Hospital Playlist – Finale

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Hospital Playlist delivers a mega-finale of almost two hours long with medical cases and movements in all the love stories involving our five core members and their residents. Most of the developments pave the way for a second season (which has just been confirmed – YAY!) and it’s only Jeong-Won and Gyu-wool’s long-drawn “courtship” that gets a happy ending in this episode. While I felt the finale suffered a little in pacing due to the long length and way too many cases to follow, it was a heartwarming and heartfelt end to what has been a very enjoyable series.

One idea that tied many of our characters’ stories together in the finale was that of crossroads. Many of them are at decisive points in their lives, where they need to make critical decisions that will affect their professional lives, their love lives or both.

For Song-Hwa, she has already made that decision in Episode 11 on her own to move to Sokcho branch to rest and fix her neck problem. I always enjoy the confidence of her character, which comes from a position of moral clarity as she knows what is right and what needs to be done. Because of that, all her residents even line up to see her for advice above their research, about their love life or about work in general.

It is only with Ik-jun’s recent confessions of liking her that that she has been more tongue-tied lately, where her usual eloquence is replaced by an uncertain silence. She was similarly silent with Chi-hong’s awkward act of placing his hands on her shoulders last week, but that silence conveyed discomfort and unease. However, with Ik-Jun, I saw her silence revealing a sense of dilemma.

Throughout the series, Song-hwa has been so strongly independent and comfortable with spending time alone. What she’s struggling with also is admitting to her feelings and therefore becoming more vulnerable. I really liked the camera work in this scene – portraying both Ik-Jun and Song-Hwa as being at the ‘borders’ of the middle windowpane – they are clearly in separate spaces, but they are now in that in-between space, whether to move forward and be together, or to move out and therefore be separated again. What’s even more brilliant is that we can see Ik-Jun has moved more towards the centre, slightly away from the border, with his confession – whereas Song-hwa is at the border. My hope in Season 2 is for Song-hwa to agree to exploring the relationship and then seeing how they move from close friends to lovers.

While Song-hwa and Ik-Jun handle more personal cross-roads, we see both Jeong-won and Seok-hyeong struggling with bigger decisions. For Jeong-won, he finally makes about whether to take on priesthood and stay at the hospital. His friends, his parents and the hospital are all clear on what the better choice is. For him, it has been such a huge struggle as he sees priesthood as the best way to honour God. However, he has realised that staying in the hospital allows him to serve God and do good as much. As Song Hwa tells him, “Stay here and save more lives.” The episode certainly affirmed that with his tireless care of the girl for four days, and the whole family noticing and observing it.

Part of me was fearful that the show would go down the over-sentimental line of him struggling and then finally deciding when Gyu-wool cries in front of him. However, the show took a much better route by allowing Jeong-won to make that decision first, and then deciding that Gyu-wool was one of the first he wanted to tell, even before the other guy friends.

Yet in deciding to stay on, he is not abandoning God or his religion – and once again, I enjoy the camera-work and directing of the show as the rosary that Jeong-won carries on his wrist is often highlighted or zoomed in on at critical moments, an affirmation too that kindness and love comes from his desire and love for God.

Seok-hyung has similarly big decisions to make in this episode, both professionally and personally. Regarding the decision to take over his dad’s company, though he was placed in a dilemma, all along we knew what choice he would make. Him going through the thinking process also gave him clarity on what he wants in life and what he want.

As he tells his friends, “I don’t want to waste time. My time is too precious for that. I want to live doing the things I like and the things I want to do right now. That’s why I wanted to start a band. I used you guys.” His touching moment makes everyone silent and awkward, and this is broken by Ik-Jun when he says “As if”, and everyone laughs together. These wonderful friendship moments are what make this show shine.

While making the right choice professionally, Seok-hyung still wavers in his love life, not because he was hurt by his divorce, but because of how much he felt his ex-wife, Sin-hye, was hurt by him. He tells Ik-jun that he does not want Min-Ah to be hurt and that he asked her to date someone better, because his life is complicated. As a caring and loving friend, Ik-jun offers him a different perspective gently – “If you weren’t divorced and in this complicated situation, you would have dated Dr. Chu” and he advises Seok-hyung to open up himself to love again.

Seok-hyung thinks him and Min-ah are back to a professional relationship after he turned her down. However, it certainly is not. This is where the production of this show shines – as Seok-hwa voices over about how the friends differ in terms of how they like to eat, she and Jeong-won share that Seok-hyung loves eating ramyeon by himself while watching videos. However, we see him genuinely smiling even as Min-ah barges into his office with a drink and fishcakes and he enjoys eating together with her.

