KDRAMAGUK : Korean Drama Soup

a landing site for quick, completely biased, and totally snarky korean drama reviews


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

First Impressions: Dr Champ (2010)

Dr. Champ
16 Episodes
Sept - Nov 2010

He says, “When there are two or more coincidences, it’s destiny.”
She says, “No, it’s still only coincidence.”

The he is played by Jung GyuWoon, a judo athlete aspiring for the international stage—and a medal. He’s made a deathbed promise with his older brother to hold gold and he means to keep it, at any cost. He’s got a cutie pie nephew who is his most devoted pint-sized cheering section (of one), but unfortunately his sister-in-law feels different. She can barely spare a kind thought for him. He’s athletic (martial arts lean) and good-natured (easy to smile, easy to offer aid to strangers), but he’s also pretty seriously focused on this one goal. Although not so completely single-minded as to ignore a pretty girl worth scoping.

That leads to the she in this equation. Kim SoYeon is an aspiring orthopedic surgeon (a promising one) who has been granted a coveted fellowship spot at the prestigious research hospital she’s currently interning. But when her sponsor and mentor does the unthinkable during an operation, the young doc is forced to choose between career and morality. She makes the more human choice and finds herself blacklisted. She’s bright, a bit stuffy, and a total workaholic cursed with the kdrama fate of having to support a troublemaking family while dodging power hungry superiors who want to keep her well positioned below their lowering heels.

Both he and she end up at Taereung National Village, he by design, she as a last resort. Taereung is a massive compound dedicated to the training of Korea’s top athletes. Once there, the oversight of Kim SoYeon’s career and Jung GyuWoon’s fitness is managed by newly appointed medical director played by Uhm TaeWoong. I tell you what, if I thought Lee SunGyun’s cranky chef in Pasta reeked of House-ness (FOX’s long-running hit about an irascible doc), Uhm TaeWoong was an even better twin candidate, right down to the bad leg and cane. His unconventional diagnosing methods only concreted the comparison. Forget Johns Hopkins, this guy must have studied at Princeton Plainsboro under Dr. Gregory House. I joke. Anyhow, Uhm TaeWoong seemed an interesting character despite the all too familiar setup.

Ah, you should know, he’s also a genius, apparently, because in the past he was charged with rehab programs for both of ROK’s premier sports darlings, footie player Park JiSung and baseballer Park ChanHo (which I find very amusing; let’s just pick two of the most famous Korean athletes and affiliate this doc to them, then he’ll have instant cred, or so I’m sure the writers were thinking). Side note: Ji has been in great form this past month. Just saying, as a devoted United fan…makes me as happy as a candy coated in caramel. It’s a bummer he’s leaving the team during a critical time in our title race, but good luck to him in the Asian Cup. Hey, the show brought up Park JiSung first.

Back to Champ:
This drama takes place in a very specific, very self-contained and passionate setting…and this interesting environment could make the characters more exciting than they initially come across with their stuffy career credentials (doctor, doctor, athlete, coach, athlete, etc). Also conspicuous, Champ is taking itself seriously and not making a joke of the story (me = relieved).

First impressions
So…the thought of dedicating the prime of my life to an insane state of inhuman super fitness gives me the major hives. It is so out of my comfort zone, so completely beyond my comprehension and well, so beyond the concept of what I consider a good time (sitting on my lazy butt and watching tv), that this drama utterly fascinates. Things that I don’t understand are way more interesting than things that I do. These people and the things they strive to accomplish are very interesting. I bring this up in effort to share my mindset going into this one.

Right off, this drama felt familiar. Was this another helping of Prosecutor Princess, Kim SoYeon’s most recent past project. I wondered and even feared, a bit. Being a passing reminder of PP is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not exactly a great thing either. I wanted this show to stand apart. And more, I wanted it to be better. There was a point in the introductory episodes when it poked fun of itself and gave cameo to Prosecutor Ma, Kim’s former character in PP. I groaned out loud. Um, really, not a good time. It’s a little too early to be making those kind of jokes. 1) PP aired only earlier this year, and 2) I don’t think it’s ever a wise gambit to point out the uncanny same-sameness between [any] two dramas. Here, it only served to remind me of my inkling discomfort over the similarities between the character of beleaguered prosecutor and beleaguered doctor when I was just coming around to letting go of the former.

Kim SoYeon’s character bio in Champ was actually completely different than her PP character…but they felt similar. The overall natures of the characters were different, but the premise was still about a woman trying to tread water in a pressure cooker of a career. I couldn’t completely shake that hanging cloud...of her past performance.

Another similarity to PP? This show had the same high gloss coloring—a real slick magazine look about it. It wasn’t bad, but it was unnaturally sharp. I dunno, the lighting was almost too vibrant, dare I say, unrealistic.

But don’t let my whining above mislead you. Those are just some minor complaints about the paint job. As for the interior design, I have better things to say. In fact, I very much liked it. The story gave me some real anxiety moments in the early hours where I truly worried for the characters, which meant I must have cared for them despite the earliness in the game. The hints of trauma between the various relationships had the potential to be absorbing. I especially liked Kim SoYeon’s stoic woman who worked harder than everyone else despite the fact that she was already the smartest in the class. She played the kind of person who may not be the most approachable from a social point of view, but carried the kind of integrity one would want in a real doctor. Bad with peers, great with patients. She’s honorable when it mattered the most—when no one was watching. The kind of heroism that is unadulterated, and not conditional on personal gain. The main couple had that in common.

There was a surprising amount of detail to most everyone introduced, very richly textured, complicated, uneasy people. I was pleasantly won over. While I’m not completely on board with their choices regarding the superficial aspects of the drama, such as the lighting and even the music, to an extent, I do recognize what the production is attempting and understand why they are doing what they are doing. And you know, sports stories are a lot like war stories only without the hail of gunfire, all about the fight for honor, the reach for a conquering spirit, the endurance against pain, and finally, the ultimate victory. It’s arousing stuff, very easy to get caught up in the tears and the bloody drama of it all. As for the writing and the acting, it supports the heartfelt tale it is trying to convey to us, and so remains (most gratefully) outside the reach of my criticism (so far). 

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