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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Korean Medical TV Dramas II

1. Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim, 2016낭만닥터 김사부

Surprising discovery today! Another medical drama starts next week! We will tune into it for sure. What a banner year for Korean medical dramas! This one promises to be less romantic and more realistic.  Yes! What follows is more info from dramabeans at this link: 낭만닥터 김사부

"Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim is about a brilliant medical genius who is also a bit of an eccentric crackpot. He is the first and only triple-board certified surgeon in Korea, meaning that he is an expert in three different specialties, when most doctors spend their whole lives devoted to mastering one. Originally, he was revered as the rising star of the nation’s top hospital, but due to a traumatic incident, he makes the decision to step down and work at a small rural clinic to help treat the ailments of the elderly and underprivileged. Despite not acting in a contemporary drama for 21 years, Han Seok-kyu says in a Naver V App interview that he believes he can imbue this character with the warmth and well-meaning heart of a doctor. He will act as a mentor to two younger doctors played by Yoo Yeon-seok and Seo Hyun-jin when they are assigned to come to his hospital.

Yoo Yeon-seok plays an ambitious go-getter with a cold but charismatic personality. His counterpart, Seo Hyun-jin, on the other hand, plays a more timid character who initially started her medical career because people would compliment her for working toward it. Together under Teacher Kim, they learn the true meaning of being a doctor and the joys of bringing healing to patients.

In the recently released first teaser, Han Seok-kyu walks down a darkened corridor while his voiceover says: “When you come to my neck of the woods, there’s only one rule. We must save our patients no matter what happens. Everything else can go to hell, but we must save them.” An angry-sounding Yoo Yeon-seok yells back, “Who are you, a washed up gangster? What’s your true identity, a gambling addict or an emergency department specialist?” Then we see a couple shots of the hospital, a car crash, and Han Seok-kyu showing off his mastery with a scalpel, giving it a little spin."

2. Doctors, 2016 (Hangul닥터스)

The actress Park, Shin-Hye (박신혜) featured in this one. She was very popular in Heirs, a Dramafever sponsored teen angst romance that began surprising filmed in California.  As expected the drama mostly focused on a romance but the medical context was very compelling. The doctors were neurosurgeons and almost everyone and his brother in this drama ended up with a tumour requiring brain surgery. The brain surgery scenes were very realistic I suppose, but I have never seen one in person.

Under the bright lights in the surgery we see patients live and die (most live) after various pieces of their grey matter are extracted in various states of urgency. Brain trepanation or whatever they do to open the skull is part of the action of course, but these smart doctors make it all look like a breeze.

The character Park, Shin-Hye played was a real rebellious street kid but had an IQ over 156. She was better at martial arts than homework until a series of events propelled her into a career objective to become a doctor. How the street smart street fighter became a doctor was all due to the powerful motivation of revenge - a very common theme in Korean dramas. Not sure why one version of the title for the series was Doctor Crush, but most Korean TV dramas have more than one translated English title, making searches on them for more information sometimes difficult.

3. Beautiful Mind, 2016 (뷰티풀 마인드)

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50781435
On at the same time as Doctors, was it just a coincidence that this medical drama was also about neurosurgeons? Did the two different Korean TV networks intentionally set out to make a competition for the ratings with the same theme?  If so, this drama did not have the breezy romance and good nature of Doctors. It also did not have the ratings and ended 2 episodes earlier than it was supposed to. It had more of a biting edge to it, mostly in the form of the lead actor who played a neurosurgeon who had no common sense of human emotions - a kind of autism as a result of the brain surgery error by his adoptive father.

No more spoilers, but at any rate, one constantly asks - how can a doctor have no interpersonal skills (sort of like Dr. House but more extreme) because really he doesn't know how to relate to human emotions? Don't worry - it all works out - and true love once again saves the day. Of course there is a romance rolled into this drama as well.  Explaining the lower ratings to Doctors is kind of difficult to fathom in my books.

