RATING: 2.8 stars out of 5 OR 6.5/10 score
Who doesn’t like the occasional eye candy? I admittedly am still in a drama rut, but out of curiosity, I went to find out about what shows Ji Chang Wook (JCW) was in after seeing him in a mainland China variety show. Although I started because Park Min Young (PMY) was also in it to give the show more credibility in acting props, I probably stayed for JCW in the end.
Arguably a media-based alternative to City Hunter, Healer predictably features a handsome male lead at odds against the elite and bigshots of society. Using questionable, shady but cool methods, the main characters seek truth and justice from the secrets stemming from their parents’ generation.
Due to the similarities between City Hunter and Healer, there will be plenty of City Hunter comparisons, for better or for worse.
(Scroll to the bottom for a TL;DR :P)
Just as Healer is a mystery to those who know him, the story begins with a lot of question marks as well as the audience is thrown into one action-packed job of Healer. The relationships between the different characters are then slowly established just as the fates of the main leads slowly become intertwined again. There is a certain air of uncertainty as a result to how the story would progress. How would the leads meet and get to know each other? How would their respective pasts relate to each other?
Although this would mean that Healer’s plot and pacing would be less action-packed and tightly woven than City Hunter’s, I highly appreciated this aspect of Healer. Healer is able to let the audience experience the story and atmosphere the same way that the characters would – with uncertainty and questions. In addition, the absence of City Hunter’s parental revenge plot as the main plot driver spared the audience from unnecessary angst, pain, darkness and heavy hearts, enabling Healer to become a more light-hearted drama.
The uncertainty and constant air of mystery creates a good atmosphere for slowly revealing the antagonists that the characters are against as a result. Moving towards unknown circumstances and unknown enemies, the audience would be intrigued to see what strategies and methods they would use in their counter-attacks. After all, the concept of using the media to attack as well as protect oneself is not commonly explored in dramas.
Healer also performs well in allocating good focus to each of the main characters and the antagonists, hence diversifying the perspectives of viewing the circumstances given individual character’s stakes and attempting character development.
In terms of plot progression, Healer was fairly good in providing rising action and new sources of conflict, albeit not providing much clarity on the motivations behind it necessarily. However, over time, I felt like the rising action soon plateaued and the climax that should have come never did.
Similarly, the potential that Healer had slowly got diminished as the drama end drew closer. With more mysteries than answers, it is no wonder that rushed plot holes were eventually resorted to in order to end the story on a good note.
While my enjoyment of the show never reached that of true fangirl-ing, it was greatly affected as the drama soon drew to a close and the last final showdown arc was disappointing to say the least. There were many aspects of the story that I questioned throughout the last episode which either confused me or made no sense. In some ways, it was also anticlimactic for the characters in how their relationship with each other suddenly made up and got better. However, those details will be spared here to avoid spoilers.
As for action scenes, not being an expert in action choreography, I will keep it brief. Having less sources of action than City Hunter, there is admittedly less action and fighting scenes in Healer than City Hunter. Most of the fighting is hand-to-hand combat in which Healer rarely ever fails. In contrast to the raised stakes and hastened heart rates when City Hunter’s life hangs in the balance, Healer’s action scenes seem less exciting since there is little threat to Healer’s physical existence.
In terms of romantic development, the aspect of shoujo feels will be discussed in the last section of Enjoyment & Feels.
In terms of plot however, Healer is not spared from its fair share of cliches and tropes. Much of its romantic interaction stems from a very predictable set that dramas often use. This includes saving the damsel in distress (very often) to being saved from complete emotional breakdown only by the female lead, and the unexpected childhood relationship shared between the leads (to increase their fated-to-be-ness). Thankfully while tropes are in full use, they are still not used to the point of frustration or leaving a bad taste in one’s mouth.
