I don’t normally watch medical dramas, but I’ve always been fascinated by North Korea, so Doctor Stranger looked promising. Lee Jong-Suk plays Park Hoon, the 8 year old son of a famous doctor who is sent to the North in order to operate on The Great Leader and help the country avoid a nuclear disaster. Park Hoon gets sent up along with his dad as an added incentive for him to do everything in his power to save the North Korean dictator. The doctor succeeds, but as they drive back to the DMZ, he and his son are taken out of the car and placed in front of a firing squad. Guns are fired, but no one gets killed, instead, a soldier tells them that they’ve been abandoned by South Korea and will now spend the rest of their lives in the North.
Long live the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea!!
Cut to several years later, and see Park Hoon all grown up as a medical student in Pyongyang. His love interest, Song Jae Hee (Jin Se-yeon) is also studying to be a doctor. Aren’t they adorable together? Yep, that’s the same actress from Inspiring Generation.
Their romance is cut short when Jae Hee’s father is arrested for treason. Such is the case in North Korea, the entire family gets sent to a labor camp. Park Hoon is sent to a secret medical compound where he’s forced to operate and experiment on prisoners as a means of Communist “research.” All this training pays off though and he becomes a genius thoracic surgeon. One day two patients from a labor camp are brought in. Yep, the patients are Jae Hee and her father, both looking like they’re on the verge of death. Park Hoon is ordered to transplant a kidney from Jae Hee to save her dad. Instead, he does the reverse, effectively killing Jae Hee’s dad in order to save the love of his life.
Meanwhile, Park Hoon’s father finally manages to secure an escape plan from North Korea for them. He pulls strings to get Park Hoon and Jae Hee on a special trip to Budapest where they can show off their socialist medical skills to the international community. Park Hoon refuses to leave, knowing that if he escapes, he’d be dooming his dad to imprisonment in a labor camp. Park Hoon’s father then makes the ultimate sacrifice. To force his son to leave the country, he steps out of the compound after curfew and is promptly gunned down by soldiers, right in front of Park Hoon’s eyes. Very upsetting scene.
With nothing left to keep him in Pyongyang, Park Hoon and Jae Hee travel to Budapest as planned. They make their escape with the help of a Hungarian doctor, but are hunted down by North Korean soldiers. Jae Hee is presumably killed … or captured and sent to a gulag, while Park Hoon eventually gets refugee status in South Korea.
After getting licensed, Park Hoon starts work at a prestigious hospital and impresses everyone with his superior surgical skills. Due to the multiple power outages in the North, he has the uncanny ability to operate without sight. One of his co-workers at the hospital, Oh Soo-hyun (Kang So-Ra) starts to like him, even though she knows Park Hoon is still pining away for his lost love. None of this stops Soo-hyun however, and she becomes infatuated with Park Hoon.
You’d think growing up in North Korea would make Park Hoon into a withdrawn, moody sort of man, but he’s the exact opposite. Always with a ready smile and desire to embrace life, he teases Soo-hyun to no end and they settle into a friendly relationship. This of course pisses off Soo-hyun’s actual boyfriend, Han Jae Joon (Park Hae-jin). Jae Joon is the presiding doctor of the department, he sees Park Hoon as a renegade, and therefore refuses to work with him. Hae-jin is a very attractive man, and the only actor in this quadrangle who’s old enough to actually be a doctor. If you focus on his looks, his deadpan delivery is forgivable.
One day, out of the blue, a new anesthesiologist arrives at the hospital. She introduces herself as Han Seung-hee, but Park Hoon immediately recognizes her as Jae Hee. She claims that he’s mistaken, and that many people in the word have similar faces. Is she really just a doppelganger? Or has Jae Hee been brainwashed into becoming a North Korean spy? Yep, she’s a spy. You’ll have to watch Doctor Stranger to find out what happens next.
Pros: I really enjoyed the first 3/4 of this series. It’s a fascinating premise, and there’s a lot of great writing and witty dialogue. Lots of hilarious scenes balanced against tense surgical montages which were actually interesting to watch. Lee Jong-Suk has the potential to become the next Lee Min-ho, so I’ll definitely be watching anything else he stars in.
Cons: The political conspiracy subplot is full of holes. By the last two episodes you’re left wondering what planet the writers are from and if the national healthcare system of Korea is fucked. DramaBeans does a great job of breaking down every crazy detail in their hilarious finale recap. Seriously, I really wanted to give this series an A rating, but the finale is just beyond ridiculously bad. Also while the performance of the main cast is very good, Yoon Bora’s acting is uncomfortable to watch and I wish they had written out her character from the beginning. There’s also not much chemistry between Jong-Suk and Se-yeon. Sure, they’re both cute and funny, but neither of them is old enough to rent a car, let alone operate on a heart. And Se-yeon is just way too dimutive in stature to be taken seriously as a North Korean operative. Giving a girl a gun doesn’t make her threatening.