Hospital Playlist: Episodes 1-4

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Hospital Playlist is the second in the Wise Life series following Prison Playbook. It is a collaboration between writer Lee Woo Jung and director Shin Won Ho, who came together also for the highly popular Reply series of dramas.

I was initially hesitant to start watching this series, because I did try watching the Reply series, starting with 1988 but couldn’t get into it because there were just too many characters to keep track. The ensemble style of casting and storytelling was also difficult to follow. I faced a similar issue for Hospital Playlist initially, but was drawn in by the snippets of hospital life, the funny moments, and the musical numbers.

Finally at Episode 4, I can say I’m hooked because I now feel I have a decent grasp of the 5 main characters of the cast. The narrative structure of episode 4 really helped, where we had the “Bong Salon” with Dr Bong gossiping about the five members, whom he describes as the five “nought” because they are all lacking something.

In summary, Hospital Playlist centres around the lives of five doctors who have been friends since medical school in 1999. Having been separated for some time, they are brought together at the Yulje Medical Centre in the first episode when Jung Won recruits his friends to be exclusive medical staff a the VIP ward. However, their ‘reunion’ is not just professional as Seok-hyung will only agree to the contract if the five also agree to form their band again. The setup is done swiftly and slickly in the first episode, setting the stage well for the rest of the series.

I’ve already introduced some of the characters in the paragraph above, but it would be good to do a proper introduction using the poster above. Starting from the left:

  1. Yang Seok Hyung (played by Kim Dae-myung): He is an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology and comes from a challenging family background. He lost his sister at a young age and his dad cheated on his mum. As such, he has a very close relationship with his mum, who recently suffered a stroke.
  2. Ahn Jung-won (played by Yoo Yeon-seok): He is an assistant professor of pediatric surgery whose dad passes away in the first episode. He comes from a family of priests. While not a priest himself, he is seen as having no desire for worldly possessions and does still aspire to be a priest.
  3. Chae Song-hwa (played by Jeon Mi-Do): She is an associate professor of neurosurgery. Known in the hospital for her drive and professionalism, she also strikes fear in her juniors. While at work, she handles matters with confidence and wisdom, she is completely free and expressive when in the world of music, be it at the band or in her church. She is completely comfortable with solitude and does not mind heading out for solitary camping trips. She is the lead vocalist of the band and often goes out of tune, which is ironic given that Jeon Mi-Do in real life is an award winning artiste.
  4. Kim Joon-wan (played by Jung Kyung-Ho): He is the chief professor of cardiothoracic surgery and is known to be cold-hearted yet excellent in his job. He is distant and issues medical advice without warmth, even when his patients are in very emotional situations. However, his actions speak louder than words. As of episode 4, we have hints of a budding love story between him and Ik-Joon’s sister, Ik-Soon, who serves in the military as a major.
  5. Lee Ik-Joon (played by Jo Jung-Suk): Ik-Joon is the character whose personal life has been the most fleshed out at the moment. As his wife was working overseas, he has single-handedly raised his son for most of his life and thus has a very close relationship with him. However, in Episode 3, his wife returns and they undergo a divorce. As a doctor, he is warm and friendly, building a rapport easily with his patients.

For shows like this, the chemistry in the core ensemble will make or break it and I have to say, it really works well. Besides making music together, there’s a beauty rhythm and energy in all the scenes when the five of them are together. They chat about the most trivial things (like how they have changed with age), banter with each other, squabble about which song is their favourite, while also opening their food packets, passing cutlery and eating their food. They are so comfortable with each other that they lie down while chatting, open each other’s drawers to help themselves to snacks or eat each other’s instant noodles. Professionally they work well together as well as Jung-won frees himself in spite of his many surgeries, so that he can be there to support Seok Hyung’s surgery.

Their scenes making music together are also so much fun, especially that hilarious Karaoke Scene in episode 3 where they sang “Aloha”. Their snazzier version of Canon at the end of Episode 4 was also very well-constructed as it started off with Seok Hyung’s audition when they first started their band in 1999, then we moved between past and present, as they grew in their musical skills together. Of course, the music is lent greater emotional weight because the songs feature prominently in the episode, like how Canon was played when the baby suffering from anencephaly was born, so that the mum would not hear the crying sounds.

As if having 5 characters to follow is not enough, the show has so many other characters like fellow doctors, nurses, medical students, family members and of course, all the patients. However, these different characters serve as a way for the show to shed further light on our main characters and are often well-used to deepen our understanding of them. This was particularly well done in Episode 4, where we understood the reserved and socially awkward Seok Hyung not only through his actions, but through what the other characters said about him, particularly Nurse Han who returns from her maternity who tells nurse Min-ha of when she complains about Seok Hyung’s request to cover the baby’s mouth.

Given that this is a medical drama, I cannot avoid talking about the cases our characters handle. I’m glad to see that Hospital Playlist has found the right balance between showing us enough of the medical cases for us to understand and feel for the characters, while also showing us how our key doctors handle the cases and weigh difficult decisions. Unlike Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim, where we have extended scenes of medical procedures with very precise terminology and language used, Hospital Playlist keeps its surgery scenes brief, trying instead to show us the variety of cases and conundrums our doctors face. Rather than being overly focused on medical details, the series brings us through the daily lives of the doctors as they see patients, operate, eat food at the cafe or in their pantries and spend time with their families. Ultimately, this light-hearted drama shows us that relationships are what sustain us through each day.

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