Yong-pal: Episode 1
Meet Yong-pal, just your average doc who treats the wealthy by day and the dregs of life by night. He’s the guy everyone in and out of the hospital turns to in their most desperate time of need, and you can rest assured that he’s got everyone else’s surgical record beat. If you should ever find yourself in need of medical attention, your best chance of survival is with the guy who charges per stitch and every pint of blood.
An action-packed medical drama is what we were told and an action-packed medical drama is what we got in this first hour. Whether or not Yong-pal will surpass other doctoring shows remains to be seen (though I must say, the bar isn’t really that high on that front), but I sure wouldn’t mind watching fifteen more hours of this doctor.
Ratings-wise, Yong-pal dug into its Wednesday/Thursday competitors with an impressive 11.6%. Scholar Who Walks The Night followed with 8.6%, and Assembly rounded things out with 5.3%.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A woman lies comatose in a state-of-the-art hospital room, hooked up to a myriad of health monitors. She appears to be at ease, but her raging subconscious tells us otherwise: One night, a romantic evening drive is interrupted when a group of black cars pulls up to surround them.
Rather than being troubled, her lover winks at her before he guns it, sparking a wild car chase down the road. He swerves to avoid the cars throttling toward him from the opposite direction, but then a side collision sends the car into an uncontrollable spiral.
The hit is followed by another, then another, until one last crash spins the car into a pile of construction beams, impaling the man. “One must wake up to escape a bad dream,” she narrates in voiceover. At the sight of her severely injured beau, she screams.
As both patients are wheeled into the ER, she continues,”But if one cannot wake up, the nightmare continues.” Unfortunately, the next time the woman sees her sweetheart is at his funeral.
A flower vase crashes to the floor as she looks up at her father with tear-filled eyes. When he turns to leave, she runs out the window, to his shock. He calls out her name as her body falls to the depths below, which I presume has led to her presently comatose state.
“Therefore that nightmare becomes yet another reality, and that reality will never cease to end… until he calls my name.” And with that, her eyes fly open.
Having been woken up in the middle of the night, a young man complains about trudging through muddy water. His friend assures him that he’s struck a good deal for dealing with the “big battle” that just took place.
Above ground, the police round up what’s left of the remaining gangsters. Problem is, they’ve caught the guys who instigated the fight, not the ones responsible for running an illegal gambling ring.
One detective steps inside the bloodied crime scene to imagine the fight in his head: numerous thugs burst in through the windows with bats, causing commotion and chaos. The rival gangs take each other head-on as bills fly through the air, and one mobster expertly beats down a line of thugs, leaving one with a broken neck.
None of the particular gangsters the cops are looking for have been admitted to any of the local hospitals. That boggles them—surely those guys would also be suffering from serious injuries—until both detectives reach the same conclusion simultaneously: “Yong-pal-ie?”
Cut to: YONG-PAL (Joo-won), climbing out of the vent to see a dozen thugs moaning in pain from their wounds. Well, time to get to work.
He patches up the injured mobsters one at a time, putting them in splints, treating their open wounds, and marking the ones who’ll live. Up above, the gangster boss smiles at seeing Yong-pal at work.
There’s one guy that causes Yong-pal to do a double-take, however, and for good reason: the thug shows signs of internal bleeding from a ruptured spleen. He needs to be taken to a hospital for immediate treatment, and Yong-pal hollers that he’ll lose consciousness soon. No one, including the gangster, believes him until he collapses to the ground moments later.
Time is of the essence, so Yong-pal and his buddy hurry to turn the place into a makeshift operating room. He readies his portable surgery supplies, then takes a deep breath before making the first incision.
Over at the police station, Detective Lee suspects that Yong-pal definitely had a hand in this case, seeing as they haven’t heard anything for hours. Short for “skilled quack” (yong-han dol-pal-ie), he’s the doc covertly treating gangsters for money. It’s said his patients have a better shot at life than being treated at a hospital.
Before Yong-pal heads out to treat the final few “patients,” he warns his buddy Man-shik, to calculate the numbers properly ’cause he counted up all the stitches made. Ah, so it turns out Man-shik is a loan shark, which explains why he’s hanging with Yong-pal, who wonders if he’s paid off at least half of his debt by now.
Man-shik tells him that he can worry about numbers later—what’s important is that he’s paid off a good chunk of the interest (which is often an exorbitant percentage). Man-shik has never seen someone work so hard to pay off their loan like Yong-pal does, but that’s enough chit-chat—time to finish up the job before daybreak.
