‘Doctor Slump’ K-Drama review: Park Shin-hye and Park Hyung-sik shine in a show about friendship, love, and healing

During a heartfelt exchange with her mother, after learning of her mental health struggles, Nam Ha-neul (played by Park Shin-hye) admits she has overextended herself, contributing to her psychological distress. Her mother (portrayed by Jang Hye-jin), however, struggles with comprehension and instead highlights her own efforts, insisting on her parental adequacy.

The recently aired K-drama ‘Doctor Slump’ takes an intimate look at the challenges of mental wellbeing, societal stressors, and the path toward recovery, centering on the lives of Ha-neul and Yeo Jeong-woo (portrayed by Park Hyung-sik), one-time high school rivals and top students who cross paths once more later in life.

Jeong-woo, a tremendously successful aesthetic surgeon, must confront his life falling apart when he faces accusations of medical misconduct. Embroiled in a significant lawsuit and public scrutiny, Jeong-woo relocates to a modest rooftop apartment managed by the family of his old high school adversary, Ha-neul. Concurrently, Ha-neul, a dedicated anesthetist routinely belittled at her workplace, confronts her own crisis of burnout, with no respite outside of her job. This eventually takes a toll on her physical health, leading her to an unexpected depression diagnosis. Initially, Ha-neul rejects her physician’s counsel to rest, and her family’s lack of understanding further amplifies her challenges.

Ha-Neul’s family rally around her, and play a major part in her healing journey

Ha-Neul’s family gather in support, significantly contributing to her journey toward recovery.

One of the narrative’s most compelling aspects delves into Ha-neul’s kin dynamics. Her mother, haunted by memories of their move from Busan to Seoul so Ha-neul could pursue her medical dreams, finds it unbearable to accept her daughter’s struggle. Amid the family’s initial denial and overcompensation, they experience a turning point, with the mother eagerly studying healthy diets and making sure Ha-neul’s living space is bathed in sunlight and natural greenery, sending a message that health triumphs over success.

Contrastingly, Jeong-woo is left to grapple with his crisis alone and uncovers that his childhood adversary Ha-neul may be the steadfast support he needs amidst his traumatic experiences.

Ha Neul and Jeong Woo embark on a transformative journey of healing and self-discovery

Ha Neul and Jeong Woo embark on a transformative journey of healing and personal discovery.

K-dramas often revisit high school romances that reconnect protagonists in adulthood, whether through straightforward storytelling or nostalgic recollections. ‘Doctor Slump’ keeps Jeong-woo and Ha-neul’s adolescent rivalry confined to the drama’s early stages. While their past does reemerge at times, it thankfully remains minimal as the series moves forward, and their initial skirmishes quickly evolve into a meaningful friendship and camaraderie. They journey together for sunrise viewings, collaborate to tackle Jeong-woo’s legal concerns, and discover solace in each other’s company, for both therapeutic dialogue and companionship. When their romance blossoms, it feels like a sincere culmination of their shared development and close bond.

‘Doctor Slump’ (Original Korean Title)

Director: Oh Hyung-jong

Episodes: 16

Runtime: Approximately one hour each

Cast: Park Hyung-sik, Park Shin-hye, Yoon Park, Gong Seong-ha

Synopsis: Two former high school rivals cross paths again as adults and navigate the intricacies of life, love, and the healing process.

The dark undertones of Min Kyung-min (portrayed by Oh Dong-min), a friend of Jeong-woo with ominous motives, pose significant obstacles to the characters’ journeys toward healing, sometimes even resulting in the typical mid-series breakup. Yet, the show works through these challenges swiftly, leaving viewers with minimal tension toward the end. This abrupt resolution might have been more effective if the series had chosen to focus solely on being a romantic comedy or a tale of personal healing; but as it stands, the narrative seems somewhat indecisive in its direction.

Within the numerous intertwining stories, the tender romance that blossoms between Jeong-woo’s colleague Bin Dae-young (portrayed with heartfelt sincerity by Yoon Park) and Ha-neul’s acquaintance Lee Ho-ran (a compelling Gong Seong-ha), resonates deeply and inspires a desire for these characters to have had a larger slice of the limelight from the beginning, rather than being introduced more prominently towards the end.

Dr Bin and Dr Lee play supportive friends, who are also navigating life and relationships as single parents

Dr Bin and Dr Lee play supportive friends, who are also navigating life and relationships as single parents

The series generally handles mental health issues with care, but Ha-neul’s concluding session with her psychiatrist seems oddly placed. The story has shown psychological healing as a gradual process, presenting the lives of those involved as ongoing and developing, which makes the final statement on her wellbeing feel unnecessary and out of sync with the rest of the narrative.

Even though the series experiences a slowdown after the tenth episode, lead performers Park Hyung-sik and Park Shin-hye give viewers compelling reasons to continue watching. Both display exceptional talent, portraying their characters convincingly both as teenagers and modern-day medical professionals faced with complex challenges. Following his reserved but intense performance in the survival drama Happiness, Hyung-sik exudes charm and a natural comedic flair reminiscent of his character in Strong Girl Bong Soon. Park Shin-hye equally shines in a role seemingly tailor-made for her, capturing the essence of Ha-neul through poignant expressions and genuine emotional depth.

For those who have been fans of K-Dramas for some time, the nostalgic reunion of two actors from the beloved drama The Inheritors in Doctor Slump as the lead roles is a comforting touch. The show, with all its qualities and minor flaws in pacing, is surely inviting for long-time viewers and likely to impress new audiences alike.

Doctor Slump is available for streaming in full on Netflix.

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