dangermousie: (Default)
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I remember loving the 2014 Doctor Stranger a LOT when it first came out, but it's been over four years, the details are fuzzy, and I decided to rewatch.

One episode in, it's as good as I remember. SO GOOD.



One of the reasons it works for me perhaps extra well is because unlike some other kdramas (King 2 Hearts, looking at you), it does not present a weirdly idyllic view of North Korea. As someone who grew up in an (admittedly much more benign) Communist dictatorship, perhaps I relate to feelings of absolute control/party purity/arbitrariness in such a society more than an average viewer. This is the world where Park Hoon's OTP's family can go from trusted apparatchiks to disappeared in the span of a day and nobody ever bothers to explain why because it doesn't matter.

Not that the South is portrayed much better - after all, Park Hoon and his father are stranded in the North because a South politician would rather kill them than share kudos for various things. You can tell from the beginning this drama doesn't plan to take any prisoners.

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I think this is what helps to sell the OTP to me - everything is so bleak and mad, that any shred of love and hope you hold on to as tight as you can. It really helps that they got two major chemistry machines in Lee Jong Suk and Jin Se Yeon (the latter has her detractors but I think she has excellent chemistry with all her leading men, something not many actresses can manage.) They are a certain peaceful, romantic, idyllic haven together.

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And of course at that point they still have optimism not beaten out of them. Though of course, that is such a foreshadowing. Because yes, yes he will.

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But of course, this happens. I love the sheer opera staging of this scene - the floodlight, the fact that she closes her eyes when she kisses him, to shut out the reality and he keeps his open, to drink in every last second of her. (And oh, I love her so - her sweet romantic games disappear in light of the enormity of this - that kiss id their first and last. As far as they know.) And the fact that neither runs from the soldiers - because what would be the point. Running away from college guards is one thing. This - cannot be done. And when she tells him to remember her. Not to find her, but to remember her, because she knows there can be no chance of reunion after this.

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But I think even with this traumatic separation, there was a small chance he could have moved on eventually and lived a life remembering her but not crippled by it. Except the next morning he is taken into a chamber of horrors - an experimental facility where doctors practice medical experiments on people to help with Dear Leader's health. And as he arrives, someone is shot for trying to even go outside. There is no escape.

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(Lee Jong Suk is great - he does that little involuntary flinch so well.) And I think that is why she becomes such a be all and end all for him - it's his reason for clinging to sanity in a slaughterhouse. The reason to continue living as his humanity is leached away.

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Though even at the very beginning of this, he clearly has a deathwish and doesn't care if he lives or dies because he pushes the envelope every time with the air with a man who doesn't care if he dies.

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I mean, he keeps going outside when the first thing he saw was someone shot for it.

And he pushes back, trying to retain at least some humanity. I mean, my God:

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But of course, the father-daughter pair of political prisoners there for medical experiments are...HIS FACE MY GOD HIS FACE!!! And then when he looks at her abused feet and starts crying. I confess I sort of lost it.

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And that's the thing - he loves her truly, yes. But also he is utterly and completely messed up by lack of any sane choices. Deciding to kill your love's father to make her live because the other option is the other way around, especially when you are supposed to be a doctor - trained to help others. That's so many levels of messed up. But as his speech to his father demonstrates, he's had to abandon so much, and do so much horror to survive, so many unforgivable things, that he will not put any morals above his need of her. I always think someone whose whole life is another person and who is willing to do anything for them/that's their whole existence, is not emotionally healthy, and this is a very good example. He is like this with her because he has nothing left.

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Yup, this is him after he killed her father to have her live. This is why the love HAS to be worth it and is the meaning of his existence, in large part - he gave up too much for it not to be. He is so expressive with horror and self-loathing here. I couldn't even enjoy the obligatory shower scene.

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So yes, it really is a story of love being salvation. But the tragedy is how badly they both need this salvation, this forlorn hope.

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This drama is so damn good.
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