By Ivan Shen; Edited by Kaitlin Zhong
Although I really enjoyed Doctor John and hoped its thought-provoking themes indicated a new trend for medical kdramas, I still doubted there would ever be another one that deserved even higher praise. But Hospital Playlist (2020) is not only one of the best medical dramas I’ve watched; It’s one of the best dramas I’ve watched, period.
Hospital Playlist is raw. It centres around 5 friends from medical school, who are now all professors working at the same hospital. While the premise might seem bland, it is immediate upon viewing that this drama is anything but. Although their work as doctors is obviously central to the drama’s ideas, Hospital Playlist is not afraid to branch out beyond the context of medicine and hospitals in order to explore more universal ideas such as family and the blurred lines between long established friendships and love.
In fact, it was surprising to say that for this drama, it was not the scenes of our 5 doctors interacting with patients that were the most memorable. There were some beautiful moments, where we are able to see their experience and ability to respond appropriately to difficult situations such as breaking bad news or comforting a family member before an important surgery. However, these moments took a backseat to more seemingly mundane scenes as simple as these 5 friends gathering in a restaurant and eating, or playing in a band together. Being able to see their interactions, which are filled with humour as well as a mutual understanding of one another from lifelong friendships really goes to show that the writers of Hospital Playlist really paid attention to writing realistic dialogue that injects the drama with a lighter tone and a strong sense of realism. Scenes which would normally delve into a strong melodramatic tone in other dramas are instead subverted abruptly with moments of humor which portrays conversations between friends far more realistic than typical kdrama dialogues.
Although juggling 5 main characters is never an easy task, Hospital Playlist never seems to neglect any of these characters and on top of that is able to even flesh out a multitude of supporting characters who each also contribute to our understanding of these 5 professors. While other dramas always portray doctors and professors as these perfect, machine-like figures who never let anything affect their work, it is Hospital Playlist’s raw and unfiltered feel with their scene usage which provides us insight into even the smallest problems our 5 protagonists deal with. By shifting a portion of the drama away from the hospital itself, it makes it easier for viewers to view our characters as humans and not just doctors. We come to understand that not all of a doctor’s problems arise from within the workplace and in fact a majority of our issues in life may be non-work related.
As an example, Lee Ik Jun, one of our main characters, is initially introduced as a free-spirited comedian who never seems to take anything seriously and yet is an effortless genius who graduated at the top of his cohort in medical school. In fact, our first shot of him in the drama is a zoom onto him standing in the emergency room wearing a Darth Vader helmet because his son had squeezed superglue into it. However, the more we progress through the drama, the more we realise his comedic front that we initially perceive him as is only a small portion of his identity and character. Through both his work as a surgeon and his role as a father, we begin to understand that he takes his responsibilities very seriously despite what his constant jokes and gags may show on the outside.
The same can be said for all 5 main characters. Through deliberate characterisation, certain stereotypes of each of these characters are forced onto us, and it is the delicate storytelling, often through the perspective of supporting characters who work with our main protagonists’, which shatters our initial perceptions of these 5 people, as we come to realise how shallow our understanding of these characters were.
It is ironic to say this but for me Hospital Playlist doesn’t really focus on exploring the role of doctors. Instead what it successfully achieved was portraying the normal lives of people who happen to be doctors. The drama is unafraid to include scenes which are slow-paced and dialogue-heavy in order to establish and build up a sense of realism and depth of our characters. It is this raw portrayal of this group of 5 friends which made this drama one of the most enjoyable dramas I have ever watched.
And perhaps part of the reason why is because as I watched this drama, somewhere deep down I hope that the lives those 5 people are living can be the same life that I live with my friends in medical school in the future.