So Ji-sub is back in the MBC suspense thriller Doctor Lawyer as the cardio-thoracic surgeon who, after being unfairly imprisoned for medical malpractice, returns from prison as a lawyer. The title is as good as a summary but solid writing and cast chemistry make this show so much more.
It is what it is. A falsely accused doctor becomes a lawyer and sets about to bring down the man who started it all in this contemporary revenge tale. Except there are other complications such as the prosecutor Geum Seok-yeong (Im Soo-hyang, Woori the Virgin) who has a grudge against him and may stand in the way of his plans, and Jayden Lee (Shin Sung-rok) who could turn into a double-crosser at any given time.
So Ji-sub (My Secret Terius, Oh My Venus) sure knows how to pick ‘em great dramas. Whether his character Han Yi-han is in a courtroom or in an operating theater, he gets your heart beating fast. And we're not just talking about his looks. His quiet intensity speaks volumes of the internal struggles of a man who is wracked with guilt, consumed by vengeance, and grappling with his humanity all at the same time. We can totally believe anyone will trust this man to save us from prison and from heart disease!
Equally fascinating to watch is longtime theater actor Shin Sung-rok who plays Jayden, a morally ambiguous investor who earns both our respect and sympathy. It’s a testament to his great acting that despite his underhanded means and ethically questionable choices, we actually want him to get his happily ever after.
The rest of the cast—Im Soo-yang (Woori the Virgin), Dong Ha-lee, Lee Geung-young (who can play villains in his sleep) and rookie Lee Seung-woo—all give solid performances, making this drama more than just a one-man show. Props as well to the makeup and production crew who made sure that the hospital scenes—especially those that involved surgery and blood—were believable and consistent. It would have been a disappointment if the tension and the acting were amazing but the physical details would be distracting in their inaccuracy. Thankfully, this is not the case for Doctor Lawyer, where entire scenes (especially the critical surgical ones), are clearly directed with a solid and thoughtful hand.
The real star though is writer-nim Jang Hong-cheol, who weaves a cleverly written story that keeps its audience guessing at every turn. K-dramas offer several revenge dramas every year but few of them are able to keep the suspense steady and surprising at the same time. The plot is tight and the characters’ motivations are clear, believable, and consistent. Although some of the courtroom scenes are more sensational than we're used to (but we're not familiar with legal practice in Korea, save for the hours we clocked in watching lawyer-prosecutor-judge dramas), the skillful editing makes us willingly suspend our disbelief and get carried away by the life-and-death situation in every episode.
Aside from the main revenge plot, Doctor Lawyer also showcases other incidents and ethical dilemmas that revolve around the world of organ transplants. It is interesting to watch the courts decide on the lines that separate necessary medical action from true medical malpractice. It also shows how the mistakes of medical personnel can be so costly upon trusting patients, and how justice is served on both the erring medical personnel and for the unwitting patient.
Another noteworthy strength of Doctor Lawyer is it makes no illusions about the compromises one must make in order to win in the long run. The path to justice is hardly smooth; it is littered with corporate maneuvering, bribes, bullying, and all the tricks expensive corporate lawyers are hired to do.
Contrasting views on revenge and justice are clearly played out by both Han Yi-han (achieving vengeance through the courts) and Jayden Lee (taking vengeance through “scorched earth” and Macchiavellian means), and the audience see-saws with their wildly differing views.
Doctor Lawyer is a fantastic and wild ride, definitely a worthy comeback project for superstar So Ji-sub.
16 episodes, available on Disney+ in selected territories