MBC title : Behind The White Tower
Other title : The Great White Tower
As Korean dramas enter the new millennium, it is impossible to deny that the genre of the “mini series” is at a crisis. Audiences have long since turned away from TV dramas, jaded by the same old stereotypical characters, farfetched storylines, and the formulaic “pairing off” of male and female characters. Over the years, the mini series has even devolved to the level of a mere “time killer.”
This can be seen as a recurrence of the crisis that American TV shows faced in the late eighties for the same reasons. Romantic comedies, increasingly concerned with reproducing the same styles and patterns, were no longer able to captivate audiences. Fortunately, two shows that appeared in the 1990s effectively put an end to this slump: ER and N.Y.P.D. Blue.
These two shows redefined the paradigm for TV dramas. By offering a level of realism reminiscent of documentaries and populating their vividly realistic settings with ensemble casts of true-to-life characters, they succeeded in drawing the masses back in front of the TV. Both shows have amply stood the test of time: they remain on the air to this day, more than ten years after they first debuted. The success and longevity of these shows demonstrate the fact that the public can no longer be won over by “fake” stories, and at the same time suggest the only alternative for rescuing Korean TV dramas from the mire of mediocrity.
That alternative, in short, is the fusion of “a realistic depiction of the professional world” and “stories about living, breathing people.”
Behind The White Tower perfectly satisfies this criterion.
Set in a university hospital, Behind The White Tower follows one brilliant doctor’s relentless pursuit of his ambition to its conclusion. By microscopically depicting the hidden side of the medical profession, it sheds light on a variegated spectrum of human types. The show recounts the friendship and conflict between two male doctors—one with a brilliant gift for his craft and the other with an innate warmth and a firm devotion to the healing art—and tenaciously investigates the lust for power that moves human beings in the “white tower” that is the university hospital.
Ultimately, Behind The White Tower poses the fundamental question, “What is a human being?” and provides its viewers with an opportunity for self-reflection.
Jang Jun-hyeok – Kim Myeong-min
An assistant professor in the department of general surgery at Myeongin University.
Strikingly tall with a stony demeanor, Jun-hyeok is an ambitious individual with an unrivaled drive for success. He is particularly renowned for his skill in hepatobiliary cancer and pancreas transplant surgeries, and is a celebrated scholar in the field of carcinogenesis. His dexterity with a scalpel is astounding.
Intuitive decision-making, a confident attitude, and a cold personality are his defining characteristics. As a result, he often rubs people the wrong way and, in particular, makes Professor Lee Ju-wan deem him unsuitable to become the head of the department. Still, his talent and ability as a doctor are unsurpassed. What really sets him apart from other doctors is the fact that he obsesses more about his patients’ diseases than about the patients themselves. In other words, he derives exhilaration from encountering new diseases and conquering them.
This attitude coincides with his life’s goal of becoming the best surgeon in the world. The first step in his journey toward this goal is to become the chief of the department of general surgery. This would make him the best in Korea, and provide the foundation for his intended rise to the top of the world. However, he comes across the first stumbling block in his life when Professor Lee Ju-wan tries to bring in someone from his alma mater as his successor.
Choi Do-yeong – Lee Seon-gyoon
An assistant professor in the department of gastrointestinal medicine at Myeongin University, who graduated in the same class as Jang Jun-hyeok.
Although he initially majored in basic medicine and pathology, Do-yeong switched to clinical medicine out of a desire to heal suffering patients with his own hands. He is gentle, kind, and considerate.
His warm nature makes him the kind of a doctor that every patient wants to entrust their health to. Believing that a doctor must be rigorously scientific for his patients, he does not jump to conclusions in his diagnoses but poses question after question until he obtains absolute certainty. This places him in stark contrast to the intuitive Jun-hyeok. For this reason, they are constantly at conflict with each other. That is, as doctors, Do-yeong is idealistic whereas Jun-hyeok is pragmatic. Within the insular world of the university hospital, Do-yeong’s humane and idealistic attitude comes up against endless challenges.
Clashing with surgeon Jang Jun-hyeok, with whom he has an organic relationship as a physician, Do-yeong is sometimes wooed and at other times threatened by the hospital, but he firmly stands his ground and defends his beliefs.
Noh Min-guk – Cha In-pyo
The candidate for department chief recommended by Lee Ju-wan.
An alumnus from Lee Ju-wan’s alma mater, Min-guk received his M.D. overseas at Harvard University.
