[Review] Healer: End Game

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Well wasn’t THAT a fun ride!  65 days after its premiere, “Healer” finally ended.  It’s taken us a few weeks of sitting back and reflecting on its 10-week run before putting fingers to keyboards.  So where to start?  After posting our initial thoughts on the first half of the series here, we will concentrate on the second half of the drama (from Episode 11 to the finale), and then give a general wrap-up of the show as a whole.  Here goes!

cherkell:  Episode 11 started the trajectory of Healer wondering if he should start coming out of the shadows, not necessarily for himself, but to open up the truth about his father’s death and (eventually) open up to Young-shin as well.  It was by sheer dumb luck that the first person to figure this out was Moon-ho, but up until this point, I was unsure of why Moon-ho was even in this drama — except maybe to throw off the viewers ever so slightly as to who exactly was the OTP.

Gabby:  On the contrary, I didn’t have any issues with understanding Moon-ho’s role in the drama.  Even in the beginning when people were trying to figure out whether Ji Chang Wook or Yoo Ji Tae was the main lead, I thought it was quite obvious that Jung-hu would get his girl and Moon-ho would be like a mentor or daddy-long-legs to Jung-hu and Young-shin, so I didn’t get what the confusion was. But I was indeed surprised that Healer’s identity was discovered at such an early point in the show, and I certainly wasn’t expecting Moon-ho to be the first one to discover the truth either, so kudos to the writer for giving us such an unexpected twist.

cherkell:  And of all people to find out, as I was thinking it would be Chae Chi Soo or Coffee House Adjusshi before Moon-ho.  But the dude’s a reporter… I guess it came with the territory.

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Dammit, you busted me so early in the show?

Gabby:  If you all recall my comments in our previous review, I wasn’t too impressed with the drama back then, but it was at this half-way mark that I started to find myself loving the show more as things got more exciting. My favourite episodes so far are probably episode 8 with the exciting elevator scene, and episodes 12 and 13 where Jung-hu was led into a trap while trying to save his mum.

cherkell:  Also after this half-way point, I think the drama took a more ‘lighter tone,” in both the direction and the general feel of it — just like Young-shin taking off her fuzzy wool hat and seeing the world in a brighter light.  At the beginning, I thought it was my eyes failing me because the video treatment in the first half was so dark and foreboding, but maybe there was something ‘technical’ in the PD-nim slowly bringing Jung-hu out of the shadows and into the daylight.

Gabby:  Again on the contrary, I thought the show took a darker turn instead. In the beginning, Jung-hu was quite apathetic and was only concerned about completing his assignments to earn more money to buy his island and a pet leopard. But in the second half, there was a shift of focus away from his Healer duties to a man with a personal vengeance — to seek redress for his father, to avenge his teacher, and to bring down the Elder so that he can live happily ever after with Young-shin. I was expecting him to become a hero for the people or at least a righteous reporter like Moon-ho who fights using the pen, which is a character development that usually happens in most dramas with action heroes, but “Healer” somehow deviates from this standard blueprint. This was somewhat a disappointment to me as he did not grow to become a hero that he could be given his abilities, but I guess this is in line with his apathetic nature. Since Jung-hu never bothered about others, it seems reasonable that he should only be concerned about his own happiness instead of fighting for the people.

cherkell:  The boy pretty much ‘shot first and asked questions later.’  Running solely on one’s emotions does not make for an understandable character IF there was no resolution to his vengeance… if after being unmasked and Healer ended up constantly losing battle after battle to the Evil Guys because Jung-hu kept going off half-cocked, then that sort of plot contrivance would have made me lose interest in the rest of the episodes.  But fortunately for our sake, there were some pretty epic wins for Team Healer that made me anticipate what Jung-hu had yet to pull out of his sleeve.  At least the cliff-hangers did exactly what they were meant to do, which was make me bite my nails until the next episode hit my viewing device.

