Dr. Jin: Episode 1
Another time-traveling drama! And wouldn’t you know, Dr. Jin isn’t even the last one, since we’ve still got Faith slated for later this summer. At this point I wonder if I’m just gonna have to watch ’em all, for comparison purposes. They all have certain elements in common, but so far each drama has its own quirks and rules for handling the time-skips, which keep things interesting. At least we hope they will.
(Note: At some point in recent weeks, the drama dropped the “Time Slip” from its title, so now it’s just plain ole Dr. Jin.)
Ratings were fairly equal for the two new weekend shows, with the premiere of A Gentleman’s Dignity edging out Dr. Jin, 14.1% to 12.2%.
SONG OF THE DAY
Dr. Jin OST – “살아도 꿈인 것처럼” (Like a dream) by Jaejoong. [ Download ]
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A voice narrates, “From darkness, the light called to me.”
Fade in on a forest at night, moonlight filtering through the trees. A body lies prone on the ground: our hero.
He stirs awake, looking around to get his bearings. This is our titular Dr. Jin—full name JIN HYUK (Song Seung-heon)—and he’s wearing scrubs and a doctor’s coat. He checks his cell phone, its faceplate shattered. Lying next to Hyuk is his bag, and a curious-looking glass jar.
“What’s going on?” he thinks. “Where the hell am I?” Hyuk cautiously makes his way through the forest, thinking this out logically: “I was definitely on the hospital roof…”
He spots torchlight in the distance and is encouraged at the sign of life. But it’s a strange scene he stumbles across, because a bloody swordfight is under way. Hyuk wonders if this is a movie set and walks closer, curious but unafraid. Not until a rider on horseback charges at him, just barely missing him.
The veiled attackers are stopped by the arrival of authorities. The policemen on horseback—led by KIM KYUNG-TAK (Kim Jaejoong)—circle around, trapping the bad guys.
Fighting resumes, and one bandit breaks free and heads straight for Hyuk. Cool-headed officer Kyung-tak just raises a pistol and fires, dropping the assassin just before he reaches Hyuk.
Hyuk shakes the dead guy and sees blood, and it starts to register on him that this is no movie set. Worse yet, he finds himself facing the pointy end of a dozen swords; the officers assume he’s in league with the criminals.
Kyung-tak levels his gun at Hyuk and demands to know who he is. Hyuk is too stunned to answer satisfactorily, so Kyung-tak orders him tied up. Panicking, Hyuk backs away nervously while holding up his flashlight, which scares a horse and throws Kyung-tak to the ground.
Hyuk seizes the moment and runs into the forest. The officers chase. It’s his primitive fight-or-flight response kicking in, because even as he flees, he wonders, “Why am I running away?” He makes his way up a rocky ledge but loses his footing, tumbling over the edge of the cliff.
Thankfully his doctor’s bag saves him, because the strap catches on the rock and Hyuk dangles there on the side of the mountain. He’s quickly losing his hold, though, and things don’t look good. Just as his hand slips, another hand swoops in from above to grab him, pulling him to safety.
His savior (Lee Beom-soo) wears a topknot and a hanbok, and both men collapse in an exhausted heap. As Hyuk fades into unconsciousness, he thinks, “I must go back. Everything started that night, with that voice.”
The scene transitions to modern-day Seoul, as an ambulance carries an injured man to an emergency room. Hyuk is the surgeon who operates on the patient’s brain to remove a tumor; the shocked reactions of all the doctors tells us something is seriously abnormal.
Hyuk goes in to begin the removal, but suddenly a flash of light bursts through his brain, with a disembodied voice saying, “I must go back.” He clutches his head in a hilariously exaggerated gesture like something out of a Frankenstein movie.
Then the headache passes, and he continues working to excise a growth that… looks like a fetus? Creepy. It looks sort of like a gummi bear, sort of like a plastic child’s doll. The fetus is preserved in liquid and put into a glass jar—the same type of jar Hyuk had with him during his time-warp.
After the surgery ends, a call comes in from “Temper Mina”—or YOO MINA (Park Min-young), who must be his girlfriend judging from their photo together. Hyuk has completely forgotten their date, and apologizes for making her wait.
He heads out immediately to meet her, saying he has something important to tell her. He eyes the ring box he has prepared with a smile of anticipation.
He hurries to her place, where she surprises him with a birthday cake. She sings it to “beloved Jin Hyuk oppa,” but he’s slightly exasperated, asking, “It’s been twenty years since you moved in with the family and you still don’t know my birthday?” Wait—is she not your girlfriend then? Is she actually your sister-figure? Please don’t tell me she’s both. You’ve already done that drama!
