Review – Dr. Kkang (also known as Dr. Gang & Doctor Gangster)
If Coffee Prince and Padam Padam got married… they’d produce Dr. Kkang. Coffee Prince had more attention to detail in set design and better costuming. Padam Padam had superior cinematography and a phenomenal musical score. But if you combine the charm and playful romance of Coffee Prince with the rough-around-the-edges-but-ultimately-lovable male lead of Padam Padam – you might create this remarkably enduring show. What an unlikely surprise to come across a 10/10 show on a whim via dramafever.
If you like romance (epic), comedy (side splitting hysterical without reducing its characters to gimmicky comedy stereotypes) and a solid gangster-action gritty substructure (yikes) – you will like this show. Actually, if you like quality Korean drama – you will love this show. You’re not human if this one doesn’t chisel a crude drawing of a heart on your heart.
This is the tale of a gangster who is trying to leave his past behind him and figure out what to do with his life. He ends up in witness protection at a failing hospital run by a rambling alcoholic. Fated to cross paths multiple times, he once again finds his first and only love at the hospital and reveals his true feelings to her.
That’s the short version.
Like Coffee Prince and Padam, Padam – this show is really about people and how they change – through friendship, love and family.
You know how you don’t really watch a Jim Carrey comedy for the script? I mean, sure there’s funny lines and all – but it’s Jim Carrey that’s funny. Those crazy facial expressions, the body language, the physical comedy. Comic actors aren’t the only ones who pull it off. James Dean and Marlon Brando are good examples… Sam Rockwell and Mark Ruffalo modern contemporaries. They fidget, they lean, they pick at their teeth or idly fold chewing gum wrappers, they walk around the set as if bored or distracted while the other actors stick fervently to their marks and lines. They mumble. They sing and hum to themselves. They seem genuinely surprised by their environments – as if they’d just discovered the place. There’s a newness to the world when these people are around. You’re eyes are glued to them the entire time they’re on the screen because there is an unpredictability in their performances. As if 80% of their role is ad-lib. As if they aren’t acting at all. Yang Dong Geun is one of these elite physical actors. The man owned every single frame of this show. A tour de force of awesome sauce.
Yang Dong Geun looks like a gangster.
It was no stretch of the imagination to believe Yang Dong Geun had been beating people senseless and running around with a bunch of dudes for the past ten years in a massive Busan gang (aptly named the Shark Fin Gang). He’s weird looking, too. Don’t get me wrong – I like weird looking. Sometimes I get sick of the porcelain pretty boys and Yang Dong Geun was a welcome “regular” looking fella. He never abandoned post, either – meaning he didn’t suddenly become suave, smart, weepingly tender or otherwise out of character from one episode to the next or between scenes. That’s credit to the writers. I could probably babble about how incredible he was and how refreshingly unique of a character he played for several paragraphs, so I’ll reel it in and stop here.
Han Ga In, who I was only familiar with in Bad Guy (my guilty pleasure drama), proved that not only is she charming and vivacious, but she can truly act.
She plays a ditzy doctor that you can’t help but cheer for as she stumbles through her career. Pissing off patients. Boring senior citizens with her dry speeches. Misdiagnosing small children with mental illness. Getting fired left and right. The poor gal just drops bomb after bomb on herself. But she starts to lighten up and give herself a chance to grow under the ever-constant protection and companionship of her gangster boyfriend, the confidence of the other hospital staff, and her own family support structure. I absolutely loved her character and couldn’t be happier with Han Ga In’s portrayal.
Yang Dong Geun and Han Ga In have INCREDIBLE CHEMISTRY. Holy shit.
They were so playful and joyous around each other it was contagious. She’d smack him over the head with a book. He’d dance around her like a drunken wood nymph. They were constantly singing to each other, telling jokes to one another, exchanging stories, talking all night, playing on the streets, fighting and making up, giggling and running about… many parallels to the playful and genuine romance of Coffee Prince. And just like the main couple in Coffee Prince, when this couple sat still long enough to simmer – they boiled. Jaw dropping physical chemistry. I think I stopped breathing the first time they kissed. It was magic.
Lee Jong Hyeuk played the repressed, OCD prosecutor who was fantastic at his job but sucked at being a human being. Quite a few of the laugh out loud moments stemmed from his awkward attempts to fit in with other people. When he’s out shopping for a baby gift and spends a good five minutes trying to figure out what a breast pump is… I thought I was going to die laughing. Watching him spar against Yang Dong Geum’s character also provided a slew of comic relief.
