This series examines the hospital as a breeding ground for misuse of power. It is a place of conflicting interests and clashing egos. The doctors have the power to save lives, but the board has the power to kill doctors. In a building supposedly dedicated to the public’s health, it’s the personal vendettas that fuel people to get up in the morning.
Cast & Credits
Primarily a dialogue drama that is relatively slow-paced. I wouldn't recommend it for viewers who are impatient and want a lighthearted watch. The show focuses on business, politics, and societal issues in South Korea. Having lived in Korea, Life is so real that it hurts sometimes. If you liked Stranger, chances are you will love Life.
Following her first megahit drama, Stranger, writer Lee Soo Yeon brings us a refreshing drama that touches on societal problems while bringing to question how one's life should be lived and valued. This drama is entirely business, political and psychological, with surprisingly minimal medical scenes despite taking place within a university hospital. Unlike Stranger, there is moderate romance involved but it is definitely woven into the story without ruining the dark bureaucratic atmosphere. Moreover, rather than focusing on mysterious deaths (which is the opening scene), Life depicts the struggles of just your average-day life from numerous different perspectives.
I tend to stay away from medical dramas where nothing much really happens besides some overreaction with a patient dying and the heroes coming to say the day. Medical dramas are boring to me. But Life is completely different and kept me captivated the entire ride without a single moment of boredom. You know when you have snacks to eat when you watch a show, and by the time the drama ends you ate it all without realizing? Well when I watched Life, all my snacks were left untouched because I had to give the drama my undivided attention.
What makes one Life one of the best dramas I have ever seen is how they portray a certain situation or community problem from angles. Most dramas have a clear villain, a clear hero protagonist who will save the day, and the thin line between good and evil is easily distinguishable. Life shines all characters in a favorable and negative light at the exact same time. In the beginning, from one perspective, it's easy to characterize a person as "bad" for reasons such as "greedy" or "heartless." But then when you look at it from their perspective, there is no true right decision or wrong decision. Life really makes you confused and hating a character yet understanding and loving the same character at the same time. And I'm not talking about the bullshit kdrama "oh this handsome serial killer was neglected as a child so it's totally understandable for him to torture and murder people" type of understanding.
The beginning of Life starts out slow, especially in the first episode. But the beginning episodes lay out the political and business foundation that the rest of the story will revolve around. It's important to really comprehend what the problem at hand is in the beginning or else the characters and the ending will be pretty damn confusing. The story is brilliantly written and all the mysteries are woven together with little to no plot-holes left behind. The characters are well-drawn out, and the complexity of each person's position brings to light the different pains people have in their daily lives. Even if you're not a doctor, I think the daily struggles that these doctors have generalize to everyone who feels like life can be hard and distressing at times. The ending of the drama... Oh my god the ending. It's one of the best endings I have ever seen.
If you want to get pretentiously deep, Life does debate a lot of moral themes. Some themes I observed were:
What makes one person's life more meaningful or successful than another persons?
What makes one person a "good" person, and another a "bad person." What's the criteria of judgement?
Should all people be treated equal? Or should discretion based on circumstances rule (individual bias good or bad)?
Legality or Morality? Should we follow all procedures by the law or use our own moral judgement?
What's more important, the discovery of the truth or resolution of conflict?
Acting was phenomenal 10/10. I must say, the cast was one of the most stacked casts I have ever seen.
Yes, Lee Dong Wook was a bit underwhelming, but that's okay. I think he played his character well (his character wasn't a charismatic character, not much he can do).
Cho Seung Woo is a phenomenal actor and I felt like was clearly the main character of Life over Lee Dong Wook. I personally don't think Korean actors are the best at acting, but Cho Seung Woo is just brilliant. His acting in Life may very well have exceeded his acting in Stranger which is saying something!
It's time for Yoo Jae Myung to get a main character role. He has proven his brilliant acting again and again.
Lee Kyu Hyung takes on such interesting roles in all his dramas (Haerong in Prison Playbook) and Life was no different. You'll love him in this drama. He actually plays two characters, you'll see what I mean.
The rest of the cast, Moon So Ri, Cheon Ho Jin, Moon Sung Geun... just stacked I tell you. The acting matched the loftly quality of the drama.
