As the success of shows like Doctor Stranger, Doctors, and Descendants of the Sun can attest, the medical drama has become a tour de force of its own in the South Korean television industry. The genre is permeated with series as fast-paced and intense as the hospitals they’re set in, and newcomer Doctor Romantic, which stars veteran actor Han Suk-kyu, Reply 1994‘s Yoo Yeon-seok, and Another Oh Hae-young‘s Seo Hyun-jin, is no exception.
Doctor Romantic is extremely fast-paced, and introduces many of its storylines by the end of the first two episodes. In that time frame alone, viewers witness two time skips, a suicide attempt, and plenty of blood-and-guts medical operation scenes, amongst other things.
Warning: minor spoilers and mention of blood and self-harm ahead!
The drama first begins with an unidentified male smashing the window of a hospital with a metal baseball bat. Right after the window smashes, however, viewers are brought to a scene of a teenage boy (Yoon Chan-young) begging for someone to examine his father, who’s been waiting hours for treatment. The doctors concern themselves more with the surgery of an assemblyman in the ER, however, and the boy’s father ends up dying, much to the dismay of his son and wife. Enraged, the boy charges at the doctor before being restrained. The doctor, Dr. Yoon-wan, seems unmoved, and simply looks on as the boy is escorted out of the ER.
The drama then returns to the scene of the male, revealed to be the teenage boy, smashing everything in the ER as revenge for his father’s death. He ends up being disarmed and sedated by an unknown doctor, who ends disappearing after treating his various wounds. The boy exits through the door of the ER, and grows up to be Kang Dong-joo (Yoo Yeon-seok), an intern now working at Geosan himself after studying to become a doctor.
Rather than focus on Dong-joo alone, however, Doctor Romantic also introduces Yoon Seo-jung (Seo Hyun-jin), a doctor also working at Geosan, and the female lead of the drama. Viewers first see her in action when four patients from a construction site accident enter the ER. She tries to tend to all of the patients, and ends up taking charge of a surgery on a man punctured in his stomach by a metal rod. A freak accident causes the rod to fall out, and the patient begins to bleed out. Seo-jung freezes up for a moment, but snaps out of it, and is able to stop the bleeding using two of her fingers. This displays part of the reason why she’s nicknamed “Crazy Whale”, due to her resourcefulness and willing attitude to do whatever it takes to save a patient.
When the two actually meet, it’s in an argument. Seo-jung is eating with her friends as a celebration of her successful surgery, when she’s berated by a senior doctor for passing up a pneumonia patient Dong-joo pointed out in favor of a patient from the construction site. The senior doctor tells her that Dong-joo’s quick thinking saved the patient’s life, since her pneumonia could’ve led to sepsis, a much more serious condition.
Seo-jung goes to confront her, and they two argue after she tries to put Dong-joo in his place as an intern. As a result, she assigns him to all of the frustrating patients of the ER — a move that puts their dynamic in motion. They eventually reconcile when Seo-jung explains to Dong-joo that she only ignored Dong-joo’s patient because she thought the new arrival from the construction site required more assistance.
Given their dynamic, the kiss scene that occurred later on the episode was shocking, especially since it was only the pilot. The confession that followed later on showed Dong-joo’s straightforwardness, even more so by the fact that he had the courage to tell Seo-jung that he wanted to sleep with her alongside being her boyfriend. Seo-jung revealed that she was already in a committed relationship with a fellow surgeon (Tae In-ho) at the hospital, a storyline that I wish the writers had elaborated upon a bit more. It felt like just a small obstacle the writers wanted to place in the way of Seo-jung and Dong-joo ever dating, then got rid of by having him and Seo-jung get into a car accident that led up to his death.
Doctor Romantic seems to subliminally base part of itself in the shortcomings of the medical business. The drama takes place in the present, an era that seems to heavily support meritocracy, a system where people receive power primarily based on skill and talent rather than wealth and connections. Doctor Romantic acts as a reminder that no matter how hard someone works to get ahead, privilege will almost always have the upper hand.
Dong-joo seems to be the most affected by this, since most of his actions at the beginning of the drama stem out of his desire to prove that hard work can prevail over connections.
When viewers were first introduced to Dong-joo, it appeared that part of the reason why he became a doctor was because he didn’t want others facing the same fate that he and his mother had with the circumstances of his father’s death. In the second episode, he and Do In-bum (Yang Se-jong) are inducted as the new surgeons of Geosan Hospital. Dong-joo’s immaculate and highly impressive on his exams are mentioned, but they’re no match for In-bum, who’s revealed to be the son of Dr. Do Yoon-wan (Choi Jin-ho), the director of Geosan’s surgical department — and the man who left Dong-joo’s father to die.
This is also shown in the arc between Seo-jung and Dong-joo. Seo-jung’s attempt to remind him that he is only an intern at the hospital, not a doctor shows the cruel reality of seniority, a concept Dong-joo seems to disregard, as shown in the scene when he refuses to make coffee for one of Seo-jung’s friends. He explains that he doesn’t see a correlation between making a cup of coffee for the man and becoming a better doctor, and earns a reputation among the doctors for his hot-headed nature.
He’s a man who hopes to win people over through his skills, not by doing menial and small errands.
This constant strive to prove himself ends up coming back to bite Dong-joo in the butt. Dong-joo is asked to perform surgery on a VIP patient, which he declines, thinking that he was only asked because it was too difficult for the other surgeons. Dr. Do tries to convince him to take on the surgery, not forgetting what had happened to Dong-joo’s father. He tells him that doing so would give him the opportunity to fight against him.
