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[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Doctor Slump" Episode 1

It's been three years since actress Park Shin-hye last appeared in a project, "Sisyphus: The Myth" from 2021, her having taken a break from work subsequent to her marrying Choi Tae-joon and having a son with him. Given Park Shin-hye's prior popularity, it's a bit of a surprise that her new project "Doctor Slump" opened with ratings of only 4.06% in its first episode. This after a 2023 that was already full of hits for JTBC- "Doctor Slump" takes over timeslot from "Welcome to Samdal-ri" timeslot which ended with ratings of 12.399%.

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It's far too soon to write "Doctor Slump" off, mind you. "Welcome to Samdal-ri" itself opened with ratings of only 5.193%. But like most of JTBC's 2023 catalogue, "Doctor Slump" will have to succeed based on popular reception of its own content rather than that of its stars. The romance isn't exactly an intuitive one. Park Shin-hye and Park Hyung-sik play high school rivals turned successful doctors who have hit low points in their careers, as the title implies.

Park Shin-hye's doctor, Ha-neul, is depicted as a precocious Busan student circa 2009 so obsessed with success she can only drag herself away from studying just long enough to solve a family inheritance dispute by pitching a move to Seoul to better further her own studies. Ha-neul's relentless ambition is quite attractive. But in the present day, Ha-neul's excessive work ethic has had awful consequences for her health and she doesn't even seem to be putting in quality work anymore either.

Park Hyung-sik's doctor, Jeong-woo, appears to give up on competing with Ha-neul in high school, with the flashback sequences fully exploring their past relationship continuing in future episodes. Instead of becoming a dignified researcher, he goes into plastic surgery, and commits an error so egregious as to qualify as criminal negligence. Neither Ha-neul nor Jeong-woo are in any sort of position to be searching for a significant other. Or anything else, really.

The social commentary isn't particularly subtle. The competitive optimism of 2009 has given way to cynical, overworked, incompetent misery in the present day for our lead doctors much as it has for so many other people in the modern South Korean economy. "Doctor Slump" isn't typical K-drama escapism by any means- the subtext here is quite brutal. Even the characters themselves aren't exactly likable, but that's part of the point. If they were easy to sympathize with, their self-esteem issues wouldn't feel plausible.

Written by William Schwartz

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"Doctor Slump" is directed by Oh Hyeon-jong, written by Baek Seon-woo, and features Park Hyung-sik, Park Shin-hye, Yoon Park, Kong Seong-ha, Oh Dong-min, Jang Hye-jin. Broadcasting information in Korea: 2024/01/27~Now airing, Sat, Sun 22:30 on JTBC, Netflix.

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