One last gangster grows anxious when he’s told that they’re out of anesthesia, and Yong-pal figures they’ll just have to press on or whatever. Hahaha. Man-shik offers to knock the guy out with a bat as an alternative, and in the end Yong-pal tells him to bear through it.
At Hanshin Medical Center, Chief Surgeon PARK TAE-YONG (Jo Bok-rae) greets the newest crop of surgical interns on their first day. He isn’t the last to arrive since the group is still waiting for another doc—it’s Yong-pal, who’s known by a different name here: KIM TAE-HYUN.
Plopping into a chair, Tae-hyun crushes the plastic bottle with his hands in the same way he did a few hours ago. When called out for being MIA all night, Tae-hyun swears he was at the hospital. He knows that moonlighting would be considered grounds for disciplinary action, and that’s why he’s still working here.
Unable to stand the classic scare tactics his fellow resident puts on year after year, Yong-pal cuts in to say that he’ll be conducting a survey: who amongst them has a relative who works at this hospital?
When the group hesitates, Tae-hyun coaxes them until one girl finally raises her hand. At hearing that her uncle is the chief of plastic surgery, Tae-hyun gasps and immediately gives her the royal treatment, much to the other interns’ annoyance .
One other speaks up about the discrimination, but it turns out his father is a political official, and Tae-hyun warms up to him too. Tae-yong puts a stop to the interrogation, sitting the group down to explain Tae-hyun’s methods.
What Tae-hyun was looking for was anyone whose family prestige could later influence their performance evaluations at the end of the year. Tae-hyun cuts in just then to tell the group not to worry because the ones with influence end up getting to choose whichever specialty they want in the end anyway. And I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Tae-hyun speaks those last words while looking directly at Tae-yong.
Even if Tae-yong has seniority, it’s Tae-hyun who gets called to step in for an ongoing surgery. Things are looking bad in there, with the patient losing blood with each passing second, but the surgeon hands off the operation to Tae-hyun so that he can make his important lunch appointment.
It isn’t so much a lunch, but more that the first surgeon, CHIEF LEE (Jung Woong-in) being incapable of handling a crisis, as we see him nervously biting his lip up in the observation desk. As the situation worsens, Tae-hyun learns that Chief Lee switched sides to his non-dominant hand midway through the surgery, so Tae-hyun hops over to the other side…
…and then Chief Lee hears the patient’s vitals begin to stabilize and breathes a sigh of relief. Inside the operating theatre, Tae-hyun orders more blood and his skills leaves the anaesthesiologist impressed.
Hospital Director BYUNG catches on right away when he finds Chief Lee up on the deck. He isn’t surprised to see Tae-hyun operating in his stead, but simply glad to hear that the patient is fine. Chief Lee is told that there’s nothing to be embarrassed about—every attending surgeon in this hospital has received help from Tae-hyun at least once.
But the fact that a third-year resident like Tae-hyun has to save a senior doctor’s ass does nag at Chief Lee’s pride. Director Byung says it doesn’t matter who steps in because the attendings are the ones who ultimately get the credit anyway.
Saving the day is exactly what Tae-hyun does, as he wraps up and stays by the patient’s side in the VIP suite. He milks his achievement for all that it’s worth too, informing the family that it was lucky he wasn’t scheduled for another surgery.
All he asks for return is their prayers for those hard-working surgeons like himself who save lives every day. But he does encourage the family to give an offering and quotes Scripture to back up his statement.
Next thing we know, Tae-hyun’s counting the bills from the family’s “offering.” He gets caught by Chief Lee, who tears into him in his office. He asks if Tae-hyun commonly extorts the patients’ families out of their money, to which Tae-hyun says that it’s true that he saved the patient-at-risk and the family paid him out of gratitude.
But he doesn’t see anything wrong with it, not when his superiors like Chief Lee, are given a much larger amount once those VIP patients are discharged. Chief Lee is offended by the insinuation, but he’s interrupted and puts this conversation on hold to attend to a different matter.
Still, Tae-hyun asks for that money anyway, and Chief Lee gives it to him.
Chief Lee steps out to meet Hanshin Group Chairman HAN DO-JOON (Jo Hyun-jae) who is here to check on his sister. The stockholders he’s with are offended when Chief Lee is reluctant to allow visitors, but he remains firm that this is also what’s best for the patient. Do-joon seems pleased with his response, though outwardly placates the gentlemen about this unfortunate turn of events.
Chief Lee offers to check in with the patient, and with Do-joon’s silent encouragement, accepts the documents to deliver to the patient. Do-joon makes a show of asking after his sister’s condition, asking if the most recent incident involved self-harm. Just around the corner, Tae-hyun curiously takes note of all this information.