With a relationship that is rather enshrined in tropes, Healer takes a lot of hints from City Hunter in terms of romantic development. This begins with protecting the girl with your amazing alter ego to getting close to her in real life in a work environment, out of curiosity and also by fate making them both cross paths time and again. This curiosity and eventual infatuation would then conflict with their alter ego’s position whereby they would have to try to distance their alter egos from their loved one in vain.
It should no longer be a secret that Healer will eventually reveal his identity or acknowledge it to the female lead, but unexpectedly Healer is able to make some minor changes to this scene from City Hunter. Due to the lightheartedness of this show, there are probably more scenes of romantic interaction in absolute numbers than in City Hunter. However, rather than being dispersed throughout the show in City Hunter, my qualm with Healer is in how the romantic development is concentrated in specific arcs rather than slowly nurturing support for their relationship. There was even a point in the drama where their romantic relationship was so strange and odd that their actions could have been interpreted in a completely satirical way to portray them as delusional.
On a personal note, although both leads did their roles well, I did not feel the chemistry between them as a couple.
Nonetheless, the romance between Healer and the female lead should still be notably commended as it includes GOOD COMMUNICATION!!! (*claps for you*)
This is because Healer spares audiences from the unnecessary angst and frustration from the stereotypical eye-roll-worthy scenes. Namely, this would be the typical act of “leaving your loved one for their own good” without a proper explanation even after getting together. Hence, the loved ones are left in the dark about the life-threatening circumstances the main character face alone, which may or may not cause misunderstandings (which I’m sure City Hunter had). Instead, the female lead acted by PMY is kept in the loop when it comes to important decision-making after their getting together, and provides emotional support to JCW in times of desperation.
Altogether, Healer is City Hunter’s less-intense substitute in which 30% of City Hunter’s action would be replaced as 15% light-hearted comedy and 15% more attempted character development and romantic interaction (which will be discussed later).
Healer V.S. City Hunter Similarities:
- Character mold for male lead
- SAME FEMALE LEAD ACTRESS
- Romantic role of female lead towards emotional strength of male lead
- Parental generation feuds/struggle/call to revenge
- Fight against the elites and echelons of their society (albeit different industries)
- Male Leads’ fathers are no longer alive
- Male leads’ mothers are alive, but their relationship is estranged (for various reasons)
- Helpful older sidekick/advisor –> Ahjumma in Healer and Ahjussi in City Hunter
- The romantic sitting-in-bus scene reminiscent of City Hunter
- Male Leads’ “bat-caves”: Healer’s is more lazy and abandoned while City Hunter’s is more amazingly modern and rich
- Keeping distance away (in alter ego identity) from female lead to “protect her” form harm, but ends up protecting closely anyway
- CHARACTER DEATH to raise stakes
- Complicated truth behind parentage
There’s probably much more, but there is not much point in continuing the list now.
Being in the range of typical k-dramas (refer to: City Hunter), it is not surprising that character development is not its main strength. Honestly, all the characters in Healer have remained generally 2-dimensional stereotypes and molds in my impression. However, oddly enough, there were aspects of Healer’s characters that made it slightly more unique. For instance, some of its characters had somewhat more unusual character molds and hence actually had more potential for realistic portrayal even if that potential was not realized.
In general, all the characters are fairly likable, or at least not hated on, from the main characters to the antagonists themselves. There are visible attempts at character development that should be commended upon. From creating tragic backstories for the main leads to giving the perspective of the antagonists, Healer does well in giving balance to all the characters’ roles in the story. Unfortunately, “attempts” is the key word as these attempts seem incomplete and lack depth to be truly impressionable and break free from stereotypes as described below.
JCW: Healer – City Hunter’s Alter Ego
Simply: the cool, handsome, ultra-skilled but sometimes awkward source of comedy
A mystery from the start, Healer’s origin and motivations are unclear, except for the fact that he practically wants to be a hikkikomori on an uninhabited island he wishes to purchase (as revealed in the first episode introduction) using his earnings from dealings as Healer. And then you wonder “What does owning an uninhabited island as a goal have much to do with the plot/Healer (as a character)?”
