K-drama 'Doctor Stranger' is not for the weak-hearted

  • News
  • Wednesday, 9 Jul 2014

'Doctor Stranger'

'Doctor Stranger'

Our reviews of TV shows: Doctor Stranger, House Of Cards, Once Upon A Time (Season 3) and Witches Of East End.

Finally! Lee Jong-suk gets a girl his age in his latest drama series Doctor Stranger. Sorry, Lee Bo-young, I love you with Jong-suk in I Can Hear Your Voice and noona romance (or older-sister love) is right up my alley, but come on, his character was still in high school compared to your lawyer in that series!

OK, I digress.

That’s an altogether different realm in K-dramaland, and Doctor Stranger takes you to a completely new world filled with so many heart-pounding moments of medical espionage that you don’t have time to worry about age differences and the like.

In Doctor Stranger, Lee Jong-suk plays Dr Park Hoon, a genius heart surgeon from North Korea who is trying to start a new life in South Korea. Well, technically, Dr Park is a South Korean citizen. When he was young, he and his father were sent to North Korea to save Kim Il-sung, who was suffering from a fatal heart disease.

This was no mercy mission from the South, of course, but a mission to stop a nuclear war between the two countries: a shift of power in North Korea = unstable Korean peninsula = US interference = nuclear war. So Dr Park Senior was tasked with keeping Kim Il-sung alive, and as the best heart surgeon in South Korea, he had no problems curing the heart of the “Great Leader”.

After saving the Koreas from mutually assured destruction, however, Dr Park and son found themselves in front of a North Korean firing squad, not on the orders of an ungrateful Kim, but at the behest of the South Korean minister in charge who wanted the glory of saving the nation all to himself.

Fast forward some 20 years, and Hoon is now a heart surgeon too – but the lack of sophisticated equipment and regular power cuts in Pyongyang have made him some sort of House-MacGyver hybrid who has to rely on his instincts and problem-solving ingenuity.

His prodigious talent catches the attention of the new president, who locks him up in a secret science research academy to, er, carry out secret medical research. (The academy’s purpose is never really explained but apparently, Dr Hoon is forced to carry out experimental operations on living people to find the best method to do operations on the cheap.)

Before he is made to betray his Hippocratic Oath by carrying out such Frankenstein-like operations, his father cooks up an elaborate plan to help Park Hoon and his fiancée Jae Hee (Park Hae Jin) to escape back to South Korea.

To cut a long story short, things go wrong and Jae Hee is caught in the attempt.

A few years later, we meet Dr Hoon again in a small practice serving the refugee and gangster communities in Seoul. To earn enough to find his fiancée in the north and smuggle her to the south, Dr Hoon delivers water bottles.

And you know what, I’d be really content with that star-crossed lover premise combined with some MacGyver-like feats on the operating table.

The first few episodes set up this epic love-conquers-all story nicely; they even cooked up a Romeo-and-Juliet-esque escape plan with Jae Hee given some poison to stop her heart for a few minutes in order to get the North Korean agents off her trail.

Alas, the producers of the show seem to have had other ideas. Why stop at medical romance, when you can throw espionage and revenge thriller elements into the mix?

So one day, Hoon catches a glimpse of a doctor who looks like Jae Hee while delivering water to Myungwoo University Hospital. Willing to do anything to get close to the doppelganger, he gets a job at Myungwoo, only to be caught up in more rivalry, because the best heart surgeon in South Korea will be called in to operate on the Prime Minister.

North Korea sees this rivalry as a good way to take control of South Korea – why try to nuke a place if you can take control of its leader’s heart? So they have planted a spy, the Jae Hee lookalike, in the hospital. And what do you know, the PM waiting for the operation is the minister responsible for the Park doctors’ banishment to North Korea and Myungwoo’s board is somehow involved. Talk about moral dilemma!

Despite his teenybopper persona, Lee Jong-suk is convincing as the new doctor in the house and carries the emotional weight of the story well. The first 10 episodes will have you tied in knots with their dramatic depiction of North-South relations and the whole Jae Hee-lookalike mystery. Not to mention the surgery scenes where nothing is held back and which are definitely not for the squeamish.

Unfortunately, the people behind the show just could not resist piling on the conspiracies – the latest being that the PM may not be the real patient, and Dr Hoon’s rival for the honour of operating on the leader turns out to be another vengeance-fuelled victim of the PM from his days of sending secret missions to North Korea. This puts an otherwise engrossing show in danger of flatlining before its time.

The convoluted conspiracies really make it a struggle to care if Dr Hoon becomes the best heart surgeon in South Korea, or gets to live happily ever after with his true love. Thankfully there are only a few episodes left; if this show goes on any longer, they might have to call a Code Blue on me ... –  Hariati Azizan

Doctor Stranger airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8.55pm on One HD (Astro Ch 393).

HOUSE OF CARDS - no cpation for OTA extra
Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood in House Of Cards.

House Of Cards

The intrigue, the drama, the backstabbing ... House Of Cards is one of the best political thrillers seen on TV in a while. With stellar performances by Kevin Spacey as the ruthless Congressman Frank Underwood and Robin Wright as his equally ambitious wife Claire, this series has more twists and turns than you can handle. Gripping? Yes. Shocking? Always. Entertaining? Uh-huh. Scary? Almost. A must watch. – S. Indramalar

House Of Cards Season One airs every Wednesday at 9.55pm on RTL CBS Entertainment (HyppTV Ch 616). 

Once Upon A Time ... the women in this show were interesting.

Once Upon A Time (Season 3)

Just how long is the Storybrooke gang going to be stuck in Neverland? The plot involving Peter Pan and the Lost Boys is moving too slowly and, by this stage, seems pointless. The women are either constantly bickering over how they’re going to save Henry or playing the blame game, while the men are just following them aimlessly.

Luckily, there are things to keep us interested. Rumple, for example; there is definitely something going on there – how does he know Peter Pan so well and why is there such animosity between them?

Also, even at its worst, the series can count on Regina to spice things up with her rebellious ways (sarcastic one-liners!, wicked spells!) and she doesn’t disappoint. Captain Hook is also proving to be a good addition – his presence brings the series its own brand of swashbuckling adventure, mystery, romance and humour.– Mumtaj Begum

Once Upon A Time Season Three airs Tuesdays at 6.55pm on Star World (Astro Ch 711/HD Ch 722). 

Witches Of East End - no caption for OTA extra
These witches in Witches Of East End are hilariously entertaining.

Witches Of East End

Should practical magic exist on the face of this Earth, Jenna Dewan-Tatum could do herself some good concocting a potion that will miraculously rectify horrendous acting. The actress – a loosely defined term in this case – plays Freya, the youngest quarter of the witchy Beauchamp women.

Together with her older sister Ingrid (played by a super adorable Rachel Boston), she has to quickly harness her powers under the tutelage of their mother Joanna (Julia Ormond) and aunt Wendy (Mädchen Amick). Turns out Mama Witch has enchanted her daughters to remain oblivious to their magical heritage in a desperate bid to save them.

You see, the Beauchamp women are a cursed lot. Ingrid and Freya are doomed to die young – only to go through more cycles of life and death. And it’s immortal Joanna’s burden to be extra fertile and give birth to the girls again and again.

Yeah, I laughed my head off when this revelation was made. And that pretty much sums up this supernatural guilty pleasure. Sure, the premise tends to get soapy sometimes, but it’s ludicrous to the point that it’s actually entertaining. –  Chester Chin

Witches Of East End airs Tuesdays at 8.45pm on Star World (Astro Ch 711/HD Ch 722).