It was very nostalgic watching Heo Jun again since it’s been several years since I watched it for the first time. And I have to say that it’s still my favourite sageuk drama. Here are my top 6 favourite scenes. I’ve put them in the order that they appear in the drama.
BEST SCENE 1 – EPISODE 24 DO JI IS DISOWNED
Do Ji has returned triumphantly from the capital Hanyang with a retinue of musicians playing percussion after he has accomplished what his father never did: he has passed the state medical exam and can now go to the capital and become a royal doctor at the palace. He may even become the king’s doctor one day. His proud and overjoyed mother throws a party for him inviting all the bigwigs in the village to celebrate his success. Do Ji has had a difficult relationship with his father who is strict and has very high standards and expectations. Perhaps Do Ji feels that he has always been a disappointment to him. But now, for the first time, Do Ji can feel that his father really is proud of him. And since he has always craved his father’s approval, he looks so satisfied to finally hear his father praise him. (The fact that Do Ji’s rival, Heo Jun, failed the exam – because he arrived late – seems to make Do Ji’s own success even sweeter.)
BUT we know that Dr Yoo is not going to be impressed for long. And sure enough he discovers in the middle of the celebrations that Do Ji neglected his responsibility as a doctor by not stopping to help sick patients he met on the road on his way to sit the exam. And that Heo Jun was the only doctor – the ONLY doctor – to stop and help. Do Ji and the other elite doctors ignored the pleas for help and hurried on to the capital afraid of missing the exam. Dr Yoo’s face drops ….
What I love about this scene is the intensity of the actors Lee Soon Jae (Dr Yoo) and Kim Byeong Se (Do Ji). This showdown had to come eventually and it doesn’t disappoint. Father and son sit in the father’s room as Dr Yoo finally has to face the truth: He taught his son to be a doctor despite knowing deep in his heart that his son was not worthy to become a doctor due to his selfish and ambitious nature and his inability to empathise with his patients. But still Dr Yoo taught him because he was his son. He regrets this now. And he feels guilty. He must also know that he has been far harder on Heo Jun – even casting him out of his hospital for simply accepting a letter of recommendation from a grateful yangban. So it must be a double blow to hear that Heo Jun was the one who actually DID stop to help the patients.
The scene intensifies as Do Ji is defiant – not remorseful. He doesn’t believe he has done anything wrong and he tells his father so. Do Ji announces that Heo Jun is the stupid one for stopping and jeopardising his chances of become an elite Joseon doctor at the palace.
“If I had stopped to help I would have been late and failed. You wanted me to fail, didn’t you?” he says like a spoilt brat.
It’s so ironic that he just can’t understand his own father, whereas Heo Jun, an outsider, understands him completely. Oh dear. In anger and frustration Dr Yoo suddenly reaches forward flipping his low writing desk over sending ink flying everywhere. Black ink splatters across Do Ji’s face. (What a shocker. I jumped when the table flipped over – the gentleman’s version of a punch!) Do Ji remains still but just closes his eyes. His mother rushes in to see what’s happened trying to wipe the ink away from her precious son’s face. But father and son remain still and are now glaring at each other.
Almost unable to control himself Dr Yoo tries to explain the problem again: a doctor shouldn’t want to be rich and shouldn’t be ambitious. If a man wants these things he can be an interpreter or a merchant. A doctor’s first duty is to his patients. Dr Yoo then announces that he regrets teaching his son medicine because even though he knew his son wasn’t worthy enough to become a doctor, he still taught him because he was his son. He quotes the words of a famous Chinese Sage: 비인부전 (非人不傳) meaning that you shouldn’t teach someone who isn’t worthy. He says he should have listened to these words and blames himself for not doing so.
‘You will never be like Heo Jun‘, he says finally. (Oh dear – that’s the last thing Do Ji wants to hear ) He orders Do Ji not to go to Hanyang as he is not worthy of being a court doctor. Do Ji is furious with his father and jealous of Heo Jun and storms out clasping his appointment letter which he believes PROVES he is one of the best doctors in Joseon – and therefore also better than Heo Jun since Heo Jun DOESN’T have a letter. (If only things were that simple, Do Ji.)
So Do Ji is still completely ignorant about what his father is trying to tell him. And this scene shows that he is not ready to learn. He is obviously just like his mother who is also only concerned about money and status. (What a mismatch Do Ji’s parents are!) Do Ji storms off and goes against his father’s order by accepting the position and leaving for Hanyang. In retrospect this scene is even more moving as father and son never see each other again. Do Ji doesn’t know his father is terminally ill. But his father’s death doesn’t seem to have any impact on Do Ji’s values anyway.
