Left to right: Ahn Jeong-Won, Kim Jun-Wan, Lee-Ik Jun, Yang Seok-Hyung, and Chae Song-Hwa. (Photo Courtesy of tvN / Netflix)
Arnold O. Beckman High School

Review: ‘Hospital Playlist’ is a new direction to Korean dramas

Writer’s note: this review contains spoilers

Korean dramas currently are at the apex of their industry. Encroaching upon new grounds, these captivating series have made its way to the U.S., mostly through Netflix. I personally love numerous Korean dramas on Netflix as well; from the recent “Crash Landing on You” to “Love Alarm” back in 2017, I’ve watched a handful of dramas to call myself a fan. 

Recently, I’ve been watching one that took a quite different approach to its story plot: “Hospital Playlist.” Released in March 2020, “Hospital Playlist” made its way to being one of the most-watched Korean dramas in South Korea.

Just in the first episode, we are introduced to five friends who knew each other since the start of medical school. As a Korean medical school consists of 6-years, including college and medical school, they practically have known each other for almost 20-years. 

Here’s the gist of the characters.

Kim Joon-Wan (played by Jung Kyoung-Ho), a cardiothoracic surgeon, is caring to the patients and his friends while insensitive to the residents.

Chae Song-Hwa (played by Jeon Mi-Do) is a neurosurgeon, who is the most sensible out of the five and loves to purchase camping supplies in her free time.

Ahn Jung-Won (played by Yoo Yeon-Suk) is a pediatrician who genuinely loves children and has an innate desire to become a priest by attending a theology school in Italy.

Yang Seok-Hyung (played by Kim Dae-Myung) is a mama boy, an OB-GYN surgeon, and lastly, Lee Ik-Jun (played by Jo Jung-Seok) is a general surgeon, who tends to take care of all the comedy in this series.

The introduction of every character was very different; but, the most interesting one for sure was Ik-Jun, as he showed up to the hospital with a Darth Vader helmet, holding his son’s hands, to take on emergency surgery. 

What allows these five characters to be special is their second part-time job. Every week, the friends meet up in a basement to practice as a band. With Ik-Jun as the vocalist, others play their instruments to harmoniously perform South Korean 90s music.

And, this was what grasped the South Korean audience. With almost 20 minutes every episode dedicated to their performances, the series evoked nostalgia among those in a similar age group as the main characters.

In fact, Jo Jung-Seok’s “Aloha,” originally sung by Cool in 2001, stayed first place in the South Korean music chart for weeks, with Jeon Mi-Do’s “I knew I love” ranked in the top five. 

What I loved the most about the “Hospital Playlist” is that there is no typical plot that causes it to be stereotypical and foreseeable. To use “Itaewon Class” as an example, it was quite clear to the audience from the beginning that Park Seroyi would ultimately beat Jang Ga with Dan Bam. And in “Crash Landing on You,” it was quite obvious that Lee Jung-Hyuk and Seri would reunite and live happily-ever-after.

In “Hospital Playlist,” though, there is no typical storyline to follow. Rather, it portrays the characters’ lives as a whole, each day with a new story. The chemistry between the actors is beyond amazing, and countless comedic scenes augment the drama’s greatness. 

This in no way means that “Hospital Playlist” does not contain any romance within its plot. Indeed, several of both main actors and supporting roles sprout love throughout the drama. One main relationship is between Jung-Won and Jang Gyeo-Wool (played by Shin Hyun Bin), a general surgery resident. Extremely close to Lee Ik-Jun, Gyeo-Wool constantly tries to forge connections with Jung-Won but fails to, due to his desire to become a priest.

Another is Jun-Wan’s secret relationship with Ik-Jun’s sister, Lee Ik-Sun (played by Kwak Sun-Young). And lastly, throughout the episodes, Ik-Jun regularly hints at the audience that he likes Song-Hwa but never confirms our predictions with his actions. 

Another important aspect of a profession-focused or culture-focused drama, I believe, is accuracy. Countless Korean physicians, on YouTube, crafted reviews, evaluating the accuracies of different episodes of “Hospital Playlist.” Most conveyed that the patient scenes, emergency scenes, how the characters interact with residents, and far more were extremely accurate.

The YouTubers from DoctorFriends channel said “such a fun and real drama; the story seemed like a real story.” Although some Netflix-users may love the unrealistic nature of several other medical dramas, I truly enjoyed watching “Hospital Playlist” and all its realistic ventures. 

One major factor that augmented my love for this series was the fact that “Hospital Playlist” only aired 1 episode per week, on Thursdays. Though this at times tested my patience, I believe it was an intelligent tactic to remove the tedious aspects.

Ultimately, the surgeons undergo numerous emotional hardships and joyful days to diverge in their own paths as surgeons. 

The last episode concludes on Kyung-Ho, Ik-Jun and Seok-Hyung staying as surgeons at YULJE. Song-Hwa moves to Sokcho to rest a bit and heal her neck disc, and Jung-Won finally falls in love with Gyeo-Wool. Ik-Jun confesses to Song-Hwa as well, and everything ends on a happy note with the five friends meeting up on Christmas, sharing a meal altogether.

My love for “Hospital Playlist” stayed consistent through all 12 episodes aired as every episode contained its own unique factor. I loved Lee Ik-Jun’s childish acts to his friends while being serious to his disheartened patients; I loved Chae Song-Hwa’s love triangle with her resident Ahn Chi-Hong (played by Kim Jun-Han) and Ik-Jun. I loved Yang Seok-Hyung’s impassioned efforts to free his mother from her selfish husband; I loved Ahn Jung-Hwan’s comedic, random praying scenes, internally preparing himself to become a priest; I loved Kim Jun-Wan’s secret dates with Lee Ik-Jun’s sister.

Don’t think of “Hospital Playlist” to be a Korean version of “Grey’s Anatomy;” it is so much more than that. It is a proud continuation of the amazing K-Drama lineup of 2020 and a safe choice for almost anyone that desires a rather short series that is both enjoyable and continuously exciting. 

“Hospital Playlist” also recently announced a season two, which will come out this fall or winter, exciting the current audience, including myself. I can’t wait to see how the story progresses after the characters’ reunion.