No, I’m not reviewing the soap opera set in Birmingham that’s been running since 2000. This Doctors is another K-drama, which might be my new favourite thing. This time it’s a 2016 series starring an actress everyone recommended I look out for: Park Shin-hye.
This is pretty much Grey’s Anatomy transplanted from Seattle to Seoul, but with what I am starting to recognise as K-drama characteristics. The thing that possibly attracts me the most is that they all appear to be a single season. They’re long seasons – in this case 20 episodes that are an hour apiece – but they are complete stories where everything gets wrapped up, unlike the usual pattern in TV where storylines get changed, delayed or sped up each time a show gets renewed.
The reason I picked Doctors for my second K-drama was that my main problem with Boys Over Flowers (aside from its addictive quality meaning I stayed up far too late watching it) was the lameness of the main female character, so I looked up lists of K-dramas with kick-ass female leads. This show quite literally opens with its female lead kicking ass, which seemed promising.
In the opening scene, surgeon Yoo Hye-jung deals with a gang of mafia goons causing trouble in the ER by beating them up, to the delight of the junior doctors in her department. The first three episodes of Doctors then form a flashback to the moment during high school when Hye-jung, a troublesome dropout, was sent to live with her grandmother and finally found a reason to work hard. In true melodrama style, she ends up working at the same hospital as her former teacher Hong Ji-hong (Kim Rae-won), ex-friend Jin Seo-woo (Lee Sung-kyung) and ex-friend’s father and has to navigate those complex relationships as well as prove her worth as a neurosurgery fellow.
There is of course a romantic plotline, but there are also stories of revenge, political machinations, corruption and friendship. Plus there are patient-of-the-week (or three-episode arc) stories, some of which are really moving. The acting is for the most part excellent and having the main characters in their 30s means the whole thing feels more grown up and realistic than Boys Over Flowers.
It does still have its flaws. The soundtrack again features the same two or three K-pop ballads over and over, and the orchestral music is super melodramatic. The lead romantic couple have about five kisses in the whole series and the other romances’ high point is holding hands or hugging, which feels pretty lame after sex-heavy Western TV. And while Hye-jung is a martial-arts-expert and a brain surgeon, she is for the most part meek, polite and submissive in a heavily male-dominated world.
This is of course a world of beautiful people, and the fact that they’re surgeons means they have expensive cars and expensive clothes. Food plays a prominent role, which led to me having a lot of cravings for ramen and rice bowls. Shin-hye and the male lead Rae-won have great chemistry, which kept me glued even when they’re making the classic TV couple mistake of keeping pointless secrets from each other.
It’s not The West Wing, or even ER, but it is pretty good TV.