BEST SCENE 2 – EPISODE 30 THE AUTOPSY
I HAVE to include this scene. It’s the iconic scene from the whole drama when Heo Jun dissects his teacher’s corpse to find out more about the human body. This was an illegal procedure at the time and so it is carried out in a cave in the mountains in secret. (apparently it was very cold here when they filmed it) Dr Yoo has instructed Heo Jun and the other two doctors to come to the cave. They knew he was terminally ill but had no clue that he had committed suicide in the cave and had even prepared a range of special surgical knives that he bought from the blacksmith especially for his own autopsy. Heo Jun is in shock and can’t even contemplate cutting his teacher open at first. But this is his teacher’s final lesson and the others instruct Heo Jun that he must go ahead. Otherwise Dr Yoo has killed himself for nothing. Dr Yoo didn’t even inform his wife or son that he was sick and didn’t even seem to want to see them before he died.
Heo Jun has no choice but to go ahead with the procedure and he dissects the body while another doctor, Min Se, says a payer. Heo Jun tells himself that this is the way that Dr Yoo can live on forever. He draws lots of diagrams as he dissects the body. And it isn’t until the end of the operation that he breaks down and cries.
Heo Jun must have mixed emotions: genuine grief and sadness at the death of his teacher, guilt knowing that this is illegal and pretty grotesque to cut up one’s own teacher! But he must also have a doctor’s professional curiosity mixed in too. They need to see what’s going on inside the human body and Dr Yoo is giving them that opportunity. The other doctors try to hide their shock and horror as Heo Jun lifts out the internal organs from the body. But the men are doctors too and know that this must be done. The scene could easily have crossed over into a cheesy horror show but the respectful and slow pace of the scene gives it a sombre mood with all the doctors remaining respectful and quiet throughout. It’s tastefully done – if that’s the right expression. 😕 I wonder if anyone watched this scene without crying?
Heo Jun later tells Do Ji what he did in the cave and tries to give Do Ji the diagrams he drew of Dr Yoo! But Do Ji is disgusted and throws Heo Jun out. He rages at his dead father too wondering why he let Heo Jun cut him open whilst ignoring his own son. Do Ji doesn’t want the information that Heo Jun tries to share with him. But in fairness I thought it was a bit too soon for Heo Jun to give Do Ji diagrams of his father’s internal body considering that Do Ji has only just heard that his father has died!
BEST SCENE 3 – EPISODE 45 LORD YANG FINDS PEACE
Lord Yang has called Heo Jun to his office. First he compliments him on his good work and he accepts that Heo Jun did everything right when he treated the patient. Then Lord Yang brings up that event – the most humiliating experience of his life – when 20 years ago he agreed to compete (but lost) in the nine needle bet with Dr Yoo. He admits that the incident has plagued him all these years but now he IS ready to admit that Dr Yoo is the best doctor in Joseon.
I like this scene because of the quiet, simplicity of it. Lord Yang, who has been a bit of a git so far, now seems to become more human. There is a calmness about him here as though he has let go of his pride, humiliation, and anger. He admits that Dr Yoo must be the best doctor in Joseon because he managed to train a student like Heo Jun. Oh. It’s a poignant moment. And another reason why I love this drama – there are so many different emotions going on with different characters as they develop at their own pace. It’s taken Lord Yang 20 years to come to terms with what happened.
He has let go of all those negative feelings so he is warmer and more accepting and not so harsh. The subtlety of this scene but the strong impact is down to the actor who played Lord Yang, Cho Kyung Hwan, who died at the age of 67 in 2012.
BEST SCENE 4 – EPISODE 56 HEO JUN’S PROMOTION
The prince has been seriously ill. Do Ji is the prince’s personal doctor but he doesn’t think he can cure the prince’s illness, so he puts Heo Jun in charge instead! This way Do Ji can avoid punishment and when the prince doesn’t recover Heo Jun will take the fall instead. No only will Do Ji avoid execution but he will be rid of Heo Jun for good too. Genius. Unfortunately Do Ji underestimates Heo Jun who manages to find a cure using a controversial technique of applying leeches!! And the King is so pleased and impressed that he promotes Heo Jun to a level 3 official which means he is high enough to become the king’s doctor! (There were usually 2 doctors under one king) Do Ji’s face is a picture! And to make it worse, the king points out that the REASON he is promoting Heo Jun is not just because of his medical skills, but also because of his kind nature. The king is echoing what Dr Yoo has always said.
