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Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 17 to end

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Dr Jin

Thankfully there’s not long to go with Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012), but that doesn’t stop our intrepid team of scriptwriters from going down with melodrama of Titanic proportions on display. Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) is spending more of his time clutching his head and passing out. Sadly this does not also induce unconsciousness in us and the rest of the cast carry the show until he revives. Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) and the Dowager Queen (Jeong Hye-Seon) have installed King Gojong (Lee Hyung-Suk) on the throne, but are now disputing the appointment of high-ranking officials based on merit or clan allegiance. To break up this alliance, the increasingly unsympathetic Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) is working as a double, if not triple, agent for his father Kim Byung-Hee (Kim Eung-Soo). This means deceiving Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) based on their supposed continuing friendship. Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) is training as a surgeon and goes to assist Dr Jin deliver a breech baby by Caesarian section. This doesn’t leave many medical operations to attempt. Remember Dr Jin has already drained a blister on a big toe — after that, what mountain is left to climb? So now we come into the final piece of history that will lead to war. We arbitrarily find ourselves in 1866 with the suppression of Catholicism firmly on the agenda. Dr Jin saves the life of Father Félix-Claire Ridel. Unfortunately Kim Byung-Hee produces a situation in which it’s impossible for Lee Ha-Weung to ignore the anti-Catholic law so we now wait for the retaliatory French raid on Ganghwa Island. The headaches are growing more severe but I still can’t manage to lose consciousness. No wait! A young boy is injured. He could die. Why is Dr Jin flickering in and out of existence. It’s his great, great grandfather! Come on Hong Young-Rae, prove you’re a worthy successor to Dr Jin and save that boy! Oh, wonderful. Now we have to watch another three episodes.

Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) refusing to disappear

Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) refusing to disappear

Well the mutual blackmail attempts continue as the French decide whether to send gunships. Unable to stand any more pain, Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) throws herself in front of Dr Jin and takes a sword thrust meant for him. For the first time in this series, his attempt at open-heart surgery fails to save a life. Before she dies, she tell Dr Jin that Min Ah, the modern lover, is already dead. I have my tenses wrong there. . . .will have been dead by the time he gets back (if he does, that is). Quite how she knows this is a bit baffling but, armed with this information, he goes to throw himself off a cliff. Sadly Hong Young-Rae stops him. So now the useless Kim Dae-Gyun (Kim Myeong-Su) deceives himself into believing he has a brain and betrays his father. Daddy Kim finally sees he can do no more and commits suicide. This leaves the loyal bastard alone, sobbing his heart out, thinking there’s nothing left to live for — after twenty hours of watching, I understand the feeling. We then cut to the battlefield with the French using canon to win the day while Hong Young-Rae tries to patch up the wounded. The tediously dramatic climax in Joseon limps across the screen. Kim Kyung-Tak makes a half-hearted attempt to assassinate Lee Ha-Weung. When that fails, he agrees to lead Dr Jin through French lines to rescue Hong Young-Rae who, naturally refuses to leave. She’s a doctor and she’s not going to abandon her patients. At the end of a lot of fighting, Kim Kyung-Tak is dead and Hong Young-Rae is seriously wounded. After performing emergency surgery to remove shrapnel, Dr Jin also receives a fatal wound, falls off the wall surrounding the fort they are defending, and wakes up in a modern hospital bed. He has a single strip of bandage around his forehead. This is supposed to signal he’s had brain surgery to remove a foetus-like growth from his skull. How they managed to do the surgery without shaving his head and having him on full life-support is puzzling. Anyway, he leaps out of his bed, runs through the hospital and finds Yoo Mi-Na who flatlines. There’s drama as Dr Jin shouts for “epi” and then braces with the paddles to fight for her life. Fortunately, in Joseon, Hong Young-Rae opens her eyes as the anaesthetic wear off. This triggers a miraculous recovery in our time and cheers from the other hospital staff. Dr Jin has triumphed again.

Dr Jin with bandage and Yoo Mi-Na (Park Min-Young)

Dr Jin with bandage and Yoo Mi-Na (Park Min-Young)

It’s always difficult to draw comparisons. In spirit, the series could be rerunning the same ideas as in Lest Darkness Fall by L Sprague de Camp where a graduate student of history travels back to Rome just before the start of the Dark Ages. The question is whether to intervene to preserve Rome. Or this could be a version of the set-up in To Your Scattered Bodies Go in the Riverworld series by Philip José Farmer where this return to a reconstructed past is a kind of moral experiment run by unspecified intelligences to see whether humanity is ethical or fit to be the rulers of the universe as in Transit by Edmund Cooper (cf Seahorse in the Sky where passengers in an aeroplane wake up in coffins).

Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han)  and Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong)

Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) and Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong)

Is it all just a dream? Perhaps most infamously, Dallas ran an entire season which turned out to be Pam dreaming. This could be going on either in Yoo Mi-Na’s head after her surgery or in Dr Jin’s head after his surgery. Except in the first episode, in flashback, and at the end we get to see Choon Hong, and the doctor who wakes Dr Jin says he was found some distance away from the hospital and hands him the ring found in his “strange clothes”. We’re therefore supposed to think he’s actually travelled. Closer to this series, perhaps we should remember X-Files: Series 6, Episode 3. Triangle where Mulder travels to 1939 and then wakes up in hospital with the bruise on his cheek. Similarly, MacGyver: Season 5, Episode 12. Serenity where he travels to the Wild West and wakes up with the knife.

