School Nurse Files: A Celebration of Weird

“It’s better to be weird than ordinary”

– Hong In-pyo

Netflix’s new Korean original is a bizarre, surreal and fun-filled ride that celebrates non-conformity and calls for us to embrace every part of ourselves

To write a review on The School Nurse Files is to imply I have somehow grasped what The School Nurse Files is all about. The show’s glorious acid trip weirdness defies analysis and yet feels deliberate. After all – as our male lead says as we head into the plot’s explosive denouement – “Unless it’s something bad, it’s better to be weird than ordinary”. And the School Nurse Files definitely walks its own talk.

The class in the school of the School Nurse Files laughs maniacally as part of their morning ritual

The Plot

At a Korean highschool where the kids recite cult-like verses on happiness every morning, an emotion whale floats overhead and ducks follow the leader through the school in a symbol of conformity. The children appear happy, according to our school nurse,  Ahn Eun-young (Jung Yoo-mi). But when it comes to life – and especially to adolescence – it’s what’s under the surface that matters more.

A surrealist scene from the perspective of an adolescent Eun-young. She sits in a classroom and sees dark "Jellies" descend from the ceiling as black arms and disfigured bodies reaching out to the students below.

Since birth Eun-young has seen ‘Jellies’, a kind of supernatural human emotional residue that grows and forms into different shapes. Armed with a toy gun and rainbow toy sword, she fights any Jellies that need fighting. These seem to be ones that are based on big dark heavy emotions or ones that have grown so big they are a threat to humans.¬†We could have a debate as to whether the Jellies are supposed to be taken literally or metaphorically. But as a metaphor they work incredibly well for human emotion, whether you believe there is such a thing as emotional energy or not.

Eun-young sits on the concrete ground while Jelly hearts fall from the sky. She's looking up at the sky in wonder as they fall.

In this fight, Eun-young is (eventually) aided by Hong In-pyo (a Nam Joo-hyuk who is finally living up to his potential), the grandson of the school’s founder. In-pyo has a disability following a motorcycle accident when he was younger but is also gifted with a powerful aura that acts as a supernatural shield. Ahn Eun-young is able to recharge by holding his hand, although it becomes quickly apparent that’s not her only reason for wanting to hold it.

Eun-young holds In-pyo's hand in the dusk light, her other hand clutching her sword. The thin bubble of his shield is visible. The ruins of the school are behind them.

The show’s aesthetic leans deliberately away from kdrama gloss. The kids have acne. The adults look real. Nam Joo-hyuk’s model looks and height are transformed into a gawky, clumsy awkwardness that is 1000 times more attractive than the usual sanitised shine.

Eun-young used to work at a hospital but found it too stressful to deal with the dead. A school, she decided, would be better since the worst she would have to deal with is porn jellies.

The writers of The School Nurse Files revel in the relaxed content standards on Netflix and the show is littered with swear words, rutting jellies and teen hormones very literally running amok.

Eun-young walks through the school's corridors carrying a CPR dummy on her back. The walls and floors are covered with Jellies.

But the school Eun-young has chosen (or been herded towards) is no ordinary school. There is something lurking in the mysterious locked basement and forces are gathering to try to control it. 

The School Nurse Files is a crazy ride of symbolism and metaphor. Much of the imagery will be more familiar to a Korean audience than an international one and this may affect some people’s ability to connect with it. There’s a whole head-scratching plotline involving knotting hair and stealing cushions that domestic audiences will probably understand but foreign viewers will find perplexing. (I am one of those foreign viewers).

A Jelly whale floats over the eerie school building at night, lit by a full moon

Safe Happiness and the courage of being yourself

The School Nurse Files is unconventional and original and flat out weird. In fact, it’s a celebration of weird where everyone is encouraged to let their freak flag fly. With a disabled male lead as a love interest, a non-gendered character, a lesbian relationship and a female lead who aggressively does not fit in, The School Nurse Files celebrates non-conformity and giving yourself permission to step outside of the box.

Don’t hurt yourself and have fun while you’re at it. Be someone who is loved by others.

Throughout the show, Eun-young struggles with her sense of isolation and separateness; her outward image of being crazy and weird. To fight Jellies she uses her own emotional energy and finds her resources quickly depleted in a school where emotional repression is at its most severe. These themes – about conformity, happiness, fitting in with the herd and needing time to recharge your emotional energy – underpin the story as it unfolds and a highschool setting is thus a perfect place for it.

Eun-young is in her office at school. She waves her sword at a student's head that has sprouted into a bush.

Conclusions… or not…

I could attempt to come to some conclusions about The School Nurse Files but I think it’s best to discover it for yourself. ‘What it all means’ is less important than what it means to you.

My only quibble is that it’s packed into six episodes like a pocket rocket ready to explode and it really needed at least one or two extra episodes to make the whole thing feel less rushed. But in the final estimation that’s not a huge problem. I’ll happily take another season – hell another three seasons – of Eun-young fighting emotional demons while holding her adorable boyfriend’s hand.

Get on that please, Netflix. Now.

Eun-young is on the roof of her school saving students by channelling emotional energy through her arm, which is glowing

The whole season of The School Nurse Files is available to stream on Netflix


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