In Apple TV+’s new South Korean drama series Dr. Brain, the 6-episode series explores the world of syncing human brains through technology, only to discover a murder-mystery. Throughout the history of mystery fiction, every detective has wished that they could access a dead person’s memories to find out who the culprit is.
In Dr. Brain, that technology is suddenly discovered and the scientist who creates it is eager to explore its capabilities. So he decides to “hack into the brain” of a recently deceased person, only to discover that the dead-man’s memories lead directly to him and the tragic events surrounding the scientist’s wife and son. His quest for the truth ultimately embroils a fellow brain scientist, a private investigator, and a police detective who all come to his aid to put the pieces of this puzzle together.
Dr. Brain Cast
Dr. Brain stars Lee Sun-kyun (world-renown for his popular roles in the 2018 drama series “My Mister” and 2007 series “Coffee Prince”), who delivers a riveting and touching performance as a brain scientist with a mental defect that interferes with his ability to feel and express emotions. His character Sewon is a brilliant scientist. Yet, he has blind spots in his personal life. Particularly as to the tragic circumstances surrounding the fate of his fragile wife and his gifted young son.
He is fueled by an inner grief that even he cannot properly assess and understand. Sewon’s curiosity into the brains of others ultimately introduces him to the world of emotions and delivers a mystery that only he can solve finding the clues through the brains that he can sync to using his uniquely-equipped brain.
Co-starring Lee You-young (known for her performance as a tenacious criminal profiler in the 2017 series “Tunnel”) portrays Sewon’s tormented wife Jaeyi, who is convinced that their son is still alive, which sets off a terrible chain of events, claiming more than one life in the quest for truth and justice. Lee You-young’s performance as Jaeyi is a nuanced portrayal of a loving wife, whose mental state erodes when no one believes her son is alive. The bond between Sewon and Jaeyi becomes the life-line that weaves through “Dr. Brain” and gives Sewon the hope that he needs to face an uncertain and conflicted future.
Also co-starring Park Hee-soon (recently seen as a ruthless gangster in the 2021 drama series “My Name”) portrays a retired police detective turned private investigator delving into the death of a client who had ties to Sewon’s wife. Park Hee-soon’s performance as Kangmu is intriguing and mysterious. Kangmu shows up when least expected. But is also helpful when Sewon feels at a loss as to what to do next or how the information he learns can be tied together.
Then co-starring Seo Ji-hye (lauded for her performances in the 2020 series “Dinner Mate” and 2019 series “Crash Landing On You”) as a police detective whose missing person cases seem to all lead back to Sewon and yet, while suspicious of him, still provides ready aid and back up when things get dire. Seo Ji-hye’s performance is a careful balance of curiosity and empathy through the lens of law enforcement.
Lastly, also co-starring Lee Jae-won (recently seen in the 2021 series “Sisyphus: The Myth” and 2020 series “Record Of Youth”) as Sewon’s fellow brain scientist, who will do everything in his ability to aid and protect Sewon to ensure that the brain sync’s do not destroy the mind and body of his friend and mentor. Lee Jae-won delivers such piercing performance that conveys how complicated it can be to be both a scientist and friend when the science reveals some scary situations and truths.
Our Exclusive Dr. Brain Cast Interview
During exclusive interviews with the cast Lee Sun-kyun, Lee You-young, Park Hee-soon, Seo Ji-hye, Lee Jae-won, and executive producer, creator, writer, and director Kim Jee-woon shared their thoughts on the “brain hacking” capabilities explored in Dr. Brain and explained how their characters fit into this mystery-box tale.
Director Kim Jee-woon
Could you describe the experience of working on “Dr. Brain” and why you chose a project about brain-hacking?
KIM JEE-WOON: The world of the human brain is very mysterious and intriguing and I think the urge to look into other people’s memories or read their minds is in human nature. So I thought it would be very interesting if I built a narrative around a person who hacked other people’s brains to find clues and use those clues to solve a murder-mystery. I thought it would be very interesting, and that’s why I decided to do this project.
In this particular story, your hero has a disability where he cannot always express his emotions. So it makes it challenging for the viewer to get to know him. How would you describe that character as he goes on a journey through the series?
KIM JEE-WOON: What you mentioned is actually a very important motivation and I decided to work on this project because I wanted to tell a story about just that: a journey of a human being. So this person explores other people’s brains to solve a murder-mystery in the beginning, but as he becomes closer to the truth of the mystery, he confronts himself in other people’s memories and learns more about who he really is as a person.
So as he gets closer to that — that is the key to the mystery. He finds out how wrong he was and how flawed he was as a person. And because of the brain anomaly where he has a very overly developed hippocampus (which is why he has a brilliant memory) and an underdeveloped amygdala (which makes him have trouble in terms of connecting with others), he is shut off from society and he makes his wife and son very uncomfortable at times, and he also has trouble not being able to trust others.