At the end of the finale, he is faced with a dilemma – whether to open himself up and agree to have dinner with Min-ah, or to protect himself and reject her. He decides to turn her down, and gets a call from Sin-hye. This is one storyline I’m keen to see in Season 2, because Seok-hyung obviously was very affected by this experience. What Season 1 hasn’t been so good at doing is to show us how our characters who have been hurt have healed emotionally. We are aware that there are characters like Ik-Sun, Ik-Jun, Seok-hyung who have experienced pain in their love life. With a second season, let’s hope the show can go more in depth to explore these areas.

And finally, we have Jun-Wan. While he’s professionally adept and makes good decisions, we see him this episode that Jae-hak, who has been under his mentorship, rises to the occasion and makes a critical decision to save the man with a punctured aorta. It is also Jae-hak that helps Jun-wan to make an important decision on the relationship to send Ik-sun a ring. It was endearing to see Jun-wan being so lost and uncertain.

He makes the decision to send her the ring. However, the package he has sent to her is returned. They are such a sweet and adorable couple that we really want the best for them, so let’s hope Season 2 explores them working out these issues in a mature and healthy manner.

The song “You to Me, Me to You” that ties the finale together is a fitting ensemble piece that celebrates how relationships of all sorts – friendship, colleagues, family, love – have been at the core of this wonderful show. While many questions remain unanswered at the end of this season, what we are left with is a comforting sense that these friends will always be there for each other and their friendship is definitely something I’m looking forward to enjoying once again in Season 2. Thank you Hospital Playlist for a wonderful journey. Ending off this review with the song that ends off this season.

Hospital Playlist Episode 10

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U-Ju being absolutely adorable!

It’s really rare to have a show that can create so many charming and lovable characters, but Hospital Playlist has accomplished this feat. You would think having five main characters to focus on is difficult enough, but the show is still able to give its side characters meaningful storylines that allow us to feel for and relate to them.

I particularly enjoyed Jae-hak’s storyline this week. Stuck between his patient and Professor Cheon, Jae-hak is at a complete loss. Professor Cheon knows what’s right for his patient, but refuses to insist on doing it. When the patient refuses to get an enema, Professor Cheon just lets him be. In desperation, Jae-hak runs to Jun-wan to get advice. Jun-wan tells him firmly and sternly to do whatever he can to ensure the patient gets the enema, because “if the doctor gives up on a patient, he isn’t a doctor anymore.”

Jae-hak runs off immediately and the next time we see him, he’s with Seok-min and Chi-hong and he tells them he managed to convince the patient. They ask him how he did it, expecting some impressive tale, but Jae-hak tells them awkwardly that he did so by begging the patient, telling him that he would lose his job if he didn’t do it. He’s ashamed to share it, but Chi-hong affirms him of his efforts and he is encouraged. The biggest affirmation comes when he receives a note of thanks from the patient, thanking him for not giving up on him. He breaks down and cries, which was a really touching scene. I enjoy how Hospital Playlist plays up the vulnerabilities of these doctors and doesn’t aim to show them as supremely brilliant or competent. Just like how Gyu-Wool learnt how to explain the case better to a patient, Jae-hak also learns through this situation how to protect the life of his through his genuine care and willingness to learn.

Besides Jae-Hak’s story, I also appreciated how the show started to show more of Jung-won’s tensions in this episode. While he has decided to become a priest, we also know he’s an excellent doctor and relates so well to children. This is affirmed by Jong-So and Rosa’s conversation, but also by the many scenes we’ve seen in the series of his interactions with children. He truly has a good heart and wants Song-hwa to take over as ‘Daddy Long Legs’, so that the good work he has started can continue even as he leaves the hospital. He has also made arrangements such that funding can continue.

However, just as he decides to go, we also get hints that he may be developing feelings for Gyu-wool. Ik-Joon, being the big-hearted friend that he is, also tries to engineer a situation for Jung-won to come clean with his feelings by asking Gyu-wool to bring in a bouquet of roses and pretend she was proposed to. Jung-won’s aloof reaction and refusal to join in the toast suggests he likes her. Later on, when Ik-Joon asks him point blank about it, Jung-Won does not deny anything as well. Ik-Joon tells him that God will understand if he decides to follow his heart. Jung-Won appears conflicted and uncertain after Ik-Joon leaves. What decision will he ultimately make in the end? It’s not clear cut at the moment, given that we know he’s been wanting to become a priest for a really long time.

While Ik-Joon helps Jung-won with his love life, he seems to be having some good developments with Song-hwa. At this moment, the friendship they share is so strong and they are so comfortable with each other that Song Hwa has probably never even considered him as a boyfriend. To me, it’s quite clear that Ik-Joon still has feelings for her, though he might not be actively pursuing her. In a most telling conversation, he tells her that having a meal with her, or coffee with her, is the way he gives himself a treat. There’s a moment of awkwardness, but perhaps that will be the turning point for Song-hwa to start even considering him as a potential love interest. They would certainly be so cute together and they have great chemistry.

