When it comes to particular genres, one already has certain expectations about it. However, it becomes even more exciting and refreshing when those expectations are turned on its head, and what greets you is a premise and concept that you would have never have thought of before in that particular genre. Such as it was with me with JTBC’s recent offering, “Life”, which was also streamed on Netflix. To be honest, I was excited about this drama because it was penned by the screenwriter for “Forest of Secrets/Stranger”, and I wanted to see how the messy game of politics would play out in a hospital setting. Thankfully, I was not disappointed, what with tight storytelling, complex characters, great direction and great performances all around. “Life” might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but is a definite breath of fresh air in the medical genre as this drama is court politics meets the hospital setting, and sometimes feels like the “Live” with regards to hospitals and how they are run.
“Life” ran for sixteen episodes on JTBC from July 23 to September 11, 2018. It’s run on Netflix ended on September 12, 2018. The drama was directed by Hong Jong Chan (“Dear My Friends”, “My Secret Hotel”, “Live Up To Your Name”, “The Most Beautiful Goodbye”), and was written by Lee Soo Yeon (“Forest of Secrets/Stranger”,). As the drama was written by the screenwriter of “Forest of Secrets/Stranger”, it is not surprising that several cast members here were also on that show. Another fun fact is that Won Jin Ah and Tae In Ho were also in a drama together earlier this year, “Just Between Lovers/Rain or Shine”.
The drama surrounds the power struggles and the challenges that the Sangook University Hospital faced after their longtime hospital director, Lee Bo Hun, suddenly passes away; and after they get a new hospital president, Gu Seung Hyo (Cheong Seong Woo), who was appointed by the big conglomerate that now owns the school and hospital. Faced with these challenges, we become witness to the rise and fall of ambitious doctors, and the challenges of those who want to do right, and continue fighting for the hospital to survive despite it being threatened by the forces that pressure them to do better financially. Of course, several individuals ended up getting caught in the mess. These included ER doctor Ye Jin Woo (Lee Dong Wook); Dr. Ye Seon Woo (Lee Kyu Hyung), a former doctor, orthopedic specialist, and Jin Woo’s disabled younger brother; pediatrician Dr. Lee No Eul (Won Jin Ah), Cardiothoracic Department Chief Dr. Joo Kyung Moon (Yoo Jae Myung); and Neurology Chief Dr. Oh Se Wa (Moon So Ri).
The drama also showed the many issues that face hospitals today to be seen, and it also showed, in a way, the problem that many businesses have as they wrestle with the more ethical parts of running a business.
This show stands above the crowd, not just because of its interesting premise, but because of the overall quality of the drama. I also liked that even though this is listed as a “fight the system” kind of drama, that the lessons learned aren’t too in your face, and in the end, although they did come together, their fight is far from over, which is a more realistic conclusion for the given timeframe of the show.
The story was well-paced and tightly written; the direction, camera work and cinematography were almost movie like; each actor gave strong performances; and the entire show was cerebral and mesmerizing from start to finish. The characters in the drama were also very well written, and each of them were realistic, complex, layered, and were consistent through and through.
Usually, when we watch shows and movies, there are characters that were created to be hated and characters that you are meant to root for until the end of the story. However, as the characters presented here were realistic and layered, it was hard to just plain hate anyone except for the big boss of the conglomerate, who, in actually, is the real villain of the show. Unfortunately, as there was more time spent on developing our main characters, the chairman was just your typical ruthless cuthroat evil businessman.
I am glad that Won Jin Ah’s second outing was a drama of this calibre, where she was also able to show off what she was able to do.
Each of the characters, went through their own journeys and challenges throughout the series, and I love where the characters ended up in the end. I also love all of the relationships that were shown in the show, and how those particular relationships evolved through the course of everything that happened within the show.
The ending also had a wonderful surprise cameo appearance from another “Forest of Secrets/Stranger” alumni, and deliberately kept it open ended to the point that I would be okay if there was a second season, and alright if there is none.
“Life” was definitely an exciting ride from start to finish, especially as I never thought that I would be mesmerized by everything that happens behind the scenes with regards to running a hospital. This show is definitely a well made drama that has made it to my top dramas list of the year, and is definitely something that Kdrama fans should watch, if a very cerebral show like this is their cup of tea.
Now, you know the drill, from here on out, there will be spoilers!
As mentioned earlier, the writing, cinematography and direction were some of the things that made this drama stand out. The writing was tight and never lost consistency, and only had one episode that a little bit slower, but was definitely needed as that episode did some much needed emotional exploration of the fallout of certain events for the characters. The drama’s characters were realistic, complex and layered; and it made me intrigued enough to see who will rise or fall next or what countermeasure Hwajeong Group or Gu Seung Hyo would come up with.
