Like many who loved White Tower, if I were to describe the drama in ONE word, absolutely no single viewer or soul would disagree or differ from what I have to say – KIM MYUNG MIN.
Kim Myung Min is truly, a force of nature. A class and a league of his own and above others. I’ve seen him in some other projects before White Tower (Bad Family) and had already known back then that this actor’s different. He isn’t what you would call the typical handsome looking Korean ajusshi, but he ain’t unattractive or ugly either. Point is however, it really doesn’t make a difference. It really doesn’t matter, whether people think he’s hot or handsome or ugly or whatever, he has something else which is measurably lacking in a lot of actors nowadays.
Never-ending dedication to his art and profession.
White Tower has 3 versions, this, the original Jap and TW version. Never seen the latter versions (which aired before the Korean version), therefore I had no pre-conceived notions on how it’d compare to the genre which has already been done before twice. All I had coming into the drama? How Kim Myung Min had scored and hit the ball out of the park with his mind-blowing performance as the genius surgeon Jang Jun Hyuk.
I have tonnes to say about Jang Jun Hyuk and KMM (I may rave and rave and rave non-stop). So I reckon I better start off with the drama itself and the awesomeness of the remaining cast ensemble, which I thought had helped immensely in elevating KMM’s performance altogether. KMM and everything combined, the drama successfully sold to me a human story of all sorts – ambition, loyalty, betrayal, passion for one’s profession, human compassion etc. In contrast to many who thought White Tower was more about JJH’s rise and fall, IMO it was more than that.
I haven’t seen a lot of medical dramas to say whether White Tower’s the best in its genre (tho individually as a drama, it’s top notch quality), but I can say I’ve seen a good number to actually spot a significant and marked difference between a typical medical drama and this drama. Most medical dramas revolve on the medical-doctor-patient aspect or bank on the underdog-striving-to-become-a-good-doctor-plot to sell (which usually always works). But White Tower chooses to reveal to us the shady and corrupted side of the profession.
I had the opportunity to talk to 2 doctors a few days ago. Tried to pry and prompt them into telling me whether the political strife as depicted in medical dramas are true or merely exaggeration. Do doctors really do that? o_0 You wouldn’t be surprised at all. They told me to take away the bling and glam – being in the medical profession, isn’t really a grandiose or WOW thingy. It’s pretty boring and dull. And politics, conflicts and all, they’re everywhere in the hospital.
Knowing how reality differs from Korean drama plots all the time (ludicrous fairy-tale plots which we love so much 🙂 ), White Tower gives us a smack of reality and honesty. Especially in its depiction on how ambition, ethics and emotional compassion in the medical field do actually intertwine and cross each other at some point in time when one is put to the stand and test. Being a professional myself, it isn’t difficult to relate. When faced with a dilemma of having to choose, even between evils, it is usually a test of conviction.
I think what White Tower does best, it focuses immensely on character and dialogue without undermining the excitement and thrill. More often that not while watching the drama, I’d be on the edge of my seat, anxisouly anticipating what would happen next. Anxious and worried, whether things would turn out wrongly for Dr. Jang, whether he’d succeed in spite of his unethical ways of getting thru to achieve his goals..etc. There aren’t any terribly dramatic plot devices, pretentious writing, or face-palming scenes that would send you banging your heads on the table. A lot of its essence, like I said earlier, lies in its brutally blatant and honest lines. Which a lot of people can find hard to sit with in a drama, but can truly relate to in RL.
A good drama makes you laugh, moves you to tears and makes you go into an endless streak of re-watch. A great drama does the same, but stretches even further. It can take you through gripping realities, strike your heart, break it, and suck your tear-glands dry. It can make you disgusted or smile, in a split second, with just one single gesture, expression or word said by a single character. It never needs to try.
While White Tower isn’t the best drama I’ve seen, and certainly isn’t without its flaws (some parts did venture into dragginess, and the music did seem a bit too repetitive), its touch of genuineness moved me immensely (and of course KMM’s awesomeness, which I will get to later). The writer did a wonderful job in combining different element of realities in 20 ep drama. The reality of moral ethics against one’s ambition, the dilemma between having to balance between friendship and conscience, the depiction of political furore within an organisation/community, the harsh truth about man’s greed etc… it’s all in this drama. Though I would have appreciated a more extensive insight into the said elements, it certainly didn’t stop me from appreciating the drama for what it was. It could have been better, but given the quality, I couldn’t have asked for more.
Directing-wise, the drama stayed pretty much glum thru out. I’m not sure, I may be the only one, I found White Tower to be mostly greyish and insipid. In particular, the doctors’ rooms? Don’t get me wrong tho, I think if it’s purposely supposed to look that way, the director did a fairly good job in synching the setting of the drama to the mood and tone of story. The drama isn’t anywhere near sugary sweet, I don’t even remember actually laughing or smiling from a joke in it. Everything is sunken serious and at most riveting and gripping. Which pretty much matches and coincides with the black/white/greyish tone used by the director.
Acting in here was one of the best I’ve seen from an ensemble cast. Tho I have plenty to say about KMM, the rest of the cast did not disappoint in any way. Not only did the drama benefit from a stellar veteran lineup, the younger actors (spotted a nerdy young Ki Tae Young here!) also managed to hold their own. There wasn’t an obvious or terribly weak link amongst the cast save for a slightly off-track and rigid Cha In Pyo. Music used was also brilliant. Tho it became a bit to repetitive towards the end, I wanted nothing more than to feel the beat of a catchy tune during gripping/intense scenes and also feel the calm and soothing comfort during times of sadness and peace.
