Dr. Brain
Apple TV+ (2021) 6 Hour Long Episodes
Science Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Grade: B+
Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA
(Some Spoilers)

The first Korean drama sponsored by Apple TV+ streaming channel (EVERYBODY now is getting into the Korean Drama Act! - too funny to those of us who have been watching them for two decades!), Dr. Brain (2021) was based on a popular webtoon by writer Jo Jae Hong, and brought in well-established talents in the Korean entertainment industry to work together on the project: director Kim Jee Woon (films A Tale Of Two Sisters, The Good The Bad The Weird, The Age Of Shadows, A Bittersweet Life, The Quiet Family, etc.), popular cast members Lee Sun Kyun (film Parasite, dramas My Mister and Pasta), Lee Yoo Young (dramas Tunnel, You Drive Me Crazy!), Seo Ji Hye (49 Days, Dinner Mate, Crash Landing On You), Park Hee Soon (who scared the life out of me in the film Hansel and Gretel as the insane "minister"), Lee Jae Won (unforgettable in dramas Master's Sun and Doctor Stranger), and senior actor Moon Sung Geun (film Dong Ju: Portrait of A Poet, drama When My Love Blooms) who makes a splash later in the drama as the most evil character in the plot -- ooh, I really wanted to punch him -- or something worse, LOL).

Currently, as I write this, Apple TV+ has a seven day free trial where you can watch Dr. Brain and then cancel when you're done. Loved that free gift, and took advantage of it over the Christmas holidays.

The Story:

Sewon Koh (Lee Sun Kyun) is a brilliant brain scientist / surgeon who from a young age was diagnosed with a near-perfect memory but a complicated emotional detachment dysfunction disorder, akin to autism -- he finds it difficult to trust or feel close to people. As a child (Kim Geon U) he rarely talked and didn't even feel close to his single mother (Oh Yeon Ah), who worked very hard to help him to be more "normal", taking him to an endless stream of therapists, who also seemed puzzled by him. This was a child who could solve a Rubik's Cube in ten seconds but who never understood what his mother was feeling at all. The reason Sewon had no father in the home isn't made clear until later in the series, and it's all very, very strange!

Official Trailer

One day on the street Sewon's Mom is killed by what looks like a vehicle accident. He drops to the ground in shock but is conscious enough to see his Mom's last moments silently mouthing his name. Sewon becomes a ward of the State and by some miracle begins to consciously decide to create that more "normal" life for himself that his mother yearned for him to experience. He excels in school and eventually goes to medical school, learning about the brain and all its remarkable capabilities and mysteries. Almost like a Dr. Frankenstein, he yearns to study the brains of other people, and tap into the reservoirs of their mental histories. He even invents a brain sync machine, and hooks himself up to recently deceased bodies in the morgue, to see if he can tap into their memories! Everyone he works with thinks he's weird but brilliant. A supportive friend who often helps him in his risky, often secretive experiments is a medical intern named Hong Nam Il (Lee Jae Won). Everyone should have a friend as devoted as this fellow! Often this actor excels at comedy but here he was given a great chance to do melodrama, and he acquitted himself fantastically!

In his quest to be more "normal", Sewon gets married to a lovely lady named Jung Jae Yi (Lee Yoo Young), and has his own cute son named Koh Do Yoon (Jung Si On), who coincidentally (?) has elements of autism too. Life seems to have stabilized for him to some extent, but there are dark clouds on the horizon for him and his loved ones.

Another tragedy suddenly occurs in Sewon's life - he is led to believe his son is killed, and in severe grief his wife seems to commit suicide! He becomes obsessed with uncovering the facts behind both their cases. He strives to use his sync machine to delve into the memories of anyone who might have had anything to do with their mysterious fate, or memories of the events leading up to the tragedy. At one point he even uses his brain sync machine on their household pet cat! Could the cat have witnessed the wife's "suicide", or could foul play have been involved?

The local police become involved with the cases of his family members "deaths", and at first Sewon is even looked upon as a possible murderer of his wife and child. This makes it even more imperative for Sewon to uncover the truth. He is helped along by a supportive investigator named Lee Kang Mu (Park Hee Soon). At first a female detective assigned to the cases, Choi Soo Seok (Seo Ji Hye), doesn't trust Sewon's explanations, but as time goes by and more nefarious circumstances come to life -- all strongly related to a mental experiment clinic lurking in the shadows of the community -- she becomes supportive and they end up working together to uncover the REAL criminals.

The journey there uncovers a prime suspect - an older man named Dr. Myung Tae Suk (Moon Sung Geun) who desperately wants to uncover the secret to eternal life, no matter whom he hurts in the process -- even his own adult son, Sewon, and his family! Talk about your male family abandoners! This old geezer takes the cake! Will Sewon be able to rout this guy and destroy him at his own dastardly game, and possibly save his son from severe medical experiments set up by this evil man?

With all this incredible talent involved in this production I went in expecting total brilliance, but I did end up having some reservations about this drama as I watched it. Mainly I yearned for more scenes with the lead women in the cast, especially because I absolutely love the two lead actresses, but the main emphasis here was on the men's stories. I delighted in all the scenes showing actress Seo Ji Hye playing a cop and carrying weapons and not hesitating to use them against the bad guys (and gals). I cheered at all her scenes like that! I wanted MORE. Then I was rather disappointed in how few scenes Lee Yoo Young was in overall. Mostly she appeared in brief flashbacks to flesh out the quality of Sewon's marriage for the audience, or she was placed in artistic shots that emphasized her character's transitions between life and death. I felt they should have depicted more foundational scenes between her character and Lee Sun Kyun's, and shown their courtship more in-depth, so that we as the audience could care about this married couple more deeply, and their little son. This seemed lacking. All the great classic K-dramas of the past, like the Four Seasons' dramas, showed many foundational scenes first, before there was even a hint of romance. We got to know their characters in-depth, and grew to care about them deeply, before any character ended up paired with another romantically.

While the cinematography and special effects were inventive and first-rate, I was rather disappointed in the musical soundtrack. Now, this director is known for his masterpiece films featuring brilliant scores, like Byung Woo Lee's unforgettable one for A Tale Of Two Sisters. I expected similar here, and I didn't get it. Big oversight. I never walked away from an episode humming any music from this drama. I also thought there was too much gory violence in this drama. I had to turn my head away at times. Always a negative for me. The writing on occasion could have been a little less confusing, too. And once again, in the last few minutes of the drama, they left us with a dire OPEN ENDING, which means they expect to make a part two at some point. Spare me from open endings! Great writers give us viewers conclusive endings. No ifs, ands, or buts! 

So, while I enjoyed some aspects of this short K-drama, Dr. Brain, my overall feeling was that I was happy to watch it because of the actors I love, while some other aspects felt "off", mainly in the writing. I probably wouldn't watch it again, but if you enjoy science fiction stories that are action-packed and mysterious definitely give it a try. Besides -- it's free! :)

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