Shin Won-ho, producer of the drama <Hospital playlist>, frankly gave his special impression of Lee Woo-jung in one of the TV programs. “I appreciate every staff but if I have to pick the best of all it must be Lee Woo-jung for me. It has been already fifteen years since we started working together in a TV show in KBS. Script writing iseverything in the process of drama producing. I am only the one making the pictures of it. It was almost a miracle to me that I met writer Lee Woo-jung who is known for her humorous and heart-warming stories. If I had not acquainted myself with her, there had not been Shin Won-ho as a producer.”
What are Lee Woo-jung’s ‘humorous’ and ‘heart-warming’ stories like, that producer Shin Won-ho attributed all to writer Lee Woo-jung along with the compliment of ‘miracle’?
An Omnipotent Key of ‘Reality’
Writer Lee Woo-jung started her career through the drama <A Million Roses>(2000, MBC) and established ‘Lee Woo-jung Brand TV Shows’ after twenty years since then. Her works such as <2 Days and 1 Night>(KBS2), <Qualification of Men>(KBS2), <Grandpas Over Flowers>(tvN), <Three Meals a Day>(tvN) and <Youn’s Kitchen>(tvN) were all as successful as to be called as a ‘People’s Show’. The key to success is to maximize ‘reality’ which is the subject matter for the TV shows. First, the given circumstances and situations are real. In reality, actors go for a trip, prepare for a chorus competition, or run a restaurant cooking and offering food for real guests who visit. Characters and frameworks are mostly arranged by each actor’s corresponding actions and words coping with each situation. So audience happens to meet a natural person of Kang Ho-dong, Yi Soon-jae or Youn Yuh-jung who have been seen familiarly only as a comedian or actors on the TV screen before. And an emotional intimacy between actors and audience is created, continues to be a real feeling and arouses the public’s sympathy. Such a know-how is used as an omnipotent key to make the audience have fun and deeply moved in many of Lee Woo-jung’s works.
Writer Lee Woo-jung focuses on drawing real pictures of medical doctors’ everyday lives also in <Hospital Playlist>. While such dramatic factors like a misfortune of a natural born freaky genius medical doctor or a secret feud among the powers in the hospital have been put at the center of the stories in the most previous medical dramas, the medical doctors’ real and common every day is the pivot of the story in <Hospital Playlist>. The ‘reality’ of medical doctors’ life: they go for operation early in the morning, meet the patient, fall in love with someone, make an appointment with friends, take pride in their career, but sometimes feel disappointed at themselves. And as the operating room is well reproduced as if it were real and even many sorts of concerned facilities are carefully located to be real, <Hospital Playlist> is rated as ‘a medical drama medical doctors give their seal of approval’. The audience cannot meet the five doctors who with their whole heart heal the patient feeling the same pain and suffering until writer Lee Woo-jung, by her own hand, has reorganized into reality the doctors’ everyday life we did not understand before.
Aesthetics of Subtraction
In the early 2010’s when crazy soap dramas rose to power, writer Lee Woo-jung put out a drama without such stimulating and absurd matters like birth secret, adultery or amnesia. It was <Reply 1997> which is about the first love and filled with youthful enthusiasm, and she continued her career in <Reply 1994> describing college students’ friendship and love and in <Reply 1988> which is ranked as a ‘People’s Drama’ due to its nostalgia for the past time attitude toward family and neighbors. Through this <Reply series> writer Lee Woo-jung has systemized ‘Lee Woo-jung brand dramas’ which can make a considerable impact on the part of your heart and make you so happy like when you feel happy if you just call one of the names of the first love, friends, neighbors or family members.
You may see writer Lee Woo-jung’s aesthetics of subtraction is much more expanded in the drama titled <Hospital Playlist>. Despite of its genre(a medical drama) in <Hospital Playlist> there is no ‘villain’ which appears unexceptionally in the recent genre dramas. Furthermore, ‘confrontation’ and ‘conflict’ of the good and evil, an ancient narrative grammar, has also disappeared; not any trace of it. And what is substituted for it is the main characters’ ‘good will’: Jeong-won tries to help the patient who is financially in need; Gyeo-wool wants to be a friend and console the mother who lost her son; their heart-warming attitude has hardly been seen in any medical dramas before. So some criticize that <Hospital Playlist> is nothing but a fantasy, but according to the drama’s advisory committee all these episodes were created by writer Lee Woo-jung on the basis of the real cases, by putting together or reorganizing them.
Covid-19 has caused a minimal life to be in fashion again under the phrase, “The less you have, the happier you are.” But the crazy soapdrama troika, Kim Soon-ok, Mun Yeong-nam, and Im Sung-han have come back; now you cannot but confront the stifling realities of life and insatiable desires on the TV screen on weekend if you turn it on. So I may say that writer Lee Woojung’s <Hospital Playlist> comes to us as a hope like a vaccine in this time of self-quarantine.
Kim Eun-kyung (Professor, Performing Arts Depar tment, Baekseok Arts University)
Translated by Park Eun-sun