Netflix K-drama Doctor Slump: Park Shin-hye, Park Hyung-sik star as medics facing adversity in thought-provoking drama

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Lead cast: Park Shin-hye, Park Hyung-sik

Latest Nielsen rating: 5.1 per cent

The enduring popularity of medical dramas in South Korea can be attributed to the natural tension derived from all the life-and-death scenarios in the operating theatre, as well as the room they leave for workplace drama.

However, 2024’s first medical drama, Doctor Slump, focuses squarely on what is probably the biggest reason these shows work so well. In a country where social rank and education trump everything else, being a doctor is the dream that most parents harbour for their children.

Nam Ha-neul ( Park Shin-hye) and Yeo Jeong-woo ( Park Hyung-sik) are exactly the kind of bright and determined students any parent would dream of.

Ha-neul is a focused student, who spends 17 hours a day studying no matter what and engineers every part of her life towards that goal. She eats coffee powder sticks instead of making them into a drink to avoid wasting time in the bathroom and eats only food that can be quickly digested.

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This leaves no time for self-consciousness and certainly none for anything as trifling as friends or boyfriends.

Jeong-woo is equally brilliant, but he is much needier. He needs to be number one in school and he also needs everyone to love him. So when Busan native Ha-neul transfers to his high school in Seoul in 2009 and his position is threatened, a war erupts between them.

As the show begins in the present, this is all ancient history and things are not going quite as expected.

Ha-neul, still working 17 hours a day, is now an anaesthesiologist and her life is miserable. Her superior constantly flings papers in her face and blames her for things that are usually his fault, and she walks around like a lifeless shell.

Park Shin-hye (left) as anaesthesiologist Nam Ha-neul and Park Hyung-sik as star plastic surgeon Yeo Jeong-woo in a still from “Doctor Slump”.

The only emotion she exhibits is pain whenever she grabs her stomach, which she soon discovers is a symptom of severe depression.

Jeong-woo is doing far better, but life is full of nasty surprises. He is a star plastic surgeon whose online streaming account boast one million followers. He is loved for his good looks and philanthropy.

Everything appears on the up and up for him until a client arrives on his operating table and dies as a result of excessive bleeding. Jeong-woo’s life is immediately turned around. He is abandoned by everyone he knows, loses his practice, and finds himself saddled with 10 billion won (US$7.5 million) in debts.

Park Hyung-sik as star plastic surgeon Yeo Jeong-woo in a still from “Doctor Slump”.

He repays some of the money he owes by selling whatever he has, but he still needs to move and, after getting a tip from someone he knows, he packs up and moves to a shabby rooftop flat.

What he does not realise is that the building belongs to Ha-neul’s mother. Suddenly, a pair of brilliant high school nemeses meet once again as adults at the lowest ebbs of their lives.

In the guise of a bright and breezy K-drama romcom, Doctor Slump shows us what the cost of success can look like.

Park Hyung-sik (left) as Jeong-woo and Park Shin-hye as Ha-neul in a still from “Doctor Slump”.

Jeong-woo’s sudden downfall is horribly unfair – he was clearly set up by a mysterious figure for reasons that are as yet unknown – but Ha-neul’s gradual slide is more relatable and more effective as a cautionary tale.

Over her first drinking session with Jeong-woo in episode two – during which their academic competitiveness is fired up again as they down soju shots – she succinctly sums up the problem with the life she has led thus far.

She explains that she is the kind of person who saves their favourite food to savour as the last bite on their plate. But she also did this with her life, forestalling any pleasure with the empty promise to herself that she can better savour it later on after she has become a tenured professor.

Park Shin-hye as Ha-neul in a still from “Doctor Slump”.

But what good is that tasty last bite if you have ruined your appetite with garbage before getting to it? And even if you do time things correctly, will it have been worth the sacrifice along the way?

Ha-neul is learning her lesson the hard way after being diagnosed with clinical depression, but at least she takes the right first step. She stands up to her abhorrent and useless boss, kicks him in the shins, and quits her job.

The future looks dark, but at least she is focusing on herself now.

Given his sudden stroke of bad luck after all his good fortune, Jeong-woo may take a little longer to learn his lesson. Now he and Ha-neul will learn how to get back on their feet together, but first they will have to learn to get along with one another.

Doctor Slump is streaming on Netflix.

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