The lead actor Jang Hyuk is excellent, especially playing this sensitive and complex character. He was amazing as the YanBan (scholar class) turned slave hunter in Chuno (추노) , a highly rated TV drama series. The character he plays reminds me of a rare psychological condition where a person can't empathize at all with others. There are other rare conditions where persons don't even feel physical pain - many daily life dilemmas there. But acting the role of a doctor (whom one might expect to be the epitome of being able to be empathic) who does not feel empathy or any human emotions, is quite a challenging one. I still don't know why they gave it the title "Beautiful Mind", which is the same title of another movie staring Russel  Crowe who played the Nobel winning mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr.

We see a lot of scenes of X-rays up on viewing screens more than the bright lights of the surgery ward. We are also exposed to an endless stream of ethical dilemmas, including ones involving unethical clinical trials and fudging of the data. Couldn't ask for anything more educational than that. One yearns episode to episode to find out how or if this physician will discover his inner human heart and not be forever the automaton - or be found out by his colleagues for having this rare condition as it is secret.  There is a good vs. evil sub-plot to all of this which has a very good doctor (Lee Jae-Ryong) from the series General Hospital 2 playing the role this time as the very evil doctor (if you want to define evil as not just greed but wanting to save human lives at the expense of expendable human participants in drug research).

A sub-plot in the drama involves a lawyer who becomes a physician in order to become a better lawyer who prosecutes physicians for medical malpractice - motivated of course because of the tragic death of her father due to medical negligence. Can she really balance these two different worlds at one time or can she decide that she sincerely wants to be a physician? Her fellow residents think she is pursuing a dangerous conflict of interest - and in fact she is.

4. Descendants of the Sun, (태양의 후예)2016

Nothing like a catchy OST to drive the popularity and run parallel to the heart tugging emotions that make up a series. This drama had very high ratings in Korea but it was a runaway smash hit in China with half the nations population tuning or something, and it came with government warnings that Korean dramas are sometimes not good for your health or social relationships. Taken with a grain of salt of course - and this was mostly a medical drama. The two Songs Song Joong-ki, Song Hye-kyo, are absolutely brilliant, and so are their buddies, who also have the other  great romance - Jin Goo, and Kim Ji-won,. Much talk now about a continuing series.

Well, the lead actress is an ER doctor and the main actor is a high ranking top secret soldier, but the plot is mostly based around medical dramas and  humanitarian situations, primarily in a war torn country where the Korean military has volunteered for a peace keeping mission.  The drama was partially filmed in Greece, and many characters are non-Koreans in the fictionalized country - very interesting scenes for a Korean TV drama, which are by large mono-cultural.  That has been changing because we have seen dramas where trans people and people with disabilities are leading characters (if not cast members).

The conflict or play off between Joo Won saving lives as a physician and taken them (in order to save lives) as a soldier, are as constant as the burgeoning and yet impossible romance that builds between the two leading characters. The medical scenes compliment the military actions - emergency response to earthquakes, terrorism, and ebola-like disease outbreaks. It is a humanitarian mission full of human compassion. You can also just sit back and enjoy the excellent OST and the humorous and sad romance between the other leading characters.

5. Yong-Pal,(용팔이) 2015

As I understand it the title of this drama is very similar or a play on words to the Korean expression for "quack doctor" -돌팔이 physician and 하다 or excellent or amazing.  The doctor in question is not yet a doctor - still a resident - but he is an exceptionally gifted surgeon and becomes a doctor to some shady underworld characters who always getting wounded in gang wars. He is making money to stitch them up in a black mailed kind of way but he needs it to pay for his sisters kidney dialysis and transplant. This was a recurrent theme in the 2016 medical TV dramas (Doctors & Beautiful Mind) - paying for medical bills by those who can't afford it -  while the corporate executives are trying to make a profit in healthcare. No doubt this is also the current reality of healthcare in Korea.

Another facet of the current reality of healthcare in Korea are the exceptionally gifted plastic surgeons. Thousands of medical tourists go to Korea for plastic surgery, some carrying the photos of Korean actresses (or actors) who they want to look like - and apparently that is what they come out looking like. There is a Korean word for these kinds of amazing physicians. So far I haven't seen a medical drama about plastic surgeons. God spare me please.