Mina says it’s because she’s going away next week, so they can celebrate early. Hyuk hides the ring box (let’s just go with girlfriend) on her shelf, just as he catches sight of Mina approaching with the cake and a devilish grin. She charges, and he runs away, not wanting cake-face. Not on the moneymaker!
Instead of the cake, she lands on top of him, and the mood turns romantic. They lean toward each other, and he whispers, “Mina… you’re heavy.” Ha.
She gives him a kiss on his forehead and says, “I don’t love you one bit.” He replies in kind: “I’m sick and tired of you too.” Mina asks outright why he doesn’t propose, and warns that she might run away. He keeps the teasing tone, saying he’d be grateful for that, then kisses her forehead back.
In an odd non sequitur moment, the scene cuts to Hyuk’s empty office, lingering for a long moment on the creepy jar-fetus. It doesn’t move or otherwise indicate evil powers, but clearly some greater force is at work here.
Later that evening, Hyuk starts to mention the strange growth he removed from the patient today, which reminds Mina of her strange dream. She was in an unfamiliar neighborhood when she saw Hyuk there, but he didn’t recognize her and just left, which made her sad and afraid.
The next day, Hyuk calls Mina, who’s also a doctor at the hospital. She’s busy with volunteer work, which he tells her she can quit now since she’s surely logged a lifetime’s worth of helping the needy. Not a big conflict between them, but an example of their clash in values.
While tending to her underprivileged patients, an unconscious man is brought to Mina, and she rushes him to the hospital. She calls Hyuk in because it’s a head trauma injury; the man hit his head, went home, and collapsed later. She urges him to operate immediately, but Hyuk takes one look at the man’s eyes and says, “It’s too late.” I know you’re supposed to be some sort of genius, but really? No MRI, CT scan, bloodwork of any kind?
She pleads anyway, asking him to at least do the operation, even though he says there’s less than 1% chance of survival. She argues that no matter how small the chance, they should take it to save a life: “If I were that patient, would you do the same?”
He sticks to his refusal, saying it’s better for all to just give up. When you know from the outset that it’s impossible, it’s a waste of time and money to operate—use those resources to save someone with a chance.
Mina can’t believe how coldly calculating he is, but Hyuk counters that doctors save lives that can be saved—saving doomed lives is up to God. He argues that it’s worse to give people hope knowing there is none, and while they’re still mid-argument they receive word that the man has died.
Mina is badly shaken and stalks out. She can’t face the man’s now-orphaned boy and shakes off his hand, saying her dream must have been right: “You seem like someone I don’t know.”
She drives off crying, and in her distraction she sees a motorcyclist at the last minute, swerving in time to avoid collision. And then gets slammed by an oncoming truck. Oh, Truck of Doom. What would dramaland be without you?
Hyuk looks at the accident in horror, just as we get an ominous close-up of the tumor-fetus. Okay, we get it. You’re creepy.
Mina’s battered body is rushed inside the hospital, with Hyuk issuing instructions to the staff. Just before she’s wheeled in for surgery, she holds out her hand and tries to whisper something. He assures her everything will be okay, and she says, “We’ll…. be able to meet…. again…”
Then her body goes limp. Hyuk madly scrubs in for surgery, which seems like a terrible idea (aren’t there rules of ethics about operating on people you know?).
Hyuk is mid-surgery when again he’s hit by a burst of light, accompanied by that tumor-fetus image and the same refrain, “I must go back.” This time he can’t hide his reaction and he clutches his head dramatically, blinking and breathing hard.
He says he can continue the surgery, though, which seems like another breach of medical ethics. But when he tries to resume, another flash hits him… and in the moment that he loses focus, something goes wrong and Mina’s brain starts bleeding.
Hyuk scrambles to save her and pleads with her to hang in there, but her blood pressure drops quickly, approaching flatline…
Elsewhere in the hospital, the patient from the first surgery—former host of the fetus-tumor—sneaks into a medical supply room and starts grabbing materials. He appears to know what he’s stealing, and stuffs a bag full before then wandering into Hyuk’s office, where he takes jar-fetus, which I may just have to call Cabbage Patch Kid.
Mina is wheeled out of surgery and Hyuk watches her with devastation; she’s stabilized, but it’s not clear whether she’ll wake up. Another doctor assures Hyuk that it wasn’t his fault.
Hyuk broods on the hospital roof, where he’s joined by a patient—the bandaged baby-stealer. Hyuk sees what he’s carrying and grows suspicious, while the man inches closer to the ledge and says, “I must go back.”
Familiar words. Hyuk gapes: “It was you? What have you done to me?” The man tries to jump off the roof, but Hyuk pulls him back and wrests the bag from his hand. The jar goes flying off the ledge, and Hyuk actually jumps off the roof after it. I don’t know why, but let’s just go with mysterious evil baby. Makes more sense than a genius neurosurgeon jumping off a rooftop to save a thing he doesn’t care about.
Some terrible CGI depicts his long descent from the roof, as he thinks, “This is a dream.” And then, instead of hitting the ground, a portal opens up and Cabbage Patch Baby falls into it, with Hyuk following.
Joseon-era scenes flash onscreen, landing us back with Dr. Jin on the rocky mountainside. It’s the morning after his almost-fall, and snoring next to him is his rescuer, who awakens with a snort. His words likely echo Hyuk’s thoughts: “So it wasn’t a dream after all.”
His savior is LEE HA-EUNG, an odd and disheveled man who wears a flask around his neck. Ha-eung demands payment for saving Hyuk’s life, wanting to spend it on more liquor. But Hyuk is flat broke, sending Ha-eung into a litany of swears.
Hyuk follows Ha-eung down the road, asking for today’s date. Ha-eung’s all, Well, that’s a crazy question. Naturally it’s 1860!
Hyuk can’t believe he’s landed in the Joseon era, in King Chuljong’s reign. Ha-eung takes offense at his use of the king’s name, which Hyuk points out the other man just used. Ha-eung: “That’s because I’m part of the royal family! Royal!”
Hyuk looks around in confusion at the evidence of this Joseon world, and if there’s one thing that can get the message across, it’s the view of Seoul, then Hanyang, void of all its modern developments.
Police chief Kyung-tak may have lost track of that strange villain in the woods, but he remembers his face clearly and orders his officers to post “Wanted” drawings of him. And it’s not difficult for Hyuk to attract stares, given his strange dress and lack of a topknot.
Ha-eung sees the posted sign and recognizes the man he saved, then hurries back to take Hyuk aside. But rather than warn him of the wanted sign, he suggests they head to the police station—er, a tavern by the police station, for a bite to eat.
Disguising him is paramount, so Ha-eung swipes peasant’s clothing from a nearby clothesline to dress him in. Hyuk is fixated on somehow returning home, but Ha-eung overrides his protests, saying that he’ll solve that problem for him.
Before they get very far, their paths are blocked by a group of thug types, who tell Ha-eung that he’s wanted by their hyungnim. He owes money, and must repay. The leader warns Ha-eung with bodily harm, but Ha-eung leans in and tells him that the guy standing behind them is his meal ticket. He’s worth a big reward from the police, so Ha-eung will be able to repay his debt soon enough.
Loan Shark Boss decides to cut out the middleman and forgives the debt on the spot, since he can just claim the reward himself. Well, it was Ha-eung’s own fault for telling him of the 100 nyang reward when he only owed 30.
Boss orders his men to call an officer here, while Ha-eung protests this unfair debt repayment plan. By now, Hyuk has figured out his role in this exchange and tries to escape, but the gangsters grab him before he can flee.
While they wait for the police, Hyuk glares at Ha-eung reproachfully, accusing him of selling out an innocent person. Ha-eung retorts that if he was innocent, what was he doing in the forest in the middle of the night? Since he has no explanation, clearly he must be in league with those villains.
Hyuk explains his profession, and coincidentally Ha-eung asks “You’re a doctor?” just as Loan Shark starts choking on his food. Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. The editing on this show is like something out of SNL—it’s timed like slapstick comedy, only it’s not supposed to be.
While the hooligans are distracted by their choking boss, Ha-eung signals that they should take this opportunity to slip away. But no! Hyuk is A Doctor! With doctorly principles!
The men yell, “Call for a doctor!” and Hyuk steps in, declaring, “I’m a doctor!” He performs the Heimlich maneuver first, but when it fails, he gives us a flashback-narration-tutorial of Plan B, a tracheotomoy. Anybody got a pen?
They’ve got about three minutes to save his life, so Hyuk calls for hot water and opens up his bag. How convenient that he still has his bag with him, which was packed full of random medical supplies by Cabbage Patch Thief. Oh, HA, he pulls out a ballpoint pen and drops it into the bowl of hot water along with a scalpel. And here I was, just makin’ a joke.
The minions naturally balk when he wields scalpel to throat, but Hyuk turns the blade on them and growls intensely, “If you want him to live, stand back.” Stand back, I say!
Hyuk makes the incision in his throat, then inserts the plastic pen shaft into the man’s throat, breathing into the tube. Everyone watches with bated breath, and once respiration resumes, Hyuk raises the boss upright and starts the Heimlich again, which is successful this time.