Dong-joo then remembers the advice he had received from the mysterious doctor before he disappeared, which was to become a better person than those who wronged him in order to truly get revenge. The actual surgery goes awry, and the VIP patient ends up dying, leading to Dr. Do moving Dong-joo to the provincial Doldam Hospital, located in the countryside. It was a bittersweet moment, and might have shown Dong-joo at his worst. He wanted to defeat Dr. Do so much that he ended up losing sight of why he truly became a doctor, and focused more on just trying to get revenge.
This also shows up in the fourth episode, where he lashes out at Teacher Kim (Han Suk-kyu). He’s grown tired of being treated like the various insults Teacher Kim has thrown his way. At both Geosan and Doldam, he’s been treated as lesser than, but it’s possible that his anger towards Teacher Kim might be misaligned. While Dong-joo is considered secondary in either setting, it’s for different reasons, a truth that he seems yet to figure out. Dr. Do considers him secondary simply because he doesn’t have the wealth and background that he himself has. Teacher Kim treats him as secondary because he’s always trying to follow the rules. While this may seem odd, it’s because his experience has led him to learn that there’s more to life and saving lives than simply following rules and procedures. He wants Dong-joo to realizes that it’s okay to take risks, because sometimes that’s the only thing that can be done to achieve success.
Doctor Romantic is also interesting in how the history of its events repeats itself.
One example of this is in the first episode, when a group of victims enter the Geosan ER after a gruesome construction site accident. While Dong-joo is on his way to inspect the injuries, he is stopped by a teenage girl begging him to treat her mother. She tells him that her mother arrived at the ER before the construction accident victims, and is desperate for someone to help her. This scene is practically an echo of the dilemma Dong-joo once found himself in with his father. As a result of the memories the situation brings back, Dong-joo rushes to find a doctor for the ailing mother.
This also happens during the second episode. In what might be one of the most memorable and emotional scenes so far, Seo-jung has a breakdown. She hears the voice of her ex-boyfriend in her head, blaming her for his death following the car accident. In order to rid herself of them, she takes a few sedatives. The voices remain, and she ends up taking more sedative pills, and ends up in a daze. The drama then cuts to her standing in the hospital, a scalpel in her hand as she threatens to slash her wrist.
Everyone tries their best to stop her while also keeping their distance. Dong-joo, distressed at the sight of the woman he loves in such a situation, tries to intervene. This isn’t the greatest move, though, since the entire reason why Seo-jung blames herself for her boyfriend’s death is because she had told him that she was swayed by Dong-joo’s confession. He ends up making the situation worse, and right before Seo-jung slits her wrist, the viewers are shown a brief flashback.
Within the flashback, a teenage girl — presumably Seo-jung — is walking in a hallway when she stops, and sees the lifeless body of a woman — most likely her mother — lying on the floor with a bloody wrist. This is the first glimpse viewers are given into Seo-jung’s background, and the scene is chilling solely because it shows Seo-jung in the same position as her mother. It also provides a new connection between her and Dong-joo, even if they may not know it just yet.
Doctor Romantic finds plenty of strength in its characters, who are well-rounded with their own share of flaws alongside their skills.
One of the show’s biggest breakout characters might be have to be Oh Myung-shim (Jin Kyung), the head nurse at Doldam Hospital. When viewers first see her, she comes off as a lady who’s quiet and prefers to stay in the background until needed. As the drama continues, however, she’s shown to have a larger presence than originally let on.
In the second episode, where Teacher Kim is operating on Seo-jung’s wrist, he claims he’ll be able to repair her artery, nerve, and tendons within 30 minutes. Dong-joo wonders if this is actually possible, but he proceeds in assisting him anyway. Throughout the entire operation, Dong-joo is caught off guard by how quick Teacher Kim works, while Nurse Oh simply remains calm, cool, and collected. Near the end of the operation, Dong-joo starts to get nervous Seo-jung’s wrist won’t be finished, and ends up dropping a surgical tools as a result of his nerves. While he’s busy apologizing, however, Nurse Oh simply takes over, cutting and helping out with the same amount of speed and precision as Teacher Kim.
In the fourth episode, Dong-joo and Teacher Kim get into an argument after the latter accuses the former of being a coward who never owns up to his mistakes. Prior to the incident, Dong-joo had to deal with a burn victim, but had no experience, and received guidance from Seo-jung, who was fired from the hospital after her incident in the second episode. She herself tries to intervene, but Nurse Oh stops her, claiming that the two males have a problem that needs to be resolved amongst the two of them. The confrontation continues until Nurse Oh herself steps in, and yells at Teacher Kim for being so hard on Dong-joo, and practically forces him to reinstate Seo-jung at Doldam.
Nurse Oh is no longer simply a nurse. She is now the “glue” of Doldam, constantly ensuring that there is peace in the environment. She remains calm and levelheaded even in the most terrifying situations, and is always throwing her support behind those who may need it. With such actions, would it be wrong to suggest that she might be one of the most influential people at Doldam Hospital?
I definitely do hope to see more of Dong-joo’s character growth, which has placed itself at the forefront of the drama for the time being. It’s a wonderfully crafted arc, which I hope replicates itself when we learn the backstory of Teacher Kim, the titular character. While he may appear to be a hardened man, it’s impossible for there not to be an event or series of events that led up to his current personality. It would be great if it was revealed why he’s referred to as a “romantic doctor”, and would give insight into the meaning of the drama’s name. It would also be wonderful if more of the supporting characters were revealed to have a larger role of their own. Doldam feels much more familial than Geosan in the sense that it bases and relies more of itself on teamwork, and it would be great to continue seeing this dynamic on display.
Overall, Doctor Romantic is a balanced mixture of drama, comedy, and suspense that even the most wary of medical dramas will enjoy. It’s a dynamic show based on the injustices of the medical business, with incredible characters who learn what it means to be a doctor and to save lives.
(Images via SBS)