The romance in this drama involves Yong-pal and his ultra-rich patient, the daughter heiress of an incredible fortune who is being kept in a drug induced coma in a high tech life suspension facility in a secret room of the top floor of the hospital - also owned by the same rich family. Of course, the criminal intrigue for keeping her in a coma is the plot of her older brother who thinks he should inherit the corporation. She is really not sick - she is intentionally being kept in the coma. Apparently she can still hear what is going on around her.  Intriguingly, the scapel in the poster for the series is the "mes" 메스, a Korean loan word that becomes easily learned by watching these medical dramas. It will feature prominently in the Jejunwon drama which depicts the transformation of Korean medicine from the traditional to the modern during the Japanese occupation - the first surgeries to use the scapel in other words.

The lead actor in this drama, Joo Won was excellent in Bridal Mask (각시탈),  where he played a Korean who rose high in the ranks of the Japanese Police during the Japanese colonial period only to later betray the Japanese and become 각시탈, a Korean Robin Hood freedom fighter who wore a Korean bridal mask while fighting against the Japanese.

6. Doctor Stranger, (닥터 이방인) 2014

It is always good to see Korean dramas that involve many scenes taking place in North Korea because it suggests there is still hope for this nation of one people, one language and one culture to get together at long last.  Of course, the North Koreans are adversaries throughout this tense drama, which doesn't have so much the light and breezy romantic qualities of Doctors for example. Not much is memorable for me in this drama except for the strange intrigue of Korean politics between North and South. Of course, the doctor trained in North Korea (where human experimentation reigns supreme without ethics boards) is far superior to the doctors in the South. But how can he even practice in the South? Well, originally he came from South Korea before he and his Dad were kidnapped into the North intentionally but political baddies in the South - it is all so confusing, so don't ask me, better watch it yourself. As I recall there is a lot of tense drama to this, a quick moving plot, and the romance is not syrupy and sickly sweet. Did I ever tell you that there is nothing wrong with a 16 episode Korean TV drama. Anything under that is not going to be as good.

7. Good Doctor굿 닥터 2013

This drama was going to be painful to watch at first because the lead doctor is an "autistic savant" who has incredible memory and genius but can't tie shoes and fumbles counting pocket change. Would you put a scalpel in that man's hands? Anyway, the lead actor is the very talented Joo Won , who is quite adept are playing these sensitive roles - and playing physicians again. Apparently though, being vulnerable and simple this way will get you the girl. His naivete and innocence are appropriate for his role a pediatric surgeon because he relates so well to kids on that level.

All Korean medical dramas have competition between various departments and lots of jealous intrigue between the competing physicians, their superiors and their understudies. Most have competitions and intrigues for the top dog position in the hospital pitting a white knight against a black knight. Some really useful Korean to learn which will give you an insight into the nature of Korean social relationships is the senior - junior demarcation.  A senior to you in either age, year in school, or rank in employment is your "sunbae" (선배) or "junior" (). The subtitle translations on Dramafever or Viki won't always get this. They will translate with the name of the person being addressed when in reality the person is being called "Sunbae" instead of their name. Koreans all live in one vast extended family and the way they address each other according to age and rank is fascinating. It is also very important for how they speak to each other using formal or informal grammar, tone, and manners.

8. Hur Jun: The Original Story, 구암 허준 2013

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48795188

I really admired this remake of the Heo Jun series from 1999. (There was actually an early version from the 1980s which I never saw). The legendary Joseon dynasty doctor reminds me of Shakespeare. They both lived at almost the same time - end of the 16th century. Not much is known about the personal lives of either. Both left works of massive masterpieces in their field which influenced the lives of millions for all posterity.  This 2013 version is very faithful to the 1999 version which was so masterful to begin with. That to me was the most surprising. After the radical departure from the 1999 version at the very beginning, for a while later I thought they were doing a scene by scene remake but just with different characters.  It was infinitely more subtle than that. Could it even be improved? That they even tried to do better is so laudable and many times I think they did succeed. Well, I thought it was almost better than the 1999 version did but there is a difference of opinion in the Korean family here that the 1999 version is better. It reminds of Harvey Cushing's biography of the great Canadian physician William Osler, which some writers have called a "hagiography" or the biography of a Saint. Hur Jun is a Korean saint - no doubt about it in my mind - the Dongui Bogam forever. Never watched a Korean drama with 50 or more episodes? 