Everyone claps and marvels. As the tense atmosphere dissipates into relief, Ha-eung spots the arrival of police officers, ready to apprehend their wanted criminal. Thinking fast, he yells, “FIRE!” and grabs Hyuk, buying them a head start.
They do the cartoon chase thing where they run down one side street, come back up another, and manage to escape the police at every turn. It’s a pretty lame chase—again, played like a comedy, only it’s not meant to be comedic.
Hyuk wonders why the backstabber helped him, and Ha-eung points out that if the police catch him now, he doesn’t get his reward. Ha. True enough. He does chuckle, “Just kidding,” saying that he realizes now that Hyuk isn’t a murderous villain.
And then, a shocking sight. A young lady walks through the town with her maid, bearing a face identical to Mina’s. Hyuk starts to follow her, not even noticing that he loses Ha-eung, and then also loses the woman in the crowd.
She’s HONG YOUNG-RAE, daughter to a distinguished family that has fallen on hard times, and has now taken up a job selling her needlework. Lady Young-rae is quick on the uptake and assertive, not letting the shopkeep swindle her out of pay despite attempts to shortchange her work.
Even with her own financial difficulties, Young-rae is still generous enough to buy food for the less fortunate, much as Mina spent much of her time doing community service. Gah, are they reincarnated souls, or just coincidentally identical? I’m not even sure which would be more annoying.
The women come across Kyung-tak berating his officers for letting the criminal slip away. Kyung-tak is hotheaded and has little patience for excuses, sending them on along to continue the search.
But he has a soft spot for Young-rae, smiling when he spots her standing nearby. They’re on familiar terms, though Young-rae keeps him at arm’s length, not particularly thrilled to see him. He chides her for her regular outreach activities, having frequently nagged her about those neighborhoods being unfit for a lady of her standing. She replies that the inhabitants there are still people, displaying an egalitarianism that he surely doesn’t understand.
Ah, he calls himself her fiancé, and the word puts a look of chagrin on her face.
Kyung-tak is visited by his father, Minister Kim, a politician who enjoys quite a lot of power serving (and manipulating) the puppet-like king. Dad warns Kyung-tak about the bandits they encountered the night before, who call themselves Anonymous. (Cue hacking jokes!) They’ve been responsible for a number of crimes, and are more dangerous than your common thief because they appear to be targeting certain noblemen. Ah, likely they’re politically motivated, then. There’s also the growing dissatisfaction of the public to contend with, who are impatient for the criminals to be brought to justice.
Kyung-tak can only apologize for his inability to catch them, but promises his father that he’s on the task.
Minister Kim reminds Kyung-tak of the importance of prevailing over Anonymous, particularly in maintaining his family’s honor. The longer they’re at large, the more insult they fling at their respected Kim clan.
Minister Kim picks up Kyung-tak’s gun and says that the populace is like that horse in the yard, which struggles with its handler after being spooked by Hyuk last night: Give it an inch of freedom, and it’ll run wild. You have to get a firm hold on its neck to show him who’s boss. This, he declares, is the long-held secret that has served their family for generations.
And he shoots the horse in the head. Damn. Even Kyung-tak is stunned, but he tells his father he understands.
We move on to a new character, CHUN-HONG (Lee So-yeon), a gisaeng who tosses a set of dice and reads a fortune in the roll: “An important person has arrived.”
That night, Hyuk finds shelter in a stable. Now he has time to reflect on things, and he takes out his proposal ring thinking painful thoughts of Mina. Sounds from outside draw his attention—more veiled Anonymous bandits have assembled to wreak havoc.
Today, however, they’re stopped even before they begin, and one man is shot. Kyung-tak holds the gun, leading his men in an ambush and subduing the criminals.
Hyuk runs out into the city streets, and collides with a man who falls to the ground (Jin Yi-han! I didn’t know he was in this). He bears a head wound and gasps in pain. Hyuk sees the damage and asks if he’s all right, but the man passes out in his arms.
A man steps out of a nearby house and recognizes the unconscious man as Scholar Hong, so Hyuk asks the man to direct him to the appropriate house.
When they arrive, Mom gasps to see her son Young-hwi bloody and unconscious, and a second figure joins them who makes Hyuk double-take. It’s Young-rae, the scholar’s sister.
Dr. Jin is a mixed bag, and not in a subtle way. It’s ALL over the place, with some very interesting elements and some truly cringe-inducing executions. It generally divides into Joseon timezone okay, modern day bad (execrable, really), but I’ll concede that that may be an oversimplification.
