I’ve never been one for soap operas or outright romances – science fiction or mysteries with a touch of romance as icing have always been my preferred escape mechanisms. However, I found myself fascinated by a Korean drama series recently that makes no logical sense, has plot holes you could drive a snow plow through and doesn’t have many surprises — but which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Spoilers (if they matter) follow.
The 2012 television series is called Faith or The Great Doctor (according to Wikipedia, the title in Korean can mean either). It is about a rather flippant plastic surgeon named Yoo Eun-soo (she became a plastic surgeon because she wasn’t earning enough as a surgeon) who is kidnapped by a warrior from 900 years in the past; he is named Choi Young and looks like a rather serious-faced pop star. He is there because the new queen of Goryeo (later to become Korea) has just been seriously wounded, and Choi Young is told that if he passes through a magical portal, he can bring back a doctor from the heavens to save the queen’s life.
After a good deal of resistance, Eun-soo is finally told that if she saves the queen’s life, she’ll be escorted back through the gate. Unfortunately, the king, a rather insecure young man named Gongmin, decides that having a doctor from heaven is too handy to let go, and orders Young to hold on to her until the gate closes. So she’s stuck. And through 24 one-hour episodes, Eun-soo and Young go through a variety of trials and tribulations while slowly falling in love.
The series can’t seem to decide whether it’s science fiction or fantasy. On the one hand, Eun-soo spends a good deal of time regretting the lack of any kind of modern equipment and researching equivalents, and the “gate to the heavens” can be explained away as some sort of science fictiony time portal.
But then there are the bad guys: the leader, a rich and powerful lord who can kill through some sort of magical touch; his brother, who has long white hair, abnormally acute hearing and the ability to kill by playing his flute (on purpose; he’s really not that bad a musician); and a sexy sister who can burn with her hands or create small fireballs. Everybody else seems to take their abilities as just a part of life, even though nobody else seems to be able to match them.
In the end, you just have to sort of shrug and let it go.
And there are the historical aspects: King Gongmin, Queen Noguk and General Choi Young were real people, and the storyline is careful not to violate the historical record. Which means we know what’s going to happen to them — as does Eun-soo, who spends most of the series trying to avoid changing history (and then, near the end, decides she doesn’t care any more).
All that being said, I found it a delicious fish-out-of-water saga. Eun-soo is a bit irritating in the beginning — compared to the people of Goryeo, who are dealing with life-and-death issues, she seems selfish and a bit silly. However, as the story goes on, and as she begins to understand more of what’s at stake, she becomes more of a player and less of a pawn. (And her breezy nonchalance about the privileges of rank in an extremely class-conscious society is a very funny.)
Choi Young, in the meantime, starts as a humorless warrior who hates his job and and doesn’t care much about his new king, and wants to run away to anonymity as soon as he can. We know (at least, those who’ve studied the history of Korea know) that’s not going to happen, but it’s fun to watch his frustration and slow self-discovery as he deals with Eun-soo’s 21st-century attitudes.
In the end, Faith/The Great Doctor (which is available on Netflix) was addicting, often touching, and simply a huge amount of fun to watch.
One note: The English captions are not the best translations I’ve ever seen, sometimes resulting in rather funny combinations of formal and informal (as in “Those punks are the ones who attacked the Queen!”). But once you get used to it, the meanings seem clear.