For many people, creating a hit TV show is a dream. Why wouldn’t it be? Other than the now endlessly toxic discourse present on social media, being known for creating something genuinely adored by people is the kind of thing millions would aspire towards.
But what if that number of successful projects wasn’t just one? What if it was four? If you’re screenwriter Lee Woo-jung and director Shin Won-ho, then you don’t have to think, dream or aspire. For the uber-successful, revered pairing, a quartet of hits is their reality (for Shin Won-ho, who includes Prison Playbook on his resume, it is five).
That isn’t to say this is anything novel. Of course, there are plenty of directors, filmmakers and everyone in between who release a slew of triumphs, never missing a beat and always creating something which feels fresh and exciting. However, so few capture the sincerity of life, the magic in the mundanity, and the profoundness in tiny details in the way that Lee and Shin do. Their Reply series of shows, a triad of ‘who got the girl?’ stories which become transcendentally about the joy and fuzzy nostalgia of our youthful days, are truly wonderful. Both moving and mirthful, their work defies any cultural boundaries; for every lost in translation reference there is a globally relatable, universal feeling of how we behaved in our adolescence, or the sentiments evoked from things like finding our first loves, flying the nest, and simply just growing up. It encapsulates a time period so many are fortunate to go through in such a grounded but resoundingly affecting way, and rightly remains some of the most highly regarded work in modern Korean television.
More recently, the two have combined on Hospital Playlist, a drama revolving around the lives of five long-term friends who have risen through the ranks and find themselves working at the same hospital together. Oh, and in case there needed to be a bit more spice, the quintet of colleagues happen to have a band together, too.
Here, the subtlety of youth is swapped with the maximalism of a hospital setting. After all, these places are where life begins and ends. Large, and small buildings which see millions of people, some voluntarily, some involuntarily, enter to do anything from deliver a parcel to have a life-threatening tumour removed. Hospitals are hotbeds of life, beacons of hope and yet occasionally begrudging bearers of bad news. They are places of comfort, of gratitude, of grief and of solace.
In Hospital Playlist, you find all of that nuance and more. In a way it’s an amalgamation of the styles of Lee Woo-jung and Shin Won-ho, who successfully manage to blend humour and energy into a show which can, at times, be rather sorrowful and plaintive. It’s an equilibrium between tearful tales and whimsical wit which can be appreciated by all. It doesn’t alienate the viewer with confusing jargon, nor does it lumber them with unrealistic joy. Rather, the director and screenwriter pairing once again excel in bringing out the human side of a sometimes thankless profession, telling the stories of five idiosyncratic people who, for all intents and purposes, are dedicated to helping those who need it.
With that being said, part of the charm does lie in the side to Hospital Playlist which does not revolve around healthcare. Whether it’s the adorable Lee Woo-ju (played by Kim Jun), a pint-sized scene-stealer who truly has some of the funniest one-liners across the entire series, or the farcically poor band practices which are as off-key as they are amusing, there’s something in the trivial sections of the 12-episode run that is consistently endearing. The flawless casting plays a part in this, sure, but just as much credit needs to be afforded to Lee and Shin, who together ensure that there isn’t a wasted second, even through mammoth episode lengths which can stretch close to, or surpass, 90 minutes.
With season two set to arrive on June 17, it wouldn’t come as any surprise to see yet another smash hit on the cards for Lee Woo-jung and Shin Won-ho. If they continue to strike a friendly, accessible balance of laughs and sobs amidst intriguing stories about healthcare and the lives of those involved in it, then it becomes an almost inarguable fact that Hospital Playlist will continue to be a vibrant, fruitful feather in two caps full of them.
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