Three years after making his leading man debut in Flower Crew: Joseon Marriage Agency, Kim Min-jae is back in his second period drama. He stars as the titular protagonist in Poong, The Joseon Psychiatrist, based on an award-winning novel of the same name.
Kim plays Yoo Se-yeop, a gifted young nobleman who coasted through scholarly trials at an early age. Possessing a redoubtable knowledge of all the medical texts of the day, he has achieved the post of Royal Acupuncturist – second only to the Royal Physician in the King’s medical retinue – despite his still very rosy cheeks.
Just like the leads of the contemporary medical dramas that are so popular on Korean television, Se-yeop is supremely confident and can miraculously save any patient within moments, thanks only to a few carefully placed acupuncture needles.
During the early portion of the show, as viewers learn of Se-yeop’s many attributes, we discover that he has a 100 per cent cure rate, a line more suited to describing a lawyer.
Naturally, Se-yeop is exceptionally handsome. His good looks routinely gets throngs of women into a tizzy as they wait their turn for a consultation.
But, just like the other preternaturally skilled and attractive medical and legal practitioners in Korean drama series, Se-yeop’s career comes to a grinding halt soon after we first meet him.
Caught up in a palace power play, Se-yeop is brought to the king’s bedside, where the ruling monarch is covered in dropsical boils. Despite the king’s pleas and obvious pain, Se-yeop refrains from intervening, as only the Royal Physician is permitted to treat the king.
Eventually the king’s pain and Se-yeop’s confidence grow too great and he begins to lance the nasty boils. But when he nicks the last one, a geyser of blood follows the release of the pus, sparking one of the most bizarre and grotesque death scenes in recent memory.
Se-yeop is blamed for the death and his father, also a revered doctor of the palace, finds evidence of foul play, but he is murdered before he can present it. The Crown Prince, who was earlier saved by Se-yeop, opts to banish him instead of killing him, in the hopes that he will somehow find out who really killed the king.
Doomed to travelling the land with his trusted servant Man-bok (Ahn Chang-hwan), the devastated Se-yeop has lost his mojo. He still has all the medical know-how, but his traumatised and trembling hands prevent him from exercising his expertise.
A year after his banishment, he winds his way to the quaint Gyesu Village, where he is soon at loggerheads with the wily and avuncular local doctor Gye Ji-han (Kim Sang-kyung).
One night, he saves the suicidal widow Seo Eun-woo (Kim Hyang-gi) from a watery death. Once again unable to administer the proper treatment, he rushes to Ji-han for aid. Together they save the young woman, but she disappears before they wake the next morning. Ji-han demands payment from the by now penniless Se-yeop.
Se-yeop begins to help out at Ji-han’s clinic to pay off his debt, but no matter what he does the debt seems to keep growing. Yet the longer he stays there, the closer he comes to overcoming his trauma and steadying his acupuncture hand and living up once more to his nickname of “Divine Needle”.
Meanwhile, the physicians find themselves treating and saving Eun-woo several times, as she reels from the recent death of her husband. She never met him while he was alive, and only saw him in the flesh during his funeral. Her trauma stems from the horrific treatment she receives at the hands of her mother-in-law, played by Squid Game ’s Kim Joo-ryoung.
At Ji-han’s clinic, a sprightly and senile old woman (Jeon Guk-hyang) behaves like a starry-eyed young girl, reminiscent of Kang Hye-jung’s loopy young villager in Welcome to Dongmakgol. She takes to calling Se-yeop “Poong”, like her estranged son, and the name sticks.
Though we have yet to see how he will make the transition, we already know that “Poong” will pioneer the field of psychiatry in the era of Joseon dynastic rule of Korea. This will inevitably bring us several amusing episodic stories of Poong, Ji-han and eventually Eun-woo combining their skills to help villagers with their mental woes in addition to their physical problems.
Since the story began with a bit of palace scheming, we can also expect that plot thread to loop around and catch up with Poong in Gyesu before all is said and done in this 12-episode series.
Then there is the suggestion of a burgeoning romance between Poong and Eun-woo, which has already featured one slow-motion spinning tumble-into-a-hug on a picturesque cliff’s edge, as well as sparking a nighttime fireworks show, also in slow-motion.
But already a rival for Eun-woo’s affections has appeared on the horizon, in the form of the dashing police inspector Cho Shin-woo (Jung Won-chang).
Poong, the Joseon Psychiatrist is streaming on Viu.