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Apple TV+’s first-ever K-drama Dr. Brain delves into some weird science

Apple TV+’s first-ever K-drama Dr. Brain delves into some weird science
PHOTO: Apple TV+

In the last decade, K-movies have been dominating the mainstream consciousness, along with K-dramas on the goggle box.

And with the recent success of Squid Game, the time has come for K-dramas to make itself known on streaming services as well. In comes Apple TV+ with its first KDrama, the genre-bending Dr. Brain melds sci-fi, horror and Korean aesthetics into one.

An adaptation of a webtoon best known for its sci-fi thriller premise, the series was originally created by famed Korean webtoonist, Hongjacga and the folks at Apple TV+ roped in popular horror director Kim Jee-Woon (A Tale of Two Sisters, The Uninvited) to write, direct and executively produce the six episode series that stars Parasite's Lee Sun-Kyun as the brain scientist, Dr. Sewon Koh. 

A genre-bending piece of work dancing between crime thriller and science fiction, the webtoon has garnered a strong fan base overseas, all of whom enjoy watching Sewon and his 'brain sync.'

According to director Kim, it's likely due to the drama webbed into the mysteries of the series. 

"I'm very happy that Korean web toon is garnering much attention overseas. While the web toon is more fast pace and about the mystery and the murder mystery, the show adds more layers to it. For example, family tales, meaning and there are also some heart-warming feelings to it," explained Kim at a press conference that Geek Culture attended. 

Dr. Brain is an emotional journey that follows a brain scientist who is obsessive about figuring out new technologies to access the consciousness and memories of the brain.

The desire to recover memories is driven by the scientist's desire to piece together the mystery of a family tragedy that has deeply impacted him.

Called 'brain syncs', the scientist hacks into the brains of other people to access their consciousness and memories during the time of the accident.

The 'brain syncs' are inevitably the most unique part of the series, playing a big part in adding to the human drama experience and character development of the protagonist. 

"When we look at Sewon, he tries to understand himself through these brain syncs and he finds his deficiency of emotions. So, he tries to find peace with himself through these brain syncs. This is also a sort of an emotional human drama. Plus, we have the overarching theme of family so, I guess this is a very innovative take on life based on authentic science discourse," noted Kim. 

Lee, who plays Sewon adds, "Sewon is a character who cannot empathize with others. At first he acts very cold-heartedly and he could seem very monotonous."

"But after having brain syncs, he understands other people's feelings and he realises that he has this deficiency and he hasn't been a good father or a good family to his family members. I think he starts off as a cold-hearted person but ends on a passionate note." 

Translating these 'brain syncs' scenes was slightly challenging for the cast and crew, especially actor Lee. Not only is the act itself beyond anyone's wildest imaginations, the live-action format isn't as forgiving and unlimited as a webtoon. To better understand how to act out these 'brain syncs' scenes, actor Lee and director Kim compared it to the Apple AirDrop function. 

"The director and I shared a lot of conversations on this and we concluded that when people ask, 'What is brain syncing?', the closest metaphor that we can find was the AirDrop function in Apple devices," joked Lee. 

"The phrase 'brain sync' sounds in itself very unfamiliar and strange so I focused on how I should express the state, or reaction, after brain sync happened," he continued.

"The thing about brain sync is that it's more than simply obtaining memory.  Even the emotions and the characteristics or habits of the other person are transferred to myself, so there could be a side effect to that." 

As director Kim previously mentioned at the press conference, Dr. Brain is supported by science discourse. Aside from the AirDrop metaphor, Kim even engaged an actual brain scientist so as to give the series a touch of authenticity, reality and conviction. 

"We received a lot of advice from Dr. Jaeseung Jeong, who is a brilliant brain scientist and a professor at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (Kaist). Based on the research by Dr. Jeong, I try to put this unimaginative idea into something that's more realistic," explained Kim. 

"This concept of looking into the consciousness and brains of other people could be very new and innovative but I used a lot of scientific hypotheses and tried to add authenticity to our work."

Joining Sewon's 'brain syncs' research is Detective Choi (Seo Ji-Hye), Kangmu Lee (Hee-Soon Park), Jaeyi (Lee Yoo-Young) and Namil Hong (Lee Jae-Won).

Jaeyi is a strong mother figure and supportive wife to Sewon and Detective Choi is a hard-headed and compassionate detective assisting Sewon with solving the case. Kangmu, on the other hand, is a mysterious private investigator while Namil is a close friend of Sewon. 

Although most of the characters are pretty accurate reiterations of their webtoon counterparts, actor Park did give his character Kangmu a little twist. 

"In the original web toon, my character is a mysterious and charismatic man but in the series, you can see some humanity in him," shared Park. 

"He is a supporter of Sewon and he squabbles over things with him and gives advice and hints to him sometimes. The key was to strike a balance between all of these things. The director and I would share a lot of conversations to make sure that was accomplished." 

Park is fresh off Netflix's latest Kdrama release, My Name. An action series with a somewhat similar plot too, Park's character Choo Moo-jin is a drug lord entangled in a murder and aids the protagonist in achieving the revenge she desires.

Although there are some similarities to be seen, Park ensures that Kangmu and Moo-jin are nothing alike. 

"Yes, Kangmu is kind of similar to Moo-jin in My Name because he's mysterious and charismatic, but Kangmu has a more humanistic aspect to it.  He is a supporter of Sewon so I wanted him to be portrayed as a more witty and laidback character," explained Park. "I had more fun shooting this show!" 

Although My Name and Dr. Brain hails from two different streamers, director Kim feels that there isn't any competition. This is especially since most, if not all creators in the Korean industry, are working towards one goal: To make Korean content accessible to global audiences. 

Even Korean actor Don Lee of Eternals, subscribes to the same idea that instead of rushing to be the next big thing in Hollywood, Korean creatives are rather focused on showing off the talents of the region. Even supporting media and content from what most would consider "competitors."

This is all thanks to the term, 'Dynamic Korea.'

"We use the phrase 'Dynamic Korea' a lot. I believe that there is that dynamic enthusiasm to Korean culture. Plus, the high qualities, and capabilities that we have. I believe that Korean content makers know what can really go global and that their talents and their capabilities are really up to par with the global standard," shared Kim. 

Linking it back to his newly launched series, Kim adds, 'So that, coupled with the dynamic nature that we have and the creative ideas that we have, such as what we can see in Dr. Brain, for instance — it comprises six episodes, but all six episodes are very closely intertwined. And this rhythm is maintained throughout." 

In fact, the successes of Korean content on other various streaming platforms has helped in inciting more hope in the cast that Dr. Brain would be just, and if not even more popular, than the series that came before it. 

"This is the first ever Korean original series for Apple TV+ and it's director Kim's first go at a series, and it's premiering globally, so I'm very excited. Korean content like Parasite and Squid Game has been very popular and I hope our show could be as popular as them," said actress Seo. 

"I hope I could also contribute to the-to this Korean wave." 

Dr. Brain is now available on Apple TV+. 

READ MORE: Apple TV+ will premiere its first Korean series, Dr. Brain, globally on Nov 4

This article was first published in Geek Culture.

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