Honestly the worst thing about this drama was the music, and the music was pretty good too. Just nothing that stood out that much to me other than that obnoxious loud "epic" boom soundtrack when the end of the episode draws near. I suppose Han Dong Geun's OST 1 "Home" was really good but it never really played during the show. Now that I think of it, because this drama was mostly a dialogue show, there wasn't as much music that played between scenes compared to other kdramas.
This is one of the rare dramas where I give the re-watch value a 10/10 because the mysterious death isn't the important point in this drama. It's about problems in society (particularly in the bureaucratic Korean society) and how different people, given their different positions, have different perspectives on how to solve the problem. In the process, how people view themselves as right and good, while viewing others with different opinions as wrong and bad. I think a lot can be learned about psychologically or at least thought about by watching Life. I think this drama would be just as interesting the second time around. It was a complex drama for sure, so watching it again would also clarify a lot of things for me.
Masterpiece! Thank you to everyone who produced this enlightening drama!
This drama was on my radar ever since I heard about it after Stranger. Writer Lee Soo Yeon and Cho Seung Woo together could not go wrong! And I was right. This drama is excellent because it managed to get the point across and question our society despite being and extremely difficult topic to tackle without inducing snores. . Where else can you make a drama that questions nature of medical services, politics, capitalism and society's treatment of person with physical disabilities and still make it interesting! That has to count for effort but it delivers excellence with writing, acting and direction. The relationship between the Ye brothers is to watch out for. The story that Ye brothers carry is just heartwarming. The treatment of Ye sun Woo by his brother and those in his circle is the something that needs to be seen. Its eye opening and uncomfortable to watch but it deserves the empathy it gets. Also, not to be forgotten this drama is heavier on romance than Stranger. But considering it was nonexistent in Stranger, I guess the writer threw us a bone that I gladly chewed. The ending is nicely and realistically tied up without going overboard that dramas usually go for.
Overall, the story may not be for everyone but if you enjoy a charcater driven story, this one is for you. What can be a boring story about politics is made alive with nuanced characters with shadows of past in driving their story of growth.
Mr. Gu as a character was one of the best characters that I have seen in Kdramas. He is a brilliant as President of Sangook University Hospital, who as an audience you try to dislike because of the nature of his job compared to the doctors, but he is rational and humane. He is a corporate slave who tries to do what is right and questions the doctors on their God Complex while delivering profits to the Corporate Overlord using the hospital. It sounds complex because he is complex yet highly admirable.
The doctors are varying shades of grey characters. The almost white as his coat character is Dr Joo who is what we think an ideal doctor and human should be. He works to save lives and steps in when needed.
The one character that is also brilliantly written Dr Oh se-Hwa. It is rare to find a female character that is badass in a no nonsense way. She is self centered and ambitious and when she goes head to head with Mr.Gu or anyone trying to undermine her...Boy! Beware.
The acting carried the show just as much as the writing. Given to lesser actors, the characters would have come across as stoic and impossible to read.
Cho Seung Woo is brilliant as his character. It was possible to read his inner thoughts in any situation with just a few muscle movements on his face. He is one actor who delivers excellence in subtlety that is expected of the character and then some more.
Lee Kyu Hyung as Dr. Ye Sun Woo was just as amazing as he is in previous works. His emotions were so raw at times. He carried the character like a skin.
Yoo Jae Myung As Dr Joo...Just give that man a leading role already. Nuff said.
Lee Dong Wook as Dr Ye Jin woo is underwhelming and the weakest link. Considering he is the main lead, its slightly disappointing. His acting seems green compared to the rest of the cast who never made me doubt their existence as the characters themselves. He got overshadowed by the acting chops of rest of the cast.
One of the things that turned out to be a pet peeve of mine is his comedy. He does stoic well enough but the understated comedy that is required to lighten the dark tones of the drama is just not for him. His face contorts and somersaults and basically goes overboard to convey the comedy which is just cringy to watch. Its the only reason to not give the entire cast a 10.
Soundtrack is as good as it gets for political medical thrillers in that, it is minimal but appropriate use to convey the suspense factor.
Rewatch Value is good when you are feeling philosophical. I can watch it again just to admire the writing and acting.