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Healer – kdrama review

I have always had a soft spot in my geek girl heart for superhero / secret identity / vigilante stories. Healer hit ALL of my favorite story pleasure points and so as a result, I admit I am totally blind to the shortcomings that I know are there.

Essentially, this is a blend of the shows of Daredevil, Person of Interest along with a Lois and Clark romance threaded through the romantic suspense story. Seo Jung Ho (Ji Chang Wook) is the “Healer,” a vigilante for hire who will do anything short of murder. Young Shin (Park Min Young) is a reporter for a celebrity online news site whose DNA he is tasked with grabbing. Things get complicated and Jung Ho ends up going undercover at Young Shin’s news site as the nervous helpless Park Bong Soo. As they stumble upon corruption and conspiracy in their investigations, they soon discover that they have a shared past.

I’m pretty sure that this going to be one of my favorite K-Dramas of all time. The actor Ji Chang Wook does an AMAZING job of portraying the bad ass Batman-like character of Healer and his dorky Clark Kent civilian identity, sometimes within seconds of the same scene. His expression changes, his body language changes, all within split seconds. And Ji Chang Wook is totally one of those actors who acts with his eyes. Every flickering angst of emotion is in there, especially in the phone conversations with Young Shin where he’s delighted to talk to her as Bong Soo, but then realizes that she has a crush on his Healer alter-ego.

In this review I’m only going to talk about how this show does such an excellent job with the use of motif to underscore the recurring themes of the story. (For a truly amazing comprehensive analysis of this show, check out FangirlVerdict’s Healer review here).

When the story opens, Jung Ho’s goal is to make enough money to buy an island where he’ll live by himself far away from people. There’s a wildlife documentary featuring a leopard in the background, and as you watch, you realize that Jung Ho is that solitary wild animal, unaccustomed to human society because of his bizarre solitary upbringing and training. (After his father died mysteriously, his mother remarried and his father’s martial arts master buddy brought him up, teaching him parkour and how to fight). After he turned 18, his teacher left him a suitcase full of porn as a farewell gift and left. Aside from the hacker Jo Minja (who Jung Ho calls Ajumma,  which means “older auntie,” in Korean and is a more a form of address, like Ms.,) who Jung Ho has never met despite working with her for the last 7 years, Jung Ho has basically been on his own as the Healer.

So when Young Shin grabs his hand when he is in his Clark Kent mode, it’s probably the first time he’s had human contact with that didn’t involve fighting. Later, when Young Shin blindfolds herself to talk to the Healer on the rooftop, she grabs his bare hand. There’s a moment of connection, one that is completely confusing to her later when she accidentally grab’s Bong Sow’s hand. Later, when the Healer agrees to a “date,” (because Jung Ho plans to reveal himself), there’s a moment in which Jung Ho is standing in the shadows by a doorway and she’s on her way out. Jung Ho grabs her hand, and they just stand there holding hands, him in the shadows, her looking towards the light. He’s not wearing a disguise, waiting for her to pull him into the light and finally see him for who he is.

But she never looks because that’s what she promised him. She’s, determined to show that she accepts him for who he is, secrets and all.

Plot happens and eventually Young Shin realizes just who Clark Kent really is but rather than confronting him, there’s this fascinating conversation where all the meaning is in the subtext. She tells him she’s angry, but that someone probably has a good reason for their secrets and that she’s going to be patient and wait. Clark Kent is so deliciously torn which makes for this delicious blocking of their movements when she walks away from him. As she does, he makes up his mind to reach behind him for her hand, but of course he reaches for her just a little too late.

But that set up in turn makes how they come together that much more meaningful. When Jung Ho’s teacher takes Jung Ho’s place and allows himself to be captured and killed, Jung Ho is shaking with rage, and ready to take off to kill his teacher’s killer.  Only Ajumma’s warning that doing so puts Young Shin’s biological mom (who Young Shin doesn’t know) at risk, keeps him from going. He has no idea how to deal with his rage and pain (at one point earlier in the series, Ajumma asks Jung Ho’s teacher if Jung Ho is autistic as they suspect, and the response is that Jung Ho will be fine), and so retreats to his secret hideout in an abandoned building, where he turns off all his connections, unplugs his phone and is completely unreachable.

Ajumma is worried and thus knows that the only person who might have a chance of reaching Jung Ho (and getting through his traps to his secret lair) is Young Shin. 

Plucky Young Shin (with Ajumma’s help) gets in and finds Jung Ho in bed, but so cold. She curls up with him under the covers to try to get him warm. Later when he wakes up, he’s intent on throwing her out, but he’s so weak from not eating he can’t. He keeps trying to get rid of her, telling her she doesn’t know who he really is or what he’s been keeping from her, or how he could hurt her. 

