In Dr Park's Clinic, K-drama mockumentary series, neighbourhood doctor struggles to find his feet

Lee Seo-jin in a scene from Korean medical comedy-drama Dr Park’s Clinic, a series that relies on broad humour and short episodes for its appeal.
PHOTO: Viu

Halfway through January, Korea’s CJ ENM has launched its second medical comedy-drama of 2022, but despite that seemingly limiting tag the shows couldn’t be further apart.

Following tvN’s supernaturally tinged drama Ghost Doctor with K-pop star Rain, our latest trip into South Korea’s busy medical field is the streaming platform Tving’s original Dr Park’s Clinic, a half-hour show following an Office -style mockumentary format that is filled with very broad and relatable humour.

A million miles from the sleek university medical centres and VIP wards of Hospital Playlist and its ilk, the show follows a bumbling, but well-meaning middle-aged doctor who strikes out on his own by launching a neighbourhood practice but struggles to keep the business and his spirits afloat.

Last seen in the thriller series Times, Lee Seo-jin heads the cast as Park Won-jang, an ordinary Korean man who followed his dreams to become a doctor, the most prized profession in the country.

However, his hopes of driving a sports car and being a rich and benevolent doctor looked up to by the community have yet to materialise. Now the middle-aged Won-jang, who masks his baldness with a wig and strives to support his spendthrift wife Sa Mo-rim (Ra Mi-ran) and two children, sets up his own practice, a friendly neighbourhood internal medicine clinic.

Won-jang is soon beset by a series of woes. Patients fail to materialise, his wife racks up huge bills on his credit card, and his desire to have a meaningful impact on people’s lives is quickly thwarted – his very first client, an elderly woman who at first talks his ear off about a litany of family grievances, asks him to cut her toenails.

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Also in the office is Cha Mi-young, played by K-drama stalwart Cha Chung-hwa (Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha ), a thin-lipped secretary who only takes the job because she expects the business to fail and thus anticipates a light workload.

Following his early trials, Won-jang eventually does find a way to increase his clientele, albeit with a roster of largely undesirable patients, and this necessitates the hiring of a nurse. Mi-young recommends her very unqualified son and, in a series of nods to Parasite , including a pre-interview Jessica jingle for him to memorise his fake background, manages to install him in the position.

Whereas Korea’s glossier medical dramas tend to adulate attractive young doctors and surgeons, Dr Park’s Clinic takes place in a milieu that is far more familiar to local viewers – the sort of neighbourhood clinic that you will find nestled on a floor of any of the country’s endless non-nondescript multipurpose commercial buildings, in which clinics, billiards halls, yoga studios and after-school academies are typically mixed together.

Cha Chung-hwa in a still from Dr Park’s Clinic.
PHOTO: Viu

The show is adapted from a webcomic of the same name by Jang Bong-soo, who drew from his own 18 years of experience as a doctor. Presumably, Jang’s experiences also bear on Won-jang’s backstory, and this is where the drama comes in.

The show offers us glimpses into Won-jang’s past as a younger resident doctor in a hospital through sequences that feature wide aspect ratios, cinematic lighting and atmospheric music.

These sequences, which display a histrionic tendency, are hazy, nostalgic and somewhat manipulative. They’re also so cinematic that an unflattering contrast is created with the cheaper-looking staging of the bulk of the series.

Ra Mi-ran in a scene from Dr Park’s Clinic.
PHOTO: Viu

As for the comedy, the tone is more localised than the bigger shows aiming for global audiences, with lots of gags about herbal tonics, coffee mix sticks and local rituals, such as Won-jang stuffing a 50,000 won bill in his wife’s mouth as she wears a pig nose when they belatedly celebrate the opening of his clinic with cheap pig trotters rather than a pig’s head, which is traditionally employed as an offering for good luck.

Many of the performers have great comic credentials, particularly Ra Mi-ran, who has an oddly small and somewhat regressive role given her graduation to leading actress status (Miss & Mrs Cops , Honest Candidate ) a few years ago. Yet the obvious tone of the jokes and dry staging give them few opportunities to shine.

With its short episodes and broad humour, Dr Park’s Clinic never becomes a slog, but how many viewers persist with the series will depend on their patience.

Dr Park’s Clinic is streaming on Viu.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.