If there’s one thing that’s been gaining major traction over recent years, it’s the rise of Korean entertainment. From BTS to the successful K-drama ‘All Of Us Are Dead’, the Korean wave — commonly referred to as ‘Hallyu’ — has taken the world by storm. In fact, Korea’s cultural economy has become so popular that it’s not an uncommon sight to see fans fly over to visit iconic filming locations in the country, sell out on K-pop concert tickets, and even take up the language.
This is no mere accident. South Korea is one of the only countries in the world with an active goal to become the world’s leading exporter of pop culture. Because of this, they have amped up efforts to make the Korean cultural economy accessible to fans of all walks of life. Most recently, this is taking the form of a new Hallyu visa, which aims to bring in global talents interested in enrolling in an entertainment-related education programme.
A recent television series gaining a large traction online is the coming-of-age zombie apocalypse horror, “All Of Us Are Dead”. It recently logged its third week atop Netflix’s Global Top 10 weekly viewership charts, with over 113.2million hours last week. Its success is even driving forward ideas to form a multi-platform game out of the show.
Noreen Joyce Guerra plays one of the students in Hyosan High School, where the show is mainly set, as well as one of the classmates of the series’ antagonist. You may be surprised to note, however, that she originally started out in Korea as an international student from the Philippines.
We delve into her unlikely journey from international student to a part-time actress.
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Your journey is very unique for an international student. Could you give us a run-down of how you transitioned from your studies to acting?
Back in the Philippines, I met some people from the industry who I reconnected with when I came to Korea to pursue my MBA. They recommended me to several engagements that later on gave me the opportunity to do assistant stage directing, becoming a translator, and production staff.
I assisted in several events including fashion shows, movie and drama awards night. Through that, I met directors and producers who recommended me to try on-cam gigs.
I understand that you are not a full-time actress. What is your profession, and how do you balance acting with your job?
I am working as a manager in a financial technology company here in South Korea. I go to the office on weekdays and film on weekends and holidays.
Have you always had a passion for acting, or was this an interest you had the opportunity to chase after?
Acting was not even part of my life-dream nor my plan while staying in Korea. My original plan was just to finish my studies and go home and find work. Luckily, I was able to find professional work here in Korea which allowed me to stay, and received the opportunity to act on the side as a hobby.
Even until now, I consider acting as a hobby and I do not see myself doing it forever. I am happy with the roles that I am given at the moment and I am doing my best to be able to give justice to the role, small or big. The most important thing is, I am enjoying the journey and having fun.
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What does a day in the life on the set of “All Of Us Are Dead” look like?
The set was very busy and hectic. Staff, cameras and props are going in and out depending on the set. Overall it was very fun and light as most of the cast are students.
Did you always have an interest in Korean film/TV, or did you discover this while you were studying?
I am a K-drama fan myself even before coming to Korea. It was this that inspired me to study the Korean language.
Did you face any particular challenges as a non-local in the Korean entertainment industry?
Currently, almost all of my roles in K-dramas are of Korean characters. I am considered a Korean on the set. The production itself does not even know that I am a Filipino or a foreigner.
The challenge I would say is the language because there are words or jargons in the industry that I am still not accustomed to, but I am learning. In the case of overall challenges of foreign actors in Korean entertainment, the representation in the production is still limited, especially for South East Asians.
What advice do you have for international students who wish to go down the same route?
Do whatever makes you happy. Do not let other people define your success or happiness. The first step will not be easy but I hope you will enjoy the journey.