But in one of my favorite moments of this series, she hugs him. At first he doesn’t respond, but he’s been so starved of human touch, that he can’t help but hug her back. Tears fall from his eyes, and they kiss ::swoon:: 

We then cut to the next morning with some lovely cuddles (yes the implication is that they’ve slept together, yes before Young Shin even knows his real name). But later when they get out of bed, Jung Ho is so happy and amazed, partially unconvinced that she isn’t just a dream that he can’t stop touching her. Actually, he’s more like a human blanket, draping himself over her every chance he can get - when she’s tending to his wound, when she’s cooking. Normally I’d be like WTF (because I’m at the point in my relationship where I'm like WHY ARE YOU IN MY WAY WHEN I’M COOKING) but because there was this thematic emphasis on how touch-starved Jung Ho was, it worked. 

Other things I really liked:

-Ajumma-hacker Jo Min-ja - the bad ass superhero’s brilliant hacker partner is a caustic older woman with big hair and funky socks who knits while planning heists. She’s gruff but really does care about Jung Ho. I could devote a whole entire blog post to the awesomeness of Ajumma


-The ending of the long conspiracy circle running the country seemed kind of rushed.

-The love that Jung Ho showed his mom was adorable. HOWEVER (This is probably more of cultural thing) the fact that she felt she had to leave Jung Ho to be raised by a random friend of her dead husband in an abandoned building so that she could be remarried and start a new family was just not satisfying to me at all. There was a scene in which step dad confronts Jung Ho that I found rather strange. I don’t know. But young Jung Ho definitely deserved better than to be left by practically every adult who was supposed to take care of him. 

I know that the Korean domestic audience did not embrace this show because in part they found it too predictable. And I suppose that is true, if you are viewing from a romantic suspense genre type of angle. But I wonder if because superhero / vigilante tropes are more common in American culture? I found that the 20 episode format forced a reckoning when it came to Healer’s secret identity much more quickly than say, an American superhero show like Green Arrow (which has multiple seasons to run). 

Anyways, if you love a Clark Kent / Lois Lan secret identity dynamic to your romance, Healer is definitely going to satisfy that craving. In the U.S., it's available on Viki. 

She Was Pretty (Kdrama review)

My pandemic discovery has been a new love for K-dramas - that is tv dramas from Korea. I have little Korean language experience (other than a brief trip for 2 weeks to visit an expat buddy teaching English, and living in Queens, NY lol) however the stories and humor in K-dramas are totally universal, but yet are told a bit differently than they would be in Western media. As a writer, I’m interested in different methods of storytelling, so every once in awhile, I’m probably going to start posting some thoughts about the different shows I’ve been watching. 

A K Drama starring Park Seo Joon, Hwang Jung Eum, Go Joon Hee, Choi Siwon


I really enjoyed this office romantic comedy that twisted the ugly duckling trope! Other tropes features in this show are childhood friends/reunion, switched identities, office romance, little of enemies to lovers, as well as a sort-of-love triangle.

When Kim Hye Jin (played by Hwang Jung-eum) was the pretty girl at school, she befriend a fat shy kid named Seung-Joon who lived next door. After his family moved to America, they lost touch. Fast forward to the present day where Hye Jin has lost her looks (according to Korean standards, which means she now has fluffy curly hair, ruddy cheeks and freckles) is a 30 year old unemployed woman trying desperately to get a job. 

When Seung-Joon returns from America on a visit and calls Hye Jin to meet him Hye Jin readily agrees. She's looking forward to seeing her old friend again. But when Seung Joon (played by the ever swoon-worthy Park Seo-Joon) shows up he’s a tall, hot clearly well dressed man, and walks right past her. Desperate not to let her old friend see how much she’s sunken in beauty and status, Hye Jin asks her best friend / roommate Ha Ri (Go Joon Hee) to pretend to be here for that one meeting. By Korean beauty standards Ha Ri is a knock-out with her big wide eyes, v-shaped chin, pale skin and slender figure, and so it would be logical for Seung Joon to think that’s how she grew up.  Seung Joon, contrary to what Hye Jin thought, is back in Korea to stay for awhile, and wants to rekindle his friendship with his childhood friend Hye Jin.  Ha Ri (pretending to be Hye Jin) is utterly charmed by how Seung Joon treats her: like a person and not just a pretty thing. 

(Look at Seung-Joon, played by Park Seo Joon, all grown up!)

Meanwhile Hye Jin does manage to find a job as a lowly intern (hired precisely because of her unremarkable looks - the manager says pretty girls leave after a year to get married but who would want to marry her?). She ends up being transferred to the very fashion magazine that Seung Joon has come to Korea to take charge of.

