During the filming of Netflix's Sweet Home season one, Min-si Ko made a quirky yet prophetic purchase—a pair of coral pink Crocs. Adorned with a Korean flag, the words "Sweet Home", and a NASA logo, these whimsical accessories embodied her lofty aspirations for the show's global success. Premiering on December 18, 2020, Sweet Home secured its place in history as the first-ever Korean drama series to claim a spot on Netflix’s U.S. Top 10 list.
The series is based on the webtoon of the same name that has garnered over 3.3 million subscribers and over 250 million views since its release in 2017. Set in an apocalypse, the webtoon follows the residents of the Green Home apartment complex as they fight to survive against horrendous monsters born out of human desire. Renowned director Lee Eung-bok, best known for his work on iconic K-dramas such as Goblin, Descendants of the Sun, Dream High and Mr. Sunshine helmed the show as his first Netflix project.
He oversaw a talented cast like Song Kang, who plays central protagonist Hyun-soo Cha, a suicidal high schooler who finds a will to live after protecting Green Home’s residents from the monsters. Ko plays Hyun-Soo’s first love, Eun-yoo Lee, a former ballerina and younger sister to the calculating Eun-hyeok, portrayed by Do-hyun Lee.
Ko’s opening scene was breathtakingly magnetic. In it, Hyun-soo contemplates suicide but steps away from falling to his death when he witnesses Eun-yoo’s effervescent ballet routine. The choreography took Ko an intensive seven months to perfect. What follows is a peek into Eun-yoo’s psyche as the comely veneer falls. She is staunchly belligerent and brusque, mostly choosing to communicate with uncouth hand gestures and a vernacular to match. However, throughout the season the prickly exterior erodes thanks to Hyun-soo and the other residents.
Her performance as Eun-yoo would earn Ko the Newcomer Actresses honor at the 2021 Asia Contents Awards. It would be roughly two years later that viewers would see the performance again.
“When Sweet Home season one was released, people around the world enjoyed our show, and thanks to their love, we were able to create season two. It was about four years that I was in my character Eun-yoo, and I'm just really happy to be her,” she says.
Fans had to wait until June 2022 for any news about the show’s renewal, and it finally premiered this December 1, mirroring its first winter debut—a fact that delighted Ko. “Season two is coming back to you in the wintertime. So, I'm again very happy, delighted. My heart's fluttering.”
Season two picks up immediately after season one. Eun-yoo hasn’t fully had time to grieve her brother's supposed death. “She escaped from Green Home at the finale of season one and didn't get to see if her brother was dead or not. So she can't bear the fact that he might be dead. She refuses to believe that he is dead and senses someone's protecting her whenever she finds herself in danger. But she's frustrated because she doesn't know who that is,” Ko says.
The surviving residents have been transferred to a stadium monitored by military platoons. Ko notes, “Green Home and the stadium both exist for the characters’ survival. Within both settings, there is a hierarchy and various desires. One difference is that the stadium has more characters with a wider range of professions because it is larger.”
One such character is the considerate private Park Chan-young, played by Jin-young Jung, who frequently follows Eun-yoo when she recklessly ventures outside of the stadium to search for Eun-hyeok.
“Her desperation to find Eun-hyeok is the foundation of everything that she does. Everywhere she goes, she is overwhelmed by sorrow and the feeling of missing Eun-hyeok. The only reason she desperately tries to survive is to reunite with Eun-yeok, even if only once. So, I tried to be in that emotional state every single moment while I was playing Eun-yoo,” Ko says.
Since the residents of Green Home scattered, Ko remarks she is given much to do with her role. With the character’s greater independence, Ko has more scenes alone. She calls the experience “precious” and a time where she got to strengthen herself.
“Compared to the first season, first of all, there isn't as much dialogue. And while in the first season she was someone who was you know, talk first and then action later; in the second season she will go with action first. So she's a lot more mature than in the previous season,” she says.
There is a graceful self-assuredness to the current Ko. Beyond filming Sweet Home season two, Ko glowed in other performances. In spring of 2021, she was the lead and love interest in the period drama romance, Youth of May, portraying the kind-hearted but resolute nurse Myung-hee. She reunited with her Sweet Home co-star Do-hyun, as he plays the co-lead and love interest, medical student Hee-tae. The series takes place during the 1980s during the Gwangju Uprising in South Korea, a tumultuous time in the nation’s history that ultimately led to a democratic sea change.
Ko prepared for her Youth of May role by listening to music and watching films and documentaries of that era. The show arduously recreated the historical atmosphere from the town, clothing, and even dialect. Ko’s poised and precise acting made Myung-hee feel like a real person from that time. Her performance nabbed her an Excellence Award at the 2021 KBS Drama Awards.
Days before the premiere of Sweet Home season two, Ko went viral for her surprise reaction to winning Best New Actress at the Blue Dragon Awards for her part as Ok-bun in the critically acclaimed crime film, Smugglers.
Both Youth of May and Smugglers would arguably forge Ko into the person needed for the new Eun-yoo. She reflects on that notion saying, “I think she's gone through a lot of personal growth, and I think I, as an actress, could also experience personal growth.”
Eun-yoo’s growth appears physically and emotionally. “Externally, she cut her hair from being long to short, and she doesn't wear ballet shoes anymore. She wears military boots. And she always has a knife or a weapon in her hand, and she's full of scars. Her whole body is covered in scars,” Ko observes.
She continues, “And when I was reading the script for season two, I thought that Eun-yoo has hardened. She's become stronger, but I think she's become even more warm-hearted. She's gone through some personal growth, and she doesn't want to lose anybody else. She wants to keep everyone, and she knows how to sacrifice for people as well.”
Continuing the trend of rigorous preparation, Ko trained for about three months at an action school to tackle season two.
“There was a variety of physical training. I wouldn't say there were a lot of action sequences, but I had to be very courageous,” she says. “And I thought I wasn't the coward type, but it wasn't the case. I was quite scared a few times, and I at least thought to myself, ‘When is this going to end?’ But now that it's really over, I feel like I have no fear about using my body and doing these action scenes.”
When asked if Sweet Home made her more courageous, she responded, “It was courage itself.”