Cliffhangers normally have a pretty cynical bend to them, and the first episode of "Good Doctor" was no exception, with Shi-on awkwardly standing over Yoon-seo's bed, brushing his teeth while she wakes up. Corny as this set up is, we quickly get another excellent glimpse into Shi-on's character. Even though Yoon-seo is normally the focused victim in the context, Shi-on is obviously at a complete loss as to what he's supposed to be doing.
I really love Joo Won's performance in these scenes, because he very much acts like a man who's had to deal with these awkward encounters his whole life. Shi-on does not act exuberantly or exaggeratedly, but rather quite the opposite. He just stands quietly, politely, avoiding doing anything. Shi-on figured out some time ago that being proactive in unfamiliar social situations just gets him into more trouble, so he just waits patiently for someone to give him more specific intructions.
The contrast between Shi-on and pretty much any other fictional character in a similar situation is very striking. He acts weird, but is so deliberately subdued that it's genuinely difficult to get him embroiled in any kind of serious conflict. Shi-on compensates for his tendency to offend other people by not letting himself be offended by anything. He'll take nearly any query or request at its most literal value regardless of whether his assumptions make any logical sense. This lack of struggle is intriguing- it's the exact opposite of what's normally portrayed in stories about outsiders breaking into the establishment. And yet it's extremely true to life, because that's exactly what outsiders do. Try, to the best of their ability, to appear normal.
The only issue where Shi-on is completely unwilling to be polite on is when it comes to saving human lives. But the rest of his character is so underspoken that even this aspect takes on a weirdly nonconfrontational note. There's no angry speeches or personal tension- just a heavily concerted effort to save lives as quickly as possible. Shi-on quickly reverts back to his normal self once he's convinced the genuine crisis has been resolved.
Everything about Shi-on is quite interesting- unfortunately, the fact that his best character traits revolve around a lack of conflict puts "Good Doctor" in an awkward place, because a story needs actual conflict to really be interesting. So far Joo Won's performance is all that's really grabbing me emotionally. Hopefully the rest of the cast, who so far have mainly just functioned as archetypes, will be able to move the story in a more interesting direction soon.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Good Doctor" Episode 2"
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