The answer is: It doesn’t. Perhaps it was an attempt to show character development in Healer’s motivations (aptly compared in GIF form on Tumblr) as it changed in the show, but I did not personally feel it. (GIF set found here: http://itsloveitsokay.tumblr.com/post/110835451058/e01-vs-e20)
Generally, I don’t have the strong impression that Healer had strong character development of any kind. While he faced challenges and problems as the main character, it is hard to say that he actually experienced much difficulty overcoming them. Rather, he more or less always coolly saved the day or damsel in distress even if there was some slight hiccup.
Unlike in City Hunter where Lee Eun Song often faced life-threatening situations, Healer’s greatest threat was in fact the possibility of revealing his identity to the world, the police and any other people who wanted to hunt him down or attempted threats to his loved ones. The irony is that when it did eventually happen, the threat that it posed seemed to be swept under the carpet.
The greatest appeal of Healer was perhaps how it extracted some of the fun concepts from City Hunter and took the opportunity to maximize its potential, namely the necessity to dress up in different outfits and act with different personalities. Hence the existence of 2nd alter ego Park Bong Soo, Healer’s undercover identity to work at the third-rate media company where the story unfolds.
Compared to City Hunter where Lee Eun Song’s personality remains cool and charming no matter in real life or as City Hunter, Park Bong Soo was well-utilized in Healer as a source of comedy and plot mechanism to let the main characters have more interaction with each other.
Ji Chang Wook hence earned his fair share of eye-candy points with his performance as the cute, bumbling, weak and awkward Park Bong Soo while balancing his cool, capable but lazy real identity as a 宅男 (shut-in/hermit guy), *cough* I mean, Healer.
Another less prominent personality that JCW undertook was the punkish, unknowing, happy-go-lucky Seo Jung-hoo (Healer’s real name) that supposedly returned from abroad and got into contact with their old family friends (from the first JCW gif).
JCW even got a chance to show his acting props with an emotional arc as well when the necessary character death is utilized to pull emotional heartstrings.
In general, while JCW’s performance was pretty good and convincing, the character of Healer and his many other alter-egos were limited by standard character stereotypes and clichés such as having only the female lead be his “weakness”, only revealing his “true self” to her and being completely invincible and infallible.
PMY: Chae Young Shin – The (Chosen) One
Simply: “bright/cheerful and mediocre, less-skilled but unique sunflower in the ocean of other people” female lead.
It is hard not to compare Healer with City Hunter thanks to the added fact that both female leads were played by Park Min Young… Thankfully, there have been changes made to the female lead’s role in the show compared to Healer.
While in City Hunter, PMY’s Nana character was truly an outsider from the entanglement brought in by her love for the City Hunter, Chae Young Shin in Healer is a pivotal character in the storyline where her involvement is essential.
In the beginning, CYS is portrayed as a cheerful, optimistic and ambitious young reporter, but with mediocre skills, qualifications etc. However, it soon becomes increasingly clear how incredulous and unique her background truly is, not only with her biological family but also her upbringing in her foster family.
However, despite some unique attributes given to her in that respect, CYS’s character also lacked good character development despite its potential. For example, CYS’s fear of watching violence not only left unanswered questions onto her childhood experiences but also became the excuse for Healer to swoop in and save her without outright describing CYS as “weak”.
Although there were attempts to show character development in her becoming a better reporter, those changes were not particularly significant in my opinion in changing how she would be as a character throughout the show. Even though she became more capable in terms of reporting skill, it is hard not to consider it something that was “bestowed” upon her by the two male leads of Healer and her daddy-long-legs equivalent, Kim Moon Ho who gave her plenty of guidance and opportunities before she rose to the challenge herself.