In this I note the actual mechanism for transmission in either direction seems to be death. In the first episode, Dr Jin falls off the roof of the hospital. To return, he has to be stabbed in the gut and fall off a high wall. This might characterise the experience as Limbo as in the TV series Lost. Or it could be a loop as in By His Bootstraps by Robert Heinlein where Bob Wilson iterates through the time gate until he emerges a free man or something. In the first episode of this series, we meet a man covered in bandages. The tumour is removed from his head and he’s later on the roof of the hospital. Perhaps this is Dr Jin ending one of his loops and, when the current Dr Jin falls off the roof, this is the next iteration. That would explain why no-one at the end recalls the man in bandages. More to the point, it explains why Dr Jin gives instructions to the young version of Choon-Hong. Despite his protestations of love and fidelity to Yoo Mi-Na, he expects to go round the loop at least once more.

Put all this together and Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin turns out to be easily the worst piece of Korean drama I’ve seen so far. It not only fails as science fiction, it’s also woeful, by-the-numbers sageuk with only one sequence even remotely reaching a standard of acceptability. This is definitely not recommended.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) thoughts on the first four episodes
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 13 to 16

Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 13 to 16

December 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Dr Jin

Well, as we accelerate into the second half of Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012), everyone is plotting now. Royal Doctor, Yoo Hong-Pil (Kim Il-Woo) continues the plan with Kim Byung-Hee (Kim Eung-Soo) to kill King Cheoljong (Kim Byeong-Se) and blame Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon). But it all requires careful timing. The clan need to move their nominee into position as heir before the latest puppet dies. Working the other side of the fence, Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) plots with the Dowager Queen (Jeong Hye-Seon) to line up the boy who will become King Gojong (Lee Hyung-Suk). This is proving difficult but he does literally hit the jackpot and manages to get Kim Dae-Gyun (Kim Myeong-Su) exiled for trading with Westerners. That gold finally came in useful.

Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) and Dr Jin (Song Seung-Heon)

Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) and Dr Jin (Song Seung-Heon)

Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) and Dr Jin finally manage to convince Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) that it’s her destiny to marry Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) so she’s really miserable while the young lover manages the first smile we’ve seen out of him for hours of screen time. Not surprisingly, Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) walks back into the picture with vague explanations of how he managed to survive and who helped. He’s currently hiding out with Choon Hong. Which just leaves us with all the doctoring. To fire up the excitement, the King decides he has acute appendicitis and rolls around in agony. This would normally be a quick and easy operation, but Dr Jin discovers his patient is anaemic. So he throws together a blueprint for a centrifuge and before you can say, “Blood typing for Dummies”, he’s discovered that Lee Ha-Weung is the right type to act as live donor. There’s just one problem. Lee Ha-Weung wants the King to die so his son can become King. Dr Jin gets all disappointed that this great man should want him to kill the King. This produces the irony that Kim Byung-Hee and Dr Jin insist the surgery should go ahead. Saving the King comes first. They can argue about the succession later. Anyway, as the script requires, it all works out well because, when the King wakes up and, wait for it, feels as if he’s cured, he’s so overjoyed he says the young boy can be adopted by the Dowager Queen which puts him on track to succeed. Kim Byung-Hee barely flickers. He thinks he’s got lots of time to persuade the King to actually nominate someone else as the heir.

Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) and Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young)

Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) and Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young)

This leave us with two points of interest. Choon-Hong proves she’s a genuine time traveller by showing Dr Jin the Rubik’s cube he gave her in the hospital as she recovered from brain surgery. If she can go back and forth, so can he. Hong Young-Rae is now dreaming of Yoo Mi-Na, her future self, and to prove the entire thing is all going to require the maximum melodrama to work out, she’s also diagnosed with breast cancer. I have visions of script meetings where they discussed whether Dr Jin could search the countryside for meteors and hope to find enough radioactive material to give radiotherapy. This idea was, of course, dismissed. The risk of him finding Kryptonite was too great. Then comes the operation. Should he save the girl? He cuts. The pain in his head explodes. Lights flash before his eyes. He’s changing the future (again) but this time with the Universe telling him he’s doing the wrong thing. My head hurts too. The future is fighting back. “Don’t save the woman!” it shouts. So the naturally stubborn Dr Jin oversees the operation and her life is saved. He’s the irresistible force and the Universe had better look out. So to prove everything is now up for grabs, Kim Byung-Hee orders the worthless Kim Kyung-Tak to kill Lee Ha-Weung. He shoots. The man falls. Has the future really been changed?

Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) fated to be one of life's losers

Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) fated to be one of life’s losers

