Featuring a tour du force performance by actor Joo Won (Tomorrow's Cantabile, Baker King Kim Tae Gu, Bridal Mask, Yong Pal, Alice) as an autistic savant physician in training, specializing in pediatrics at a busy Seoul hospital, Good Doctor (2013) will knock your socks off with its realistic depiction of the trials and tribulations of its fascinating protagonist, a young man who has to overcome much prejudice to reach his goal of becoming a pediatric surgeon. Out of all the films and dramas I've seen starring Joo Won this one is my favorite, and I think his most brilliant performance. Perhaps because I have a daughter with autism I can relate to his autistic savant character. There were so many times when I yelled out to the other characters in the drama, mostly medical people who had no clue what he was going through emotionally, "Aww! Give the guy a HUG, won't you?" Joo Won must have studied autistic people very seriously to get their mannerisms and mindsets down pat the way he did. Beautiful!
As the story progresses the viewer gets very attached to all the characters as they learn from each other, and their perceptions about autistic people are ultimately changed forever. By the end they are all like one big family, and even those at the hospital who were dead set against him being hired, even on a trial basis, become his loudest cheering section! Good Doctor is inspiring, educational, and entertaining, with a solid mix of melodrama combined with humor. This is one of those dramas that you hate to see end, instead of breathing a sigh of relief that it's finally over! Update: Since I originally wrote this review in 2014 America has made their own version of this story for television, and of course it stinks in comparison to the brilliant original Korean version. Hollywood always ruins everything today, without any exceptions.
The Story: All that being said, the first episode of Good Doctor requires at least one box of tissues for wiping tears away, for we begin in the haunting childhood memories of Dr. Park Shi-On (Choi Ro-woon as a child, Joo Won as an adult) who grew up in an abusive home, his mother Oh Kyung-joo (Yoon Yoo-sun) constantly being beaten and tormented verbally by her drunken husband Park Choon-sung (Ho Keun-jung), while he and his protective older brother Yi-On (Jeon Joon-hyuk) spend a lot of time together out of doors as an escape from their unhappy home life. This in turn makes them objects of scorn and ridicule from the other children in the neighborhood who refuse to play with them and Shi-On and Yi-On, desperate to be accepted, are pressured by the group to walk into an abandoned shaft if they want to join their group. Once inside, a collapse occurs, and both young boys are buried alive, with poor older brother Yi-On losing his life during a rescue attempt by the first doctor on the disaster scene named Woo Suk Choi (veteran actor Ho Jin Chun), with Shi-On looking on in horror as his brother dies before his eyes. The rescuing doctor ends up adopting Shi-On when his parents break up and disappear after the tragedy.
Joo Won as Park Shi-On,
an autistic savant pediatric physician
The kindly doc is responsible for much healing that goes on in Shi-On's new life; the doc soon recognizes that Shi-On is a genius intellectually, but that the part of his brain which affects socialization is damaged by autism. After years of nurturing and caring, Shi-On comes out of his shell, learns how to deal with people more effectively, and actually goes through medical school with superlative grades because of his amazing ability to remember anything he's ever read. Trouble is that no hospital wants to hire him because of his handicap; people have trouble seeing the real person and all his talents and quiet wisdom. All they see is his puzzling behavior and autistic mannerisms, not his potential. Shi-On knows very well that he is different but he had promised his brother before his death that he would become a doctor and he stubbornly clings to that goal despite all odds.
Nightmares of being abused and seeing
his brother die haunt Shi-On as an adult
Kiss between Goo Hara and Kim Young Kwang
His adoptive father became a chairman at Sungwon University Hospital and puts forward his adopted son's name as worthy of consideration to be an intern on staff. At first it looks unpromising for Shi-On, most of the board members are against his hiring, until an incident occurs where he saves a child from death and the incident causes him to become a news celebrity.