Gabby:  I enjoyed his various impersonations and his Bong-su personality in the beginning, but as more people came to learn about his real identity, there was lesser need for him to carry on his disguises, and I really missed these in the second half.  Not to say that these were totally missing in the second half, but probably did not feature as much as I would have wanted. Instead, we were given lots of kissing and hugging scenes which do not sit well with me at all. URGH. (Sorry, shippers.)

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Healer’s various disguises

cherkell:  I guess we should slightly touch upon (no pun intended) Episodes 14-15, after Young-shin visits the Healer Honeycomb Hideout to check up on Bong-su/Jung-hu after Teacher’s death.  I ain’t gonna lie – butterflies were multiplying in my stomach faster than one could say OMG is Jung-hu REALLY going to unmask himself to Young-shin?  I just wasn’t expecting him to *ahem* unmask himself in other ways as well.  At least the morning-after scene was tastefully filmed — that could have gone SO horribly wrong in a lesser-scriptwriter’s hands — and Clingy Jung-hu completely pushed all my buttons to the point only bats and small dogs could hear my squeeing.  (You have to go through that phase once or twice in your own life to understand his motives, am I right?)  What helped their relationship not fall into syrupy-sweetness (or fall completely off the rails) was the believability of the two actors immersing themselves into their characters.  I guess Chang-wook can now scratch a ‘bed scene’ off his ‘Things I Have Yet To Film List.’

Gabby: I’m not going to mince my words, but I felt the bed scene and all the lovey dovey scenes after that were a tad too long and unnecessary. I think my liking for the show then went downhill after that. I was never the kind who enjoyed watching shows centered on romance anyway. I am more into mystery or action genres, so there wasn’t enough of these in “Healer” to satisfy me. Therefore, you can imagine my surprise when Ji Chang Wook himself said there were too many romantic scenes in “Healer” in his recent interviews. So I’m not the only one who felt this way!! *sobs* But this also shows how professional Ji Chang Wook is — although he had some disapproval towards certain scenes, he still did his job anyway, even if it was a ‘bed scene’. On a random note, Jung-hu’s clingy behaviour towards Young-shin somehow reminded me of Ta Hwan in “Empress Ki”, which made me wonder if the real Ji Chang Wook is also like that to some extent.

cherkell:  A good thing about “Healer” was that there was no Noble Idiocy Trope utilised.  Misunderstandings were aired and addressed rather quickly, because to me, nothing brings down a plot faster than the ol’ “I’m leaving you because I have to leave in order to protect you by leaving” bullcrap.  But sadly, maybe this was one of the reasons why “Healer” did not click with the Korean viewing public.  If they were looking for birth secrets and other makjang-like substances, then they were surely not going to find them in this drama and obviously turned elsewhere to look for those shows.

Gabby:  Oh yes, there were many opportunities for the show to descend into Noble Idiocy, but I’m glad that never happened. The main couple has great understanding and trust towards each other. Although there were times where Young-shin doubted Jung-hu, they never got into any major arguments that involved smashing of furniture or slaps on the face, which is quite amazing. This shows that a writer need not deliberately set up conflicts for the couple in order to make a show interesting. Besides the lack of makjang elements, I think one reason why this show failed to interest the general TV audience is also its complicated storyline. If one did not watch AND understand the show from the first episode, it would be very hard for someone flipping from channel to channel to jump in mid-way and understand whatever was going on in “Healer”. Personally, even though I’ve been following every episode diligently, I had difficulty following the story occasionally because I thought the scenes did not actually flow very logically some times.

cherkell:  Towards the end (most notably in Episodes 18 and 19), I could tell that the ending was not going to be as cut-and-dried as I expected.  In fact, reading about how Song Ji-na pretty much rewrote the script for Episode 20 the day before leads me to believe that this was not the ending intended to air.  That damn liveshoot system again messing with us viewers — the last episode could have fleshed out better by at least 8 more minutes if they’d cut out all the hugs and kisses.  (Sorry again, Shippers.)

