Roundtable: “Dr. Brain”

Roundtable: Dr. Brain

Sam Olsen from The Guardian’s Arts & Entertainment partakes in a global press roundtable for Apple TV+’s “Dr. Brain,” a new Korean series from Director Kim Jee-Woon.

The UCSD Guardian interviewed Director Kim Jee-Woon and the cast of Apple TV+’s first Korean title “Dr. Brain.” Kim Jee-Woon, Lee Sun-Kyun, Lee You-Young, Park Hee-Soon, Seo Jihye, and Lee Jae-Won all delve into the production process and the decisions that had to be made in order to adapt the story from a popular Korean webtoon of the same name by Hongjacga. 

“Dr. Brain” follows the story of neuroscientist Sewon Koh, played by Lee Sun-Kyun, who’s also known for his role as the affluent father in Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite. Sewon is a victim of tragedy at a young age, having witnessed his mother’s death. His ability to remember this moment in great detail is what sparked his interest in memories and consciousness.

Sewon develops a method to access memories and consciousness of another individual, a process which he calls ‘brain sync.’ Sun-Kyun clarified that brain sync is “more than simply obtaining memory, even the emotions and the character, or habits, of the other person is transferred to myself.” Sun-Kyun also mentioned the conversation he had with director Jee-Won in which Sun-Kyun compared brain sync to “the airdrop function of Apple devices.”

Being that Sewon is described by Sun-Kyun as “a character who can’t empathize with others,” many may draw the connection to his role in “Parasite” where he played the apathetic father of an upper class family. Where Sewon differs is that, “after having brain syncs he understands other people’s feelings and realizes he has this deficiency [in emotion] and he hasn’t been a good father or a good family to his family members,” making him a compelling character to follow as he evolves.

The main story in the original webtoon was much more linear and straightforward as Sewon’s main characteristics and invention of brain sync was used by him to aid in the solving of various murder cases. Kim Jee-Won was tasked with developing this core concept a bit further to engage the audience for six, one-hour long episodes. Being that he is known as a key part of the renaissance of Korean cinema and has been noted as the ‘master of genre films,’ Jee-Won was able to evolve the webtoon by adding new elements to the murder-mystery genre. When asked what makes “Dr. Brain” different from other Korean dramas, he stated that, “This is a murder mystery-thriller but, it’s also a sci-fi series because it’s based on brain science and Sewon goes through multiple brain syncs. He also tries to find peace with himself through these brain syncs so this is also an emotional human drama.” Jee-won mentioned that “while the webtoon is more fast paced and about the mystery and the murder mystery, the show adds more layers to it, for example, family tales, more meaning, and there is a more heartwarming feeling to it.”

Lee You-Young portrays Sewon’s wife, Jaeyi Jung, who is in a coma after being consumed by depression following the loss of her and Sewon’s son. Though not in the original webtoon, Jaeyi is “a very strong mother figure and at the same time a kind and supportive wife to Sewon.” Her heart wrenching performance lends itself to strengthening the theme of family, which becomes more apparent as Sewon gains empathy through his brain syncs.

Park Hee-Soon is introduced as private investigator Kangmu Lee who was hired by Junki, a mysterious man with a past connection to Jaeyi. Hee-Soon said his character of Kangmu “in the original webtoon is a mysterious and charismatic man, but in the series you can see some humanity in him.” He stated, “Myself and the director would share a lot of conversations to make sure that was accomplished.”

Then enters Seo Ji-Hye and her role as detective Lieutenant Choi. Investigating Sewon as a person of interest in the murder of the mystery man Junki, Sewon uses brain sync in attempt to clear his name and find the truth. She said Lieutenant Choi “is a very strong and cold headed person but as she and Sewon try to uncover the case together,  I wanted to make sure I could also express the soft and compassionate side of Lieutenant Choi.”

When asked about the believability of the science shown in the series, Kim Jee-won responded, “Based on the research by [consulting brain scientist] Dr. Jaeseung Jeong I tried to put this unimaginative idea into something that’s more realistic.” He said, “I used a lot of scientific hypotheses to try to add authenticity to our work.”

Over the course of six episodes the audience sees the growth of Sewon, and Sun-Kyun stated that, “I think he starts off as a cold hearted person but he ends on a passionate note.” The emotional growth Sewon goes through is not a lone journey as the supporting characters add their own element of drama, mystery, and even comedy over the course of the series. 

Kim Jee-won’s talent for reworking and mixing genres makes “Dr. Brain” a show for a wide variety of fans to enjoy. Kim Jeewon noted that  “this is my first foray into serialized television and I shot it as if it was a film” which lends itself for fans to indulge in one entertaining binge night.

With Korean entertainment rising in popularity on a global scale — most notably with the recent success of Netflix’s “Squid Game” — the accessibility streaming services give audiences to foreign works is changing the entertainment industry before our eyes.

“For us previous dramas or films first premieres in Korea and only when it receives a positive response it is introduced overseas,” Park Hee-soon stated, “but through OTT platforms these contents can simultaneously drop throughout the world in every country around the world.”

“I hope,” Hee-Soon continued, “that by taking this opportunity, we get to showcase more K-Content and great K-Drama to the global audiences.”

Director: Kim Jee-won
Starring: Lee Sun-kyun, Lee You-Young, Park Hee-soon, Seo Ji-hye, and Lee Jae-won
Release Date: Weekly starting 11/04/2021
Rated: TV-MA

Image courtesy of TV Insider.

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