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Netflix’s Korean Drama “Life”: A Review

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“To whom does your soul belong: the wealthy or the people

This is another Korean drama airing on Netflix. Originally produced by JTBC, Life depicts the story of public-spirited doctors and nurses against a corporate machine whose CEO’s sole goal is enormous profits, regardless of the consequences to everyone else, from hospital staff to the public.

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As the story unfolds, a large amount of corruption exists within the university hospital which has been kept out of the public eye. When confronted with this information by their new corporate masters, most fold. Yet, some doctors maintain their the personal ethics and integrity to fight back, believing that the medical profession should put patients’ medical care above profit.

Cho Seung-Woo, most recently of Stranger fame, as Koo Seung-Hyo, plays the part of the new hospital president, recognizing that the hospital is awash in red ink, seeks to turn the hospital finances around while at the same time increase corporate profits through some fairly shady means…while at the same time he becomes increasingly disenchanted by the corporation to which he’s given his allegiance. Bit by bit, over time, he becomes influenced by the doctors’ principled stance.

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Lee Dong Wook becomes one of Koo Seung-Hyo’s primary foes but who throughout remains confused as to what his primary nemesis, the new President, seeks to attain. He doesn’t necessarily appear to see the man as greedy and corrupt, but he’s not quite sure what game the man is playing. One day, he appears to be on the side of the hospital staff; the next on the side of the corporation.

Adding to Koo Seung-Hyo’s confusion is that fact that he learns from his paraplegic younger brother, Ye Sun-Woo, that the previous hospital director, whom Koo loved like a second father, placed government subsidy money into his personal bank account. Koo Seung-Hyo wants to know why that money was siphoned off and to what purpose, which leads him to do his own investigating…only to discover that the director’s death may not have been as reported. As for Ye Sun Woo, he uncovers not only where the embezzled money went but also the medical scam being perpetrated by the assistant hospital director, thus forcing the President, almost against his will, to relieve the man of his position and duties.

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The only person in the hospital capable of standing up to the new President…and figuring him out…is the newly elected hospital director Oh Se-Hwa, played by Moon So-Ri, whom the department heads chose. Although she was perceived the dark horse in the election, no other candidate has her strength of character, spirit and spine. She forces her will on everyone, including the new President, with whom she not only works but often dominates in their confrontations.

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Numerous other characters, with their own motives,are involved in this complex plot that pits corporate profit against human needs…and human love. As the battle rages within the non-profit university hospital, we see the two sides – corporate profits (and greed) versus humanitarianism – in stark relief.

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Few of the hospital’s department heads are innocent of one immoral crime or another, including a suspected murder, which leads the viewer to the obvious belief most of the department heads need to be replaced. But for all the greed that the hospital’s department heads engaged in, they all come together to fight against the greed of the corporation and its somewhat illegal tactics to turn the non-profit hospital into a money-making machine that caters to the wealthy at the expense of everyone else in the community.

This drama series exemplifies why I enjoy Korean dramas so much more than American TV. Unlike American TV, Korean dramas don’t rely upon a Marvel Comic Book hero to come and save everyone from the villain. Instead, Korean dramas rely upon ordinary human beings fighting back against the wrongs, greed and corruption Koreans have long seen within their own society and history. These dramas not only exhibit the multiple forms of greed and corruption that exists, but also the bravery, courage, integrity, and honor of those who fight back to create a better, more fair and decent Korean society for all.

As an aside, these kinds of dramas probably contributed to the massive protests against incompetence and corruption exhibited the Park Administration that led to its downfall. As American history notes, the popularity of early 1930s films in which pitted the average, hardworking, honerable person against the ego-entric wealthy undoubetdly helped FDR pass his legistation.

As Abraham Lincoln famously implied, you can only fool all the people for so long. Once the people’s blinders are lifted, they then will rise up against the greed for money, power and prestige as well as the corruption that they see surrounding them…even in such a seemingly mall place as a public hospital where greed, in all of its multiple forms, and profits are pitted against the public good.

Life is definitely worth watching.

Written by Valerie Curl

September 20, 2018 at 6:09 PM

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