So he realizes by looking into other people’s brains that all of it comes down to his problems. The tragedy can be traced back to him and his flaws. I wanted to express this in terms of the color palette also, so that it would all start off monotonous, using very cold color schemes: blue and green tones aesthetically in the beginning.
Then as he becomes more emotional towards the end, the color palette becomes very intense and vivid. I wanted to express visually the wave of emotions that he was feeling and how confused he was.
For you, what was fun about working on this project?
KIM JEE-WOON: While I had only done films thus far, this is my first time doing serialized television. So I was very new to the world of a series. And also, it was my first time working with almost all of the main actors. I tend to be motivated when I am trying something new. So I could find a lot of energy in that regard because curiosity is what drives me forward.
I tried to look at a lot of good drama television series as a reference. And I noticed that whereas a film is mostly 2 hours long, a television series has to have a quality where each episode in and of itself has to tell a complete story. But at the same time leave the audience wanting more and looking forward to the next episode at the end of each episode. This required a lot of techniques and thorough plot planning. So I found this process very enjoyable and exciting.
Could you talk a little bit about your character Sewon’s journey. It seems like he starts off in one place and then goes through an extraordinary journey and adventure by the end of the series.
LEE SUN-KYUN: Sewon [brain scientist] is a character who is left emotionless because he has a brain anomaly. So he cannot feel emotions and he cannot empathize with others. Then this tragedy befalls on his family.
So I think the whole story starts off with his curiosity about why this tragedy happened. And then he uses his brain-sync technology to track down what has been happening and he tries to unravel the mystery behind his family tragedy. Through that process, the feelings of those people that he brain-synced with kind of smears into him. So I think this is kind of like a coming of age story for Sewon. It’s also kind of an atonement for him — for not being there for his family and for not being able to love his family beforehand.
I found this story very similar to a classic story we have around Christmas time, called “A Christmas Carol”, in which the main character gets visited by ghosts of the past, present and future.
It seemed like that is similar to your character Sewon’s journey as he discovers things that he did not know in the past or even the present that affect his future, and how it is also a story of the discovery of love along the way. How would you describe it? Would you describe the show “Dr. Brain” as more of a thriller, or is there something else going on?
LEE SUN-KYUN: Actually, that was a very good point. I never thought about the show being similar to “A Christmas Carol”, but hearing you explain it, I think it is quite similar — especially regarding Sewon’s atonement. About the genre, while the show is cloaked in [science fiction] and has a heavy dose of thriller, I think it is really a human drama . . . a journey of a man who finally realizes what family is and what love is.
Sewon also has quite a lot to learn about hacking people’s brains and whether that is a good idea or not. How do you feel about it now that you have worked this show?
LEE SUN-KYUN: I feel very bad about this technology — this brain-sync technology. I think I am kind of scared about the technology. The whole concept of being able to look into people’s brains just kind of freaks me out.
What would you say is the kind of love connection that your character Sewon is in search of at this point? He seems very lonely.
LEE SUN-KYUN: I definitely agree that he is a very lonely character. He is lonely himself, and he also makes people around him lonely too. But he does not realize that he is lonely because he does not feel emotions. He only knows about himself and he does not have any emotions.
So I think he is a very lonely character and he makes it hard for people to really get along with him. He gives a hard time to his family and people around him.
I also noticed that there are some similarities between your character Sewon in “Dr. Brain” and your character in your prior series “My Mister” as they are both characters that had to learn to fight for the things that they wanted, loved, and appreciated in their lives.
How would you describe your current character Sewon and how he learns to fight and how anger becomes a part of his love journey? That he has to learn to fight for things.
LEE SUN-KYUN: I totally agree with you that they do have some similarities. Sewon looks very dry and monotonous. But the difference between Sewon and my character in “My Mister” is that Sewon actually does not feel anything. He does not know that he is feeling less.
But my character in “My Mister”, on the other hand, knows about these feelings, but he just kind of takes it in and tries not to reveal his emotions. So I think that is the big difference between the two characters. I think it is a good thing with these characters, who are not really expressive, that when they do have this anger — when they do find this chance to really express their emotions — there is this big catharsis. That is what I really like about these characters. I like that Sewon learned anger.
Lee You-young & Park Hee-soon
“Brain hacking” is obviously a complicated subject matter for this particular series, but it is played with very nicely, and your characters are part of the mystery. Can you describe kind of what was your characters’ strengths that they brought to unraveling the mystery?
LEE YOU-YOUNG: My character is the wife of the genius scientist and she is actually at the heart of the events that occur as the lead character Sewon is linked into these mysterious incidents. I believe that she is actually driving these mysteries.
One of the roles of this character is to continuously trigger the curiosity of the mystery among the viewers. So that is one area of focus. Another is that she is a very strong mother and her son is ill and, while everyone says that her son is dead after an accident, she still argues and believes that he is alive.
In that situation, I thought expressing her anger would be one important part. At the same time, she needs to show this kind of eerie and horror-side of the role. So I was trying to accommodate all of these different elements to kind of portray a multi-layered character and I hope that the viewers will also be able to relate to this character.
