A theme park ride of a movie, a documentary on Rizal, a platonic love story, and a Korean medical series remade in English
The Good Doctor(s)
Cast: Joo Won, Freddie Highmore
Streaming simultaneously on Netflix are the original Korean drama The Good Doctor and its Hollywood remake starring and produced by Freddie Highmore. The K drama made its debut on South Korean television in 2013. The American remake started airing its first season in 2017.
The titular role happens to be a surgeon who has symptoms of autism. He has a brilliant mind. His only faults are his lack of social skills and inability to be discreet about painful truths (no bedside manners). He had a traumatic childhood, but he emerged from this and finished medical school. Yet he faces his most difficult challenge when he is hired by a prestigious medical school. There he is compelled to work hard to gain acceptance by his skeptical medical colleagues.
The two versions follow the same plotline during the first season’s first two episodes. From the third or fourth episode, they go their separate ways. The two actors playing the titular role give strong performances. Freddie Highmore acts just like a normal adult. The giveaway to the doctor’s condition is his lack of eye contact with anyone he interacts with. He also speaks without emotion, to the point of sounding robotic.
Korean actor Joo Won plays the title role in the original version. He displays the same characteristics. He stands six feet one inch tall and he seems to use his height as a form of deformity. He walks with his head tilted. The overall effect is actually creepy. The Elephant Man or The Walking Dead comes to mind.
I wouldn’t say one version is better than the other. Different cultures mean different interpretations. The doctor found it easier to gain acceptance in the Hollywood remake. Brilliantly acted and written, the American version is hardly different from previous hospital dramas like E.R. or St. Elsewhere. Each episode is 45 minutes long, so the pacing is quicker. The overall effect, however, is there is less connection between the viewers and the characters
Each episode of the Korean version is over an hour long. The show is leisurely paced, which makes it seem even longer. But if you’re patient enough, you’ll reap the rewards of witnessing the show’s heartrending moments as well as the comedic scenes.
Watching the remake is like driving a car with automatic transmission— the original series has us shifting gears because we really need to focus
But I’ll be honest. Watching the remake is like driving a car with an automatic transmission. It’s not exhausting to watch because we’re spared from having to read the English subtitles. And the storylines always conclude at the end of each episode. There is no cliffhanger.
The original series has us shifting gears because we really need to focus. Don’t let your eyes stray from the screen (and the English subtitles), not even for a moment, because you risk missing an important line. Every episode ends with a cliffhanger, which can be very stressful. That’s how invested we get in the characters.
Ultimately, both versions are very entertaining and heartwarming in their own respective way. The original show is more family-oriented. The good Korean doctor is a pediatric surgeon so a lot of children are in the cast. Unlike its western iteration, none of the major characters is shown sleeping around.
The remake is as diversified as any American TV show can get. Strangely, however, I have yet to see a Korean in the cast. Hopefully, there will be one in the later episodes. Also, a hospital is no real hospital if it doesn’t have at least one Filipino nurse.
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt
With amusement centers closed for the lockdown, the next best thing to going to one is watching a movie based on a theme park ride. Walt Disney’s Jungle Cruise is just the sugar that can make the medicine go down (or in our case, the lockdown).
Like The Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise is designed to promote a Disney theme park attraction. Set in 1916, it stars Emily Blunt who plays a British botanist, Dr. Lily Houghton, who is in search of the tree of life. Legend has it that it blooms with petals that can cure any form of illness. She gets hold of a map to the tree, which grows in the deep jungles of South America.
Enter the tough Frank Wolffe (Dwayne Johnson), who holds river cruise expeditions on his rickety boat on the Amazon. The pretty Dr. Houghton hires Wolffe to take her and her highly aristocratic brother to the tree’s location. So begins the theme park ride that has them traversing treacherous whitewaters, unfriendly natives, and hungry wild animals.
The adventure is aggravated by a wealthy German count who also wants the get to the tree. He’s richer, deadlier, and travels in a U-boat armed with torpedoes.
The first half of River Cruise is hilarious. The two leads predictably don’t get along at first. They pick at each other with various one- liners and put-downs. Johnson is an expert when it comes to throwing corny jokes. (“I used to work in an orange juice factory, but I was canned for lack of concentration.”) Blunt isn’t your typical prim British lady. She’s a spunky match to Johnson.