The direction was great, and the cinematography was almost movie like. One thing that I noticed and like was the different ways they used interesting camerawork when it came to their transitions. For example, one transition just focused on one picture, as the lighting changed; while another transition had the camera pan down from Seung Hyo’s office window down to the first level of the hospital then it panned up again to his window and the lighting changed to day.
It was a delight to see Yoo Jae Mung in a non-villain role, as here, he portrayed the Cardiothoracic Department chief who was different as he didn’t study at Sangook University, and who had been brought on by the hospital’s previous director who hoped that he would fight to protect the hospital in the future. Along the way, he realized this, and did his best to protect the hospital with everything that he could. In a way, I’m glad that he didn’t become hospital director but deputy director, as the current hospital director’s toughness is a good match to stop whatever plans Hwajeong has in store for them.
This drama is Won Jin Ah’s second drama, and once again, she knocked her portrayal of pediatric doctor Lee No Eul out of the park. No Eul has a wonderful, familial relationship with Ye Jin Woo (Lee Dong Wook) and Ye Seon Woo (Lee Kyu Hyung), and because of this, I am glad that she did not end up with any of them. She’s too much of a sister to both of the boys to be a romantic interest, and although Seon Woo did like her, Seon Woo wasn’t in a good place to start a relationship at that moment. I like the fact that she tried her best to get the new president to embrace the hospital and its culture, and challenged him on a more personal and emotional level to see what kind of person he is. That’s why I like the two of them together, instead of her and Seon Woo. I also respect her decision to try working at a rural hospital, because she probably needed some air after everything that happened, and as her career is still young, it is a good experience for her, nonetheless.
Go Seung Hyo (Cho Seung Woo) is a very complex and difficult character to read. However, we do know that he is a good person at heart, but when he makes decisions, it’s usually calculated and for business reasons. He is good at his job and does what he is told, even though he doesn’t think that some things that the chairman is doing is right. However, over the course of the show, he grows to care for the hospital and No Eul, and often tries to find alternative solutions and compromises while acting as a buffer between the chairman and the hospital. I think that his attempt was a more emotional decision, but I like that in the end, he was able to speak his mind as he is no longer involved with the hospital, and he looked way much more relaxed as the president of a plant instead.
Ye Jin Woo actually grew up a lot during the show. At the start, he was devoted to his job, loved his disabled brother, dedicated his life to his work, and mostly observed, speaking up a bit when he needs to, and tries to the right thing while not directly implicating himself. We also saw that he sees a version of his brother that walks and whom he knows is a manifestation of his own persona, and the guilt and resentment he felt towards Seon Woo. However, because of everything that happened, he ended up becoming more proactive, owning up to the whistle blowing that he did, actively helped in the fight against Hwajeong, and finally spent time with his brother and got over his resentment towards him. He also found time to find a great girlfriend in reporter Choi Seo Hyun (Choi Yu Hwa), whom he was able to open up to, and who was great with his brother as she treats him like an individual and doesn’t mother him like No Eul.
Seon Woo also had a difficult journey in the series. He did his job well, usually only went to the house or his office, and only went to restaurants with his mother as he hated people staring at him and his wheelchair. On a deeper level, he had to go through the difficulty of actually getting over the resentment and guilt that he had about himself as he blamed himself for the accident that claimed his legs and his father’s life, and for being a burden to his family. Added to that was the fact that his condition was getting worse and that he had to let go of his long time feelings for No Eul. However, everything changed when he open up to his mother about his guilt, and when Jin Woo showed him that one of his long time dreams, to swim and snorkel in the ocean, is a reality. These things gave him hope, and love that the drama ended with him finally being able to go out and with that wonderful snorkeling trip the two brothers went on.
However, I do believe that the brotherly relationship between Jin Woo and Seon Woo were definitely at the core of the show.
Lee Kyu Hyung also did a wonderful job portraying the Seon Woo that only Jin Woo could see, as he was very different from his real life counterpart.
All of the actors on the show, whether main or not, did such a great job, from Lee Dong Wook, all the way to Kim Won Hae, who is pretty much amazing in anything he is in.
I also loved that special cameo appearance of Lee Joon Hyuk in the end as the new hospital president, as he is not only getting a lot of Kdrama love as of late, but was also in “Forest of Secrets/Stranger”.
“Life” definitely stood out among the crowd of this year’s dramas, due to its premise, and as it was well made through and through, while allowing us to think about the challenges that running a hospital faces, and the ethics that come with running a business that is a service for the public good.
Have you seen “Life”? What did you think about it? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Image Source: JTBC