Gabby:  Yes, it ended with a kiss, sweet enough. But I was like, “That was it?” I wanted to see Young-shin living with her new-found mother and foster family, I wanted to see what happened to Ahjumma, I wanted to see if Moon-shik really lost his mind, and I wanted to know if Healer continued to be Healer or did he succeed at becoming an ordinary man. The writer may have answered a long list of questions from viewers after the show, but all these questions should have been answered in the show and not after the show, since not everyone hangs out online to read up about the drama.

Things We Would Have Done Differently (And Your Mileage May Vary):

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cherkell:  What happened to some of the characters?!?  We needed more exposition on the gangster ahjushiis!  One of the first rules in scriptwriting is that you never introduce a character in the first act without planning on them reappearing in the third act.  We get to see the “family” that Young-shin grew up with… and then they never came back!  Again, we don’t know if it was because the production ran out of time or the actors were not available for subsequent filmings.  But I was sad that the gangsters didn’t show up to keep an eye on Young-shin after she was taken hostage by Secretary Creepy in Episode 19.  That smackdown would have been EPIC!

Gabby:  Better cinematography and action. I think the direction of this drama, especially the action scenes left much to be desired. I already had my doubts right from the start when they chose the director of “Baker King Kim Tak Goo” to take the reins. Yes, that show was a ratings hit, but it was pretty much makjang and I would have preferred a director with more experience in the action genre.  I was looking forward to the action scenes, especially since the show was being marketed as an action drama and supposedly drew inspiration from the parkour film “District 13” (I even went to watch clips of that film to envision Ji Chang Wook performing those impressive stunts). It was thus unfortunate that they couldn’t find a proper stuntman who was an expert in parkour (as Ji Chang Wook himself lamented during the press conference), as that would have probably made “Healer” one of the first K-dramas in history to feature parkour. In the second half of the series, the “parkour” scenes were noticeably fewer and Healer was seen driving more often than leaping across rooftops, but I understand this was due to the lack of time as the production was already in live-shooting by then.  Thus, it is a great pity that many aspects of the show were compromised due to the lack of budget and time.

Why run on two legs when you have four wheels?

Why run on two legs when you have four wheels?

cherkell:  And that dang “Eternal Love” song has now reached “Almost Paradise” played-to-death proportions.  I was in my local Korean market a few Saturdays ago and it came over the loudspeaker TWICE while I was shopping for my groceries.  And I stood there and sung along with it!  *headsmack*  The OST was serviceable at best, with most of my favorites being the BGM instrumentals, but the best part of the release as a whole was (of course) Ji Chang Wook’s “I Will Protect You.”  His offering should finally make all those naysayers calling him a “singer-wanna-be” shut the hell up and take notice of what a beautiful voice he has.  Nine thumbs up!

Gabby: I, on the other hand, didn’t find the use of “Eternal Love” in the show excessive, and even if it was overused, at least the song was a nice one (whereas “Almost Paradise” was not a nice song to me). I did like some of the instrumental tracks such as “Embrace the World”, “Trouble” and “To Battle” and “Their Fate”. I am quite surprised at the sheer number of ballads and piano instrumentals in the OST though. Was expecting more upbeat or dramatic music for an action drama. I do enjoy listening to Korean OSTs, regardless of whether I actually watched a drama, but overall, this OST album probably isn’t going to be among my top favourites.

Are you girls done yet? Please wrap up soon.

Are you girls done yet? Please wrap up soon.

cherkell:  All in all, I think it was a fantastic ride.  In choosing this role, Ji Chang Wook could finally show his multi-faceted skills to a larger audience since KBS is not only the largest network channel in Korea, but is broadcast throughout the world on its KBS World and KBS America platforms.  The series did end up being rushed at the end due to the live shooting and possible last-minute script rewrites, but at least the show did not leave us panting for more via an open ending that would leave everyone scratching their heads.  It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but most dramas never are.  It was pretty darn close, and the fact that Ji Chang Wook convinced me that he was Healer sealed the deal for me.  In my world, “Healer” is now tied with “Warrior Baek Dong Soo” for his Best Drama Ever.  My Rating:  8.95/10.

