“Kill Me Heal Me” tickled me, surprised me, impressed me, and won my heart.
Genre: Comedy, romance, medical, intrigue
Synopsis: A third generation chaebol, Cha Do Hyun (Ji Sung), suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) with seven different personalities as a result of a trauma he experienced during childhood, which he cannot remember. He also has no recollection of events that happen when his other personalities take over him and he leads a lonely life due to his illness. He tries to keep his illness a secret from his family, and seeks treatment secretly with the help of first-year psychiatric resident, Oh Ri Jin (Hwang Jung Eum).
Comments (contains spoilers):
I initially had no interest in this show when I first read the synopsis. Ok, I admit. I even thought the show would be a flop, because the idea of a character with not one, not two, but seven different personalities just seemed too preposterous. But once Ji Sung signed on, I knew I had to watch this, and I’m so glad I did! The drama also went on to become a big hit in Korea, and I can totally see why.
The drama already won my heart from the first second, with a mysterious opening filled with impressive CGI effects and the usage of news clippings to lay out the background story. But the downside of such an opening is the sheer amount of information being thrown at viewers from the get-go. I admit that I didn’t understand everything, but hey, at least the CGI was pretty. The story began with Cha Do Hyun as a student in America, and this was a big surprise to me as I did not recall reading any news about the crew flying to America to film. I guess they must have used some really impressive and realistic CGI since certain scenes looked like they were really shot in America. The drama continued to show off its CGI prowess by making Do Hyun’s eyes change colour each time he changes to another personality, but unfortunately, this made him look like some superhero or a werewolf instead of a DID patient. I was half expecting him to transform into the Hulk. Thankfully, I’m glad they did away with this cheesy effect in subsequent episodes.
I also loved the zany and comedic feel of the drama, which I wasn’t expecting from a show that sounded like a medical drama from the initial synopsis. Although the drama got more serious and melodramatic in later episodes, there were still more than enough comedic moments thrown in, sometimes even at times when you least expect it. The story in the first few episodes also progressed at a surprisingly fast pace, with a love confession already being made at the end of the first episode. Wasn’t expecting that either! The fast pace and the nice blend of humour, action and melo made the show an entertaining watch.
But probably the most entertaining aspect of all was Ji Sung himself, who successfully pulled off the seemingly impossible task of playing seven different characters, and basically carried the whole show on his own like a boss. Through changes in his voice, manner of speech, gestures and clothes, Ji Sung created seven distinct personalities, each with their own unique traits — Shin Se Gi is the confident and proud fashionista with a violent streak, Perry Park is an old man in a young man’s body, Yo Seob is the quiet intellectual student with suicidal tendencies, Yo Na is the wilful teenage girl who can’t get enough of her handsome oppas, Nana has a childlike innocence, Mr. X is the wise sage, while Do Hyun is the polite gentleman who just wants to live like a normal person. But despite the personalities being very different, Ji Sung managed to show that they were still very much a part of Do Hyun by revealing some of the little traits across different personalities. For instance, Se Gi channels a bit of Yo Na when he tries out some lip tint at the cosmetics shop, and Do Hyun precisely notes an important moment in time in the exact same way as Se Gi. He also gamely acted out all the personalities convincingly without shame, and his willingness to sacrifice his image made the show even more enjoyable to watch. This is especially true for his portrayal of Yo Na. It takes a lot of guts for an actor to run around the streets of Hongdae dressed as a girl in full view of every passer-by.
Of course, much credit has to go to the writer also for being able to think of seven different personalities beyond the wildest imagination. I think the personality which I found the most incredulous and nonsensical (and I don’t mean this in a bad way) would be Perry Park. I mean, it takes a lot of imagination to envision a character that is an ahjusshi who loves fishing, dreams of owning a boat, and has a talent for making bombs. These three character traits do not make logical sense, and yet, the writer still managed to prove that having a character like Perry Park in the show made perfect sense. Initially, some of the personalities seemed to have been created simply for comedic effect, but at the end, the writer revealed the reason why these personalities came to exist within Do Hyun, which was ingenious. Even Mr. X, who only made an appearance in the last episode, was not hastily added as a last minute twist, but was created for a valid reason. I do notice that Mr. X looks different from how he looked like in the initial teasers, which made me wonder what prompted the change, and what the writer had originally intended Mr. X to be like. Despite Mr. X joining in late in the game, his appearance, which lasted less than 5 minutes, was nonetheless impactful, even delivering one of the most inspiring lines in the show.