9. Sign, 싸인 2011

Sign is not to be confused with the spellbinding detective mystery from 2016 called Signal.  Sign is a lesser drama and that might have to do with the fact that it is about the life of forensic doctors. One would think with the popularity of CIS and American dramas like that that the Koreans could pull off a good one too. Sign is very good, in spite of the weak plot lines which are almost unbearable at times. However, the attempt to show forensic science by referencing the very real NFS - the National Forensic Service of Korea - succeeded, I think, in making the doings and goings on of this profession better known to the public. It is always the general public who are are always the dupes in Korean dramas, from Joseon dynasty dramas all the way to the present day. There are always the rich and powerful playing the puppet strings of everyone else.

10. Jejunwon제중원, 2010

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51063010
Having taught English in Korea for almost four years, as a teacher in the public education system I was indoctrinated to the cultural history of Korea and the atrocities inflicted on the Korean people during the Japanese colonial period.  Make no mistake - that time in the history of Korea - even before the Korean war - was no joke. This drama is poignant in the context for those times, beginning when the last King of the Joeson dynasty ruled, to the Japanese colonial takeover. Parallel to those historic events we have the unfolding of the medical drama where the Korean people transition from practicing traditional or Chinese medicine to the techniques of modern surgery.  A white missionary who was also a doctor and actual historical figure appears in this drama. This drama is in fact based around a lot of historical characters and events, who often appear in scenes, if not whole episodes. For today, the Jejunwon, that held the first beginnings of the modern Korean hospital, lives on as the Severence Hospital, itself associated with one of the best Universities in Korea - Yonsei University.

In this drama the first and best of the Korean surgeons turns out to be the poor son of a butcher and himself a butcher, the lowest undesirable class in the later Joseon.  The drama is about how he becomes the first and the best scalpel wielding doctor in Korea, better than an aristocratic Korean who went to Japan to learn modern surgical techniques. It is a class war struggle where heart and brains win out over class and privilege and where later class and privilege win heart and brains. It's also a drama about loyalty and fierce patriotism to the Korean people.

11. General Hospital 2, 종합병원 2008

This drama was hilarious and it reminded me of my favourite TV medical dramas when I was kid in the 1960's, especially the superb UK "Is there a doctor in the House".  However it was not nearly as bombastic, darkly humorous, absurd or slapstick hilarious. In fact, it was very heart warming and serious whilst playing off the comical residents with the seriousness of actual medical cases. The leading actor Cha Tae Hyun is a gifted comic actor and he was able to blend the seriousness of being a resident in the surgery department with character of a comedian. (Cha Tae-Hyun is also superb in a film I heartily recommend called "My Sassy Girl", even if you only watch the first 8 minutes).

The lead character is a resident who has to learn care for patients, exercise a good bed side manner, and not feel defeated when errors are made.  Though not the brightest of the residents in training and did not attend the best school (Koreans are really cliquish and snobbish about school rankings), he did have the most human compassion for others - a trait recognized by only the best of his superiors. Many actors with the exception I think of Cha Tae Hyun were returning from the first version of General Hospital almost a decade earlier. In the first series Lee Jae-Ryong was like Cha Tae Hyun, a first year resident just trying to survive the militaristic orders of her overseers. In the second series which is over a decade later in real time, Jae-Ryong becomes Tae Hyun's supervisor. This is a genuinely funny, warm and compassionate TV medical drama.

This post is dedicated to Dramafever and Viki, Korean TV drama and movie hosting sites that have provided us with truly awesome entertainment for the past several years. I would also like to make another shout out to Google chromecast, for helping to liberate us from Cable TV, and for being integrated into both the Dramafever and the Viki app. Subscribing to Dramafever or Viki is much cheaper than Netflix and you will never see another ad again.