Gabby:  I find it VERY hard for me to rate this drama, because I obviously do not love it, but it was decent. It just did not meet my expectations. As a Ji Chang Wook fan, I think this is one of his better dramas, and certainly one that I wouldn’t mind re-watching for the sake of watching him. After all, he got to show his diverse acting talents in pulling off multiple characters, which goes to show just how much effort he puts into studying his script, and he even added on his own ad libs, thereby creating his very own style of Healer. He also got to prove his skills in action, comedy and melodrama, and this drama also helped increase his popularity greatly, so this was definitely a good piece of work for him. But as an objective viewer of Korean drama, I will say that this drama is definitely not on my list of Top 10 Kdramas, and neither is it my favourite drama coming from Ji Chang Wook. Honestly, if it wasn’t for Ji Chang Wook, I would have stopped watching this drama long ago (which seems to be the case for a few of his shows). Therefore, if I were to rate this objectively, I will give it 6.5/10.

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How some of us probably look like when watching “Healer”

cherkell:  Now to discuss the ratings themselves.  Reading several Korean sites after its premiere led us to believe that “Healer” was not the drama series the fans were looking for.  I can see why the show started off with middling ratings when it took 4 to 5 episodes to finally hit its stride, but even then it was not garnering the high ratings expected given that huge publicity push at the outset.  And if you don’t grab your audience right off the bat, then they may never show up at all.  Historically, Monday/Tuesday nights have been quite dismal for KBS2 dramas airing in the 10:00 PM timeslot, and we were praying that “Healer” was not going to fall into that trap.

Back in the day, a 7% episode AGB rating would have been considered poor, but that was before the plethora of platforms on which to watch television programs.  You can’t swing a dead mobile device on the Korean subways these days without seeing everyone’s heads buried in their phones, and that’s where the bulk of your viewing public is now watching.  The AGB Nielsens are becoming a dinosaur in the way they still compile the ratings on actual plugged-in terrestrial television sets, and that proved the audience for “Healer” was not the group of people watching and approving and raising the ratings accordingly.  Granted, the whole Korean television ratings system needs to be dragged kicking-and-screaming into the 21st Century to take into account the way technology has changed viewing habits, but I’m not holding my breath until that actually happens.  Coming back to the present, “Healer” realising an 8.6% average over 20 episodes seems to be relatively decent given that other dramas airing in that same time slot were/have been tanking big time.  Different strokes for different folks, I guess…

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As he’s mentioned in all his recent post-drama interviews, Ji Chang Wook is carefully considering his next project, we anxiously await his decision, and we both hope it’s a good one.  Thanks for tagging along for our ride with “Healer”!

15 thoughts on “[Review] Healer: End Game

  1. Glad I’m not the only one in whole universe who love JCW but not this drama *ducks from Healer fans*… I find this drama is compelling and certainly one of his better shows. But subjectively, I only like this show, not love.. There are other JCW’s dramas that I love more.

    • I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who didn’t love this drama either! I wanted to love it, and I was beginning to wonder what was wrong with me. I love JCW in “Smile Dong Hae”, and I actually did love his character “healer”. But I don’t think action/crime dramas are for me. I’m more into romance dramas, but I tried this one because everyone said it was a great romance. I did like the romance bits, but I felt that the romance was secondary to the crime story, and there were long stretches in each episode that focused on the main crime story. Yet I’ve read many reviews that say it’s primarily a romance drama, so I’m a bit confused by that.

  2. Enjoyed reading your thoughtful exchange, ladies. You ladies remind me of the famous Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert’s enlightening film critics from years ago. I miss them so. Thanks very much, ladies. Excellent drama critic!

  3. It is very true the rating system is outdated and biased on sample older generation. Regardless, this is a great drama. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. With all your regards of your episodes assessment I patiently read it all and your entitled to your own opinion ,Korean viewers maybe are not yet ready for a fast face kind of series but in terms of global viewing Healer series achieve the big advantage compare to other series offered to the public I enjoyed this series and loved it and a Korean drama fanatics thank you for sharing your ideas about this series guys.