He is introverted and somewhat lacking in social skills, but he has a strong desire to win. Moreover, he is talented enough to rival Jang Jun-hyeok when it comes to surgery. Having published numerous articles in Science and SCI, he is amply qualified to compete against Jun-hyeok for the position of chief in the department of general surgery at Myeongin University. Because he is still single, Do-yeong is also regarded by Lee Ju-wan and his wife as an ideal candidate for a son-in-law as well.
Lee Yun-jin – Song Seon-mi
Professor Lee Ju-wan’s daughter.
Although Yun-jin appears shy and docile, she is in fact strong in character and firm in her convictions. Having observed the life of doctors from an early age, she is jaded by the hospital and rebels against her parents’ desire to marry her off to a doctor.
However, when she meets Choi Do-yeong—an academically-astute doctor with a dedication to healing—she begins to love and admire him. Unfortunately, Do-yeong is a married man with a son in kindergarten. Rationally, she tells herself that her feelings are inappropriate, but the more she tries to convince herself, the deeper her love for Do-yeong gets. Alongside Do-yeong, she begins assisting in the trial of the Kwon Hyeong-geun family, and does everything in her power to put former nurse Yu Mi-ra, a vital witness in the case, on the stand.
Kang Hee-jae – Kim Bo-kyeong
Jang Jun-hyeok’s beautiful girlfriend.
Because Hee-jae runs a bar near Myeongin University, a frequent haunt for doctors working at the university hospital, she serves as Jun-hyeok’s information source and even acts as an invaluable “spy” for him from time to time.
Because she once attended medical school, she has no problem carrying on a professional conversation with the doctors who visit her bar. She is smart and intellectual, but her situation as an ex-med-student-turned-bar-hostess has made her rather cynical. She loves Jun-hyeok, but does not try to possess him.
This testifies to the extent of her willingness to submit to reality. She regards Jun-hyeok, who single-mindedly follows his ambition, with sympathy rather than envy. When Jun-hyeok is dying of cancer, she wants to remain by his side; Jun-hyeok, in turn, also wants her to stay with him.
< Episode 1 >
Brilliant surgeon Jang Jun-hyeok is an associate professor in the Department of
Surgery at Myeongin University. With his unsurpassed skill and cool judgment, he
saves a patient who had been on the brink of death due to another doctor’s error.
Still, chief of surgery Professor Lee Ju-wan regards the ever-confident Jun-hyeok
with a disapproving eye.
Jun-hyeok’s school friend, Associate Professor Choi Do-yeong, comes across a
rare case of early-stage pancreatic cancer and transfers the patient to Jun-hyeok.
Jun-hyeok becomes excited about performing the unusual procedure, but finds
himself faced with a choice when he discovers that the powerful deputy chief of the
hospital, Wu Yong-gil, has made an incorrect diagnosis...
< Episode 2 >
Jun-hyeok and Do-yeong secretly operate on the patient who was misdiagnosed by
Professor Wu Yong-gil, but is discovered by the wily Wu. Jun-hyeok attempts to
cover up his illicit operation by lying that Wu’s initial diagnosis was correct, but he
encounters opposition from the honest Do-yeong.
Meanwhile, Professor Lee Ju-wan, who has always been disapproving of Jun-
hyeok, conspires with Professor Wu to send Jun-hyeok to a hospital in the
countryside by using the surgery as a pretext...
< Episode 3 >
Professor Wu declares Jun-hyeok’s gift of a painting as an attempt at bribery and
sets out to transfer Jun-hyeok to a rural hospital. If he is transferred, all of Jun-
hyeok’s efforts thus far will have been in vain. Alarmed, Jun-hyeok goes to his
father-in-law, Min Chung-sik, for aid.
Meanwhile, Professor Lee tells Jun-hyeok not to worry since the transfer is only a
temporary measure, and instructs him to prepare for the transition as scheduled...
< Episode 4 >
Jun-hyeok discovers the identity of the man Professor Lee is grooming as his
successor: Noh Min-guk. Min-guk is Lee Ju-wan’s alumnus and a professor at
Johns Hopkins University. Jun-hyeok becomes nervous, sensing that the man he
will be competing against is a formidable opponent.
Even amid his preoccupation with becoming the next chief of surgery, Jun-hyeok
ends up scrubbing in with Professor Lee on an extensive procedure to
simultaneously transplant the liver, pancreas, and kidney...
< Episode 5 >
As a result of Professor Lee’s scheme, Min-guk ends up taking the older man’s
place in the OR. In an atmosphere of breathless tension, Min-guk and Jun-hyeok
begin the surgery. But the two rivals, each of whom considers himself the best in
the field, clashes constantly over the order and method of the procedure.
