While everyone else was losing it over Doctors and badass, gangster fighting Park Shin Hye, I opted for the medical drama where Jang Hyuk plays a psychopath neurosurgeon.
I only slightly regret that decision. Not because Doctors seems like a superior show, but because Beautiful Mind with its fraught production history and its notable lack of Park Shin Hye was destined to lose in the ratings battle and ultimately be cut by two episodes.
Beautiful Mind definitely suffered due to the cut and also from the very difficult and protracted casting process and production delays. The strain of trying to tell its story with time constraints on both ends of the production definitely shows. And it’s a real shame this drama wasn’t given a fighting chance to succeed because there are some very good bones here and with more time and more support this show had the potential to be iconic within its genre.
All that being said–and attaching the huge caveat: they did the best they could with the resources they had–I’m still giving this drama a positive review. I’m not sorry I watched it and would even recommend it to a) lovers of medical and psycho dramas and b) any Jang Hyuk fan.
It seems almost incredible in retrospect that the role of Lee Young Ho could have been played by anyone else. Jang Hyuk fully inhabits the character and his performance is the linchpin of the drama. In actuality, the role was offered to Kim Soo Hyun, Yoo Ah In, Lee Jong Suk, and Choi Jin Hyuk before he was finally settled on. All those refusals and JH’s eleventh-hour acceptance of the role might have been the only stroke of luck the show had. I can tell you, I almost definitely wouldn’t be reviewing this if it wasn’t for him.
I had no hopes for the main pairing. At first glance, Jang Hyuk and Gye Jin Sung seem an incredibly mismatched couple. Park So Dam is physically small and unassuming. 24 but she somehow looks the same age as Kim Sae Ron He, on the other hand, is about 15 years older than her with a history of playing eccentric characters with booming supervillain laughs.
But I think their mismatched awkwardness is actually a good thing since what Young Ho really needs is not just a relationship but a relationship with someone whole different from himself. That is demonstrated in his longtime entanglement with Kim Min Jae (Park Se Young). A woman with as much capacity for ruthless ambition as he has, but with the added downside of being able to experience both jealousy and betrayal. Even the age difference between the two leads lends to this needed dynamic since Young Ho is so dramatically and necessarily emotionally immature, Jin Sung must act as what he calls his “emotional wi-fi” and proverbial conscience.
In that way, the central romance makes a nice counterpoint to the darker psychological landscape of the plot. The relationship has no underlying sexual charge to it and attempting to manufacture one might have felt odd even uncomfortable considering the two actors involved. Instead, it provides an innocent sweetness, hurt/comfort, and almost adolescent moments of skinship that give relief from the otherwise dour story.
Let me take a moment now to address the story, which as I said above, suffered more than anything else due to the cut episodes and the general disorganization of the production.
From the outset, this set up is very ambitious. A psychopathic neurosurgeon attempts to conceal his anti-social disorder and “pass” in normal society while continuing to be able to treat his patients when people start winding up suspiciously dead in his hospital and even on his operating table. He’s forced to duck the suspicion of the police, his fiance, and even his own father and try to find the real murderer before they kill again.
That’s a pretty sensational premise, difficult to pull off under the best of circumstances. Maintaining tension and an engaging mystery while also juggling the psychological elements and throwing a romance in there? It would have been tough, but amazing if successful. The really hardcore murder mystery stuff only lasted for about the first 6 episodes, before the show switched gears to the more standard patient of the week formula. The murder mystery fell by the wayside to such a degree that when they started wrapping it up in the last couple of episodes I found myself thinking, “Oh yeah, one of these people was a serial murderer. Everybody just seemed to kind of forget that part.”
I’m not a fan of medical dramas as a rule, and was here for the murder mystery and psychological elements. I will usually only watch medical procedurals when they have one or two other elements going that I’m really attracted to. Luckily, if you have an interesting psychopath, I’m in for the long haul. They made up for the loss of time and loss of focus, by cutting Gye Jin Sung’s police drama elements, and doubling down on the psychological trauma plot. Which overall, I think was a good idea. Based on user comments and other feedback, people weren’t really digging Jin Sung for the first part of the drama, and so cutting her development made the most sense. And it’s nice to see another psychopath lead character who is neither a serial killer, nor unsympathetic. It’s refreshing to see them try to really unpack anti-social personality disorder as a mental illness, with all the pain and struggle that implies, instead of using it as a mere plot device.
This is the second drama of the year I’ve watched with a psychopathic or sociopathic romantic lead, and I’m surprised to conclude that Beautiful Mind was actually kinder and more sympathetic toward Young Ho than Cheese in the Trap ever was to Jung.
The narrative still ended up lacking focus and opting for melodramatic impact over tight plotting on multiple occasions. But the writing episode to episode, and most importantly, the staging of those melodramatic moments was so competently done, that I sometimes forgot what a royal mess the story structure overall had become.
I give Beautiful Mind a 7.5/10. The extra .5 is for the way the actors and the production team held the show together against all odds. This show could have been a complete failure if not for the combined talents of all the people involved. While it was far from perfect, I enjoyed watching it and never once felt myself losing interest or considered dropping it. I hope if you’re teetering on the edge, this review gives you the extra push to give this drama a shot.
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