Frankly I can’t say I care. Dr Jin has been blundering around in the past saving everyone and changing history beyond all recognition since the series began, even introducing blood transfusion and making his own stethoscope out of bamboo. He saved hundreds in a cholera outbreak. Are we to assume this had no effect on the future because most of the people saved were slaves and peasants? It’s absurd this script makes everything turn on saving the yangban Kim Byung-Hee. In a science fiction plot, Dr Jin has completely wrecked the past and no matter what he might try to correct things, he’s doomed to fail. Except this is a historical fantasy with chronic romantic pretensions so one of the two versions of this woman, Hong Young-Rae or Yoo Mi-Na, will presumably get her man (or perhaps they both will). I’ve given up caring. However, just to bring us up to date (ha!), the latest explanation of this time travel ability depends on a particular mutation in the brain — step aside Time Lord in your TARDIS, this is a job for X-Woman Kate Pryde, i.e. the adult Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat. This explains both Choon-Hong’s physical travel and the visions of the future or past. However, she now informs us the downside of this mutation is that it becomes the site of a tumour if what the mutant does pushes either end of the transfer out of balance. So the foetus-like growth Dr Jin removed in the first episode was the organ permitting travel but grown life-threatening. Choon Hong tells Dr Jin he’s only got days left before he too dies. His headaches grow more frequent and disabling. Even so, he saves Lee Ha-Weung who, when the King dies without changing the implicit nomination of the boy destined become King Gojong, blackmails Kim Byung-Hee into permitting his son to be named heir. Progress of a kind is maintained as Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) lurches towards the end for which will bring us all a merciful release from these terrible flashing lights and headache-inducing pictures on the screen.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) thoughts on the first four episodes
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 17 to end

Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 9 to 12

December 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Dr Jin

Well, as Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) progresses, my hopes of crossing dimensions have been put on hold as our good Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) has confessed travelling back in time to Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young). And she believes him — he just looks so convincing with that sexy ponytail and those handsome eyes. Anyway, she’s now enthused with the idea of learning future medicine and so breaks off the engagement with Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) — poor boy, he looks so lost. Her mother (Kim Hye-Ok) is very distressed at the failure of this arranged marriage and throws her daughter out of the house. With nowhere else to go, she moves into the clinic. To keep the pot boiling, the jealous Royal Doctor, Yoo Hong-Pil (Kim Il-Woo) conspires with Kim Dae-Gyun (Kim Myeong-Su) to frame Dr Jin for killing patients. All the clinic doctors get a beating and the clinic is closed. Note the scale of values on display here. The doctors are supposed to have killed several peasants so they each get ten strokes. I suppose it’s painful but, as punishments go, it hardly matches the seriousness of homicide. To move round Left Side Minister Kim Byung-Hee (Kim Eung-Soo), Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) gets in to see the Queen Dowager (Jeong Hye-Seon) and persuades her to allow Dr Jin to give her a wellbeing examination. While he’s inside the Palace, one of the Dowager Queen’s favourite entertainers falls ill. Yoo Hong-Pil, the Royal Doctor, says it’s just indigestion. The good doctor diagnoses a perforated ulcer. To demonstrate the point, he cuts open the man’s stomach with the Dowager Queen looking on, points out the hole, and just in case she wants to try it herself later on, shows her how to sew the stomach wall back together. It’s all terribly educational and, suitably impressed, she orders the clinic reopened. Meanwhile Lee Ha-Weung has moved a gambling operation into the upmarket brothel and is coining money. He plans to throw a banquet for the Dowager Queen and persuade her to back his son for the position of next King.

Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) and  and Kim Dae-Gyun (Kim Myeong-Su)

Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) and and Kim Dae-Gyun (Kim Myeong-Su)

We now come to a sequence showing what Korean drama can do if it tries hard enough. Mrs Hong stops eating properly after throwing her disobedient daughter out and gets Beriberi. Being stubborn she refuses to eat “ordinary” food with the right vitamins inside, so Dr Jin introduces donuts filled with the right stuff. This tempts her into eating and she begins to recover. When the Dowager Queen hears of this, she wants to eat donuts so they are ordered for the banquet. It all boils up nicely. Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) decides to assassinate Left Minister Kim Byung-Hee who, in turn, plans to kill the Dowager Queen and blame everyone troublesome. Come the day, Kim Kyung-Tak saves his father and, in a quiet back street, unmasks Hong Young-Whee. The Dowager Queen is fed poison and, under Dr Jin’s direction, Yoo Hong-Pil stomach pumps the poison out and saves her life, i.e. the murder plot is failing. But Dr Jin, Hong Young-Rae and Lee Ha-Weung are arrested anyway and tortured. With the King fed edited news, he orders their execution and it’s left to the conflicted Kim Kyung-Tak to save the day. As a reward, Kim Byung-Hee orders his illegitimate son to commit suicide, having carefully removed the bullet from the gun, and sends off Lee Ha-Weung into exile. Up to this point, this sequence is all relatively small-scale in terms of emotion and has a clever mystery element. Although we could have done with a less dramatic piece of surgery and the execution scene is interminable, this has been very successful. And finally, at the halfway mark, we get hints of how Dr Jin came to move through time (if that’s what he did). It all seems to be connected with Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon). How or why she has done this is unclear, but she tells him he has messed everything up because he saved the life of Kim Dae-Gyun. At least this is a step in the right direction and, if we’re going for the simplistic solution, Dr Jin can get the future back on track if only he can get rid of the Left Minister and fix the life of Hong Young-Rae which has been disrupted by his arrival. I could have done with a half-hour monologue from our hostess explaining exactly what’s going on, but that would be too much to expect at the halfway stage. Hopefully, we’ll get more infodumps nearer the end.

Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) and Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han)

Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) and Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han)

We now shift to Jinju in Gyeongsang province and the time is 1862, i.e. we arrive for the uprising. All the key players are present and tie themselves in rather silly knots as we slip into corny sageuk melodrama. Kim Kyung-Tak and the army arrive to put down the rebellion which is now led by Hong Young-Whee — promotion comes fast in the distant past. Lee Ha-Weung is passing through on his way into exile and Dr Jin is running after him to stop a premature execution ordered by Kim Byung-Hee. Hong Young-Rae is trying to find her brother. On this road trip, Dr Jin kills an insect nesting in a brigand’s ear and stitches up a corrupt magistrate who later shoots Hong Young-Whee. Dr Jin is now burdened with guilt but, when he returns to the capital, he’s promoted into the Palace to look after the King. Naturally, Kim Byung-Hee and Yoo Hong-Pil plan to kill the King and blame Dr Jin. Hong Young-Rae is left unconscious and in shock while an anxious Kim Kyung-Tak mops her fevered brow with a wet rag — it’s all he can manage in a tent in the middle of a battlefield after killing all the rebellious peasants. Hong Young-Whee fell off a cliff and is missing — we’re supposed to think he’s dead.

Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) caught in the middle

Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) caught in the middle

So we had a few good moments in this quartet of episodes before it relapsed into court intrigues and conspiracies. I’m warming to Kim Eung-Soo as the villainous Kim Byung-Hee. He’s a steady captain of the corrupt clan ship, doing just what he needs to maintain control. Kim Jae-Joong is still walking around like a pale ghost, making Kim Kyung-Tak a bit wearing to watch, but he’s beginning to show signs of a brain capable of independent thought even if he was prepared to kill himself on his father’s orders — also following this line, Lee Beom-Soo as Prince Lee Ha-Weung was submissive to the King’s order to drink poison. What a terrible waste of talent if all the best men obey the command to die if that’s what their Lords order. So Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) is verging on the unwatchable, but I’m still vaguely interested to see what explanation the scriptwriters offer for this time travel.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) thoughts on the first four episodes
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 13 to 16
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 17 to end

Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 5 to 8

December 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Dr Jin

Well now we have these reviews for Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) under way, I need to catch up a little with some of the history on display in this Korean drama. Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon), our time traveller, has ended up in the Joseon of 1860 and has met Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) before he becomes the Regent for his son, King Gojong (Lee Hyung-Suk). We have King Cheoljong (Kim Byeong-Se) on the throne as this series starts. The initial intention of placing these real people in the path of our neurosurgeon is supposed to give him his first experience of keeping history on track (ha! as if that’s what’s happening in this series). So when the young king-in-waiting catches cholera, our hero is in there “inventing” IV technology to prevent dehydration. That way he keeps the future king alive for his appointment with destiny. Everything else is, of course, absurd. Having cured everyone in this peasant class suburb, our good doctor eventually succumbs to cholera (not surprising since he would have had no natural immunity to it). Thanks to Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) inserting a drip, he’s soon up and about and able to run around rescuing the sick when Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) and the troops turn up to burn the village. Disease control in those days was rather basic. If you can’t cure the disease, destroy all places of possible infection. Notice that a blacksmith has now made needles for insertion into veins for the IV drips, there are glass jars slung from bamboo poles with clamps to regulate the flow. And when Dr Jin fell down, Hong Young-Rae knew exactly where his femoral artery was to save his life. This medical expertise is spreading with the speed of a contagious disease.

Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) wise beyond his years

Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) wise beyond his years

Anyway, now Dr Jin’s talents have been recognised, he’s established himself as a teacher (can’t imagine why he does not think this is changing the future). He’s teaching basic anatomy and the theories of infection control with antiseptics made by boiling down rice wine to liberate the alcohol. Our good doctor then finds himself called into action by Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon). Yeon-Sim (No Eul), one of the girls, has developed syphilis. So our expert is all fired up to invent Penicillin using mould scraped off whatever happens to be rotting. But then he stops himself. If he does this, he says to himself, he will change history. This is a revelation. Change history. No he can’t possibly do that! I suppose we just have to close our eyes and accept this farrago of rubbish as the best a scriptwriting team inexperienced in science fiction can produce. He started off saving individuals who would have died. Then he saved the capital from a cholera epidemic — imagine how many people that saved who should have died. And now he stops because he wants to let a prostitute die! This series has some twisted morality on display.

Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong)  as a desperately jealous young man

Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong) as a desperately jealous young man

The relationship between the illegitimate Kim Kyung-Tak and the legitimate Kim Dae-Gyun (Kim Myeong-Su) is boiling up nicely. The young one has been victimized but still has a sense of morality about him. The aggressive legitimate son is a crook who was profiteering during the cholera outbreak and is dealing with the Westerners on the quiet which is a federal crime. Anyway, as a result of his market manipulations, dim-but-legitimate son has managed to amass a cache of gold. Lee Ha-Weung and Joo Pal Yi (Lee Won-Jong) work out he has the gold hidden in his home. Since they also know Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) is the leader of a rebellious bandit group, they persuade him to steal the gold. Meanwhile Dr Jin’s conscience has been gnawing at his vitals, so he whips together an instant production facility and produces Penicillin while teaching the doctors all about the scientific method. This saves Yeon-Sim only for her to be arrested and tortured to reveal whom she told about meeting the Westerner. Rather than give up her love, she commits suicide leaving Lee Ha-Weung all fired up to change Korean society for the better. He starts by getting Dr Jin to operate to remove a giant tumour from neck of the current Dowager Queen’s favourite niece. Meanwhile Kim Kyung-Tak pushes up the date for his marriage to Hong Young-Rae. When she goes to Dr Jin’s clinic to quietly return his future clothing, she’s injured in a fire set by one of the doctors who has stolen the Penicillin to sell on at a vast profit. Now Dr Jin has to save the girl (again) which would be straightforward except Kim Dae-Gyun is encouraged to kill him and Lee Ha-Weung. Oh dear, the assassins are back in action wearing their black straw hats of office.

Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) it's tough to be the love interest in Korean drama

Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) it’s tough to be the love interest

As an irrelevant aside, suppose Dr Jin has not gone back in time but has moved sideways into another dimension which is at an earlier point in its development. If that was the case, the timeline would be irrelevant and he could make a new world without worrying about its future. I mention this because he keeps talking about coming from “another world” rather than from this world’s future. In fact, that version of the plot would solve all of the paradox issues at a stroke. I suppose Song Seung-Heon is not doing too badly as a fish out of water — Dr Jin does have trouble with the local culture even though he’s apparently grown a ponytail in incredibly fast time — and it has been mildly interesting to watch Lee Beom-Soo sober up as Lee Ha-Weung. There’s very bad continuity before, during and after the fire as the young King Gojong seems to have disappeared. That just leaves us with Kim Jae-Joong doing reasonably well as the conflicted and naturally jealous Kim Kyung-Tak. Everyone else is on auto-pilot as Joseon stock characters. Overall, Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin is rather tedious as historical fantasy. I had hoped there would be invention as science fiction but, so far, the only thing missing has been a plague of zombies for him to cure, i.e. the medical side of the plot is ludicrous and the Joseon sageuk side is by-the-numbers court conspiracies.

For reviews of the other episodes, see:
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) thoughts on the first four episodes
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 13 to 16
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 17 to end

Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) thoughts on the first four episodes

December 21, 2012 1 comment

Dr Jin

There’s a first for everything and this opening episode provides me with a complete novelty But before we get to that, a word about genre classification. This is supposedly a science fiction story, using time travel to relocate a skillful neurosurgeon from modern times to the Joseon period of 1860. We therefore have a man with all the skills to completely revolutionise medical treatment. This would potentially introduce major changes in the timeline with him saving hundreds of people who should have died. We’ll come to the explicit treatment of the paradox issue later. For now let’s just focus on the mechanism. This falls squarely into the fantasy area. Our surgeon opens up the skull of an emergency patient and, as he’s repairing the immediate injuries, decides to look at a tumour which shows up on the scan. This proves to be a highly immature foetus. As he removes it, there’s a flash of light and he’s aware of a desire to “return” somewhere. We see the foetus preserved in a glass jar, presumably using formalin or its equivalent, and we’re to assume it’s now manipulating the present. After a number of incidents, our hero finds himself falling off the roof of the hospital trying to catch the falling foetus only to land in the past. For the record, the foetus is photographed using creepy lighting to imply it’s sentient and working “magic”.

Dr Jin (Song Seung-Heon) and Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo)

Dr Jin (Song Seung-Heon) and Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo)

Based on the manga “Jin” by Motoka Murakami, Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) is a Korean drama remake of the Japanese television series which ran from 2009 to 2011. This sageuk features Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) with two women in his life. The first is Yoo Mi-Na in modern times with the same actress playing Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) in Joseon times. Unfortunately, the Joseon version is engaged to marry Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong). He’s the illegitimate son of Kim Byung-Hee (Kim Eung-Soo), the Minister of Justice, which is shown as a dreadful social position. Appropriately he’s in position to almost arrest our hero when he first appears in Joseon. Fortunately, our hero is rescued by Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) — a real historical figure so there can be a token consideration of the paradox issues. The other female of note is Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) who floats between all interested parties as a top hostess.

Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) as the hostess with the mostest

Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) as the hostess with the mostest

So here we go with the central problem with the script. If our time traveller changes anything in the past, there’s a cascade effect into the future. For an extreme example, “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury has a traveller who kills a butterfly while on a dinosaur hunt. When they return to the “present”, they find it different. While the most obvious paradoxes come when you kill your own parents, the implications of any change are potentially profound. If A died when he was twenty years old, there’s no problem if our traveller kills him at the right time. But if he saves A who then goes on to have ten children, there’s a ripple effect as all these new people live out lives they should not have had. So what does our good doctor do. Well, he’s no sooner walked into Hanyang (literally translated as the fortress on the Han river) than he comes across Joo Pal Yi (Lee Won-Jong) choking. Now any sensible time traveller looks on dispassionately and says he cannot intervene without upsetting history. Ha! As if. . . Our good doctor is immediately into action with the Heimlich Manoeuvre. When that doesn’t work, he’s pretending he’s still in the ER. “Intubate stat!” he shouts to no-one in particular grabbing a knife and cutting open Joo Pal Yi’s neck. Perhaps everyone is in shock at this murderous attack, because they all stand back and do nothing to stop him as he blows into the man’s neck to get the lungs working. Then he’s manoeuvring in the Heimlich style and the obstruction pops out. The patient is immediately leaping around assuring everyone he’s fine while the doctor staunches the blood with an old piece of cloth guaranteed to be full of bacteria. Minutes later, he’s bashing on the skull of Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) with a wooden wallet and a chisel. In my early years, people called this a lobotomy but, in these primitive times, it enables our visiting doctor to remove a blood clot with his fingers. If you missed it the first time, he’s off again minutes later. This time cracking open the head of Kim Byung-Hee. Remarkably, all these patients are up and frolicking the next day. They had fantastic powers of recuperation in Josean times. This is being observed by the sceptical Royal Doctor, Yoo Hong-Pil (Kim Il-Woo) — he’s one of these professional naysayers.

