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Dr. Brain - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Dr. Beu-re-in

South Korea 2021

Number of Episodes: 6
Mystery, Crime, Horror

Kim Jee-woon

Lee Sun-kyun
Lee Yoo-young
Park Hee-soon
Seo Ji-hye
Lee Jae-won
Moon Sung-keun
Teo Yoo
Lee El

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Dr. Brain

Dr. Brain - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Ever since his childhood Ko Se-won has been gifted, but he is also unable to show emotions or read them in others. After having watched his mother being run over by a car, he is sent to a special orphanage where they support his unusual skills. Years later, Se-won (Lee Sun-kyun) is a successful expert in the field of neuroscience. He has developed a method to synchronize two brains with each other and exchange information this way. One day, however, private detective Kee Kang-mu (Park Hee-soon) shows up and asks Se-won about the circumstances around his son's death. Not long ago, Se-won's son was killed in an explosion; his wife Je-eui (Lee Yoo-young) wasn't able to endure the pain anymore and tried to commit suicide. Since then, she has been in a coma. Kang-mu tells the brain researcher that his wife had an affair with a man who has now been murdered and who had been the private detective's employer. He believes that Se-won could be the murderer. The brain researcher decides to start investigating himself because the case reaches curious levels. For example, before her suicide attempt, his wife insisted on her son still being alive, and now it looks like there might be some truth to it. When Se-won is unable to gather any further information, he decides to perform the highly experimental brain synchronization on himself in order to gain insight into the memories of Kang-mu's murdered employer.

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Review: As soon as I had the opportunity to test the AppleTV+ streaming service, I immediately started to search for "Dr. Brain", because a series by Kim Jee-woon, the director of little gems such as "A Bittersweet Life" or "A Tale of Two Sisters", could not possibly be bad. Right? Let's get one thing out of the way first: "Dr. Brain" is indeed a big disappointment. One reason for this is the script, but above all else the tone that comes along with it, which simply goes in every direction, except one: comedy. But a little humor wouldn't have been that bad, because the story is sometimes so absurd, drifting off into the B-movie realm, that it stands in stark contrast to Kim's beautiful direction. In the end, the series simply lacks a clear-cut course. Instead, we get detours into all kinds of genres.

Dr. Brain - Film Screenshot 5

While at first everything looks like we are presented with a true science fiction series, the story later moves more into the crime genre, only to then sprinkle in some horror elements here and there too. And of course, there also has to be some drama in the end. Why, of all things, the story has to be dramatic when the protagonist is obviously not able to feel emotions, can be answered quite quickly. We would hardly care for the hero of the story if he didn't get some emotions as the events progress. Of course, this happens through brain synchronization. And we'll eventually find out that he also absorbs other people's habits and their ability to feel emotions. This builds the foundation for some interesting philosophical questions that a good sci-fi story inevitably has to deal with.

Dr. Brain - Film Screenshot 6

Is Se-won really still himself after all the brain syncing, especially since a person even becomes a part of him due to some special circumstances? What would it mean to have a person live on inside of you through synchronized memories? When would the brain reach its limits and try to counteract an overload through psychological symptoms? None of this is dealt with - at best, we are presented with some very superficial questions here. It's absurd that this aspect of the plot was dropped so willingly. Instead, we get Se-won synchronizing himself with a cat's brain, meaning that from then on, he possesses the cat's reflexes and even its acrobatic abilities. But only in scenes in which it helps the script. The fact that you remember things like that shows how much the series could have gone into a different direction - and possibly even successfully so. However, Kim Jee-woon doesn't dare to pursue the somewhat sillier side of the story either.

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And it becomes clear quite soon that it was absolutely not a good idea for the series to take itself so damn seriously. The script is full of illogical and stupid decisions. Se-won almost bit the dust during the brain synchronization even though his colleague was helping him? Then why not just do it by yourself next time! Or even though there are only seconds or minutes left to save someone, the characters first have to tell you in detail what they plan to do! In the last two episodes, the webtoon-based series drifts off into a direction that really makes you think you're in a B-movie. The last scene leaving no doubt about this either. It's also incredibly frustrating that some of the horror elements - the soundtrack is a big win in that regard - are in itself intriguing, but are simply done with after a short time. Same goes for the few action scenes. Everything seems half-baked and gets checked off too quickly, which simply doesn't align with the successful direction.

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There is also nothing positive to say about the characters. As Se-won actor Lee Sun-kyun ("Parasite") is only allowed to show feelings when we actually don't have any interest in him anymore. And it is really rare these days to see a female character in a series have so few character traits as detective Seo Ji-hye has. At least Park Hee-soon ("VIP") manages to exude some kind of coolness as a private detective wearing his sunglasses all the time, but that's about it. All this means that it is incredibly difficult to continuously show interest in the events that unfold. Especially since they lose themselves in bad science fiction clichés at some point, and there are quite a few flashbacks at the end that try to explain everything. One last problem is that "Dr. Brain" sometimes feels quite long-winded despite its only six episodes. Kim Jee-woon doesn't manage to show off his skills in the various genres he delves into, instead he only touches on everything. At least in its crime moments, the series is able to score some points. So maybe the show could have been more successful in form of a movie with some more focus. But all that we are left with here is a big disappointment.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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