Lee Jong Hyeuk took us on an emotional rollercoaster ride – his character underwent so many changes throughout the show, you’ll barely be able to process your feelings about him. Do we love him? Despise him? Pity him? He crosses several lines that make it difficult to forgive him easily – but we get enough glimpses into his own remorse and frustration with his circumstances that I could never hate him. The guy jumbles his words when pretty girls are around (literally speaks out of order, like a drunk Yoda). You can’t hate a guy who’s that hysterically pathetic around women.
The Loopy Doctor.
Oh Gwang Rok played Dr. Bong. This is his first drama (and I was happy to see not his last) and he created an entirely unforgettable character in the bizarre, alcoholic, washed-up doctor who runs a sham of a hospital. He shows up in episode 4 and treats us to the most awkwardly funny interview of all time.
Oh Gwang Rok: I’m Doctor Bong.
Han Ga In: I’m – (sneezes)
Oh Gwang Rok: That’s a strange name. Doctor Achoo. Sit down.
Han Ga In: You go ahead first.
Oh Gwang Rok: I’ll sit when I want to! This is my hospital!
Han Ga In: Then I’ll stand too.
Oh Gwang Rok sits down. Han Ga In follows his example and sits down.
Oh Gwang Rok: You must be fickle. I thought you wanted to stand!
Of course, I’m paraphrasing. You can watch the whole scene here.
Working along side Dr. Bong is Jo Mi Ryung, the ever-faithful nurse.
She’s been harboring a secret crush on him for years and puts up with all this craziness, finding his hidden soju bottles and berating him (lovingly) when he goes astray (which is often). This actress is in a lot of dramas but you may not recognize her right away because she’s so sweet and supportive in this one. I was rooting for this unlikely couple from the get go.
The reformed gangster’s mother, played by Kim Hye Ok is wonderful.
She’s a bit on the simple side and crippled, walking with a pronounced limp. Her gangster son is constantly yelling at her and pushing her away – yet she never utters a negative word about him. And even though Yang Dong Geum is rarely nice to her – you know that he loves her deeply. Their relationship is the product of several agonizing years of him balancing peaceful life with his mother and the secret violent episodes of his gang activity. They were a realistic mother – son duo. Again, snaps to the writers for taking into account the personality of a thug and giving us a realistic interpretation of his home life.
Our other mother is Park Shi Un, who plays the recently widowed young wife of Han Ga In’s brother. One of the coolest side stories was how Kim Hye Ok and Park Shi Un come together as a surrogate mother-daughter team and devise ways to make money on their own. Kim Hye Ok feeds the local homeless community at her house, enjoying the company and fighting off the meaninglessness of living alone with nothing to do all day. When Park Shi Un gives birth to her son, Kim Hye Ok quickly volunteers to become her midwife and helpmate. Then the two women devise a plan to open a day care, sneaking in children when their siblings and sons are away at work. There are some cute, cute cute babies and children in this show. Even a devout childless lady such as myself wanted to reach into the screen and cuddle that adorable Korean baby.
The Confirmed Gangster. The big bad in this show is Kim Jung Tae, who scared me to death with his goofy yet utterly terrifying portrayal of a hardened gang leader.
This is the type of man who ends up leading gangs. He knows how to work his minions – from beatings to entertaining moral support. He’s dancing around one minute and kicking someone’s teeth in the next. There is a particular scene in which he’s in his sad little apartment alone, wrapped up in a blanket and suffering from the flu (talk about humanizing) while on the phone threatening to slice a woman’s face if she doesn’t give him money. Eeek! There was a hopelessness to this character that stung. He could not envision another life or a way out. He had accepted his violent fate and would do whatever it took – from being beaten himself, locked in a freezer, double-crossing, threatening and more – to keep himself alive and on top. It was not a pretty picture of organized crime. And it was realistically disorganized enough to be believable.
There are a few more characters in this show – but they’re not as developed or as important. Of notable mention, however, are the four middle school boys who become enamored of Yang Dong Geum when they watch him drink a massive bottle of water in one gulp. They will refer to him as Mr. Water Bomb from that moment on.
These boys show up repeatedly – daring our ex-gangster to drink large amounts of vinegar and soy sauce – helping his mother carry groceries – relaying flash mob apologies – teasing our lovers as they began to date – and so on. They’re adorable.
This is one of my favorite scenes. The lead couple has just had a fight – and made up. They start dancing on the roof top. Yang Dong Geum keeps mocking his girlfriend, saying “Don’t Come Near Me!” even as he twirls her about. The boys discover them and it turns into a laugh riot ball room dance class.
Obviously, this show has turned into one of my all time favorite dramas. It has it all. I highly recommend it to all lovers of k-drama.