Like in the K-drama office romcom What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim (one of my favorite K-dramas ever), the actor Park Seo Joon does an great job of playing a tough aggressive boss here in She was Pretty. Watching She Was Pretty, you totally see why he did such an amazing job in What’s wrong with Secretary Kim. However in this one, Park Seo Joon’s character, Seung Joon is a bit more vulnerable. He is the definition of all work and no play, and has no family, no friends in Korea, and is so demanding on his employees that he comes off almost as a toxic boss.  I have to admit in the first few episodes I thought Seung Joon was just too mean and was rooting for Hye Jin NOT to end up with him. Seung Joon had no compassion at all for Hye Jin’s mistakes as the new intern, and constantly demeaned and belittled her in front of the entire office. To be fair, that is also common practice in Asian workplaces, so perhaps it’s just my American sensibilities sticking out.  (but of course there are  backstory reasons for Seung Joon’s intensely pressured behavior.. But I also thought Hye Jin’s antics and mistakes were perhaps a bit too over the top; I mean if I were her boss, I would be just as frustrated as Seung Joon. 

Of course, it doesn’t help that Ha Ri continues to secretly pretend to be Hye Jin to meet Seung Joon on the side. 

It’s the secondary characters, I think that really elevate this K-drama, in particular:


The friendship between Hye Jin and Ha Ri, I think is what sets this apart from so many other romcoms I’ve seen.  I really wanted to hate Ha Ri; after all she’s the pretty girl, who gets ALL the guys, a rich girl who had her job, apartment and everything handed to her by her chaebol father. But  she’s also someone who is deeply insecure and lonely — Hye Jin is really her only family. Later when Ha Ri’s subterfuge is discovered, Hye Jin, despite being furious (and in throes of developing awkward feelings for Seung Joon), understands why Ha Ri did what she did. Ha Ri realizes how much she hurt her friend and is deeply upset at herself. I have to admit, at first I didn’t buy Ha Ri’s regret because I wanted to see her suffer. But Ha Ri uses this as her transformational moment to realize she has never really had to struggle for most things in her life, and she decides to sell all her things, cut up the cards her dad gave her and figure out what to do for herself on her own. In the end, I love that the friendship between the heroine and Ha Ri remained strong as ever. 

Kim Shin-Hyuk (played by a very hot Choi Si Won)  is the secondary male lead. He’s a cross between the quirky jokester and cinnamon roll hero. What I love about him is that he ends up befriending supposedly ugly duckling Hye Jin BEFORE the makeover / transformational moment that you know is coming. (In fact, afterwards he’s like NO! What did you do to your freckles your best feature?) He genuinely likes Hye Jin as a person. But he’s also a trickster in that annoying middle-school boy way of teasing her to get a rise out of her. Sometimes it works, and sometimes, I thought wow he was being a total jerk. But in the end, even though he really wants Hye Jin to “look at him” (as he says to her when she’s asleep at her desk after working past a deadline), he pushes her towards Seung Joon because he knows that’s what she really wants (even though his heart is breaking). In the middle episodes, I REALLY wanted Hye Jin to get together with Shin Hyuk but the continuing middle school jokey-ness of his character sort of put me off.

Ultimately of course, Seung Joon figures out who his childhood friend really is — that it’s the clumsy intern he hated at first but has grown to really like. And this is where I really thought this show took a step upward. He falls for Hye Jin, not just because they had a shared childhood friendship, but because he genuinely enjoys her personality as an adult. Moreover when Hye Jin has that requisite makeover/transformational moment, it’s for herself and her own self-confidence for work, NOT to get Seung Joon’s attention. In fact, when Hye Jin gets the makeover, you get the sense that Seung Joon still sees her exactly the same way as before. And once they do get together, two two are ABSOLUTELY adorable. By the final episode, all that’s left is the most perfect buttercream frosting epilogue HEA for Hye Jin and Seung Joon. 

Spoilery thoughts about what also set this series apart (highlight to read): 

-Seung Joon’s total support for Hye Jin to pursue her dream career apart from him, even though it means that she won’t be coming to America with him and that they have to be apart from each other for a year. The epilogue seems like it’s buttercream frosting for a romance (and it is) but underlying this light rom com is Hye Jin’s search to figure out what she wants to do with her life. There’s a voiceover by Hye Jin that talks about realizing that being “pretty” is about doing what you love, and at the end of the series, she’s very clearly doing that

-Seung Joon’s opinion of Hye Jin doesn’t really seem to change when she undergoes the “makeover / transformation,” it’s her personality that captivated him. Moreover, it’s clear that at the end of the series, when Hye Jin reverts back to her “ugly duckling” looks with her fluffy curly hair and no more makeup, Seung Joon loves her just as much. Because Hey Jin has found something she loves to, and someone to love, she’s as beautiful as ever. 

-The marriage proposal between Seung Joon and Hey Jin was absolutely adorable. And wow Park Seo Joon is really good at pushing a girl up against the wall and kissing her lol.

Nobody in this romcom is an evil antagonist; everyone is trying to genuinely trying find themselves, find love and happiness as best they can. It’s light, it’s fluffy, fun, and everything I want a romcom to be. If you liked Park Seo Joon in What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim, I would definitely watch this one. (On Viki).