The episode starts out promising. I like the use of voiceover (most of the time), and find it a much more appropriate expository device in a dramatic series; talking to yourself tends to work better in comedies. The narration has a nicely atmospheric vibe when Hyuk (whom I just want to call Jin, damn the drama title!) is working through his thoughts. The slick medical sequences explaining the procedures, all fast cuts and C.S.I editing, on the other hand, are sillier and don’t work as well.
I like that we started in media res, thrown off the deep end along with the hero, left to puzzle out the mystery without advance warning. Then the drama goes forward (back?) to the future, and things just fall apart. It’s definitely a directing flaw, with terrible transitions, strange music cuts, and awkward pacing. This is something that made a lot more sense when I looked up the director and realized this is the Personal Taste PD. Different genre, but yup, the clumsy handling of editing and music is the same. In fact, finding out who the PD is was actually the first big incentive for me to NOT follow this show, because with other dramas I might stick around hoping for improvement, but with this one I already know we’re stuck with this clunky directing the whole way through.
Execution aside, I feel like there’s a nugget of an interesting story here. I see what they’re doing with the Hyuk-Mina clash, where he essentially loses her after coldly cutting her down about her medical philosophy. Now he gets to travel back and do right by her doppelganger, right? Or something.
It’s not just a romantic second chance, either, but a process by which he’ll regain his own sense of humanity and empathy. (I presume.) I do groan at the way Mina and Young-rae are portrayed, as essentially the same person, which bugs me whether or not they’re harboring the same soul. Given that this drama is not (supposed to be) a reincarnation drama, it’s doubly outlandish for him to just run into two girls with the same face and same personality.
But I do like the chemistry between Song Seung-heon and Park Min-young. Neither are actors I am particularly drawn to, but when they find good rapport with their co-stars, they can manage engaging (if somewhat flat) characters. I do wish that Park Min-young (in both forms) weren’t shaping up to be such a Mary Sue, though. That’s just boring.
As for the love triangle: Jaejoong reminds me of Myun in The Princess’s Man, so I can already see where his trajectory will take him. And while he’s not bad in the role, he has a jarring way of speaking that is totally distracting. (He has sageuk intonation, but he rushes all his deliveries and it sounds unnatural and forced.) Lee So-yeon I like, but I’m not sure how prominent her character will be.
But no matter about the romance angle, because I’m pretty sure the Odd Couple pairing between Song Seung-heon and Lee Beom-soo will be the one to beat. They’re already displaying an amusing offbeat dynamic, and while you can probably attribute most of the heavy lifting to Lee Beom-soo (who’s so versatile, so quick and funny), I’ll give Song credit for giving him the straight man to play off of. (Insert wooden man/Hand Towel joke here. Badum-ching!)
As for the time-skip mechanism… I just have one reaction, and you’ll have to imagine the inflection with full-on raised eyebrow: An evil jar baby? Really?
Let’s see… We’ve had magic potions given by Time Conductors, portals opened by Fate, and talismans written by Taoist monks. None is necessarily more believable than the others, and they’re all built upon some element of the supernatural. So yes, who’s to say a creepy fetus can’t be just as able to bend time and space as a mystical incantation?
It’s just… DUDE. You look like a gummi bear. I’m sorry, but no. I just can’t.
That, I think, leads to my biggest issue with the show so far: It doesn’t quite hit the right tone of seriousness, and therefore while it isn’t attempting humor, we get some of the unintended variety. Instead of dramatic, we get melodramatic. Instead of epic, we get cheesy. It’s either taking itself too seriously, or not seriously enough. The director has proven that he doesn’t know how to do delicate, or nuanced, or pull off humor that isn’t over-the-top, or pacing that doesn’t feel frenetic and out of control. The two writers’ credits include Road No. 1, Time of Wolf and Dog, and Myung-wol the Spy. Does one decent show mitigate two terrible ones? I think we all know the answer to that.
I can see this premise being interesting, but ultimately I have the feeling it’ll fail to live up to it. Possibly spectacularly.
So, recaps: We’re going to wait on all the new premieres before deciding what to follow, so final decisions have yet to be made on Dr. Jin. I do think there are a number of dramas in the new crop that look more exciting, however.
- Stills from Dr. Jin’s Joseon-era shoots
- Time Slip Dr. Jin starts shooting
- Casting update for Time Slip Dr. Jin
- Time Slip Dr. Jin mired in lawsuits, moves up premiere
- Dr. Jin beats Faith to the punch with summer premiere
- Song Seung-heon’s Dr. Jin gets picked up by MBC
- Kim Jaejoong joins Time Slip Dr. Jin
- Song Seung-heon becomes time-traveling Dr. Jin