Professor Lee, who has been watching from the observation room, stresses that he
is in charge of the operation and orders the procedure to be performed according to
Min-guk’s directions. Jun-hyeok, though shocked, removes his gloves and steps
Meanwhile, Do-yeong, who is doing all he can to save Jin-ju, visits Professor Oh
Gyeong-hwan for a consultation, but is distressed by the fact that the cancer has
already progressed to a dangerous degree.
< Episode 6 >
Pathology professor Oh Gyeong-hwan volunteers to head the election committee in
order to ensure that the election for the next chief of surgery proceeds fairly.
Professor Lee secretly cheers at the development, since Professor Oh disapproves
of Jun-hyeok, but Professor Wu cannot help feeing bitter.
Made uneasy by Professor Oh’s appointment to the head of the election committee,
Jun-hyeok pays Do-yeong an unexpected visit. Jun-hyeok asks the surprised Do-
yeong to arrange a meeting with Professor Oh, since he needs the latter’s help to
become the chief of surgery. But Do-yeong refuses, saying that he cannot help Jun-
hyeok in such a self-serving endeavor...
< Episode 7 >
Jang Jun-hyeok, Noh Min-guk, and Mun Sang-myeong are named as candidates for
the next chief of surgery. With Professor Oh helming the election committee, voting
begins in earnest. At that moment, Professor Lee raises his hand. Declaring that he
cannot choose among two of his students and Noh Min-guk, he gives up his vote
and exits the room. The less knowing of the department heads nod their heads in
Jun-hyeok, who is in the auditorium busily preparing for the symposium, is
flabbergasted when Professor Lee suddenly appears and declares that he has
waived his vote. Later on, Lee approaches Jun-hyeok as he waits to deliver his
lecture and tells the younger man not to be offended by his decision to give up his
vote. At that very moment, Geon-ha rushes in to deliver the results of the vote...
< Episode 8 >
Jun-hyeok visits Min-guk in his hotel room. Throwing away his pride, he kneels
before Min-guk and entreats his rival to withdraw from the race. At that moment,
Professor Oh Nam-gi comes to Min-guk’s room, and the startled Jun-hyeok hastily
leaves the scene.
When Professor Lee learns that Jun-hyeok has been to see Min-guk, he informs
Professor Wu Yong-gil, thus exacerbating the situation. Angered by Jun-hyeok’s
irresponsible act, Wu turns his back on him.
Meanwhile, Kwon Sun-il comes to see Do-yeong, at the insistence of his wife. Do-
yeong begins to run various tests on Sun-il as if he were any other patient.
< Episode 9 >
Suspecting Sun-il of having pancreatic cancer, Do-yeong refers him to Jun-hyeok,
who remarks that he will operate on Sun-il before the international surgical
conference in Jeju. Do-yeong suggests that Jun-hyeok perform a lung biopsy before
the operation, but Jun-hyeok, who is preoccupied by his preparations for the
conference, does not heed the advice.
Meanwhile, Min-guk, who has lost the election for the chief of surgery, calmly
< Episode 10 >
At the international surgical conference in Jeju, Jun-hyeok tries his utmost to perform
successful surgery on the wife of the international surgical association’s chairman.
However, due to the unseen machinations of Oh Nam-gi, who had supported Min-
guk, Jun-hyeok finds himself unable to perform the operation.
Meanwhile, Dong-il, who has taken on Jun-hyeok’s post-op patient as his very first
patient, begins to grow uneasy when the patient in question begins to display
< Episode 11 >
Just as he successfully completes the operation on the wife of the international
surgical association’s chairman, Jun-hyeok receives the news that his post-op
patient Kwon Sun-il has died. Sensing the gravity of the situation, Jun-hyeok
requests a detailed inquiry into what happened.
Sun-il’s wife, Sun-gi, and other family members wail in grief around the bed on
which Sun-il lies with a white sheet covering his body. Unable to watch the
heartbreaking scene, Dong-il runs down the stairs and bursts into tears.
< Episode 12 >
Sun-il’s wife and Jun-hyeok come face to face in the hallway of the courthouse.
Jun-hyeok’s attorney, Yun, patronizes the plaintiff’s attorney by patting him on the
shoulder, and Sun-il’s wife directs an anxious gaze toward Jun-hyeok and
Yun speculates that the plaintiff’s side will summon Oh Gyeong-hwan, Yeom Dong-
il, and Choi Do-yeong as witnesses, which plunges Jun-hyeok into nervous
Meanwhile, the plaintiff’s attorney, Kim Hun, visits Do-yeong at work...