South Korean television never fails to surprise me with its capacity for excellence. There’s always at least one mini-series that jumps off the screen and into your heart in every calendar season, and during the winter of 2014-2015, that show was ‘Healer’ from KBS.
I could tell you about how there’s eye candy galore between the three leads Ji Chang Wook, Yoo Ji Tae, and super-cute ingénue Park Min Young. I could fill a page extolling how their respective portrayals as Healer, Kim Moon Ho, and Chae Young Shin were a perfect balance of dazzling talent, chemistry, and the beauty of the human form. I could even ramble on about how Ji Chang Wook and Park Min Young cleaned up at the KBS Drama Awards for their work in ‘Healer,’ and all of these factors would be reason enough to start a binge-watching marathon of this show right now. But what really made it sing, in this critic’s never-shy view, was the combination of Song Ji Na’s incredibly tight screenplay and the imaginative camera work of directors Kim Jin Woo and Lee Jung Seob.
First of all, the writing is just shy of sublime. There are two settings, one from 1980’s South Korea, when that nation was still a dictatorship closed to the outside world and fighting its own citizens in their quest for basic freedoms, such as freedom of the press. The other is set in modern-day South Korea, where the sometimes questionable actions of yesteryear are still causing ripples in modern-day life. Everything started when a group of like-minded friends in 1980s Korea decided to pool their passion for journalism and operate a pirate radio station out of a moving truck, exposing the lies of the government and mocking the hubris of those who ran it. One of them, villain-to-be Kim Moon Shik, is only in it to be close to his crush, the beautiful and spirited Choi Myeong Hee. Fast-forward to 2015, and Moon Shik is a wealthy, powerful, and wholly corrupt businessman, wed to a now wheelchair-bound Myeong Hee, who, along the way, lost both her first husband and her daughter to an accident. The twist is that contrary to what Myeong Hee was led to believe, the daughter may not actually be dead.
Enter Kim Moon Ho, superstar investigative reporter, both famous and infamous for disregarding the corporate interests of the owners of whatever news agency he works for, all to get the truth, the real truth, to his viewers. He’s the living embodiment of the journalistic ideals of the pirate broadcasters he rode with back in the 80s. He also happens to be Moon Shik’s little brother, and was the unofficial mascot of the rebel journalists and their cause. Fully aware of how corrupt his older brother is, Moon Ho wages a cat-and-mouse war against his corrupt sibling in a Cain-and-Able dichotomy that sizzles with tension from start to finish.
At the heart of everything is the most unlikely of heroines, Chae Young Shin, a devoted, but largely untrained reporter for the internet tabloid Someday, which specializes in celebrity news, most of which is sourced from competing, more successful news outlets. A victim of child abuse, she suffers debilitating panic attacks and flashbacks when she witnesses any violence, leaving her nearly catatonic. While trailing yet another story of celebrity scandal, she stumbles across a surveillance photo of a legendary figure she’s only heard rumors about – the mercenary who refuses to kill but can be hired for anything else, Healer. How the two of them are connected in the past is a secret I won’t spoil, but it forms the basis of their strange romance, nudging both of their secret pasts and their combined destiny into the light of inescapable truth. It’s enough to make even the most hardened cynic believe in love and the invisible crimson thread of fate.
And I would be remiss indeed if I were to not remark on the outstanding direction of the series. Not only did the directors wring extraordinary performances from both the lead and supporting cast (the scene where Young Shin’s adoptive father coaxes her trust will leave you misty-eyed and reaching for tissues), but showed superb understanding of space and balance in the cinematography. While there was, perhaps, not enough use of shadow in this tale of good versus evil, the stunt coordination was something rare to find in Korean TV. Whether it’s the dazzlingly elaborate fight scenes or Healer’s urban parkour to get around, you’ll be glad they spent the extra money.
In summary, there is entirely too much to love about ‘Healer’ for any of its very scarce and minor flaws to matter. A rare treasure that appeals to both adrenaline junkies and incurable romantics, it’s one show that you absolutely should watch right now: