Dr. Brain is Apple TV+’s first Korean-language series and man, does it come in with a bang. Based on the popular Korean webtoon of the same name by Hongjacga, Dr. Brain is a stunning and innovative look at family, grief, and not letting go. Blending a mystery thriller seamlessly with science fiction the series is written and directed by Kim Jee-woon and stars Lee Sun-kyun, Lee You-young, Park Hee-soon, Seo Ji-hye, and Lee Jae-won. The series is produced for Apple TV+ by Bound Entertainment, Kakao Entertainment, StudioPlex, and Dark Circle Pictures.
Dr. Brain follows a brilliant brain scientist Sewon (Lee Sun-kyun) as he navigates life after a horrific personal tragedy. A father and a husband, Sewon has to push himself towards the possibility that he doesn’t have all the answers and struggle to find them and solve the truth behind his family’s mysterious accident.
Expertly crafted as a character, Sewon starts as a logical scientist. He has trouble showcasing emotion and empathy but his memory is impeccable. But that perfection means that all of his trauma sits in him, pristinely kept. But this perfection begins to morph as Sewon moves from brain scientist to desperate husband as he goes to extraordinary lengths to solve the tragedy. Slowly, his memories entangle with those from people he connects with via “brain syncs,” a technique he’s invented. What began as a way to access the deceased memories for science, warps into a near-obsession as he hunts for clues.
As Director Kim’s first television series, Dr. Brain brings Kim’s deft hand for mystery and misery as the story unfolds over six episodes. Nailing the hardest part of the mystery series, Kim keeps his foot on the gas pedal and manages to twist and turn without hitting a wall. Every single one of the episodes feels whole and dynamic. Yes, they all come together, expertly woven into a cohesive story with a mystery that slowly unravels, but individually, each of the episodes has a filmic quality that is not just a testament to the production value and design, but the dynamic storytelling as well.
Additionally, a sci-fi drama at its heart, Dr. Brain is also a mystery thriller that is built on a solid foundation of exploring family. This element allows the drama to work for fans of any genre. There is a beauty with which Kim has woven the science fiction elements of the series. Brain syncs are out of this world, but the emotions that come from them, the experience, the darkness, it’s also grounded. There are fantastical elements even outside the sci-fi tech as Sewon brain syncs and uncovers memories, but none of the moments feel thrown in for shock or awe. Instead, they exist to push an emotional puzzle piece into place. The brain syncs also allow for horror elements to enter the series in small but potent ways.
That said, there is an element of misdirection that pierces each episode once you realize that the memories of those Sewon has brain synced with are staying behind. These remnants change him and how he reacts, but more importantly, they’re pervasive, making you question which parts of the series are real and which aren’t. This element brings the sci-fi full circle as Sewon becomes someone new, bits and pieces of all the skills, trauma, and everything else in those he brain syncs with.
It must be said, that the execution of the series is also due to the stunning and gripping performances of the cast. For the main actors, there isn’t a single one that lacks any amount of charisma, nor loses your attention. But among them, SeoJi-hye as Lieutenant Choi and Lee Sun-kyun as Sewon are standouts.
For her part, Lieutenant Choi is stoic and unyielding. Smaller than the men around her, she has a presence on screen that makes her intimating, and her unyielding push for the truth and ability to act quickly make her one of the strongest members of the cast. She towers over the world she’s in which makes the more quiet and somber moments where she has to allow empathy to flow through her, all the more impactful.
And finally, Sewon. As our lead, Lee Sun-Kyun is striking. He is able to oscillate between temperaments effortlessly as the memories begin to weigh on him. Additionally, Sewon’s starting point as someone who has a hard time emoting allows the audience to better understand the way each brain sync affects his psyche and his personality.
With all of this being said, it’s nearly impossible to be a passive viewer. For Dr. Brain, you have to follow the story and the rabbit holes Sewon goes down in order to not get lost. While some may count this as a knock against the series, it’s a strength. The mystery is hazy and the road for the truth is long and mangled. The twists and turns in the series are character-driven ones, but if you look away, you’ll end up missing key elements.
Overall, Dr. Brain is a striking blend of genres and a strong start to Korean-language series on AppleTV+. With a strong concept and even stronger performances, the series is perfect for fans of crime thrillers, horror, and sci-fi alike.
Dr. Brain is streaming episodically now on AppleTV+ with the final episode airing in December.
Overall, Dr. Brain is a striking blend of genres and a strong start to Korean-language series on AppleTV+. With strong concept and even stronger performances, the series is perfect for fans of crime thrillers, horror, and sci-fi alike.