Hospital Playlist
슬기로운 의사생활
tvN (2020) 12 Episodes
Medical Melodrama / Friendship
Grade: A+
Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA
(Some Spoilers)

An exemplary medical drama that proved wildly popular worldwide, Hospital Playlist (2020) was a class act all the way, with an outstanding cast of established players who had fantastic chemistry together. I'm always drawn to dramas with a good ensemble feel to them, where each main character is treated equally in the script, and none of the actors are short-changed in the amount of screen time they get during the drama. The "playlist" part of this hospital drama happened at the end of each episode, as all the main doctor characters, friends since medical school, and working at the same hospital, gathered together to play musical instruments and sing songs they liked. It helped them wind down emotionally from the stress of treating sick patients all day. Although all the songs were nice, I lost it when in the last scenes of the last episode they played and sang music featured in my top favorite Korean film of all time, The Classic (2003), starring Ye Jin Son. I started raising my fist in the air and cheering and even singing along in Korean! My favorite was Me To You, You To Me, the song that played in the film when Ye Jin and co-star Jo In Sung ran through the rain together.

From all the news articles I read during the drama's progress I could easily tell that the lead actor Jo Jung Suk (Jealousy Incarnate, King 2 Hearts) had had a major part in casting the drama, choosing his co-stars, especially the leading lady, Jeon Mi Do (Mother), with whom he had nice subtle chemistry, not so much romantic (though there were small hints it might go in that direction eventually), but a relationship based more on respect and friendship. Her character wore glasses throughout, and she couldn't sing for beans (though the others still wanted her in the band), and she was obviously never meant to be a sexpot character at all. I thought that refreshing, and actually Mi Do's character became my top favorite in the entire drama. As a doctor she was smart as a whip, and she was good with patients too; not patronizing at all.

The other doctors in the group of long time friends were played by Jung Kyoung Ho (who, no matter what else he's ever done in his career, will always be Yune to me from I'm Sorry, I Love You), Kim Dae Myung (Misaeng), and Yoo Yeon Seok (Jeju Island Gatsby, and the films A Werewolf Boy and Love, Lies). Expect nothing but excellence from pro actors like these!
The Story:

Lee Ik Joon (Jo Jung Suk) is an assistant professor of general surgery at Yulje Medical Center in Seoul. He is married, though estranged from his wife (she lives abroad for years, ostensibly for work), and he raises their one little son, named Lee Woo Joo (cutie pie Kim Joon). Later the "wife" takes up with her best friend's husband, there's a divorce, and Ik Joon basically becomes a single parent. He has a female caretaker for his son and tries hard to spend quality time with him every day, to make up for the loss of his terrible mother. The kid seems a cheery, adaptable little soul, and brings joy to Ik Joon's often tiring life; doing multiple surgeries per week plus teaching interns is draining.

Ik Joon does have a long time female friend in Chae Song Hwa (Jeon Mi Do) and they often confide in each other about the stresses of their jobs, and often make the time to eat together (usually cup ramen!). When Song Hwa at one point is told she might have breast cancer Ik Joon is obviously concerned and keeps checking on her condition. Thankfully the tumor is biopsied as benign. Song Hwa is a cheerful soul who often has kind words to say to everyone. She is single and doesn't have any romantic interests at all, even though it's sometimes subtly conveyed that Ik Joon does have feelings for her. Her favorite hobby is camping. A medical intern she works with, named Jo Dae Hak (Jung Moon Sung) also develops feelings for her, and unlike Ik Joon, isn't shy about conveying his romantic interest in her. She discourages him, but it's clear part of her likes his consistent puppy love for her. (Every time she had a scene with him I said out loud, "Oh come on! He's sweet! Date him at least! Make Ik Joon jealous!").

