Add these K-dramas to your streaming watch list

Add these K-dramas to your streaming watch list

There’s been a boom in the number of K-dramas, many of them well regarded… our reviewer checks out three to see if they’re worth the hype

ONE of the perks of being a school teacher are the long summer breaks after a long, stressful academic year and what better way to spend these few weeks than catching up on some well-deserved K-drama.

However, as time is precious, we wouldn’t want to waste our time on subpar series. Hence these reviews to help you figure out which K-drama series to invest your time in and which you can do without.

Ghost Doctor

The most recent series among the three featured here, was released in early 2022. Featuring Kim Bum, Jeong Ji-hoon (aka pop singer Rain), Uee (former member of girl group After School) and Son Na-eun (member of girl group A-Pink), Ghost Doctor is your typical medical K-drama series.

This series will satisfy your craving for a relaxing watch, filled with a beautiful cast and that doesn’t hide any plot twists; a very typical romance series.

Caught in the hospital’s political crossfire, lead cardiac surgeon Cha Young-min, played by Jeong Ji-hoon, ends up in a coma, with his soul wondering down the hospital’s corridors. By the magical alignment of the universe, first year resident Go Seung-tak (Kim Bum), who has the ability to see spirits, seems to be the only living human that Surgeon Cha is able to possess. This may sound like a match made in heaven, but conflicts arise as these two individuals didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye when they were both on the same plane of reality.

As a fan of Ji-hoon since his romantic comedy series Full House back in 2004, I was curious to see the development in his acting career and if his type of character would differ. It is safe to say that although his character has a little more of a serious note, his quirky comedic character remains constant. So, expect some laughs and giggles throughout the series.

What makes Ghost Doctor unique is not only the fantasy element of the series between Cha Yong-min and Go Seung-tak. Despite fitting into all the tropes of a K-drama, none of the female characters embody the typical damsel in distress persona.

All of the female characters were not only independent, but were also mentally and emotionally strong and capable. In fact, in most cases, they tend to outsmart the men in the series.

Intern Oh Soo-jeong, who is also Go Seung-tak’s best friend and love interest, not only dreams big of becoming a cardiologist, but also works hard and smart during her time as an intern at the emergency department. On top of that, she seems to be the only one who is able to talk some sense into Seung-tak, both as a doctor and a friend. Often reprimanded for the actions she takes for the sake of her patient (and not for the benefits of the hospital), she pushes on and doesn’t back down from challenges, even in the face of her fellow male colleagues and superiors; setting a high standard for the other doctors around her.

Jang Se-jin (Uee), our other female lead and love interest of Cha Young-min, is another doctor who doesn’t step down from a challenge. Specialising as a neurosurgeon, she not only has to battle the medical world, but also the cruel tyrant of her step-brother – who is fighting dirty to gain their father’s ownership of the hospital. Her character development is most prominent when she not only stands up to her step-brother mentally and emotionally, but also physically when she no longer fears the death threats that he presents.

So, if you are looking for a series that isn’t mind-bending, yet fits into the structure of a typical K-drama without the patriarchal expectation of damsels in distress, Ghost Doctor should be on your to-watch list.

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

Moving on to a series that I would not recommend, is the popular It’s Okay to Not Be Okay.

If this has been on your Netflix watchlist to watch because you’ve heard or read acclaimed reviews raving about how it brings progress towards normalising mental health issues, this unfortunately is not the series that you’re looking for.

Personally, I found that this series not only did a poor job of bringing awareness and normalising mental health struggles, it instead romanticised them.

Set at a psychiatric hospital, the viewers are already in a setting where normal is being a patient of the hospital and that being ‘normal’ is the minority.

Our female lead, Ko Moon-young (Seo Yea-ji) who is claimed to have an antisocial personality disorder – which later seems to have developed because of her mum’s nurturing instead of a natural condition that she was born with, is a famous gothic children’s story author.