Hoping to capitalize on his fame, the hospital accepts Shi-On on a trial six month term. With all his memorization skills he often comes through with diagnosis and possible treatment options for rare conditions seen in the children who come to the hospital. At first a lot of the children on the hospital ward and their mothers misjudge Shi-On because of his unique communication skills and strange childlike behaviors, but ultimately he wins them over. Many of the staff members also misjudge him in the beginning, and seem threatened by him, but he is ultimately successful there too, and is even allowed to do a few surgeries as an intern when the hospital has emergency situations and are under-staffed.
Joo Sang-wook as top surgeon Kim Do-han,
who can save lives but who can't solve a Rubik's Cube,
which takes Dr. Shi-On ten seconds to solve!
The top surgeon in the pediatric department, the rather cold on the surface but warm underneath Kim Do-han (handsome Joo Sang-wook) is at first very wary of Shi-On, and disciplines him a lot, but Shi-On is humble and takes it all in as a valuable learning experience. As long as someone impresses him as a gifted doctor he accepts any criticism given him without getting defensive. Do-han gradually grows to be fond of Shi-On, partly because he reminds him of his own younger brother who was autistic, who died in a traffic accident.
So both Do-han and Shi-On had brothers perish and feel a sense of guilt about it. Do-han is engaged to be married to the lovely Yoo Chae-kyung (Kim Min-seo) who is on the planning board of the hospital, but their relationship is often strained because of the amount of time he spends at his job and not with her.
Shi-On continues to grow in many ways during tense times at the hospital, and especially after his long-gone "parents" re-enter his life as an adult and bring their troubles to his doorstep. Will he ever be able to forgive them? (That "father" of his made me want to throttle him, he still belittles his son at every opportunity!). Despite everything Shi-On even ends up with a girlfriend, sweet and nurturing pediatric surgeon Cha Yoon-seo (Moon Chae-won from The Princess' Man and Shining Inheritance), who at first can't decipher him at all but who slowly grows to trust him, seeing him first as a brother in the medical field, and then as a friend, and then finally as a romantic partner. She knows they risk ridicule being together but she decides she will continue to love him anyway, despite all obstacles.
Since the drama focuses on pediatrics much of the time, we get to meet long term child patients at the hospital who require lots of dedication and care. This enables many child actors to shine in the drama, especially chronically ill Na In-hae (Kim Hyun-soo from My Love From Another Star) who is being supported by her hard working older sister Na In-young (Uhm Hyun-kyung from The Greatest Marriage) and becomes a trusted friend to Shi-On. In-young is in turn courted by a four year resident at the hospital named Han Jin-wook (Kim Young-kwang), who is someone everyone loves because he's always cheerful. Probably the most interesting child case is for a feral child named Eun-ok (Hae Jung-yoo) who was raised in a kennel with dogs by her abusive aunt and who at first attacks staff after being rescued from her "home" by child protective services, and only the intuitive and sensitive Shi-On can reach the child after she is placed in isolation.To see this child abuse victim turn into a beautiful and happy child, eventually adopted into a new family, is one of the most endearing parts of the drama.
It isn't all serious stuff on Good Doctor: one of the most adorable scenes is when hospital staff put on the play Peter Pan for the sick children. Actor Joo Won as Shi-On made a very cute Peter, and top surgeon Do-han played Captain Hook. Of course Yeon-seo played Wendy, but the funniest bit probably came from rather chunky head nurse with a beard Jo Jung-mi (Ko Chang-seok) who played Tinkerbell. I laughed my head off!
Head nurse Jo Jung-mi and long-term patient In-hae
often lighten up the mood in the hospital with their joy of life
There are many other secondary characters who liven up the drama, but you should watch the drama for yourself and enjoy them all; both poignant and funny scenes with these characters result in layers of delight and laughter. Good Doctor is one of the most meaningful and unforgettable Korean dramas I've ever been privileged to enjoy, with one of the sweetest and most innocent romances ever. Skip the overly hyped American trash version and watch the original Korean drama instead. You'll be glad you did!
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