One commendable point for Chae Young Shin was probably how her character was naturally quirky especially with her interactions with Park Bong Soo that Park Min Young was able to showcase well. Not being the tall beauty stereotype, her character was given its imperfections through her quirks such as her strange behavior after getting drunk.
Compared to Nana of City Hunter, CYS is notably less capable. However, thankfully CYS’s character did not simply collapse into being only a romantic interest in the show like Nana eventually did in City Hunter. Where Nana was slowly becoming an annoyance and hindrance to City Hunter’s operations, CYS was able to play a useful sidekick next to Healer.
While not a completely useless or stereotypical female lead, Chae Young Shin started out as the persistent, persevering, optimistic and strange sunbae (senior) and pretty much remained the same until the end.
Kim Moon Ho– The Merlin
Simply: the expert, well-known power player in the societal context that decides to bestow his skills and influence to help the main leads which have become his “chosen ones”.
The brother of the shady antagonist, Kim Moon Ho is an unusual character type to expect in such a drama. KMH is introduced as a famous reporter who stubbornly pursues controversial stories despite repercussions on his company and superiors. His job is ironically saved by the backing of his brother who is also in the media industry even though KMH’s reporting seeks to expose secrets and dealings like those of his brother.
While KMH’s character role is first unclear beyond being the inspiration of CYS, it slowly becomes evident that he holds crucial information relating to the main leads as he soon becomes involved in their lives and realizes their true identity and relation to himself. From then, he becomes a protector character to a displeased Healer and an unknowing CYS.
KMH becomes the Merlin, or fairy godmother in fact, to CYS when he hears that her aspirations are to be a good reporter like himself. He takes her under his wing by pulling his brother’s strings, once again, to mentor her directly at her third-rate news company. With KMH as the main strategist in their media exposés, KMH becomes the leader in their makeshift combined attack against Healer’s enemies and the unknown bigshots driving the inequalities and injustices of society.
Despite the strange character type that KMH is, his character is appropriately flawed in ways that affect the plot. This includes his self-protectionist mentality, his secretive nature and his internal conflict between his family and justice given his position. KMH was also given opportunity to have some negligible character development in the form of his previous failed relationship.
As a whole, Kim Moon Ho was probably the most interesting character even though there was also minimal growth in his character as well. Although his character was not really likeable in my opinion, I enjoyed how the actor managed to inject charm into KMH.
Ahjumma – That Always Invincible Hacker
Simply: the reliable and highly important background technical support and advisor to Healer
I thought it would never come, but even Ahjumma has a backstory given to her!
Although she remained a mysterious figure whose skills and abilities were not discussed for 80% of the drama, her “origin” story provides a more realistic understanding towards her motivations. However, given the little screen time that Ahjumma has other than simply deftly typing away fantastic code commands into her computers, it is only understandable that Ahjumma’s backstory still leaves many questions unanswered about her.
This is somewhat of a pity to me because the development of her backstory would probably be quite interesting in my opinion.
The Korean Illuminati: Kim Moon Shik – The Shady Antagonist
+ The Elder – The Shadier Older Antagonist
For Kim Moon Shik, his existence as an antagonist was interesting thanks to his position in the parental generation secret, his troublemaking brother, as well as his love for his wife. Although he was one of early antagonists, his role as the instigator gradually faded out into that of an executor of orders as the Elder character showed up. Although his methods are indeed rather ruthless, when KMS’s motivations and past are revealed later in the story, his character’s internal conflict made him one of the more realistically written characters.
The Elder, put simply, is the head of the hinted equivalent of Illuminati in Korea. Headed to choose the leaders of the next generation and manipulate the greater society for their benefit, they would govern and rule others just like stubborn old men would – assuming they are always infallibly right and forcing others to listen to them because of their seniority (and power) alone. All powerful and all-controlling, the Elder with the Illuminati becomes the formidable opponent against the small band of people related to Healer by controlling a band of other shady lackeys meant to find, beat up and capture those people related to Healer and Healer himself.