  5. I’d say it’s the best romance action i ever watch in korean drama. I already watch it 5th times, but i never got bored with it. I kind of sick watching about love triangle or bad boy chaebol kind of guy all the times that i always seen in korean dramas. What i regret about healer is only this drama has to be have a longer episode. The ending kind of rush n simplified. But i really love this drama, all the emotions combined in one drama. Thank you to all that involved in kdrama healer for giving me this temporary wonderful momment and wondrous feeling of watching healer. Luv you ji chang wook

    • yes, i agree with you. the finale is far too simplified and rushed to get to the end. yet, it’s still worthy of watching again and again as long as you are not bored with every single bit of the romance! i quite love them though. keep on working Mr JCW.

  6. I like that you gals do not agree at certain points – similar to my LINE friends who have agreed to disagree in our Healer chat. This made reading the review engaging.

    You are right to point out that the Korean masses are not yet ready for this kind of drama that smashed all the usual tropes and this also explains why the international fans have enjoyed Healer. True that the AGB Nielsens way of getting the ratings is already archaic as it no longer reflects the actual viewership of a very connected SK.

    I have said this previously that Healer is just a little bit above average in all its aspects but combining these “averages” made the drama truly entertaining. I still am not agreeable to this live-shoot culture in the Korean entertainment industry and the cons are very evident in the outcome of the rushed and mediocre ending of this drama. Healer could have soared to higher heights if only the production team was given the proper budget and time to translate to the screen what the writer has envisioned her story to be.

    I can never forget Healer as it brought me Ji Chang Wook. He had me with his sweaty tennis game – yes, I am shallow like that. But for me to stay longer far beyond the drama and commenting on his fan sites requires more than a pretty face and it is safe to say that JCW has been pushing the right buttons for me.

    • Yeah that was indeed the good reason while Korean viewers always loved the usual pattern of love and hate relationship in a drama.in my opinion healer series is made intelligently ,when we watched of any drama we have to consider watching it in enjoyable manner ,interesting plot and romance comedy setting that’s make a good series ,not to being upset and stress after watching it.sorry guys anyways thanks .

  7. thanks for this article. I discovered JCW thru Healer but I actually found myself going back multiple times to Empress Ki than this show (watched it once) . Make sense now:)

  8. Healer having been toted as an action-romance, naturally, one would expect equal parts of both factors in the mix. However, the show leaned towards the romantic side more, as compared to the action. Those with high expectations when it comes to the latter may have walked away unsatisfied, but those who were looking forward to the former were left with full hearts.

    I, for one, enjoyed how well-done the romance was in Healer immensely (which makes the show an A+ in my book; I do LOVE an excellent romance alongside a good plot), but I admit that it kinda overshadowed the action bits. It’s quite a pity. The show could have been so much more awesome had they paid more attention to the ‘high flying, blockbuster action’ that KBS marketed the show as earlier on. I was also excited about the incorporation of parkour in a k-drama, it’s just too bad we didn’t really see much of that. So I understand where Gabby is coming from.

    At the end of the day though, I’m just glad Healer turned out to be a great project for JCW’s career, and one which can be used a stepping stone for even more greater projects in the future.

    Thanks ladies for the review and the hard work in this site! More power!

  9. i’ve watched healer 5 times already.that’s new to me because i never ever watch movies or dramas twice(total waste of time).I guess it’s because watching healer made me happy.it just give me this beautiful feeling and i want that in a drama.

  10. i’m a hopeless wookie diehard so that i say i like it!!! and everything JCW!
    thank you, gabby and cherkell for your awesome exchange about the drama.
    cheers!

  11. Because Healer brought me JCW, it will always remain special! That said, yes direction and action scenes were a bit-off but it just doesn’t matter to me, who observer everything keenly!! I haven’t ever commented on fan sites, VOTED DAILY for any actor! Hell, i don’t even bother to like their pages on facebook, but i have done all that for him! My playlist has Eternal Love on repeat for 3 months now..and i haven’t heard a single song till the end!
    You see, am Loyal.

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