I must have a thing for punishment. In the last few days, egged on by a harebrained idea that refuses to die, I’ve been pulling out one drama after another (old and also recent ones) and revisiting selected scenes that make me bawl my eyes out. As I tweeted yesterday, I will go blind at this rate.
But oh, never has crying felt so good!
In the last few days I have watched dramas so fine I don’t feel worthy, and dramas so farcical* they make a mockery of the whole genre.
*(In case you’re wondering, no, I’m not referring to Boys Over Flowers.)
Whether a drama is brilliant or a piece of crap, it affects me. I may feel elated or insulted; rarely do I feel nothing. The feelings may dissipate after a while, or they may hang around for a long time. For all the hours I spend on my kdramas—watching, thinking, and writing about them—I hope my brain is getting a beneficial workout. The day when I watch uncaring about quality is the day when it’s time to move on and look for a new
I got into the car this morning and was greeted by the unfamiliar blaring of the radio. Turns out the CD player was jammed again.
“Oh no, Car, you do not do this to me. Not when my Sungkyunkwan Scandal and Jejoongwon OSTs are stuck inside your player!”
The above image shows you two of my most-loved characters in Jejoongwon.
One of them should be instantly familiar to many of you; the other you might not have seen before, because he’s newly arrived in Korea and this is his first time on Korean TV. Together they form part of what is undeniably one of the best kdrama ensembles of the year.
This ensemble is huge, given the drama’s length and scope, so let’s take a look at just twenty of the supporting actors and their roles. Whether they kindle in you love or loathing, you will not soon forget them.
[Related posts: Part 1 and Part 2]
As I explained in Part 1 of this review, Jejoongwon recreates events in the late Joseon dynasty which led to the founding of the country’s first Western-style hospital. Many of its characters are based on people who lived through those events, whose names remain unchanged in the drama.
Despite sticking fairly close to the annals, Jejoongwon never feels dry or documentary-like. As you watch, you will find yourself immersed in the stories that it paints, transported to an era that feels foreign and yet intimately familiar, ancient and yet newly modern. You may even become curious about the hospital and desire to learn more about its history. Such is the power and poignancy of its storytelling.
For now, let us meet the three leads of the drama. Without giving away major spoilers, I would like to offer you a glimpse into their individual stories and show you how their shared destinies began. I will devote Part 3 to the supporting cast and characters.
“If I had a thousand lives to give, Korea should have them all.”
Tears stung my eyes when I read the above epitaph. I had just finished another episode of Jejoongwon (SBS 2010) and was poking around the Internet, gobbling up every bit of information I could find on the historical facts behind the drama. Those words, even though they are inscribed on the tombstone of Ruby Rachel Kendrick, who is not a character in Jejoongwon, are nevertheless so true of the foreigners whose lives are reenacted in the drama.
Horace Allen. John Heron. Lilias Horton.
These names now roll off my tongue as if they are old friends. All of them were doctors. All of them were fiercely devoted to a foreign country called Joseon. This drama is about them and the hospital they established. But above all it is about one man’s journey, from an outcaste clan to an operating theater, from being a despised butcher to becoming one of Korea’s first surgeons.