She has an interaction with psych ward carer, Moon Gang-tae (Kim Soo-hyun), and develops an affection towards him. Imposing her presence into his life, and of course, as with any typical Korean romance narrative, they fall in love with each other – Beauty and the Beast’s Stockholm Syndrome style.

The biggest positive take away I got from this series is that mental health is the one thing that does not discriminate. Regardless of your social class, gender or age, mental health affects anyone and everyone.

Apart from that, the whole series was set in such a fantasy-like manner, where even the opening scene was a gothic themed animation about a girl locked in a castle that is supposed to represent Moon-young – it already sets the tone of the series to be fiction.

It portrayed reality as a fantasy, making it (mental health) seem desirable and a bundle of fun and joy to carry along in life.

Among all the characters, the only relationship that comes remotely close to normalising mental health is children’s book author Moon-young and Moon Sang-tae (psych ward carer, Moon Gang-tae’s autistic elder brother).

Many times, people tend to talk down (speaking in a baby-ish voice like how we speak to babies, toddlers and especially our pets) to individuals with mental health, and as an educator, it is known that this method of communication is not well perceived by the receiving individual as it feels degrading for them.

Yet, Moon-young and Sang-tae’s interaction was nothing but normal. The banter they share makes you forget that they are both battling with their own mental illness, and despite the clear differences, they saw each other as equals.

Unfortunately, that is as far as normalising mental health as this series goes. I mean, even the direct translation of the series’ title is, ‘It’s okay if you are a psycho’. I don’t know about you, but using the term ‘psycho’ that doesn’t really sound like a series that is aiming to accept and normalise mental health despite it having a different connotation within the series.

Taxi Driver

The best out of the three that I indulged during this break was the 2021 production of Taxi Driver, starring Lee Je-hoon, Esom, Kim Eui-sang and Pro Ye-Jin.

Good looking cast, impactful plot, skilful cinematography, tasteful comedy and well-choreographed action scenes, Taxi Driver carries it all.

Featuring a group of vigilantes who kidnaps released criminals and holds them in an underground prison, Taxi Driver explores the reliability of the nation’s justice system and the idea of reformation.

Driven by the hurt and desire for revenge towards criminals – who were not fairly reprimanded under the law – former victim Jang Sung-shul (Kim Eui-sung) recruits four young individuals to help run an underground revenge service called the Rainbow Deluxe Taxi.

Through this service, the crew perform their own undercover missions to bring revenge onto perpetrators; human trafficking, illegal porn sites, phishing and scam calls, bullying, you call them, and they pursue it.

In my opinion, Taxi Driver not only did a far better job in bringing awareness to current issues within the country, but also to issues surrounding mental health.

As everyone in Rainbow Deluxe Taxi has gone through some from of trauma, they are all working through high functioning depression – especially IT and coding genius Ahn Go-eun, portrayed by Pyo Ye-jin, whose sister committed suicide after failing to remove a spy cam sex tape uploaded onto an illegal porn site.

She fights through the daily struggle with great finesse and intellect, so much that you don’t really notice that she is deep in depression till later on.

Kim Do-gi (Lee Je-hoon), the spy and fighter of the crew, on the other hand struggles with PTSD as he was not only part of the military, but also came home to his mum bleeding to death from being stabbed by a serial killer looking to increase his body count.

Despite sounding like an insanely serious and gut-wrenching series, Taxi Driver is so well written and directed that every element within the series connects with one another. Even the slapstick comedy is so well planned that they all served a purpose in the bigger picture. Even the epilogue shows how everyone within a society is intertwined with one another.

The versatile acting of Lee Je-hoon was also highlighted throughout this series, as he is able to switch between his quiet bad-boy demeanour to a quirky character within seconds when he goes undercover for a mission.

Overall, Taxi Driver is a complete series that leaves you satisfied but wanting more.

So, if you are looking for a relaxing series, Ghost Doctor is the candidate for you. For a series with great cinematography and plot, drive into Taxi Driver. Finally, if you are hoping for a fantasy series with a more contemporary K-drama plot line, It’s Okay to Not Be Okay is worth the shot.

source – The Vibes

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