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What to Watch After Doctor Cha

Only 10 episodes into its successful run, this medical-comedy-family drama overtook Itaewon Class to become JTBC's fourth highest-rated drama, behind only World of the Married (2020), SKY Castle (2019), and last year's Reborn Rich (2023). Here's why we think Doctor Cha was such a hit, and a list of what to watch for more of its cast.

The Plot

A major health scare prompts 40+ year old stay-at-home mom Cha Jeong-suk (Uhm Jung-hwa, Our Blues) to continue the medical residency program she had abandoned decades ago to raise her family. As if the challenge of restarting her career in middle age isn't hard enough, she discovers that her husband (Kim Byung-chul, SKY Castle) is having an affair with his first love, her boss (Myung Se-bin, Avengers Social Club), while a handsome surgeon (musical theater actor Min Woo-hyuk) waits in the wings to sweep her off her feet.

The Review

Because majority of South Korean television screenwriters are women, k-dramaland is populated by many multi-faceted strong female leads, especially in recent years. Female-led dramas tend to be well received by audiences, perhaps because they are a form of fantasy-fulfillment in a society with one of the largest gender pay gaps in the developed world and where women are expected to subserviently cater to their families and in-laws’ needs upon marriage.

With a middle-aged stay-at-home mom who finally pursues her dream as its heroine, it's no wonder then that Doctor Cha quickly rose in popularity, surpassing even other woman-centric cable dramas Crash Course in Romance and Agency to become the highest rated k-drama of 2023 so far, and the seventh highest in cable history.

Uhm Jung-hwa shines as the endearing Doctor Cha
Uhm Jung-hwa shines as the endearing resident Doctor Cha Jeong-suk

Once dubbed the "Korean Madonna" during her heyday as a singer, triple-threat Uhm Jung-hwa completely sheds her sultry image to become the endearing Cha Jeong-suk, a woman who has spent the last two decades of her life putting her family's needs before her own. Self-sacrificing to a fault, it’s easy to root for her as she begins to find her footing as a doctor and assert her independence from her abusive family (her son is the only one who treats her as more than a glorified housemaid).

Her cheating, gaslighting husband, general surgeon Seo In-ho, in particular, is a real piece of work. Arrogant, mean, and often cruel, one of the greatest mysteries of Doctor Cha is how he managed to have two women fighting over him. (At least the casting director had the good sense to have an attractive actor play his younger version). As despicable as he is though, Kim Byung-chul skillfully injects so much humor into his performance that you'll find yourself laughing at him even as you want to punch his face. It's hard to imagine any other actor pulling off the funny villain role as effectively.

Kim Byung-chul, both punchable and hilarious as Dr. Seo In-ho in Doctor Cha
Kim Byung-chul, both punchable and hilarious as Dr. Seo In-ho

Our leads are supported by a very capable cast, notably, the swoony musical theater actor Min Woo-hyuk as Jeong-suk's doctor and colleague who quickly develops a crush on her, and Myung Se-bin who was able to elicit audience sympathy for her character Choi Seung-hee, In-ho's first love turned mistress, despite the difficulty of the role.

Primarily a family comedy that just happens to be set in a hospital (if you want k-dramas that are heavier on the medical aspect, read this), Doctor Cha does take on some heavy themes through a realistic lens. Family life is messy, and major life-changing decisions such as divorce are never easy to make even when it's obviously best for everyone. Anyone who comes from a "broken" family will be able to relate to Jeong-suk's dilemma and root for her success and happiness.

We waited with bated breath to see if Doctor Cha gave its titular character the happy ending we felt she deserved because if it didn't, then we wouldn't recommend this k-drama at all. Although we have our opinions on how the ending could've been a bit better, Doctor Cha is still an entertaining and heartwarming watch overall and worthy of a weekend binge.


What to Watch After....

For more of Uhm Jung-hwa...

A Witch's Love/Witch’s Romance (2014)

Uhm Jung-hwa plays noona to Park Seo-joon (Itaewon Class) in this remake of Taiwan's hit drama My Queen (2009). Her character, Ban Ji-yeon, is a 39-year-old workaholic investigative journalist who has given up on love after being left at the altar. She meets Yoon Dong-ha, a seemingly happy-go-lucky 25-year-old who runs other people's errands for a living. Despite the large age gap, the onscreen pair share palpable chemistry that fans still rave about to this day.

16 episodes. Available on Viu.

Our Blues (2022)

In this all-star cast anthology-style series, slice-of-life master writer Noh Hee-kyung (Dear My Friends, Live) weaves a colorful tapestry using the joys and sorrows of the villagers (past and present) of fictional Purung town in Jeju Island. Over 20 episodes, we get involved in the daily lives of the close-knit community, most of whose livelihood involves the sea: an assortment of market vendors, boatmen, and haenyeosJeju's women divers.

Uhm Jung-hwa plays city girl Go Mi-ran whose visit to her hometown stirs up some old hurt feelings between her and her best friend Lee Jung-eun (Parasite). With its heartwarming stories, life-affirming message, and powerhouse cast,Our Blues went on to become the eleventh highest-rated cable drama in Korean television history.