As for Jun-Wan, I am liking his character even more when I see how he handles his relationship with Ik-Soon. He handles it so maturely, even after he learns through Chi-hong that she has been accepted to the medical programme overseas. He does not react rashly, or ask her why she never told him. Instead, he tells her in a voice message that it does not matter how he found out and they can chat more about it when they meet. Even in the last episode, when he saw a message appear on Ik-soon’s phone, he did not react with jealousy. It’s heartening to see such maturity and trust in a relationship, where potential moments for conflict are avoided because our characters know how to deal with them properly.

What I’ve appreciated about Hospital Playlist is that it tugs at our heartstrings through very genuine moments of connection, without unnecessary melodrama, tears or dramatic scores. The characters do not have easy lives by any count – their work is stressful where lives are at stake and they have personal and family issues to grapple with. However, their positive outlook on life and their unwavering support for each other help them get through each day with a smile on their face. I will truly miss these characters and their friendship when the series is over.

Episode Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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Upcoming K-Drama Analysis Webinar [update on 23 May 2020]

Analysing k-drama has helped me realise how much work goes into these shows and appreciate them so much more. Having blogged on k-drama for a few years, I would like to share my approach on how to analyse k-dramas so as to enjoy them so much more.

I will be launching a webinar very shortly titled “Unlocking the Keys to K-drama” soon. The webinar will cover my Genre, Characterisation, Technical Details approachusing dramas like Healer, Queen In-hyun’s Man, Legend of the Blue Sea, Goblin, Hotel Del Luna and The World of the Married. If you are interested to sign up, please indicate your interest by clicking this link and you will be placed on a mailing list to be notified once the webinar is up. Spaces will be limited since it is my first run. Thank you!

Hospital Playlist Episode 9

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I really enjoyed this week’s energetic upbeat OST contribution, Songolmae’s “Met you by chance”. The song was fun, and everyone looked like they were really having fun, with smiles on their faces. Rosa clapping and singing along cheerfully added to the joy and Joong-Soo being aloof while tapping along quietly was a nice touch. I’m sharing it here because I loved it so much.

Mirroring this week’s OST, this week’s episode was definitely more light-hearted and more light-touch. Some potentially heavy topics like divorce, depression and marriage were raised, but not explored further. We have small movements in relationships like Song-Hwa meeting Chi Hong for dinner (or are they really – we’re not sure if they are smiling or waving at each other?), and Jung-wan smiling at Gyu-wool, but no clarity as to where the show is really taking this. I much preferred entries like Episode 8 where we explored two characters in greater depth, whereas Episode 9 felt a little touch and go, with no clear sense as to where our characters were heading.

That’s not to say there weren’t enjoyable moments in the episode. Overall, it was still an enjoyable episode, because there’s such chemistry and camaraderie amongst the cast. I always enjoy scenes of all five of them together chatting, teasing, bantering and just being comfortable with each other. Even conversations between the residents like Min ha and Gyu Wool, and our elderly characters like Rosa and Joong-Soo are fun to watch.

The character who had more screen time this episode was Ik-Joon and he is such a lovable character. He’s such a reliable and encouraging friend to have around, as he fetches Song Hwa back to hospital when she has an emergency, runs out of the car to close her door for her, and then waits for her. The case of the father losing weight and changing his lifestyle so he can donate his liver makes Ik-Joon reflect on him wrongly thinking that he knew everything about the world and its people. He then decides to understand more from Chi-hong about what happened to Ik-Soon and pays her a surprise visit at her army camp, which was a very sweet and touching scene.

I’m largely enjoying the show, but if there’s one complaint I have, it is that many difficult conversations or emotional scenes seem to take place off-screen. It would have been powerful to see how Seok-hyung finally convinced his mum to get the divorce, given how we saw her so vehemently opposing it previously. Similarly, Joon Wan and Ik-Soon’s conversation ended abruptly when he asks if they will have to break off, and she has no answer. Surely, that was not how the conversation ended?

Also, for Ik-Joon, how about his divorce and its impact on him and U-ju? I’m ok that the divorce happened off-screen and given that he was already living as a single dad, it likely did not have much impact on him. But how about U-ju? So far, we’ve only seen sweet and adorable scenes of him, but it wouldn’t harm to show the impact of the divorce on him. Jung-wan hasn’t had much of a sustained storyline as well, except for the one-sided romance, of which we have no idea how he feels at all.

Hospital Playlist still remains my bright spot of the week, and one of the more light-hearted and enjoyable offerings currently. Nonetheless, since the show has already created such lovable characters with such strong bonds, it wouldn’t harm if they allowed us to know and connect with them on a deeper level. I’m looking forward to more opportunities for this as the show enters its final few episodes.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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.