Doona, the movie shines a light on the prevalent issue of labor exploitation and emotional stress in the competitive Korean workplace.
Inspired by a real-life story, “Next Sohee” revolves around Kim So-hee, a vocational high school student who is assigned to an internet service provider’s call center as part of a job training program. The film depicts the harsh reality of the call center, where agents have to deal with angry customers and fill quotas by selling bundle packages. Despite her struggle and repetitive overtime work, Kim gets paid below the minimum wage and becomes increasingly depressed. She takes her own life three months after the job training.
Uncovering Labor Exploitation
In the two-part story, Detective Oh Yoo-jin tries to get to the bottom of Sohee’s death, although it seems to be a straightforward suicide case. When Oh visits the call center, she sees employees’ names and performances on a giant whiteboard and faces company officials who try to lay the blame on Kim. Oh discovers the perpetual cycle of systematic labor exploitation and negligence, even when Kim said she wanted to quit her job. The film raises the sobering question of what sacrifices workers have to make in a capitalist system and the value of their labor when they can’t find meaning or joy in work.
Metaphor for the Struggle
The film opens with Sohee practicing dance moves in front of a wall of mirrors, repeatedly trying to pull off the last move of the dance but falling again and again. This scene can be seen as a metaphor for everyone who tries their best but fails, said Bae Doona. The weak and vulnerable try their hand at tackling impossible tasks, but they fail again and again, and in the process hurt themselves.
The film follows Sohee as she navigates through the trenches of her new workplace, dealing with customer service calls from users of the larger company. Sohee manages to learn the ropes fast enough to earn the top spot in the employee competition to “block” cancellations to the telecommunications company. In the process, she faces some challenges, including sexual harassment over the phone, but she fights her way through and somehow climbs to the top. However, her mental health slowly deteriorates until one pivotal moment in the film where the genre of “Next Sohee” itself practically shifts and Bae emerges as the protagonist of the second act.
A Story Still Relevant Today
Although the story was inspired by a 2016 incident, “Next Sohee” is still relevant today as there are still young people who are exploited as cheap labor at work and suffer emotional stress due to harassment by their employers and customers. The film highlights the impact of the competitive work environment and the importance of addressing exploitation and emotional stress in the workplace. “Next Sohee” is a powerful reminder of the sacrifices workers make in a capitalist system and the need for systemic change to create a better future for all workers.