TELEMAD

Lee Jong Suk is charismatic, tender and compelling to watch in new K-drama Doctor Stranger

In Doctor Stranger, Lee Jong Suk stars as a surgical genius who flees from North Korea to the South and Jin Se Yeon is his first love; while Hong Kong veteran actor Ha Yu (above centre) stars as a former football coach in Channel 8 drama, World At Yo
In Doctor Stranger, Lee Jong Suk stars as a surgical genius who flees from North Korea to the South and Jin Se Yeon is his first love; while Hong Kong veteran actor Ha Yu (above centre) stars as a former football coach in Channel 8 drama, World At Your Feet. -- PHOTO: MEDIACOR
In Doctor Stranger, Lee Jong Suk stars as a surgical genius who flees from North Korea to the South and Jin Se Yeon (both above) is his first love; while Hong Kong veteran actor Ha Yu stars as a former football coach in Channel 8 drama, World At Your
In Doctor Stranger, Lee Jong Suk stars as a surgical genius who flees from North Korea to the South and Jin Se Yeon (both above) is his first love; while Hong Kong veteran actor Ha Yu stars as a former football coach in Channel 8 drama, World At Your Feet. -- PHOTO: ONE

South Korean actor Lee Jong Suk has the romantic presence to carry Doctor Stranger

In the spectrum of cry faces, from Liu Hsueh-hua (television's most beautiful weeper) to Claire Danes (graceless and fearless), Lee Jong Suk must fall closer to Danes' end.

The South Korean actor struggles for breath, he blubbers and his face - full lips stretched thin - is contorted with anguish.

There's something babyish about him and yet he is an indisputable leading man.

What he has in spades is romantic charisma, a combination of ferocity and tenderness that makes him compelling even when he is a show that isn't.

That's Doctor Stranger, a Korean medical melodrama which needs Lee like it needs the kiss of life.

The show does get off to a rollicking start, shipping a heart surgeon off to Pyongyang to save president Kim Il Sung and preserve the delicate balance of power on the Korean peninsula.

As the superhero origin story goes, the doctor is stranded in the North with his son (Lee) and raises him to be a surgical genius. There is nothing like being in a backward, blackout-prone country, evidently, when it comes to training a doctor to make X-ray-like diagnoses by touch.

The show is entertaining in a facts- are-for-wimps way, but that's just the prologue.

Then the son returns to the South to run a ramshackle clinic, after his father's death and his girlfriend's disappearance, and the K-drama system kicks in.

Doctors discover the genius' talent after he stops at a hospital to help a friend deliver bottled water and happens to save a life.

He spots an anaesthetist (Jin Se Yeon of 2012's Bridal Mask) who looks exactly like his lost girlfriend and who might be a spy from the North. He has run-ins with a surgeon (Kang So Ra), which are sparky enough to worry her boyfriend (Park Hae Jin of My Love From The Star).

The wheels of the plot grind onwards, but the show has no strong convictions and doesn't seem to be about anything, deep down.

It feels as hollow as a Potemkin village, but Lee - whether he is swaggering in the hospital, reaching futilely to caress a woman in a video on his laptop, or crying his eyes out - is the real deal.

He has the confidence of a man born to play the ideal K-drama hero, who puts love first.

World At Your Feet, a Channel 8 dramedy for the World Cup season, inexplicably puts on a Korean accent.

The show bursts into K-pop periodically, perhaps in the hope that a well- timed song will magically add a dimension to a love story of a footballer (Elvin Ng) and a fan (Jeanette Aw). Er, it doesn't.

Instead, it distracts you from the show, which has something to say about competition and complacency in Singapore.

Ng is one of the no-hopers, a rising professional player who has been booted out of a squad and is also losing his sight.

His former skipper (Tay Ping Hui) is a sadder case, a married, immature man whose wife (Yvonne Lim) throws him out after he buys a convertible with their joint savings as a surprise for her.

Hovering near them is a former coach (Ha Yu), who is living as a security guard in self-imposed exile after his wife's death.

Remarkably, the winners look a lot like losers. A thriving businessman (Zheng Geping), for instance, has traded his love of football for what seems to be joyless success. He also persuades his nephew (Zhang Zhenhuan) to make the same mistake.

Ha and his good-for-nothing brother-in-law (Dennis Chew) double as the show's crosstalk commentators, wisecracking about the haves, the have-nots, the haze and everything else.

Maybe it isn't anything you haven't heard before. But to the show's credit, it is still trying to speak to you, never mind that you might no longer be listening.

woeiwan@sph.com.sg