Apple TV+ has premiered “Dr. Brain” their first Korean language drama and we watched it all! The six episode series is from filmmaker Kim Jee-woon (“I Saw the Devil,” “The Good, the Bad, the Weird”). It stars Lee Sun-kyun who audiences may be familiar with from “Parasite” where he plays the father of the well off family. OR you may know him from “Coffee Prince” (fans of the show know what’s up).
Lee Sun-kyun plays brain scientist Sewon who is doing cutting edge research on “brain syncs.” After his own family suffers a horrific tragedy, he must rely on his experimental work to try to solve what really happened.
The show straddles multiple genres and influences. At times it borrows from a classic whoddunit. At other times it peppers in supernatural horror like that we’ve come to expect from East Asian horror like “The Ring.”
This may be a matter of taste as this author is not a huge fan of horror – it keeps them up at night – but gets that many find joy in being scared. But some of the more blatantly frightening sequences feel frivolous. Yet they also often don’t register as quite terrifying enough to satiate the appetites of those who ARE looking for something more like “The Host” or even director Kim Jee-won’s own “A Tale of Two Sisters.”
Yet there’s just enough of these types of scenes to be off putting to those who do not delight in a scare. We certainly could have seen the story being able to exist and maintain a sense of suspense without these.
The show also relies on some somewhat tired tropes surrounding neurodiversity. We’ve certainly seen worse representations of the Autism spectrum. However we would gladly welcome the day where shows and movies don’t rely on the misconception that people who are neurodiverse cannot live fulfilling lives. The show doesn’t outright make such a claim, but there feels an underlying implication. Some of this may be societal and not just limited to Korean society as most countries have a long way to go in terms of representation.
“Dr. Brain” instead plays into the “Autism = special powers” stereotype we’ve seen personified. It relies on more specific Savant syndrome characters. Again, it is just one of many a show and movie that does so. Given the importance of neuroscience to the core of the plot we get how it was a tempting device to depend on.
The series has a mere 6 episodes. While the average K-drama comes in at around 16. U.S based shows tend to have a much wider range. Even other Apple TV+ originals tend to have a few more than 6. Though it certainly feels the show sets out everything it wants to accomplish in this first season.
As always we beg of you to listen to director Bong Joon-ho and “overcome the 1-inch tall barrier of subtitles”. The acting is pleasantly understated and the production value is certainly there. As we mentioned the style of the show is a mish mosh. If science fiction meets crime thriller meets a touch of horror appeals to you: then “Dr. Brain” just may be up your alley. For those of us who are less inclined to seek out scary, you may need to sit this one out.
“Dr. Brain” also stars Lee You-young, Park Hee-soon, Seo Ji-hye, and Lee Jae-won. Episode 1 is available now on Apple TV+ and new episodes will premiere weekly.