Doctors with a fascination for the beating heart. And a drama with heart makes for a heart-warming watch.
Genre: Medical, romance
Synopsis: This drama is centred around the lives of heart surgeons and residents in the thoracic department of Gwanghee University Hospital, the nation’s best hospital that prides itself with its elite surgeons who are all university alumni. Lee Eunsung (Ji Sung) is a kind, smart and hard-working resident who comes from a third-grade medical school and gets despised by many in the hospital for his poor academic background. Nam Haesok (Kim Min Jung) is a smart female resident who graduated at the top of her cohort and also the illegitimate daughter of the hospital director, but lacks empathy for others. Choi Kang Gook (Jo Jae Hyun) is a top heart surgeon with a cold exterior but always has the interests of his patients at heart. However, his brash, stubborn nature and desire to change the system often lands him in trouble with the management and other doctors.
Another Ji Sung drama! Although this show was aired 8 years ago, the fact that I find it interesting even when I watch it today, proves that this drama is indeed a very good classic korean drama. Often, when I look back at old Korean dramas that I used to like, I find them rife with clichés that seem laughable at today’s day and age, which makes me wonder why I liked the drama back then. But this was not the case for New Heart. I found it very interesting and not once did I feel that it was being illogical or clichéd, which is actually quite a feat since even some dramas of today fail to achieve this. But first, let me set things straight. This is my first time watching New Heart. Although this show aired on our local TV years ago, I didn’t watch it as I wasn’t interested in Korean dramas back then, and I’m regretting it now! Secondly, this also happens to be my first time watching a Korean medical drama. Hence, I don’t have a very high benchmark for what constitutes a “good” medical drama. As a first time viewer of this genre, I think New Heart was good enough for me.
One thing I liked was the fast pace of the show. The first half of the series was very enjoyable and exciting, with every medical case being resolved within 1 to 2 episodes. It was also an eye-opener for me, seeing how the doctors handle emergency situations and the daily operations of the hospital. The graphic surgical scenes needed some getting used to though. All the surgical scenes looked very realistic, so kudos to the props team for that. A disclaimer though — because I’m not in the medical profession, I can’t say for certain how accurate the drama was in its depiction of hospital life and operations. A lot of medical terms were brought up in the show, and captions explaining these terms would appear on screen every few minutes. While all these terminology can be rather frustrating and hard to process, I soon realised that just a brief understanding of these terms was sufficient to follow the story. Rather than struggle to digest all the medical terminology being flashed on the screen, the best way to watch is to just enjoy the flow. And the fact that the show is able to apply so much medical theory probably suggests that the writers have done in-depth research, so the show should be accurate to a certain extent. In fact, I happened to chance upon a write-up by a fan who did an internship at the thoracic department of a Korean hospital because he was so greatly inspired by the show, and he found that the drama was accurate in its portrayal of doctors somewhat, such as the early morning roll call. But of course, the hospital infighting were quite exaggerated, which I will talk more about that later.
I also like the wide range of meaningful questions that the drama seeks to address. What does it mean to be a “real” doctor? Should a doctor perform a risky operation even if the patient has a high chance of dying? To what extent is the doctor liable when an operation goes wrong? Do vegetative patients deserve the same amount of care as normal patients? How should a hospital strike a balance between making profits and providing care for its patients? Can life be measured by dollars and cents? How can a doctor overcome the grief of losing a patient without becoming numb and insensitive to suffering and death? The drama does not seek to provide a definite answer to these difficult questions, but sets the viewer thinking about the many ethical and moral dilemmas that doctors have to face. I think it also tries to paint a realistic picture of the medical profession — some people become doctors because they have lofty ideals about saving lives, only to realise there are a lot of practical constraints that prevent doctors from carrying out their moral duty. Sometimes, the patients are simply too poor to afford the treatment, and the state does not provide enough social support to help them. Some of the patients’ stories in this drama were really touching and sad till I found myself tearing up several times. It’s easy to see why this drama was such a hit back then.
Ji sung’s character was really adorable here. I know some people complained about his hair being ugly here, but I wasn’t too bothered by his hair since this is an old show. It would be a different story of course, if he had sported this hairdo in Secret Love last year. Lee Eunsung’s cheerful, bubbly personality reminded me of some cartoon character which I can’t seem to pin point. I found Kim Min Jung’s character, Nam Haesok, quite annoying at first because she didn’t seem to care about the welfare of patients like what a good doctor should do, but thankfully she changed for the better later. There were a lot of familiar faces in this show (I was surprised to see KBS gagman Kim Junho acting here, in a drama!) and each character had a distinct personality, and many were quite likeable too. Even the “bad guys” weren’t totally bad. I liked that each of the side characters were given ample amount of screen time to develop their story. Usually, I don’t like shows that deal with too many subplots, but I thought all these were managed quite well in this show as I did not feel that the show was going off-course, and neither was I bored when the lead couple didn’t appear. Although Ji Sung and Kim Min Jung were promoted as the leads, I think the show was fairly balanced among all the actors. In fact, I think Jo Jae Hyun was the real leading man of the show as he carried his role with such charisma.
The show could have been close to perfect if not for the 3 to 4 episodes in the middle where the plot just seemed to stagnate as the doctors wallowed in misery and did nothing but cry and drink. Although the show started to pick up its pace again after that, but I already lost some interest at that point and the show didn’t seem to gain back the same level of excitement and unpredictability it had at the start. Another thing that seems to plague several Korean medical dramas (based on reviews that I’ve read about this genre) is the hospital politics. It doesn’t seem realistic that doctors will quarrel at the ward, much less in front of a patient or at the operating table. Every second counts during an operation, how can doctors possibly afford to be distracted and argue? I wouldn’t want to place my life in the hands of these doctors, and hey, they were suppose to be the best in the country! Also, some of the patients seem to loose a huge amount of blood in some of the operations, with blood squirting all over the place, which I suspect was done for dramatic effect in the show. Several of the doctors were portrayed as proud, jealous, greedy and power-hungry initially, but towards the end, some of them magically changed for the better. Although the show did try to explain the reason for their change in behaviour, I felt that the change was a bit too sudden for some of the characters. Product placement was glaringly obvious in this drama, with close-up shots of products, and conveniently having Lee Eunsung as an avid online shopper, hence providing good excuse for him to purchase and talk about random products. The famous teddy bear dolls from Princess Hours make a return in this drama. I won’t say that it’s a bad thing since their presence in this show was logically explained and they are cute, but it appears like MBC is recycling this concept from another of its successful dramas. Also a pity was the cinematography. There were some unique camera shots in the first half of the series, but obviously the show fell victim to the live-shoot system, so production quality declined somewhat in the second half.
A very enlightening and entertaining watch for a first-time viewer of Korean medical dramas. The drama poses thought-provoking questions about the profession and society at every turn, although much is best taken with a pinch of salt due to dramatization. Very touching with some laughter and cute romance thrown in, and deftly avoids kdrama clichés. Truly a timeless classic.