“Kill Me Heal Me” has been a mixed bag, but mostly fun. Throughout the journey of watching it (almost) live every week, there were moments where I had wished the drama’s pace had moved faster, explored certain things further, or dropped a plot. Once I start revisiting the series, some internal “logic” starts to crumble and we see more forced plot devices which had been unnecessary. After weeks of mulling and trying to pinpoint exactly how I feel about “Kill Me Heal Me”, I decided to really press the publish button.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20.

Trailer


 

Director: Kim Jin-man, Kim Dae-jin; Screenplay/Writer: Jin Soo-wan; Casts: Ji Sung, Hwang Jung Eum, Park Seo-Joon, Oh Min-seok, Kim Yoo-ri.

Cha Do-Hyeon (Ji Sung), heir to Seung Jin Group, has been in self-exile for eleven years in the US to treat his Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) condition. Since there is little progress, he refuses to return to Korea when Secretary Ahn (Choi Won-young) informs him that he has been summoned back. But, lo and behold! The next thing he knows he is on board of aeroplane heading for Incheon. One of his personalities, the malicious and violent Shin Se-Gi, has “sabotaged” him and sends them all to Korea.

With an important shareholder meeting taking place in three months time, Cha Do Hyeon needs to keep the other personalities, especially Se-Gi, in check. He enlists the help of Oh Ri-Jin (Hwang Jung-eum), a first year resident/houseman of Psychiatry Department. of Kanghan Hospital whom Shin Se-Gi claims as his first love, as his private physician. Little do they know that this encounter would lead them down the darkest memory lane and rediscover themselves.


Once you get to the end of a journey, sometimes you wonder whether you’ve reached the “destination”. Does “Kill Me, Heal Me” manage to get it? On general, yes it does. However I could not help but think that sometimes the road it takes may have not been the “best” route.

Let’s see…

Spoiler Alert! Even though I am trying to write this to be spoiler-free, there may be parts that might give the plot away, especially in the Highlight section.

In a number of Korean drama sites, “Kill Me, Heal Me” is described, among others, as a medical drama but there is no way —a gossipy and eavesdropping bunch of doctors and nurses?— I would describe it as such just because it has DID, doctors and psychiatrists, and a hospital. Even the drama knows it as well and uses the comedic tone to buy itself out of its incompetence in the “medical” department. First and foremost, this is a romantic comedy so don’t take it seriously.

However, there is serious issue of childhood trauma and Dissociative Identity Disorder that it handles with care. I cannot decide whether the approach had been too simplistic but “Kill Me, Heal Me” manages to illustrate the snowballing effect of abuse, carelessness, abandonment, and bad choices by adults that result in long term consequences on the children.

At the core, “Kill Me, Heal Me” is the same old troubled-chaebol-heir-falling-for-ordinary-girl kind of story mixed with “forgotten-first-love-by-induced-amnesia-but-they’re-fated-together”-like devices —there is even a mention of “Winter Sonata”. There are the usual K-drama tropes like the leads cohabitate by necessity, a love triangle that soon looks and sounds ridiculous the plot was dropped and/or forgotten, and the usual chaebol power plays and struggles. BUT, it does not mean that I mind. In this regard, “Kill Me, Heal Me” is just like a jazz piece: an x-thousandth rendition of a well known song with changes in keys, meter, or flourishes —not the run-of-the-mill amnesia or girl of undesirable background, it is a DID and a psychiatrist-in-training with an attitude. It is how it weaves its elements together into one interesting listening/viewing experience. It’s the journey that matters.

On side note, this is a drama written by Jin Soo-wan who also wrote “The Moon that Embraces the Sun” that I didn’t like —too focused on the romance and failing mystery plots— and the screenplay for “Capital Scandal” that I liked a lot! Both previous dramas have mystery elements, and so does “Kill Me, Heal Me”. As is with mysteries, there’s got to be denouement that should answer questions that has been raised along the journey, and whether the answers satisfy.

The Journey

The first four episodes introduce us to the main characters and the set-up of conflicts that the drama needs to resolve. Meanwhile along the way, it plants mystery bits and clues here and there. By the time those bits come to fore, you get to see the broader picture and exclaim, “brilliant!”

I like the way the main mystery —how and why Cha Do-Hyeon splits into seven personalities— is laid out. It keeps the audience guessing, although at one point, I wondered if the fact that knowing more and ahead of the main characters instilled a feel of stagnation at mid point. For example, the audience would have known or speculated by episode 7 about certain points (like who is in the basement) but plot progression was put in halt in favour of getting to know the other personalities, having Ri-Jin bonded with them “individually” and making more comedy out of it.

Indeed, these “fillers” are funny and entertaining. But they come with a price at the end of the series where, other than the decent closure for Do-Hyeon’s and Ri-Jin’s problems, other parts of the story are neglected.

The show has not been as glossy or polished as the “other” show that was running at the same time (read “Hyde, Jekyll, and I” ). But since the story is compelling enough — enough to make one actually care about the characters, their development, their success, and, most of all, the mystery that surrounds the past— I don’t really care about the look of it as long as it is not exceptionally bad. Although sometimes I cannot help but wondering if the actors’s faces have been over-powdered. One particular highlight is the whole snowflake train journey. I just love the colours and the bright ones put on Oh Ri-Jin, as if to magnify her bright nature.

The music also becomes a divide, although this is a general observation on latest trend in Kdramaland. What had happened to the serene and artistic approach in music that we had seen in Goong, Hwang Jini, or Winter Sonata? There used to be an array of subtle, thematic and atmospheric background music that stays in the background but enhances the scenes. There are moments in the drama where songs with lyrics barge in and impinge on the dialogues, as if telling the audience what to feel. At those moments, I feel like watching a music video instead. I have deemed such approach the legacy of Boys Before Flowers: mask any cringeworthy scenes with loud music, which is unnecessary in “Kill Me, Heal Me” since these actors are more than capable to deliver a scene.

Contrary to the intrusive way the songs have sometimes been used, the “themes” (Kill Me, I am Shin Se-Gi, Heal Me) prove efficient in tying scenes. One that I really, really like is the ‘I am Cha Do-Hyeon’ theme which is used in that first proper encounter between Cha Do-Hyeon and Oh Ri-Jin at Kanghan Hospital at the end of episode 3 and the beginning of episode 4. The others are, of course, the ominous and grand ‘I am Shin Se-Gi’ that on its own has become my speeding companion for the last couple of weeks (I likened it to RPG’s battle background music) and the slightly wacky march of ‘Kill Me’, featured in the opening theme that I have been playing on the piano lately to steer stress away.