The promotion is a VERY big deal because this means that Heo Jun’s family are now also promoted to yangban aristocrat status. And this means that Heo Jun’s son is now able to apply for the civil service exam. Hurray! But of course the other officials complain that Heo Jun has been promoted too quickly and that Do Ji is the one who is next in line for this position. However, this time the king refuses to change his mind. Do Ji must really be kicking himself because THANKS TO him, Heo Jun is promoted before him. (Oh the irony )
This is the shortest scene in my top 6. It only lasts a moment but the joy lingers on. The palace officials are still not happy and Do Ji’s team are muttering amongst themselves preparing to resign over the unfairness of it all – but only if Do Ji resigns first and of course Do Ji has no intention of resigning.
So here it comes – very short but oh so beautiful: While Team Do Ji huddle together pondering what to do over the unsavoury event of Heo Jun’s promotion, Heo Jun rocks up in his new red uniform. He appears suddenly while we are all still wondering if he really will be promoted or if his enemies can stop the promotion from going ahead. He is already wearing his new red uniform signalling that he has indeed been promoted. The reaction of the men in blue is priceless – of course they have to bow to him in their inferior blue robes. (ha ha ha) They don’t want to bow, but they do. They have to. Heo Jun is not arrogant at all though. He walks as he always does – quietly but confidently, like a man with a mission.
Up to this point – and we are already in episode 60 – Do Ji has been trying to get rid of Heo Jun. The Japanese invade, but when the king is displeased with Heo Jun, Do Ji is pleased that he is chosen to take over Heo Jun’s role as the royal doctor when the king flees the country. But when Prince Young Chang becomes seriously ill on the journey, Do Ji doesn’t know what to do – as he left all the medical books behind. The prince dies and the angry king throws Do Ji in prison. Do Ji knows this is the end of his medical career and probably the end of his life. Heo Jun is summoned to look after the king. But Heo Jun doesn’t gloat at Do Ji’s situation. Instead he helps him by telling the king that he needs Do Ji’s help to perform an acupuncture treatment. Do Ji is released from prison and assists Heo Jun and in the end he is pardoned by the king.
Do Ji follows Heo Jun across the court. His demeanour is different now – his head bowed. Before he even says anything, the fact that he is walking quietly behind Heo Jun shows us already that something has changed in his mind. He gets Heo Jun’s attention and they stand face to face in the pouring rain. Do Ji starts to get down on his knees but Heo Jun stops him. Do Ji begs for forgiveness pouring his heart out about ALL the times he has tried to stab Heo Jun in the back. But Heo Jun doesn’t want to dwell on the past. He understands Do Ji’s feelings of jealousy since Heo Jun was favoured by Do Ji’s own father. This made me cry. 😥
But I do have one issue with this scene. The rain pours down hard. They must be so cold. Realistically, why wouldn’t they just run for shelter? Yes, it’s emotional for them, but they could still stand under a roof. I think there is too much blatant sympathetic background in this scene for my taste. The fact that Do Ji tries to get on his knees and beg for forgiveness is powerful enough without the hosepipe.
BEST SCENE 6 EPISODE 60 YE JIN’S CONFESSION
This time it’s Ye Jin’s time to shine. When Heo Jun is promoted to a level 1 official position after the war there are grumbles and complaints from the government that he has been promoted too quickly. His enemies look for reasons to stop the promotion such as the fact that his mother was a concubine. When this doesn’t stop his promotion, so then rumours spread that Heo Jun and Ye Jin have been having an affair for years. This is a serious allegation in a strict Confucian society. Ye Jin is blamed of course and is sent to see the king.
In a very moving scene Ye Jin sits in front of the king and explains exactly how she feels. I think this is Ye Jin’s best scene of the drama. She explains that she has admired and respected Heo Jun since she first met him. But that is all. As she speaks we get flashbacks to their first meeting when she was like another teacher to him and supported and helped him. We are reminded of their long (platonic) relationship and it’s sad because there’s a sense that this is now all going to come to an end.
What a miserable life Ye Jin has had. She has supported Heo Jun all this time quietly in the background, but now Heo Jun’s enemies have come for her too. She ends by saying that she would never come between Heo Jun and his wife. The king listens quietly but looks dismayed.
After this Heo Jun is promoted as planned and Ye Jin returns to the temple and they never meet again.
After all they have been through together, this is such an anti-climax to their relationship. Heo Jun of course has always had a higher calling and has put his work before anything else including his family. Ye Jin understands this too and wants to support him, but I still find her life (and his wife’s life) so sad.