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Na I-jae (Namgoong Min) formerly an emergency specialist and surgeon at Taekang Hospital was falsely accused of  medical malpractice and served out a three-year prison sentence where he cultivated key relationships and began hatching a revenge scheme against those who put him there. Or so it seems. But as the story unfolds, it is not entirely certain that revenge is all he’s after. The “good” doctor apparently has bigger fish to fry. Using his medical skills, mental acuity and a knack for thinking on his feet, Na I-jae sets his sights on being the medical director of one of the largest penitentiaries in Seoul. Why? According to the premise of this drama, the person who runs the medical facility in the prison wields the greatest power. That person has the authority to control the traffic of prisoners in and out of the penitentiary by exploiting his medical expertise. Not long after his release the ethically flexible I-jae uses his seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of medical conditions to enable well-connected inmates to appeal for stays of execution to take advantage of this particular loop hole in the judicial system. Our introduction to how Na I-jae works comes from his interaction with O Jung-hee a wealthy businesswoman who allegedly took out a contract on her ex-husband’s mistress. She escapes a prolonged prison stay when Na I-jae manufactures an illness which provides her with a stay of execution. This lady is happy but completely unaware that this is merely the start to a longwinded transactional relationship between them.

 

Early on Na I-jae targets the second son of the Taekang conglomerate, Lee Jae-hwan (Park Eun-seok) who figures in the doctor’s past. The youngster is a no-good wastrel whose drug habit makes him an easy prey for his older half brother. As he heads towards prison, he falls into the clutches of the soon-to-be medical director of Western Seoul penitentiary. This marks the beginings of the crafty doctor’s grand plan to deal with corruption between colluding forces in medicine and Big Business.

 

Na I-jae’s primary adversaries are the former medical director of Western Seoul Prison, Sun Min-sik (Kim Byung-chul)  and the ambitious scion of Taekang Group, Lee Jae-jun (Choi Won-young). All three actors of course are well-regarded veterans of the screen and they are seem to play up the villainous side of their respective characters with no lack of enjoyment. The main trio are pros in the way they negotiate, transact and play off one against the other with inhuman energy and resolve. Most of the show’s best moments involve these men bluffing like seasoned card sharps in a poker game.

 

At first glance this drama functions as a protracted David and Goliath battle of wits among the the dubious, the devious and the maniacal. Na I-jae, the man is something of a cipher to those around him. One wonders how he managed to transform himself from being a caring ER doctor into a machiavellian power broker almost overnight. One some level he seems rather too eager to walk on the wild side, as someone who is willing to bend the law, play fast and loose with the hippocratic oath to get the job done. His unscrupulous streak is undeniable.All up he's an outlaw, an avenging angel and a glib negotiator. In short an antihero, beautifully played by the immersive Namgoong Min.

 

Namgoong Min has built his career in the last decade playing villains and antiheroes. He does this it seems to me as an actor playing an actor which really suits here. I-jae is a man with many faces and switches roles when the occasion calls for it. A look, a glance, a trademark gesture, a smirk and a death glare. His instincts for the character, in my opinion, are absolutely right on the money. 

 

Na I-jae doesn’t exactly have friends. Perhaps a man in his position can’t afford to. But what he has are allies - an interesting assortment of individuals who throw their lot in with him when they are backed into a corner by his machinations or perceive a common cause when he achieves the right results. One of his most important allies is psychiatrist Han So-geum (Kwon Na-ra) who is searching for her brother Han Bit who seems to have disappeared off the surface of the earth. Han BIt is connected to Taekang and was working as analyst there when the former chairman collapsed in his office. Han So-geum does psychiatric sessions with the mercurial Lee Jae-jun and handily provides insight into his character as Na I-jae adapts his schemes accordingly. A reluctant ally in the cause is Prosecutor Jung Ui-sik (Jang Hyun-sung) who is dragged into the fray  but bread crumbs fed to him by Na I-jae. He throws fake tantrums about being led around but at the end of the day he has enough a conscience to do the right thing. His push and pull with O Jung-hee is hilarious and they end up having the show’s only real romance. 

 

Speaking of Han So-geum and O Jung-hee, the show has a lovely parade of good female characters. It’s the advantage, I think of not having romance front and centre of the interactions. Apart from them, there’s also Lee Jae-in (Lee Dae-in) , the immensely competent sister of Lee Jae-hwan who is  a much better candidate to run the family business. Their mother Mo Yi-ra has her moments. Furthermore Dr Bok Hye-soo, a staff member of the prison becomes an important part of the gang later in the story.

 

Despite the high stakes game that’s being played here, the show has a fun vibe with plenty of laughs to be had. It games plausibility with joyful abandon. At times it’s a little bit Count of Monte Cristo, at other times it feels like Ocean’s 11 or The Italian Job. Some might accuse it of being over-the-top and there’s some obligatory melodrama but I revel in the cleverness of the crazy plot. In a way I'm glad that I watched it after its initial airing. It would have killed me having to wait week after week after the nail-biting, edge-of the seat cliffhangers. Even within each episode there are all kinds of nerve-wrecking moments... and they allow for Na I-jae to show off his adaptability and agility.

 

 

Story/Plot: 9

Storytelling: 10

Acting: 10

Production Values: 10

Rewatch Value: 8

 

 

 

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Currently Watching:  The Veil, Hometown, Da-li and the Cocky Prince, The King's Affection, Truth, Rebirth for You

My Drama Blog

 

"Love is not an affectionate feeling but a steady wish for the loved person's good as far as it can be obtained." -- CS Lewis.

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I loved this drama as well! It definitely was not the drama that I thought it was going to be and dragged my heels quite a lot before I finally binge watched it.

 

It really didn't any romance at all, and it kept me engrossed as plots, counterplots, and the true underlying plots kept unfolding.

 

I've liked Namgoong Min in his more recent work including this and Chief Kim. I think he makes for a scary villain and an amazingly good anti-hero. It's kind of funny because when I see him in an older drama where he is playing the romantic lead or second lead, I kept expecting him to turn evil or at least provide some unexpected twist to upturn the drama. LOL

 

Thanks for the review. I enjoyed it a lot and it reminded me of how much I enjoyed the drama.

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