One stockholder questions how Do-joon’s sister would reject visitors but agree to pore over legal documents. Do-joon smoothly handles that sticky situation too, and Tae-hyun takes the same elevator has the stockholders. They wonder if they should seek a court-ordered hospital visit, and idea that the other two men shut down.
Do-joon and Chief Lee enter the patient’s ward, guarded by bodyguards and high security. There we see the woman from the top of the hour: this is Do-joon’s sister, HAN YEO-JIN (Kim Tae-hee), and evidently it’s to Chief Lee’s best interests to keep a close eye on her.
He smirks, then bends down and apologizes for not visiting more often. He laughs, and then says it’s remarkable how there are people who still want to see her. Even in her unconscious state, Yeo-jin thinks to herself, “Devil.”
Following a lighter moment of a nurse feeling butthurt that Tae-hyun rejected her and maybe indirectly called her crazy, the head nurse instructs him to check on his sister in the dialysis room.
Seeing his sister takes him back to the day when he first became an intern. He’d promised his sickly sister that he’d make sure she’ll receive treatment and get better one day. They had an adorable bickering relationship, and sad down with their mother for a meal.
Later that night, Tae-hyun had promised her that her days of being poor are over now that he’s a doctor. Taking her hand, he said that he’ll be able to work part-time and make sure his sister is cured. They had both teared up at the sentiment alone, and just thinking about it brings tears to his eyes now.
Little sis So-hyun wakes just then, looking much paler than she did a few years ago. It’s the side-effects from the dialysis, though the treatments haven’t affected So-hyun’s ever-cheerful personality. She apologizes for being a burden, and Tae-hyun falls back to his trademark “at least you know” statement.
But she doesn’t come as often as she should because she knows how expensive receiving medical care is—how could she let that burden solely fall upon oppa’s shoulders? Tae-hyun tells her to follow her doctor’s orders—plus, paying for her dialysis procedures hardly make a dent in his doctor’s salary.
When So-hyun points out he still hasn’t paid of his student loans yet (methinks those aren’t student loans), Tae-hyun replies that med school is usually expensive. He agrees that his sister is still like a little girl in his eyes, and hearing her being completely satisfied with how life has blessed her with such a wonderful brother makes his eyes well up with fresh tears.
Tae-hyun picks up Man-shik’s call that night, and ha, I just realized that the ringtone is Man-shik’s voice. Now he’s Yong-pal, as he’s dragged inside a room to attend to the gangster boss bleeding from the abdomen.
After deducing that it’s a gunshot wound, Yong-pal is unable to staunch the bleeding. He offers the gangsters a choice: take the boss to the hospital and live, or let him die here. But that decision is turned back on him—Yong-pal either treat him now or die in his failed attempt.
The gangster boss struggles to speak and tells his lackeys to make sure that he doesn’t get sent to a hospital. If he dies here, then his boys can bury Yong-pal with him. But Yong-pal has heard enough and moves the boss onto the table.
Checking the boss’s neck, he instructs the lackey to find all the gangsters who are blood type A. When asked how he knows that, Yong-pal answers that he indicated each of the thugs’ blood types on their necks when he treated them. Smart.
Remember that mobster who had to take his stitches without anesthesia? Turns out he’s a match, and he’s hooked up for transfusion. As Yong-pal cuts into the boss’s abdomen to retrieve the bullet, the detectives get excited that they’ve picked up a signal on Yong-pal. Could that bullet wound have been a Yong-pal tracker?
The police come charging downstairs just as Yong-pal makes the first stitch. He stops, telling the lackeys that the opening isn’t fatal—it’s more important to transport the boss to a safe location.
When the gangsters run into the cops on the main floor, the gangster boss’s top lackey dispatches his boys as a distraction. They take to the roof, but that’s where Detective Lee is waiting for them.
Turning around, the lackey instructs Yong-pal to take care of his boss. He approaches Detective Lee with his hands in the air, then surrenders his weapon at his feet. Detective Lee isn’t inclined to let the infamous Yong-pal slip through his fingers, not when he’s this close, but he can’t risk to shoot his gun so carelessly either.
But the detective has no choice when he finds himself surrounded by other gangsters, giving Yong-pal and Man-shik enough time to slip out. When Man-shik is hesitant about transporting a mob boss, Yong-pal decides to drive off himself.
