Ji Sung. The man is pure gold. And thanks, in part, to another superb Ji Sung performance, Heart & Seoul has added one more drama to its perfect score list – Doctor John. The show is Kdrama excellence at its best.
“An illness is a despair to patients, and doctors are their hope.” – Doctor Cha Yo-Han
After a year of wallowing in guilt, remorse, and fear because she was unable to save a patient, Kang Shi-Young decides to run away to Madagascar. However, when she gets a call from her father’s best friend, a warden at Chungil Prison, asking her to help out at the prison medical center she agrees to see what she can do. On her first day there she saves the life of one of the prisoners thanks to an arrogant yet highly skilled and knowledgeable inmate, Number 6238. After discovering her tutor was a doctor who is serving time for murder, Shi-Young is hesitant to put her trust in him. But once again while taking his advice, via a phone call, she is able to save yet another prisoner from certain death. Because of that doctor-prisoner, Shi-Young decides to cancel her plans to leave Korea and go back to her position as a second year resident at Seoul Hansae Hospital. Imagine her surprise when she discovers the man who will be leading her department is none other than now ex-inmate 6238.
Cha Yo-Han is an amazingly-skilled physician who earned the nickname “Doctor Ten Seconds” because of how quickly he is able to observe a patient completely, tell what the problem is, and figure out what is causing their pain. The middle finger of his right hand has a continuous bruise on the nail due to his habit of tapping that finger when he is in stressed, serious contemplation. He was recommended by the former Minister of Health and Welfare to be the teaching physician in the pain department at Seoul Hansae Hospital. It doesn’t take long for those both under and over him to discover what a talented doctor he is and realize the numerous things they can learn from him will prove to be invaluable. People describe him using the words tenacious and fearless. One person from Chungil Prison said, “The Doctor Cha I saw in jail performed surgeries outside of operating rooms and wasn’t afraid to do surgeries he wasn’t specialized in.” He had worked at Seoul Myeongwon University Hospital before he was sentenced to three years at Chungil Prison for murder. Doctor Cha feels no remorse for the action that landed him in prison, saying, “I didn’t sin. I broke the law.”
Kang Shi-Young is a second year resident who comes from a family of doctors at Seoul Hansae Hospital. Her father is the chairman, her mother is chief of the anesthesiology and pain department, her aunt is a professor in the same department, her uncle is the hospital director, and her younger sister is a third year resident in the pain department right along side her. Shi-Young’s biggest asset is also her biggest weakness – she feels extreme empathy for patients. From her first year, her examinations were so lengthy that she was ordered not to talk more than a minute with the patients. Shi-Young has a habit of neglecting her shoelaces (they are often untied) however, because of Doctor Cha’s teaching, “Every patient has timing. If you miss it then it’s too late. At the timing, the doctor must always be ready to run,” she realizes every aspect of Yo-Han’s life is centered around him being a doctor and putting his patients first which renews her passion to be the best doctor she can be.
Prosecutor Son Seok-Ki is the man responsible for sending Doctor Cha Yo-Han to prison. He had recommended a heavy sentence and was disappointed when the judge ruled only three years. He is not happy that Yo-Han is practicing medicine again and is keeping an eye on the doctor from afar. Although Prosecutor Son dislikes Doctor Cha he does admit the man is a phenomenally skilled physician. Prosecutor Son is living with the pain of having lost his six year old son, three years ago, when the boy was kidnapped and murdered.
Aside from Kang Shi-Young, the doctors under Cha Yo-Han in the pain department at Seoul Hansae Hospital consist of Lee Yoo-Joon (who is a fellow and has the most seniority), Kang Mi-Rae (who is a third year resident and Doctor Kang Shi-Young’s younger sister), Heo Joon (a fourth year resident), and Kim Won-Hee (a first year resident). These doctors are in awe over Doctor Cha’s medical abilities and come to admire, love, and respect him.
I love Ji Sung. He is truly one of the best actors South Korea has to offer. If you haven’t seen his spectacular performance in Kill Me, Heal Me, for which he had 13 nominations with seven wins, you are missing greatness! His only drawback is that he is handsome to the point of being distractingly gorgeous! Would Doctor John have been as good without Ji Sung in the title role? Probably not quite as good, and I can guarantee I wouldn’t have sighed as much watching it. Ji Sung now takes the lead as the actor with the most dramas (3) on my perfect score list. For information on this fabulous actor you can go to my Defendant review.