Hong Young-Rae  as the Joseon Hong Young-Rae

Park Min-Young as the Joseon Hong Young-Rae

Not content to show off his carpentry skills on people’s skulls, he then demonstrates the skills of a lifeguard to half the court, swimming out and bringing a drowning Choon-Hong to shore. As she’s about to die, he fondles her breasts and kisses her dead body. No-one objects to this necrophilia. Instinctively they know this will one day be known as cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Then before you can say “I’m really a brain surgeon from the future,” he’s stitching up a poor woman’s forehead which is leaking blood like it’s on special offer at the local donation centre. And then guess what. He walks back into Hanyang and finds he’s in the middle of a cholera outbreak. This guy is like a lightning conductor. He only has to walk into shot and someone drops down with a malady only he can diagnose and cure. So now he’s the only one who can stop the epidemic from killing thousands. The scriptwriters should have given him a real challenge like bubonic plague, not something this easy-peasy.

Indeed, you can just hear the scriptwriters fleshing out the script outline and asserting they needed value for money out of the idea of transporting a doctor back in time. Just think, they said gleefully, he can save an entire city from death by curing cholera. How many butterflies is that worth? But you are shaking your heads. The historical records show no major death toll from cholera in 1860 so the doctor must have been there. Except there’s absolutely nothing in the historical records of the day to show revolutionary medical treatments based on opening up the body to remove clots or tracheal obstructions. Since these events are being witnessed by the Royal Doctor, there would have been records. So since our good Doctor knew no time traveller had introduced advanced medical techniques in 1860, he must be changing the timeline from the moment he sets foot in the past. Having a token real person to worry about is a nonsense. Everyone is a real person for these purposes and the more people he saves, the worse it gets. For these reasons, we have to abandon Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin as anything approaching science fiction and see it as nothing more than wooly historical fantasy.

For reviews of other episodes, see:
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 13 to 16
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 17 to end

Dong Yi — final thoughts

August 12, 2011 6 comments

It’s easy to dismiss shows like Dong Yi as being trite romantic melodrama. Worse, of course, is the cross-cultural factor. Not only is this historical romance, but it’s also from a foreign culture. So, before going any further, let’s put all our prejudices to one side and take a deep breath. Yes, this is a sageuk serial but, as in other countries, Korea has a fascination with its own history and, more importantly, likes to universalise events to make each retelling of their history relevant to modern viewers. The Joseon Dynasty has been a particularly rich seam for film and television directors to mine yet, as time has passed and sophistication increased, we’ve moved on from the versions based on folk tales or the strict historical record, to contemporary shows that mix folk tales, legends and pure invention into the history. For the Koreans, the quality of the drama is everything and, for a while, the viewers were distracted from the contemporary politics by the introduction of more sexual themes in their television dramas. Now, we’re back to the idea of history as allegory. Some like to call this fusion sageuk.

Han Hyo Joo carries the leading role exceptionally well

The problem for scriptwriters is always how to make a version of the historical record acceptable to modern sensibilities. If they take a literal view, they would be forced to show the patriarchy of earlier times with the only women rising above the fray being the concubines who were often power-hungry like Jang Hee-Bin. So creating female heroines to generate mass market appeal gets its first real boost in Dae Jang Geum or Jewel in the Palace (2003), where a commoner kitchen cook, Seo Jang Geum (Lee Young Ae), rises through the ranks to become Joseon’s first female royal physician. Thematically, this serial focuses on her strength to persevere no matter what the obstacles. This is not pure stubbornness. It’s the promotion of the notion of meritocracy — that those with ability will get on.

Ji Jin Hee proved to be the perfect foil to Han Hyo Joo

Which neatly brings us to Dong Yi, the latest version of this increasingly refined approach. This is a fusion between the traditional politics of court intrigue and an inspiring drama about a girl of common birth, but exceptional ability, who turns down the opportunity to become Queen. What clearly distinguishes this from the earlier dramas is the rather subversive subtext. This is a woman who beats the system by refusing promotion whenever possible, giving up her rank when she can, and thinking not of herself but only of others. Whereas the average court ladies would exploit the information they hold to blackmail or bring down their enemies, she prefers to sit quietly. Most of the blackmailing and disclosures in this serial are made by her supporters. The irony in all this is that most of those around her completely misjudge her. They believe she is either naïve and stupid, or has a hidden agenda they cannot immediately identify. As a result, they plan unnecessary countermeasures and are shown bringing ruin upon themselves. This is a very ASEAN or Chinese view, typified by the martial arts styles like Tai chi chuan where the soft movements beat the hard. In more general terms, it reminded me of the tactics of Alexander Nevski who led his more heavily-armed enemies on to the ice of Lake Peipus. He won just by retreating — well, there was some fighting as well, but you get the idea.

Lee So-Yeon as the scorpion unable to change her nature in the palace

In a predemocracy period when a dog-eat-dog political fighting style usually wins, it sends an interesting message to modern viewers when they see a major government institution reformed by soft power. To improve the lot of the common people all you need is altruism and a willingness to be self-sacrificing. Even the King gets in on the act, being prepared to abdicate in favour of his older son so that the younger can be named the heir apparent. In historical terms, this was not unprecedented but, in the context of this story, it reinforces the more pervasive message that even the most senior leaders must consider the country before their personal interests. In this instance, the stability of Korea was threatened. Should the Crown Prince be unable to produce children, he would become the pawn of those wanting to influence the succession. With a strong heir apparent and the King acting as regent to protect his weaker son, civil war would be avoided and the future preserved.