Thankfully for Detective Lee, he’s still got eyes and ears on Yong-pal, and climbs into the surveillance van to pursue him. He orders roadblocks up ahead, which Yong-pal swiftly avoids. He soon finds himself blocked by yet another roadblock and a passing train, though, and drives parallel to the train so that he can take a U-turn.
The cops are still hot on his tail, however, and he finds himself stuck at a red light. With the police quickly closing in on him in all directions, Yong-pal crashes into both cars to make enough room for him to speed away.
He doesn’t get far until oncoming traffic collides with the car, but Yong-pal manages to speed down the other way. He makes a wide turn, swerves to avoid cars, and pummels through a crate. The cops smash through cars to keep up with him as he enters a bridge construction zone.
Yong-pal races down the narrow road… and then hits the brakes because there’s another group of police cars waiting on the other end. Stepping on the reverse is a no-go either, and even though he’s trapped, he refuses to give up. “I won’t. Or else my sister will die.”
The cops are in no hurry to catch him, but maybe they should be because Yong-pal grabs his supplies and the gangster boss, fully ready to jump. Detective Lee tells him to just give it up, but Yong-pal’s got another card to play: he readies an EpiPen for the mobster.
The boss looks afraid at the injection, and Yong-pal calculates that it’s a 50-50 shot at survival, even with the extra adrenaline. But he refuses to let the mobster die, and so the man looks over to the dark depths below.
Yong-pal tells the gangster boss to hurry up and make up his mind—if they wait any longer, the boats will come for them. As soon as the gangster boss agrees, Yong-pal shoots him with the epinephrine, and then one for himself.
The effect is almost immediate, and Yong-pal pulls the boss along with him as they jump into the river together.
Even with the hype that surrounded Yong-pal prior to its premiere, all I knew about it was: compelling-medical-action-money-Joo-won. So I held onto the hope that this drama would deliver an intriguing story and characters I could follow. Call them low expectations if you will, but let me tell you, I’ve seen the dark depths of the medical drama in my past.
And yet, I was intrigued by the notion of a hero whose day job is to treat the wealthy and then moonlight as an on-call doc to treat the underground at night. If I think about it, I’m pretty sure Yong-pal would provide medical treatment to anyone as long as there was a hefty payout. It’s Tae-hyun/Yong-pal’s blurred ethical boundaries that has me most interested, because we’ve seen just how shameless he is when it comes to money on more than one occasion. Sure I don’t know how he could possibly afford all the medical supplies used on the gangster patients, but maybe those expenses are taken out of his cut of the money. Or the hospital hasn’t noticed the truckful of missing equipment yet.
Aside from the bit o’ Doctor Stranger-esque X-ray vision to spot internal injuries, I do like that most of his work takes place outside of a fancy operating theatre. Rather than setting up shop to any place look like a pseudo operating room, but I’m impressed at how he makes keen, quick, and sometimes, humorous decisions in his doctoring. How he stitched a guy up without first numbing the area still cracks me up. I mean, it must suck for that guy, but Yong-pal is all, *shrug* Guess we’ll just have to do without. In a more dramatic sense, he has to think on his feet, deciding that it’s better to run and treat elsewhere than risk getting caught.
His illegal side job wouldn’t absolve him in a moral sense, and still there exists his modus operandi that follows the Hippocratic Oath of do no harm. Furthermore, we’re given a clear motivation for Tae-hyun’s underground activities from the start: to keep his sister alive. And if the desperation is great enough—as it is for Tae-hyun—then he won’t stop at anything if it means ensuring his sister’s recovery.
I imagine it could be a bit confusing between our hero Tae-hyun and his codename Yong-pal, but it’ll be easiest to use his given name at his dayjob and Yong-pal during his nighttime activities. So it’s no surprise that treating the plethora of injuries with limited equipment provides Tae-hyun with a ton of experience in the actual operating theatre. How interesting that all the attending surgeons at Hanshin have relied on a resident for their surgeries, but that fact doesn’t quite irk them as much as it does for Chief Lee. I raised an eyebrow when he left his own surgery in the worst moment imaginable, but then you see the anxiety written all over his face because he just couldn’t handle the pressure.
Which begs the question of what Chief Lee has been doing if not operating on patients. That’s easy: keeping an eye on Yeo-jin on her brother’s orders. I liked how we got snippets of her past to establish just how she ended up in her comatose state, because ain’t nothing interesting about a woman lying in bed for no known reason. But she clearly must be a threat if Oppa is keeping her locked away from the world. I can only hope that she’ll wake up soon and join the fun, because goodness knows, replaying the worst night of your life over and over again in your head sounds like a god-awful nightmare. Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty.