A must read, if you don't already know ...

Written by Bridget Au

"Korea’s version of Healing Hands isn’t bad, but I pray I’ll never need heart surgery if I ever visit Korea one day"


Korean Title
“Nyu Hateu” (Korean loan words)

Released in

No. of episodes

Jo Jae Hyun as Choi Kang Gook
Ji Sung as Lee Eun Sung
Kim Min Jung as Nam Hye Suk
Lee Ji Hoon as Lee Dong Koon
Supporting Cast
Sung Dong Il as Lee Seung Jae
Jung Dong Hwan as Park Jae Hyun
Lee Ki Young as Kim Jung Gil
Jung Ho Geun as Min Young Kyu
Kang Ji Hoo as Woo In Tae
Jang Hyun Sung as Kim Tae Joon
Shin Dong Mi as Jo Min Ah
Lee Chang Joo as Lee In Ho
Son Yeo Eun as Choi Hyun Jung
Shin Da Eun as Kim Mi Mi
Park Chul Min as Bae Dae Ro

Korea’s version of Healing Hands isn’t bad, but I pray I’ll never need heart surgery if I ever visit Korea one day.

Finally, the roles are reversed! For once, the girl is the one who is intelligent, well-off, and unapproachable, and the guy is the poor, optimistic, and friendly one.

Lee Eun Song is an orphan who went to medical school in the countryside who goes from zero to hero when he scores an internship at the prestigious Kwang Hee University Hospital in Seoul alongside stone-faced top scholar Nam Hae-suk. Both are under the direction of brilliant surgeon Choi Kang-gook. Under his tutelage, both become excellent doctors in their own right, but not after numerous challenges. Choi himself has a rough time re-establishing himself in the profession, after previously leaving the hospital due to conflicts with its management. He frequently bickers with arrogant colleague Kim Tae Joon, who is jealous of Choi’s brilliance and also happens to be hiding an affair with a fellow doctor of the hospital, Jo Min Ah. To top it all off, Choi also experiences family problems throughout the series, with wife and daughters believing that he isn’t as devoted to the family as he should be. Eventually, relationships are repaired some others begin. Yay.

I first saw Ji Sung in the blockbuster All In and was not impressed. He was lacking in charisma but New Heart has changed my mind. He is a delight to watch as the sunny, caring Eun Song with boundless energy and his character contrasts well with the stiff, steely Hae-Suk. What I like about Eun Song is that he isn’t unrealistically optimistic and is someone with a less-than-rosy past who got a second chance at life. He works hard for his patients, caring not only about their health but also mental well-being. He has his own failures and times of disappointment or sadness, but he always manages to eventually see the silver lining in the cloud. His best trait is that he has an ability to make the most serious/depressing situations lighthearted, like when Hae-suk was threatened with HIV, she hugs him in a moment of distress and he comforts her while saying “You’re not as pretty as a dying heroine. Stop writing novels”. An effortless performance radiating energy and spirit that will make you smile. And how funny is it that this guy spends his free time sewing teddy bears?

Nam Hae-suk is one of the more interesting heroines in Korean drama. Not your usual emotional waif or damsel in distress, nor your screeching, messy tomboy in the average Korean romcom. What I like about her is that she has principles that she doesn’t deviate from. You may not agree with them, but she couldn’t care less. She’s often mistaken as cold, but I see her more as aloof. And that’s only on the surface. The writers did a great job with her character. She is surprisingly three-dimensional, a talented, bright young woman who eventually finds love in the caring, devoted Eun Song. On the surface, Hae-suk seems stone-cold, emotionless and fundamentalist, not caring about anything or anyone except her ambition to become a cardiac surgeon. But the series makes it clear that this ambition is driven by one thing and one thing only – her desire for approval from her father, the hospital’s President. An illegitimate daughter from birth, she worked hard to become the top scholar in the nation and was devastated – clearly so – when she got rejected for the first time for the internship. In a way Hae-suk doesn’t only want her father’s acknowledgement, she also wants his love. It’s why she broke down in tears when reading her father’s letter near the end of the series, where he told her to learn from Dr. Choi and that he was sorry he caused her so much pain. The former was very much what a father would say to a daughter, and it was a poignant scene to watch.

Kim Min Jung did well in the role. She appropriately conveys Hae-suk’s toughness but also conveys her hysterical tears and yearning for love and also in a way, her loneliness until she finds Eun Song. She has very good chemistry with Ji Sung and I really like how the series portrayed their relationship from mutual confusion, to mutual respect and understanding and finally to mutual love. What is missing in this series, however, is her relationship with her mom. I was expecting a lot more on the role that her mother plays in the frosty relationship between her and her estranged father.

Jo Jae Hyun was magnificent as Dr. Choi. He looks intelligent, he looks principled, and his relationship with both star pupils was fun to watch. He was also unexpectedly funny in that snarky, sarcastic way, like when Eun Song runs to catch his elevator and stops the door with his hands, he hits him on the back and scolds: “Idiot! Why did you stop the door with your hands? Do you know how important a surgeon’s hands are? Next time stop it with your foot! Better yet, stop it with your head”.

Korea offers consistent, quality supporting cast actors and New Heart is no exception. Jang Hyun Sung and Shin Dong Mi had chemistry, the former whose arrogance masked his guilt and love for his childhood sweetheart and the latter ladylike and elegant. I recognized Shin Da Eun instantly from I Am Happy, and she delivers another funny performance here. The actors who played the other residents in Eun Song’s and Hae Suk’s room were also very funny.

The one weak link is Lee Ji Hoon who threatened to kill this series with his irritating performance. Good thing he only appears in 2 or 3 episodes.

I’m from a place that prides itself on public health, so I was beyond intrigued by all the “board meetings”, where they discussed various upcoming surgeries and made decisions on them, such as which surgeon would perform the operation. Do doctors in Korea really decide who to operate on based on who’s more rich or influential? And are we to believe that these people are actually doctors and perform life-or-death surgeries?! All of them, from the interns to the veterans, are over-emotional and borderline psychotic. I cannot count the times one of the interns screamed and bellowed when a patient was in an emergency state, or when the surgeons argued with each other in the operating room! The only exceptions are the head nurse, Choi, Nam and Lee, who actually look and behave like medical professionals. But geez, if New Heart reflects reality, I seriously hope I never need heart surgery in Korea.

These sore points aside, New Heart is entertaining, well-written and surprisingly compelling. A recommended, underrated effort from Korean drama.


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