The irony, of course, is that Korea today is still strictly divided into classes based on family and the credentials the people obtain as they move through the education system. The Korean College Scholastic Ability Test replaces the rigorous Civil Service Examinations that were so important during the Joseon Dynasty. Without a high passing mark in a competitive field, there’s no chance of access to the better jobs. This is a Confucian view of what represents a just and fair outcome. The more objective the judgement of achievement, the more fair the exam is claimed to be and, therefore, the more access to the better opportunities in life can be controlled. In some senses, we may say little has changed since the Joseon Dynasty in which we had rigid class structures based on family and a rote-based learning and examination system. That’s why it’s all the more important to see figures like Seo Jang Geum and Dong Yi succeeding despite the lack of family and credentials. People today need to be reminded they too can beat rigid systems based on credentials, and succeed by setting up their own businesses or proving to others they have the skills. With the right attitude and an above-average level of ability, anyone can be a success!

Choi Jong-Hwan wonderful when on screen but underused

In a way all this allegory would be of little interest were it not for the quality of the performances from four of the actors. I cannot sing the praises of Ji Jin Hee too highly. It’s an immensely assured performance of great warmth, beautifully capturing the gentle man inside a ruler confident in his power. I prefer Han Hyo Joo’s portrayal of Dong Yi before she gets caught up in the end-game with the Jangs. Once the real fight begins, there’s a certain one-note quality to the acting. I think this is in part a problem with the script which makes her less positive and more reactive, but she does sit or stand around looking a bit lost for quite long periods of time. Lee So-Yeon as Jang Hee Bin remained compulsively watchable throughout. Even when she was on the ropes, she still managed to maintain a great public façade, only giving into frustrated tears when in private. Then, when Hee-Bin finally left, we could continue watching Choi Jong-Hwan as Jang Moo-Yul, the most interesting of all the court players. His chameleon-like ability to hide in plain view, not seeming to do anything but quietly advance his cause, was a delight. I was sorry he allowed himself to ignore the obvious. It was not wholly his fault. When you have been surrounded by people who consistently fit your model of how people behave, you can always be blindsided by the one or two who act differently. I hoped he would reach an accommodation much as Court Lady Yoo (Lim Seong-Min) took her second chance. It would have offered more hope for the future if an appeal to intelligence could produce an effective compromise.

It has been a wonderful three months watching this sageuk series unwind and my thanks go to the terrestrial station that screened it five days a week, albeit that it butchered the original episodes to produce more than seventy episodes. This confused me and all those who have been trying to relate my reviews to the original episode numbers.

For more general discussions of the social and political context for the serial, see:
Dong Yi — the politics

Dong Yi — superstition and magic

Dong Yi — the minor characters

Dong Yi — final thoughts

Click here for the reviews of the narrative itself:

Dong Yi — the first 22 episodes;

Dong Yi — a review of episodes 23 to 29;

Dong Yi — a review of episodes 30 to 36;

Dong Yi — a review of episodes 37 to 41;

Dong Yi — a review of episodes 42 to 47;

Dong Yi — a review of episodes 48 to 50;

Dong Yi — a review of episodes 51 to 54;

Dong Yi — a review of episodes 55 to 63;

Dong Yi — a review of episodes 64 to 69;

Dong Yi — a review of episodes 70 to the end.

Dong Yi — a review of episodes 70 to the end

August 11, 2011 46 comments

This is a spoiler-rich discussion of what happens in these episodes so do not read this post if you want the experience of watching the serial unfold onscreen. Further, these episode numbers are based on the terrestrial broadcasts I have seen and not on downloaded or DVD episodes. It’s possible that these numbers do not match your experience.

I suppose there should be rejoicing in the streets because the Jang clan has finally come unstuck. Their assassins have been captured and, with Choi Dong Yi (Han Hyo Joo) undergoing treatment, Shim Woon-Taek (Kim Dong-Yoon) passes on the good news about the curse to the King (Ji Jin Hee). Needless to say, he’s very disappointed in everyone involved and suggests the interrogators ask a few pertinent questions. What makes this interesting are the reactions of Dong Yi, Crown Prince Kyung-Jong (Yoon Chan) and Jang Hee-Bin (Lee So-Yeon).

Shim Woon-Taek finally tells the King about the curse

For Dong Yi, there’s frustration. It need never have come to this if the Jang clan had made better choices. But it’s the old scorpion story of the animal that can’t change its essential nature. If you put a predator into a jungle, it fights for dominance. Sadly, the palace is a jungle where the most dangerous animals fight and kill. It should not be so but such is the way the power game is played. So Hee-Bin sees nothing wrong in trying to kill Dong Yi. That’s just the way the world works. Indeed, she has no faith Dong Yi can remain uncorrupted by those around her. As the threats to her son multiply, Hee-Bin expects Dong Yi to run into the arms of the strong as the only way of keeping the young Prince, Lee Geum (Lee Hyung-Suk) alive. Sooner or later, she opines, Dong Yi will kill or be killed.

This makes her realpolitik appeal at the last breath all the more calculating. Having said she will never apologise, she sees the only one left standing is the only one who might be able to protect the Crown Prince. So in the interests of preserving the Royal Succession, Hee-Bin falls to the ground and begs Dong Yi to be the Crown Prince’s mother. Hee-Bin finally goes with dignity, supping down the poison in a quiet ceremony in the palace. Jang Hee-Jae (Kim Yoo Suk) and his mother, Lady Yoon (Choi Ran), have to face being carted through the streets where the likes of Lady Park (Lee Suk) can incite the crowd to throw stones — revenge is in vogue even though there may be karma involved.