The drama is said by many to be a one-man show by KMM, but to me, the supporting characters carry as much importance as Dr. Jang in the show, either in elevating his performance more or in balancing out his overly ambitious and somewhat impassive personality. The most evident, none other than our very own Mr. Voice’s Dr. Choi Do Young. Dr. Choi is an idealistically penned out character. Whatever Dr. Jang is inside out, Dr. Choi is the exact opposite. He’s not as confident or self-assured, but yet is filled with an overwhelming passion for his job and stands by his patients with such unbelievable endearment. I loved their ironic relationship in the drama. The dilemma Dr. Choi suffered in having to take his best friend’s side and to do the right and conscious thing as a human tugged at my heartstrings (and yet secretly I wanted Dr. Jang to win?). Lee Seon Gyeon played his character beautifully, giving a quiet and understated performance in order to move the hearts of viewers.
The other characters played by greats like Kim Chang Wan, Byung Hee Bong, Lee Jung Gil also give the drama a further boost with their convincing performances as the allies and foe of Dr. Jang in his rising up the medical corporate ladder. There’re plenty of scenes involving Dr. Jang and each of those characters, ranging from parts of them conspiring and plotting to help Dr. Jang up the ladder and to those involving backstabbing and shady manipulation. It’s in those scenes and dialogues which the drama excels, making it more compelling and exhilarating to watch.
Not to forget, the 3 sidekicks of Dr. Jang. Absolutely felt for them. I know it isn’t for us to say that they’re obviously just sucking up to Dr. Jang for the sake of the future in the hospital. But boy was I glad that they were there when Dr. Jang needed them. Of course his actions didn’t sit very well with me, what with him manipulating them to his own cause, but I felt that deep inside, he appreciated them more than needed and genuinely wished for them to be as successful as he is. Their dynamics were nothing more than superior- subordinate related in the beginning, but the more I watched, the more I realised that they had gradually become family to him. You know? The kind of family which will sit thru ups and downs, brave thru thick and thin with you, and will support you in whatever you do (right or wrong)?
And so finally, we get to the one and only:
I think calling him great is such an understatement, because are they’re loads of great drama actors out there. And yet, I’ve never been this impressed or blown away as much watching others act and having seen so many brilliant performances. The way he acts, the way in syncs right into character, there is no all-out effervescence, just subtlety at its best.
Dr. Jang Jun Hyuk is by no means a simple character to portray. He’s nor white nor black, and constantly threads on a line of grey which may make or break him. He is a genius, in every single way, but yet is trapped within his own evil and greed, only to be the very best of the best. He is callous and unfeeling, but yet is not without emotions. He is smart and calculative, but is not without shortcomings. In a nutshell, Dr. Jang is a package of complex. Like us. Human.
What separates KMM in this drama from other great actors in their respective dramas is his ability to evoke emotions without having to rely on emotive or explosive outbursts. The way he manages to tell us something with a single facial expression and gesture. There is no outright intensity or blatant grit, but you’re able to feel that something from it. You’re able to feel what he’s going thru. His thirst for success and power, his frustration, his fear of losing. It’s amazing. You really have to see it to believe.
In an earlier post, I raved about a recent medical drama and Shin Ha Kyun’s performance as the hot-headed and self-centered neurosurgeon. And whilst watching SHK deliver such a voluminous and anger-driven performance gives me the thrill (and made me a fan immediately! 🙂 ), I just realised how precious KMM is, in comparison. Imagine if KMM went into an outrage and exploded like SHK did in Brain, would I have survived the drama? I don’t think so.
The brilliant thing about White Tower is that it never consumes itself with histrionics or the usual K-drama tropes. If were were watching another drama, a character like Dr. Jang (more complex and dark) would usually have softened mid-way and changed for the better. In here, Dr. Jang stays true to himself and his character from beginning to end. That confident and clairvoyant attitude of his, the overflowing confidence and charisma, all of it is maintained right until the very end. He is the best, and is never in the wrong. Of course, it’d be great drama to see him fall and come back up a different person, but I appreciate what this drama did by not undermining the reality of his character.
KMM onced mentioned that he would not have succeeded in portraying Dr. Jang without the brilliance of the director, Ahn Pan Seok. It automatically reminded me of X’s words, about the difference between a great and good director/actor. Control. Such can be evidently seen in a lot of scenes in the drama, especially those with Dr. Jang being put down and defeated and those of him being alone in silent thoughts. KMM’s charisma alone can burn down a house, but the exercise of control, in not letting it take over or consume you is the brilliance within. And KMM does it with sheer awesomeness that IN NO WAY one wouldn’t be impressed with and blown away by. He connects with Dr. Jang in such subtle and nuanced ways that not many are able to. Stat.
I finished White Tower last night. My mom came into my room, and shockingly screamed at me, “What happened, why are you sobbing?” I told her honestly, that I had wept for an entire hour (watching the finale). She called me crazy and mad. It’s only a drama.
Perhaps so, in her eyes, it’s ridiculously stupid and foolish. Why be so emotional over something fictional? But deep inside I know. Only I know. This drama gave me more than just entertainment, it allowed me to experience how it felt to be put in the shoes of the doctors, patients and patients’ families when faced with the torment of reality. It also gave me an unforgettable performance by an exquisite actor, a performance to be remembered for a very long time.
I think White Tower will remain an untouched gem of brilliance in my heart for a very very long time. If you have not watched this, please do yourself a favor. Do away with the rom-coms that you love so much for once, do away with the makjang-ness for a moment. Watch this drama (with good English subs if possible) and you will be greatly rewarded.
If this doesn’t do anything for you, I’ll eat myself.
Here’s a short cut (not many spoilers) from the drama:
My rating: 9/10
credits: imbc / thundie’s prattle / video uploader