sublime performances are marred by an uninspired script
NOTmedical or legal dramas have been particularly groundbreaking within the contemporary Korean drama framework, although credit should be given where credit is due – they have distinctly produced a number of fan favorites over the years; K-dramas like hospital reading list and Dr. Romanticat Juvenile Justice and The devil judges all thrived against the odds of prosaic premises.
Walk in Doctor Lawyer, the arguably precarious attempt by MBC and Disney+ to merge the two genres. From the outset, a title as chillingly simple as this feels like it’s predestined to arouse at least some skepticism, and of course, the series’ opening notes are almost as uninspiring. Han Yi-han (Oh my Venus‘ So Ji-sub) is immediately named a star cardiothoracic surgeon at the Banseok Foundation and Hospital.
We are introduced to him as he completes what was supposed to be a four-hour surgery in a record time of just two. Meanwhile, her fiancé Geum Seok-yeong (Im Soo-hyang) is a prosecutor, whose brother Seok-ju (Han Seung-bin) is hospitalized with a chronic heart condition. After saving a botched operation by Dr. Gu Hyun-seong — the son of the foundation’s chief executive, Gu Jin-ki — he was even named the new head of cardiothoracic surgery, despite the former’s protests.
Things start looking up for Seok-yeong and Seok-ju too; they are told that Seok-ju will soon be able to receive a heart transplant, with Yi-han on the front line of his operation. Of course, he ends up nailing the proceedings, although his victory was not without occasional hiccups. That same night, Yi-han is called back to perform another emergency heart transplant on a mysterious VIP, victim of a car accident, although the hospital has already used the only heart available for Seok-ju’s surgery. . He is immediately wary of the circumstances: where exactly does the heart to be transplanted come from in this patient?
The next morning, however, news reaches Yi-han that Seok-ju had suddenly stopped responding due to alleged post-surgery complications, and despite Yi-han’s best efforts, he dies while Seok-yeong watches. A grieving Yi-han is then informed, following an autopsy, that Seok-ju’s death was the result of an accident in the middle of the operation, which he vehemently denies. Yi-han quickly puts everything together – he fights his way through the hospital in search of the unidentified VIP patient, and is arrested for Seok-ju’s death and medical malpractice.
Jin-ki pays a clandestine visit to the demoralized Yi-han in prison amid his ongoing trial, only to blackmail him into admitting the wrongful charges against him, cruelly threatening to have Yi-han and his wife murdered. elderly mother if he ever tried to expose the truth about what happened in the operating room that fateful night. Wishing not to risk the lives of his loved ones, he painfully breaks off his engagement to an aggrieved Seok-yeong, has the medical license he worked so painstakingly revoked, and spends the next two years in prison for a crime he never knew. did not commit. .
Once out, however, Yi-han is overwhelmed with the desire for justice. He entered the judicial sector, forging a new expertise as a public prosecutor specializing in medical litigation. But he always has the goal of finding out the truth about what really happened to Seok-ju and bringing the culprits to justice.
In its first two episodes, Doctor Lawyer sets the stage for what could be a surprisingly gripping depiction of corruption within a capitalist healthcare system, and infuses that with a whole lot of heart (pun intended). Its script is an apt, if sometimes poor and over-dramatized, reflection of what happens when someone is forced to stand against corrupt institutions, with wealthy but morally deplorable tycoons taking the lead.
Yet much of the flesh-to-the-bone comes through in the prodigious performances of its lead actors, So Ji-sub and Im Soo-hyang, both of whom manage to infuse deep emotional layers into their characters. The way Seok-yeong completely breaks down after the death of his only family is deeply arresting. the emotions of all-consuming angst and pure grief are strong and emanate in great volume across the screen.
On the other hand, So’s masterful portrayal of Yi-han should come as no surprise to the veteran K-drama viewer – as his legendary return to the small screen after four years, he certainly delivered. He swings seamlessly between the stoic, no-nonsense caricature of a seasoned, self-assured surgeon/lawyer and an oppressed man stripped of his dignity. Although he’s established as something of a lone wolf, the few scenes he shares with Im are mostly candid.
Unfortunately, Doctor Lawyer isn’t immune to the all-too-familiar air of hackneyed tropes; a trap that countless of his predecessors have fallen prey to. In a sea of K-dramas likely oversaturated with mundane medical and legal procedures, Doctor Lawyer is miles away from standing out from its peers. In fact, it’s even reminiscent of other shows with eerily similar premises – think 2019 Doctor Prisoner (strangely, even to its uninventive title too), which also weaves together an eerily analogous story of a doctor wrongfully accused of malpractice seeking revenge.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you realize that its cast’s phenomenal on-screen performances run the immense risk of being tainted by what’s so far embodied as a largely mediocre storyline. You could say there’s plenty of room for the series to make significant progress in its storytelling, but that’s only if you’re willing to take this chance and stick around long enough to witness it.
New episodes of Doctor Lawyer airs on South Korea’s MBC television network every Friday and Saturday, and will also be available on Disney+ in select regions.