Kim Yoo Suk as Jang Hee-Jae suffers a little torture before being executed

Wracked by guilt that his disclosures to the King have contributed to the uncovering of the family’s crimes, the Crown Prince wants to give up everything and die with his mother. Dong Yi and the young Prince are doing their best to rescue him from depression and there are signs of a thaw.

When Dong Yi refuses to become the new Queen, she avoids direct conflict with the nobility. The most extreme right-wingers are not only averse to bending the knee to a commoner, but even baulk at the notion of accepting a half-blood like the young prince. When Dong Yi also turns Jang Moo-Yul (Choi Jong-Hwan) away, he allies himself with the radical right who want to kill the young prince to avoid any problems with the succession. To achieve their aim, they plan to exploit the inexperience of the new Queen In-Won (Oh Yeon-Seo) and move the young prince out of the palace where he will be easier to kill.

Oh Yeon-Seo as the new Queen In-Won tries to ban the Crown Prince's porridge

The appointment of the new Queen is not explained. It seems to be a recruitment campaign where a few eligible ladies are headhunted into an interview panel with a winner eventually emerging. She seems to be a stickler for getting everything in the right place which makes the failure of the King to take her to one side to explain the situation all the more contrived. In their first serious meeting, Dong Yi warns her she will not get very far unless she quickly learns to distinguish truth from the more pervasive lies. In the lying corner comes Jang Moo-Yul who manipulates the Queen into marrying off the young prince. The court’s convention is that married princes have to live outside the palace. This threat shows Dong Yi at her most formidable. At the suggestion of Kim Goo-Sun (Maeng Sang-Hun), her exploitation of the local superstition about a kingly spirit potentially anointing the young prince is delightful. What’s also interesting is the new Queen’s incomprehension as to why Dong Yi should have selected the daughter of a scholar as the young prince’s wife. Jang Moo-Yul is quickly on the case, arguing this is obviously a deep-laid plot by Dong Yi to unseat the Crown Prince, but the Queen is showing she has a brain. A sign more obviously signalled when her attempt to turn away food prepared for the Crown Prince on safety grounds is rapidly rejected by the Crown Price who roundly asserts Dong Yi is the only one who cares about him in the palace.

The leader of the blood-thirsty right wing nobles

In the meantime, Jang Moo-Yul is struggling to understand the latest secret moves from the King. For him, it’s never appropriate to accept things at face value. A decision to confirm the Crown Prince as heir and throw Dong Yi out of the palace cannot be the real intention of a King known to be in love with Dong Yi. So, after killing a few guards, he knows the King intends to abdicate. He immediately jumps to the wrong conclusion, namely that Dong Yi would then have all the power and would come after him. So now, with the King out of the palace to talk with the Chinese about his proposed abdication, this is the time to launch a final attack to dispose of Dong Yi and the half-commoner prince.

Choi Jong-Hwan as Jang Moo-Yul arrested in his moment of triumph

It has been a delight to watch Jang Moo-Yul sitting or standing quietly as he calculates what’s happening. There’s a great calmness about him. But he’s hitched his horses to the wrong wagon this time. Even though it’s a well-crafted plot to threaten the Crown Prince and blame it on Dong Yi, and he thinks he can talk the Queen into arresting everyone (and hopefully executing them before the King returns), some of this is less than credible. Does he not think the King will see what has happened? Then we have the survival of Cha Jeon-Soo (Bae Su-Bin) when he willingly runs into the trap. . . But, in the spirit of the program, this is a good way of ending all the conflict and giving the King a chance to purge all the most dangerous nobles. The new Queen turns out to be a human being behind her stickler facade and solves the problem of the royal succession.

I think we could have done without the marriage of Oh Ho-Yang (Yeo Ho-Min), the nutty son, to a Dong Yi look-alike, but it did provide some comic relief and tie up a script loose end. The final episode gives us a rerun of the original scenario of a murder blamed on an innocent commoner. But now Dong Yi has set herself up as a Champion of the People, all investigative hands are called into play and the King has fun stomping on the corrupt nobility and their lackeys. There are moments of sentimentality but it has a feel-good quality about it that celebrates the spirit of the show. It’s good to see Chief Seo Yong-Gi (Jeong Jin-Yeon) smile again. He went from happy minion to dour leader after the death of his father, but now can finally relax as he also leaves the palace. Uncle Cha outlives everyone and the Kingly kids look into the future with bright eyes thanks to the good upbringing from the King and Dong Yi.

For more general discussions of the social and political context for the serial, see:
Dong Yi — the politics

Dong Yi — superstition and magic

Dong Yi — the minor characters

Dong Yi — final thoughts

Click here for the reviews of the narrative itself:

Dong Yi — the first 22 episodes;

Dong Yi — a review of episodes 23 to 29;

Dong Yi — a review of episodes 30 to 36;

Dong Yi — a review of episodes 37 to 41;

Dong Yi — a review of episodes 42 to 47;

Dong Yi — a review of episodes 48 to 50;

Dong Yi — a review of episodes 51 to 54;

Dong Yi — a review of episodes 55 to 63;

Dong Yi — a review of episodes 64 to 69;

Dong Yi — a review of episodes 70 to the end.

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