20 episodes. Available on Netflix.

Seducing Mr. Perfect (2006)

In this classic 2006 film, Uhm Jung-hwa butts heads with Daniel Henney (Confidential Assignment 2) in an office romance. It’s a fun and light film about mixed signals and clashing cultures. Those who know Henney from his later work will be interested to see his film debut. He doesn’t speak a word of Korean here but that doesn’t seem to bother everyone else in the film.

107 minutes. Available on other streaming sites.

Dancing Queens on the Road (2023)

Prior to becoming one of the country's top actresses, Uhm Jung-hwa was one of its most successful and influential female solo acts, earning the monicker Korean Madonna.

This fun variety series unites her with fellow top female artists and dancing queens Kim Wan Sun, BoA, Lee Hyo-ri, and Mamamoo's Hwasa as they embark on a nationwide concert tour featuring their most well-loved hits.

12 episodes, Available on Viu.

For more of Kim Byung-chul...

SKY Castle (2018-19)

Before playing the annoying but funny surgeon Seo In-ho in Doctor Cha, this skilled comedic actor earned a Baeksang Best Supporting Actor award for his performance for the equally annoying but funny law professor Cha Min-hyuk in this satirical takedown of South Korea's obsession with higher education. In SKY Castle, the second-highest rated cable drama of all time, he plays a tiger dad who tortures his twin sons with his high expectations and rigid teaching methods.

20 episodes. Available on most streaming platforms.

Dr. Prisoner (2019)

As Dr. Sun Min-sik, West Seoul Prison's "King," Kim Byung-chul is the classic antagonist who does everything in his power to remain on top of the food chain. Supported by his corrupt chaebol backers, Dr. Sun's foremost mission is to stop a vengeful doctor Na Yi-ji (Namgoong Min) who is hellbent on punishing everyone responsible for his unfair dismissal years ago.

16 episodes. Available on Netflix.

For more of Min Woo-hyuk...

The Third Charm (2018)

Doctor Cha wasn't the first k-drama where Min Woo-hyuk played a surgeon with eyes on the female lead. Prior to donning a white coat as Roy Kim, he was best known among kdrama fans as Choi Ho-chul, a plastic surgeon who has a crush on Esom in this 2018 romance drama.

One of the most hotly debated k-dramas of recent years, The Third Charm follows the romance between college students On Yoon-jeong (Seo Kang-joon) and Lee Yeong-jae (Esom) over twelve years, to see if three's a charm when it comes to love.

16 episodes. Available on Netflix.

Return of the Superman (2020)

Min Woo-hyuk had us all swooning as the kindhearted, broad-shouldered, and ridiculously handsome Dr. Roy Kim, only to disappoint us upon learning that in real life, he is very much taken. The actor has been married to former actress and singer Lee Se-mi since 2012, and they have two adorable kids. Check out his appearance on episode 324 of the popular dad-centric variety series Return of the Superman.

If You Wish Upon Me (2022)

Honestly, we aren't really fans of this drama starring Ji Chang-wook and Girls Generation's Choi Sooyoung, but if you really want to see more of Min Woo-hyuk, just skip on ahead to episodes 4 and 5, where he makes a special appearance as a famous musical theater actor who helps fulfill the dying wish of patient Lim Se-hee (Park Jin-joo).

For more strong female leads

Over here at GwenchaNoona, we make it a point to regularly celebrate strong women in k-dramas, so if you'd like to browse through our listicles on our favorites, check out the links below:

For more Middle Age Romance...

For most of us, the gateway to k-dramaland was a rom-com with a cute twenty-something candygirl and a tsundere chaebolmale lead in their mid- to late- twenties who dashed off into their happily-ever-after at the end of 16 episodes. But as we grew older we realized that while the trope was cute, it also bordered on fantasy. Thankfully, K-drama gave its own spin on mid-life romances which we’ve enjoyed. Read more here.

For more Family Dramas...

My Unfamiliar Family (2021)

Every "normal" family is only one secret reveal away from being a dysfunctional one.

In this Baeksang Best Drama nominee, driver Kim Sang-sik (Jung Jin-young) lands in a hospital after a road accident, and upends the lives of his family. Middle child Eun-hee (Han Ye-ri), her all-too perfect older sister Eun-joo (Choo Ja-hyun) and younger brother Ji-woo (Shin Jae-ha) have always known their parents had a rocky relationship. What they didn’t know was why. Their father’s accident forces the family to confront uncomfortable memories and reveal parts of themselves they’d rather have kept hidden from people they profess to love the most.

While every conceivable k-drama trope—amnesia, unrequited love, sibling rivalry, love triangle, birth secret and then some—are here, the characterizations and the writing never make them feel too soapy. The characters are as real and flawed as they come. You may not like everyone in the Kim family, but you’re still rooting for them to stay together as a unit and for every family member’s journey to self-discovery and healing.

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