In fact, I found this show surprisingly inspiring and touching despite its somewhat zany premise. The drama touches on the issue of child abuse and the lasting negative impact it can have on the victim’s psychological state of mind. It also shows that victims of such abuse require the love of others, which is probably the most effective form of treatment. Learning to forgive is also one step of this healing process, but it is difficult and does not happen overnight. Such is the deep message that the writer is probably trying to convey through this show, which also sheds light upon the DID condition that might not be known to many. Dealing with illness can be a burden on both the patient, family and people around the patient, so it is good that the writer chose to tackle this depressing subject in a light-hearted manner instead. This could also help to dispel negative reactions towards DID patients. Do Hyun’s different personalities created all kinds of troubles for him but they were a joy to watch as a viewer, such that I was even sad to bid them goodbye at the end. Do Hyun may have found life to be a living hell in the beginning because of his condition, but he eventually grew to accept and love his various personalities since they are all parts of himself, which is also the writer’s way of telling you to love yourself. This message — to love yourself and live another day — is all the more poignant in the words that Oh Ri Jin said to him whenever DoHyun/YoSeob wanted to kill himself:
누구나 마음 속에 여러 사람이 살아. 죽고 싶은 나와 살고 싶은 내가 있어. 포기하고 싶은 나와 지푸라기라도 잡고 싶은 내가 매일 매일 싸우면서 살아간다고.
Everyone has several people living inside them. There’s the me who wants to die and the me who wants to live. I live everyday fighting with the me who wants to give up. [Episode 7]
죽고 싶으면 죽어. 근데, 내일 죽어. 내일도 똑같이 힘들면 그다음 날 죽어. 그다음 날도 똑같이 고통스러우면 그다음 다음 날 죽어도 안 늦어. 그렇게 하루씩 더 살아가다 보면 반드시 좋은 날이 와. 그때 정말 ‘안 죽길 잘했다’ 싶은 날이 온다고.
If you want to die, then die. But die tomorrow. If you feel it’s hard for you tomorrow as well, then die the day after that. If you feel the same pain the day after that, even if you die the next day and the day after that, it’s not too late. If you live each day at a time like that, then a good day will definitely come. There will come a day where you’ll tell yourself, “I did a good thing of not killing myself back then”! [Episode 15]
These lines were really impactful and well-written, and probably the best I’ve ever heard in my years of watching Korean dramas. But then again, my Korean wasn’t that good last time. I was almost moved to tears when I read a post written by a Korean viewer on a forum, where she claimed that she was suicidal, but the drama inspired her to be strong and cherish her life, which goes to show just how impactful these words were. Besides these two lines, there were many other memorable lines in the drama, which is why this show just strikes all the right chords for me. There are other shows with plots that are cleverly written or exciting, but this drama goes another level by giving inspiration to viewers, and possibly even changing the lives of others, as evidenced by the Korean fans who raised funds to help victims of child abuse.
What I also liked about “Kill Me Heal Me” was consistency. Besides being consistently funny as mentioned earlier, the writer never lost focus on her purpose of telling this story. Although the story threatened to become a typical one about a tussle for ownership among chaebols sometimes, it thankfully did not veer totally into that area. Even though the romance between the two leads and the shenanigans of Do Hyun’s multiple personalities were popular among viewers, I felt that the writer did not let these overpower the true message that she wanted to convey. The writer could have easily inserted more kissing scenes as fan service (and I’m not saying that the show is lacking in kisses), but I don’t see deliberate attempt at doing that, so I appreciate that she did not let popular opinion sway her resolve in telling her own story.
Another winning aspect of the drama was its OST. No matter how many times Jang Jae In’s “Auditory Hallucination” was played in the show, I never got sick of it. The melody was both haunting and beautiful, and the lyrics matched the story perfectly. Moon Myung Jin’s “Unspeakable Secret” and the songs by Park Seo Jun and Ji Sung were also very fitting for the show. It helps that the director knew when to play the right songs at the right moments. I especially liked the instrumental tracks, of which several had a whimsical, fantasy feel. Amazingly, the instrumental track “Childhood” could be an innocent tune in one instance or a creepy tune in another, depending on the scene.
I don’t have many complaints about this drama, but if I had to nitpick on one thing, then that would be the excessive use of flashbacks. At some point in the drama, I found each episode having way too many flashbacks, and some were even flashbacks of scenes that happened just a few minutes ago. Of course, not all the flashbacks were without purpose, but I do believe they could be reduced without compromising the story. The supporting characters, Ki Joon and Chae Yeon, seemed to get sidelined as the show went on and there was a noticeable drop in their number of scenes, but I was never really concerned about them anyway, so I didn’t mind. Hwang Jung Eum seemed a bit over the top with her acting in the first episode, but either I got used to it or she got better, I was generally happy with her portrayal of Oh Ri Jin, and of course, her natural chemistry with Ji Sung. After seeing her weep so much in “Secret Love”, it was refreshing to see her acting such a loud and bright character here. While I may have commended the show for its light-hearted take on DID, I do wonder if this actually trivialises the condition. While it may be hilarious watching Do Hyun’s personalities run amok, it might not be funny if the same thing were to happen in reality. Perhaps, the show may raise awareness about DID or even dispel negative reactions towards people with such a condition, but I do wonder if viewers will end up expecting DID patients to be this entertaining.
With amazing camera and music direction, a well-written and meaningful story, stellar acting, and a nice blend of melodrama and comedy, this is probably one of the best Korean dramas I’ve ever seen. This is a show that I wouldn’t mind watching over and over again.