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So Ji-sub in a still from Doctor Lawyer.

Disney+ K-drama Doctor Lawyer: So Ji-sub returns in punchy medical-legal drama mash-up

  • So plays a hotshot surgeon turned lawyer who saves lives whether he’s in an operating theatre or a courtroom. An early flashback explains his switch of career
  • The actor cuts a dapper figure with his broad shoulders and deep-set eyes, but his character is too idealised to be relatable. There’s time for that to change

This article contains spoilers.

Two of the most popular Korean drama genres get a punchy mash-up in Doctor Lawyer, starring So Ji-sub, in which the chiselled star gets to the top of not one, but two of South Korea’s most prized professions.

Early in the opening episode of the MBC series, the writers of Doctor Lawyer distil the enduring pleasures of legal and medical dramas when hotshot doctor-turned-lawyer Han Yihan (So) explains in voiceover that the “courtroom is like an operating room” in that it’s that rare place with the power to end a life or begin one anew.

This maxim is no mere generalisation – it applies to Yihan himself, whose has found himself either scrubbed up in operating theatres or dressed to impress in courts of law.

These locations, central to medical and legal practice respectively, are primed for drama but they are also endpoints in themselves; for the experts who operate in them, they represent the culmination of years of education and experience but also the complex tapestry of relationships and regulations that keep them going.

As Doctor Lawyer begins, a court is in session with a doctor being sentenced for medical malpractice. The judge orders him to stand to hear the verdict, but he collapses with a cardiac arrest.

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Paramedics attempt to revive him, and in strides tall and handsome Yihan, who takes charge. As he sets about saving the dying man, prosecuting attorney Geum Seok-yeong (Lim Soo-hyang, also currently on our screens as the lead actress in Woori the Virgin) admonishes him, saying: “You’re not a doctor any more!” To which he coolly replies: “Should I just leave him to die?”

Yihan’s confidence is well-founded, as we learn when the clock winds back five years to an operating theatre where he saves a patient’s life and his besotted colleagues marvel at his speed, precision and handsome features.

Lim Soo-hyang as attorney Geum Seok-yeong in a still from Doctor Lawyer.

No sooner has he scrubbed down than he gets an emergency call and heads back out to scrub up again, even though he’s already performed three operations back to back.

Not only is Yihan a perfect surgeon, he is also a perfect boyfriend to Seok-yeong and a doting primary caregiver to her younger brother Seok-ju (Han Seung-bin), a student awaiting a new heart who hopes to follow in Yihan’s footsteps.

The only thing to hold against Yihan is that he allows himself to be used by Gu Jin-gi (Lee Kyoung-young), the head of Banseok Hospital – performing secret operations for VIPs, often taking over from Jin-gi’s incompetent son Hyun-seong (Lee Dong-ha).

So Ji-sub as Han Yihan in a still from Doctor Lawyer.

Everything is looking up for Yihan when one day all his dreams come true at once. A new heart is found for Seok-ju, Seok-yeong accepts his marriage proposal and Jin-gi promotes him to his dream position, head of cardiothoracic surgery.

But the higher the rise, the swifter the fall. The moment Yihan successfully completes Seok-ju’s heart transplant he is called in for another shady operation. The patient’s face is hidden and, more mysterious still, it is another heart transplant he is asked to perform. It goes well, but the next morning Seok-ju takes a turn for the worse. Fingers are pointed at Yihan, who was busy with the secret transplant and nowhere to be found.

Things quickly spiral out of control for Yihan, who finds himself accused of medical malpractice and thrown in jail. His colleagues turn against him and he decides to break up with a heartbroken Seok-yeong. He accepts a prosecution deal to avoid jail time and leaves the medical profession behind for good.

Lee Kyoung-young as hospital boss Gu Jin-gi in a still from Doctor Lawyer.

Though we haven’t seen exactly what he does in the present yet, save for performing surgery on a surgeon on a courtroom floor, we know from the show’s marketing that Yihan has become a lawyer who specialises in medical malpractice.

Given Yihan’s own brush with malpractice, which was probably orchestrated by his former boss and people connected to the mysterious heart transplant patient, we can reasonably expect that he will work his way through the courts as he seeks to take down the people who wronged him.

The story of Doctor Lawyer comes together quickly and cleanly, and the main pleasure will be in seeing how a perfect figure rises from the ashes to hit back at the corrupt powers that led to his downfall.

So Ji-sub as Han Yihan in a still from Doctor Lawyer.

Yihan is indeed perfection personified, which makes him an idealised man and a million miles away from being a relatable character. That could change if the show gives him a few layers over the coming weeks as the story unfolds.

Last seen four years ago in My Secret, Terrius, So cuts a dapper figure in the lead role, with his broad shoulders and deep-set eyes making him the hunkiest doctor lawyer anyone could ask for. Curiously in this day and age, So is the rare Korean A-lister who has yet to appear in a cable or streaming show, having remained loyal to broadcast networks to date.

Doctor Lawyer is streaming on Disney+.