Watching series – Gu Am Heo Jun (2012)

I’m watching a remake of a Korean historical series since I couldn’t get my hands on the original version. It’s a pity; I’ve read it is better than the new one. Well, I’m just glad I got any version to watch and analyse, and be enthusiastic about. I like to watch Korean dramas, especially the historical ones since they are quite different from other shows I enjoy regularly. This one will satisfy my craving for a long period series.

Gu Am Heo Jun shows us the life of a famous Joseon doctor Heo Jun, one of the leading authorities in oriental medicine. The first episodes deal with his childhood which is less than ideal in terms of family. He is the only son of a concubine that works as a servant in the household of a military commander, his father. The legal wife and son hate him and his mother, but the father loves the younger son very much and supports him in his studies. Unfortunately, the world and society consider Jun a bastard. He’s basically caught between the social strata – not a noble man, not a commoner either. He has no opportunities to utilise his intelligence as an official like his father since sons of concubines are banned from public service. A series of events make him very bitter and angry and he spends the majority of his youth causing trouble.

Yu Do Ji, the arch nemesis of Heo Jun

The catalyst for his transformation is his arrest for smuggling and for helping a criminal escape from his exile. In fact, he’s guilty only of the first offence. He only helped the daughter of the very ill official who was framed and then exiled to the area get medical attention. In the end the official is pardoned thus technically Jun isn’t guilty of anything in that regard. But he’s forced to flee to save his life, the opportunity the last gift of his now estranged father. His mother and the exiled official’s daughter join him on his way to a far-off province.

Heo Jun as a youth and his mother

There’re all kinds of complications before he settles there and finds some friends and allies. He meets his future teacher there, a fascinating character if a bit on the cold and strict side. I kind of understand him, but sometimes I wish doctor Yu would relax some. I believe the time it takes Jun to develop an interest in medicine is very long, still I’m happy when he finally starts to work at the clinic and we see some application of the knowledge Korean doctors had. I find acupuncture fascinating, if slightly terrifying – needles, ugh. But those people working alongside Jun are real pieces of work.

Well, the story goes on, showing us how Jun progresses as a doctor, developing new skills and insights until he passes the royal medical examination and is accepted into the Royal Hospital. Being a court physician brings new troubles for him, but I don’t want to reveal everything for you here. I just find it fascinating how different people see the duties of a doctor, how attitudes towards sick people can shape the world, what kind of medication is available, and how women are treated by the doctors and society in general. I find their attitude towards nurses appalling at times.

Heo Jun’s saintly wife

Doctor Yu, Heo Jun’s strict teacher

The relationships between characters are fascinating as well, humorous and tragic at times, but always an important aspect of the story; they add an extra dimension to the series, keeping it fresh, and preventing it from sliding into a regurgitation of the same medical scenarios over and over again. I also like that Jun is not presented as some genius (as in the drama ‘Horse doctor’) but that we have a range of competent characters to choose from. The alternative love interests for Jun did not move me since I ship him with his wife 100%. Otherwise, all characters play some important role and are never just filler material.

This becomes more important as the drama moves into its later stages – I saw some sudden turns, personality changes and so on that I felt, at the time, were not adequately explained. Perhaps this is why the ones who saw the first version of the series actually prefer it to the newer one. I don’t know, but I’m keeping my eyes on great posts about it by DramasROK (link). Take time to look at some of them. The one big change that I definitely don’t understand is the year Jun and Dae-hee get their child – the remake pushes his birth back for several years. Well, I’ve yet to see the end of this long drama, so I’ll hold my judgement. I enjoy it and that’s all that matters, really.

The classic series can be watched on YouTube, unfortunately without good English subtitles (link). The channel has many old dramas, the newer ones with english subtitles as well. It might be your thing, so check it out.

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