By the second half, however, the rollercoaster ride becomes less thrilling as the action begins to feel obligatory. It’s like you’re watching somebody else play a video game. You witness the action but you’re not having any fun. As the motley group nears their destination, River Cruise starts playing like one of the bad sequels to The Pirates of the Caribbean. Instead of ghost pirates, we have the undead conquistadors who had tried to get to the tree back in the 15th century. Like the pirates, these guys aren’t nice to look at.
I was hoping River Cruise would have the same kind of heart The African Queen had, which was also about a river expedition. But River Cruise is a brand, not a film. It does make us forget about the lockdown, if just for two hours.
Finding Rizal in a Time of Barriers
Hosted by Deputy Speaker and Rep. Loren Legarda
As this is a documentary, viewers are assured of being enlightened. Finding Rizal in a Time of Barriers traces the life of Dr. Jose Rizal in Germany, particularly in Heidelberg, where he furthered his studies on ophthalmology. Its title refers to the fact that Rizal had to hurdle numerous obstacles.
As host Rep. Legarda says, the barriers that Rizal had to face included religion, colonialism, and racism. She compares these to the barriers we now face in this age of the pandemic. Like Rizal, she says Filipinos can find a way to realize their dreams even under such difficult circumstances.
The documentary traces the life of Dr. Jose Rizal in Germany, and the fact that he had to hurdle numerous obstacles
Rep. Legarda visited Germany just a few months before the pandemic. Using just her cellphone camera, she toured the University of Heidelberg, and visited the hospital Rizal trained in and the house where he stayed. She also interviews a faculty member of the university and a descendant of the pastor who helped Rizal.
The footage Legarda accumulated is interspersed with new scenes that show Rizal in Europe. Such scenes are accompanied by a voiceover, supposedly Rizal reading aloud the letters he wrote at that time. Beautifully shot, the new footage is poignant. A sense of loneliness is imparted, though the letters express his determination. The heartrending moments, however, are somewhat diluted by the voice talent tasked to read the letters. He doesn’t speak with majesty, as he sounds more appropriate for an infomercial of a luxury resort.
With expert direction by Floy Quintos, the documentary feels less like an obligation and more like an entertaining magazine show. Credit goes to the bubbly personality of the hostess, who successfully makes our enigmatic national hero resonate with viewers. She provides this history lesson in the distinctively peppy way she is famous for. She’s the sugar that makes this medicine go down to our hearts.
Cast: Piolo Pascual, Alessandra de Rossi
With My Amanda, acclaimed actress Alessandra de Rossi does what only a few like Barbra Streisand have accomplished. She directed, authored, and starred in a movie. She even co-wrote the theme song.
Piolo Pascual is her leading man, so viewers may assume they’re in for a romantic comedy. It isn’t. It’s more of a character study and buddy movie. The two stars play old friends. The relationship is strictly platonic.
De Rossi plays the titular role, an extrovert who likes to talk about herself. Pascual plays TJ, her reliable sidekick whose shoulders are hers to cry on whenever she has man trouble. The two 30-somethings appear to be destined to be single, but viewers are led to think they’ll end up together. They do behave like they’ve been married for 20 years.
Like Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney in Two for the Road, the two friends like to go on road trips, especially when either one is unattached. Each journey marks the end of a chapter in Amanda’s love life. It creates the setting for her to pour her broken heart out.
De Rossi’s direction is fluid and slick. The movie is stylishly photographed and edited—it’s a first-class production all the way. While the movie tends to be too talky, the stars’ charisma makes up for it. Their chemistry isn’t that great, but both do well in their respective roles. De Rossi relies on her noisy, playful persona while Pascual is her Greek chorus, the calm one whose job is to make her feel better.
De Rossi’s direction is fluid and slick….it’s first-class production all the way
The problem lies with the heroine. Watching 90 minutes of Amanda rant and try to be cute when she’s actually annoying is exhausting. She’s garrulous, self-centered, presumptuous, and she makes stupid decisions. Honestly, I wouldn’t last five minutes in a car with her. Her male best friend is also too good to be true. In the real world, only a gossipy manicurist would have the patience to put up with her.
Both stars are also too mature for the roles. I was left lusting for another member of the cast, and it was TJ’s sexy Chevrolet Camaro convertible. Don’t get me wrong—the two still look sensational. But they now also look too smart to play that odd couple.
Although My Amanda is not a perfect film, it’s still in its own right a landmark movie because De Rossi wore many hats to make it. That in itself is a remarkable achievement.