Music / OST
For this K-drama, I surprisingly was not able to find many popular fan videos using the OST on YouTube to give me a preview and trailer of the show. And after watching the show, the reason became more apparent.
K-dramas are probably known to be consistently good in the production of their Original Soundtracks and provide such a good curation of music that can be used for every emotion being squeezed out of the audience’s heart. Strangely though, this drama did not have a good OST to me.
Other than the first title track with no vocals, I did not find any of the songs memorable, and sometimes even found them somewhat annoying in the show. I was not inclined to find out what were the songs played at certain instances (except the Healer title soundtrack here) and only remember the existence of 2 other songs that were played in the drama despite its somewhat extensive listing.
While some songs were directed towards certain dramatic emotions, I did not appreciate the singing that became repetitive and in hindsight reminds me of melodramatic crying/moaning. For me, some of the songs in fact interrupted the otherwise good atmosphere created in the show which made me want to remove the soundtrack from a few scenes altogether.
For the one title song Healer that I actually appreciated, it caught me on first impression. It captured the cool, somewhat tech-related feel of the drama with its electronic sound, but provided bursts of energy and had its own rise-and-fall in mood that it created. Just as some fans had noted that they will remember Healer running across rooftops to this song, I will remember Healer with this song alone.
Other than that, it seems that Ji Chang Wook actually sang a song in the OST listing of this drama. Of course I have zero recollection of hearing anything that sounds remotely like Ji Chang Wook though. So perhaps when I am bored I should go find that song of his just to see if I remember hearing it at all.
Ji Chang Wook’s Healer OST Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPxI2WebjjE
Feels & Enjoyment
Finally, it has come to the discussion of Shoujo Feels~. It’s no secret that I often watch dramas to satisfy my need for shoujo feels. Unfortunately, I would not consider Healer a very good source for it at all.
This is because for much of the first half of the drama, there is little romantic interaction and reason to support them romantically. For the little interaction they might have had, perhaps their chemistry as actors was insufficient for me too. As mentioned before, Healer has a major problem of distribution of romantic scenes in which they were mostly compressed into 1 episode specifically.
SPOILER (?) ALERT: The 10 minutes of compressed romantic interaction in a single episode did not earn much of a single internal squeal for me. Other than those 10 minutes, real romantic interaction did not amount to much. While they did have quite a number of kissing scenes, it seemed disappointing that their relationship had no development in other aspects to make me want to support them as a couple in the show. They even had a very similar romantic scene of sitting next to each other at the back of the bus, reminiscent of City Hunter even though it was completely unnecessary in this context.
It was more disappointing personally, having seen some clips of those romantic reactions well documented on Tumblr and having raised hopes that my feels would be satisfied.
However, apart from the lack of feels to enhance enjoyment, Healer was still fairly enjoyable to watch for its strength in plot (for the most part) and of course, Ji Chang Wook. With the increased comedy aspect of Healer, just watching JCW acting as a lazy shut-in or being bullied as Park Bong Soo was adorable. In addition, Healer added a component of romance that City Hunter had failed to include: the Meet-the-Parents session. Apart from JCW, much of the comedic relief otherwise came from the office co-workers to CYS’s father and family friend and their interactions, giving them good value as characters to be noticed.
TL;DR: Story – Media-version of City Hunter, more comedy, more romance, less dark and serious
Characters – Somewhat different with good potential but still 2-dimensional
Romance – Meh. Not great, really.
Enjoyment – Not that bad, good for casual drama entertainment
In conclusion, Healer is fairly decent as a casual k-drama to watch. While its premise and romance are fairly cliché and predictable, its unique portrayal of plot and somewhat different characters give audiences something refreshing at the same time.
Apologies for the super long review. -.-”
~ Jerna (@jernahorizon)
Credits/Links to all the GIF sets used from Tumblr: 1, 2, 3, 4