No doubt the most brilliant surgeon on staff of the hospital is Kim Jun Wan (Jung Kyoung Ho) Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery. He works super long hours, has no social life outside of his long time doctor friends on staff, rarely smiles, and is always serious around the interns he works with, constantly testing them. Eventually though -- it almost seems like a miracle! -- he begins to develop romantic feelings for the martial arts expert - soldier sister, Lee Ik Soon (Kwak Sun Young), of his friend Ik Joon. When he tentatively makes some baby step advances she's incredulous but eventually breaks down (she's already had a crush on him but thought it was hopeless). They start dating in secret - Ik Joon has no idea at all of their relationship. Jun Wan gives Ik Soon a gift of a player to listen to music on, which is appreciated by Ik Soon, but he's leery at first of giving her a ring. Eventually, though, a proposal of marriage is offered. (I particularly liked a scene between them where they talk about a great song that I recognized immediately came from the Hong Sisters' first hit drama, Delightful Girl Choon Hyang. Probably not one in a million K-drama fans would have had any inkling about where the song originated, because many foolishly avoid the great classic K-dramas that began the international "Hallyu Wave" to begin with).

Another one of the doctor friends, Ahn Jeong Won (Yoo Yeon Seok, below), is a compassionate pediatric surgeon who goes the extra mile for all his little patients, and grieves with the families when sad outcomes arise. He comes from a wealthy family and is secretly a "Daddy Long Legs" to those who can't afford their medical bills. However, he also has a secret ambition to give up being a doctor to become a Roman Catholic priest instead. Eventually his secret desire is discerned by some of his friends and they try to discourage him from leaving medical work, since he's so excellent at it (and they probably just don't want to lose him if goes far away to serve). Then, out of left field, comes a quiet mousy little intern named Jang Gyeol Wool (Shin Hyun Bin, whom I just loved!) who tells him she cares about him, and demands he start taking her to dinner alone, and to pay attention to her when she's in need. He is stern with her at first: no one will entice him away from his grand ambition to become a priest. However, grudgingly, he begins to note her good character qualities, like how hard she works, how she stays away from gossiping at work, and overall how smart and humble she is in dealing with life's pressures. Could he actually be falling in love with this be-speckled quiet mousy young lady? Could he actually have a heart for someone who is not his patient or his personal friend?

Last but not least we have Doctor Yang Seok Hyeong (Kim Dae Myung, below) a gynecologist-obstetrician on the hospital staff, who is divorced and not in any mood to pursue a love life. He seems perfectly content doing his job well. Babies are for other people - not for him! When his friends tell him he should start dating again he tells them firmly he's not interested. His patients are his "family" now, since his own family members over the years have proven so disappointing to him (especially his loner father who cheated on his mother). Then one day a nice intern lets him know she cares about him, too. Her name is Heo Sun Bin (Ha Yoon Kyung) and she seems perfectly normal, and the audience wonders how he could be so blind as to not consider dating her when his own life is so empty, apart from his work. Will he ever break down, like some of his friends have, and consider a romance in his life after all?

The drama has a great number of compelling medical situations that it covers (many were honestly totally over my head!), but if you work in the medical field you will probably be fascinated by it all and love it as something familiar to you. Personally, I was more interested in the romantic lives of the doctors, and those were drawn out very slowly, which was partly nice, but sometimes frustrating as well.

There is a planned Season Two of this drama to air in 2021 so we will no doubt see more progression in all their personal relationships when that time comes. I found myself wishing that they would have made Hospital Playlist the usual length of 16 or 20 episode Korean dramas, instead of 12, and had a final conclusion with closure for all these doctor friends, instead of making us wait till next year to discover who actually winds up with whom. However, I think that the fact that lead actor Jo Jung Suk's wife, singer Gummy, is having their first baby in summer 2020, might have been the real reason the drama was planned to be spaced apart by a year. I'm pretty sure he wouldn't want to traipse to a studio every day for hours when he is about to become a father for the first time.

This was a very professionally written, acted, directed, and produced Korean medical drama, with great melodrama and humor combined, and I can highly recommend it to anyone. You'll probably grow to love all the doctors on staff of this hospital, and there are also scores of familiar acting faces in supporting roles and cameo roles. Enjoy!