PARK HEE-SOON: I play a character Lee Kangmu, who is former police and current private investigator. . . . I think there is a mysterious side of him and he is also a seasoned veteran in his work. So I tried to portray these different elements of Lee Kangmu.
Was there something that you enjoyed about filming this series or something that you will take away as a positive memory from it?
LEE YOU-YOUNG: For me, it was really interesting to play such a character of complexity. It really broadened my acting performance. My character Jaeyi is in the real world and is also in the memories and illusions of Sewon.
So I had to go back and forth between these worlds. There is this scene where there is a lot of blood and she is completely submerged into a huge scene of red, and in that scene, Jaeyi is more horror and she is more eerie.
Then there are scenes where she is the dreams of Sewon and it is more dreamy, and she is portrayed more beautifully and elegantly. Then there are scenes where she is fighting for her son where I get to express my mad and monstrous side of her. Trying to play all of these different aspects was a very interesting and positive experience for me.
PARK HEE-SOON: I practically only worked with Sewon throughout the series. Sewon is portrayed by Lee Sun-kyun and I am very close friends with him. We go back 20 years, but this is the first time that we met on the set of a drama or a film.
So while the series is a buddy/road-trip kind of movie of Sewon and Kangmu, I think the same can be said of the two actors who play those characters: Lee Sun-kyun and Park Hee-soon. I think that will be one of the great memories that we have together as friends.
Now that you have finished filming “Dr. Brain”, what do you think would be the positives of having brain-syncing or brain-hacking in our society, or do you think it is kind of a terrifying idea?
PARK HEE-SOON: I think it is the same for science in general. If it is used for good, it can be positive. If it is used for evil, it can be used for a negative impact on society. It is like both sides of a coin. I hope that it is used by good people. I believe that there are more good people in the world and hopefully it would be used for positive outcomes.
Seo Ji-hye & Lee Jae-won
How would you describe your characters’ skill-sets that helps unravel the mystery for Sewon?
LEE JAE-WON: My character Namil [brain scientist] has the most knowledge of brain-sync technology after Sewon in the series. So I think professionally he is able to help Sewon a lot. And personally, even, Namil is dependable and like a brother to Sewon. Even though Sewon does not explicitly word it to Namil. He trusts him like a brother and I think Namil knows that as well.
For you, as an actor, what did you enjoy about working on this particular project? What was fun or memorable for you?
SEO JI-HYE: I think given the nature of the theme of the series, which is very heavy and full of suspense and thriller, we tried to keep things light on set, just to keep things very fun and casual and friendly when we were not filming.
An episode that comes to mind, that we had a lot of fun with, was because I am a detective, we worked with corpses and these are not actual corpses or actual actors or actresses. But they are dummies that look very realistic given our current level of technology.
So Detective Park, who is my aide on the series, actually went up to one of the dummies and thought it was an actor and started talking to it. So that really lightened up the mood that day.
“Dr. Brain” is actually a series about love, even though it is a thriller series. How would you describe the love that your character receives or gives to the other characters and how that impacts the story?
SEO JI-HYE: I think each character has a different subject that they love or that they receive love from. So, for example, Sewon’s love is his family, which drives the story. And since I portray a detective in the story, my character’s love is based on solving cases and investigations. I think this love for solving cases is what makes my character powerful.
LEE JAE-WON: For my character Namil, he knows that if he just gave us his love for Sewon that he would not be in so much danger and so much trouble. But because of this love, he is able to endure all of those challenges and I think without this love aspect from Namil to Sewon. He knows that his character could not stay as strong as he did until the very end. Especially since Sewon, who was portrayed by Lee Sun-kyun is actually very lovely in person, I was able to fully immerse myself in the role.
I am curious what you have to say about your series “Dr. Brain” and the whole concept of brain-hacking, if there are positives or negatives, and how you feel about it.
SEO JI-HYE: So I think this concept of brain-hacking could really go either way. It could have a positive influence on the world, or it could go terribly wrong and have a negative influence. But I think that if this technology were built up on, without compromising human values and human dignity, then I think that it would be one of the greatest technologies and we could take away a lot from that with the synergy created.
I think this is the message that our series is trying to convey as well to the audience. So where we go with this technology is the results can be infinite. But I really do hope personally that it is developed in a good way.
Dr. Brain is currently available to watch on AppleTV+. Its first episode aired on November 5 and its second episode airs November 12. Then the concluding 4 episodes will air on November 15, November 25, December 3, and December 10.
The tense thriller series offers a tale of mystery, atonement, and redemption as a man who had been cut off emotionally (due to an anomaly of his brain) finds a way to finally discover what love is and how to achieve it in his life. Dr. Brain is a surprising tale of love and loss, and perhaps a chance to love again, amidst a terrifying and twist-filled mystery.
Video Clips/Photos: Courtesy of Apple