Doctor John does so much more than simply entertain, it also brings up, and makes us think about, a very serious and important topic – euthanasia/mercy killing/death with dignity. It’s a heavy subject matter, one that can’t help but spark a passionate debate, and this drama makes a reasonable case for both sides of the argument –
If we are empathetic enough to put our pets to sleep when they’re suffering, why shouldn’t we be able to take the pain away from a loved one that is suffering from an incurable illness? vs. Although a person may be in excruciating pain, taking a life, even if it is done through empathy and love, is still murder. What do you think? I wonder if watching Doctor John will change your mind.
While the show’s main theme deals with euthanasia there are several medical cases Doctor Cha and his team tackle which are all very interesting and unusual. Here are a few illnesses the team diagnose and treat – Fabry disease, Myasthenia gravis, CIPA, Shingels, Melioidosis, Neuroblastoma, and phantom pain. If you’re like me you probably have no idea how to pronounce those illnesses let alone know what they are. However, each one is fascinating and the pain doctors explain them all well enough that you won’t have to worry about being in a medical fog as you watch the show.
I found it fascinating that the hospital had a department dedicated to the discovery/cause of a person’s chronic pain and the alleviation of it. As far as I know, we don’t have anything like that in the U.S. Here we just see a general family doctor and they make a diagnosis. If they are unable to find the cause of the pain they refer us to a specialist and that doctor runs a bunch of tests. I quite liked the way it was done on the drama.
Cha Yo-Han has an interesting way of looking at his job. He claims pain doctors are a lot like detectives in that they both track down the bad guys and get rid of them. He actually says it much more eloquently than I did but the meaning is the same.
I had one major question about Doctor Cha that the writer never answered. It wasn’t something that was important to the plot but it did bother me. I can’t be direct about what was going through my head or I’ll give away an important discovery you’ll make later in the show. All I’m willing to say is that we are able to see Doctor Cha has a lifestyle that he could only afford if he was extremely wealthy. A flashback shows when he was a young boy his family wasn’t rich, and he spent three years in prison away from earning money. How in the world was he able to afford his amazing house and all the tremendously expensive things in it? It just didn’t make sense to me. Did he have that house before going to prison and if so, did it just sit empty for three years? Who made the payments on it while he was away serving time? Did he get the home and all the stuff after he was released from prison? You see how that doesn’t really have any bearing on the show, but it would have been nice to have all of his expensive “things” explained.
Although the screenplay for Doctor John was wonderfully written by Kim Ji-Woon, the show was based on the novel Kami no Te by Yo Kusakabe. Japan also released a drama (entitled Hand of God) this year which was based on that same book but its synopsis doesn’t sound nearly a good as Doctor John. Two more Yo Kusakabe’s novels have been the inspiration for other Japanese dramas, each one dealing with medical topics, so who knows, maybe we’ll get more Kdramas in the future based on those same books.
I was surprised when I discovered Doctor John sports three different directors. I have no idea how that worked (each directed different episodes, all three collaborated at the same time, the first director was let go and then another took over and eventually quite so a third person was hired, one directed just the medical scenes while the others did something else…) but I was very impressed with the creativity involved in the directing process of this show. When Doctor Cha is having a serious conversation with someone, every now and then it shows the two characters somewhere else while they are talking, but we know they haven’t really moved from the spot they were in. It visually explains that during that particular conversation the duo has closed everything else around them out and are the only two people in the world at the time. It’s quite clever and very artistic.
There are three songs played on the show that I wasn’t thrilled with (Look At, Pain and Death, and Way Back). They aren’t bad songs, they’re just not good enough to be played over and over. Pain and Death, performed by Samuel Seo, has a distinct percussion in the background that sounds a bit like a heartbeat and that’s awesome since the song is connected to a medical show. Baek A-Yeon, sings Just Go, a ballad with a fast beat and great drumming. My favorite song is a beautiful ballad entitled Reason whose lyrics and music were written by Tree Tube, the artist who performs it. As for the instrumental songs on the soundtrack, they are so good they actually make up for the three songs I didn’t care for.
It’s only natural for the majority of the show to take place at Seoul Hansae Hospital since the anesthesiology and pain department is located in the basement of the hospital. Other than that, the only backgrounds that stand out in my mind are the prison and Doctor Cha’s house.
Doctor John is without a doubt my favorite medical Kdrama since Good Doctor. Although the writing doesn’t set things up for a “part two”, I’d love to find out they are planning a sequel – but only if the writer, directors, and actors all came back.
Multi-award winning Ji Sung
Good chemistry between lead characters
Three songs I didn’t care for were played too often