Cha Tae-hyun Saves ‘Brain Works’ K-Drama

With how interesting and complicated the human brain is, you’d think watching a show about complex, neuroscience-related crimes would be a mindblowing ride. Unfortunately, Brain Works (also known as Brain Cooperation) is not that show. What you get instead is a glacial storyline riddled with convenient plot-devices and a male lead who desperately wants to be a cross between Sherlock and House but doesn’t realise that the asshole genius trope was only somewhat cool a decade ago.

The show opens with a rockstar dropping dead mid-performance, as his distraught wife leans over him and confesses to being the killer. The case is only the latest in a long line of “brain-related” murders, which are the purview of the newly founded Neuroscientific Investigations Team, who are struggling with staffing and general structure. Detective Geum Myung-se (Cha Tae-hyun) knows just the man to help them out: one Dr. Shin Ha-ru (Jung Yong-hwa), a celebrated neuroscientist and an arrogant wild card with little regard for the rules.

Considering how gripping the first 15 minutes of the show are, it’s disappointing how quickly Brain Works begins to flounder. Despite being marketed as a comedic investigative show, there’s little of either in the two episodes out so far. The series divides its characters according to the ‘brains’ they supposedly have, glossing over the facts that brains are complex organs and no person is one-dimensional and giving the characters frustratingly little space to work outside of these silos. The investigative team’s captain Seol So-jung (Kwak Sun-young), for example, may be observant and a capable thinker, but her “anxious brain” tag means she can barely get two words out and is only a figurehead in the team.

Veteran actor Cha Tae-hyun’s portrayal of the amusingly pathetic Geum Myung-se is the drama’s saving grace. Years of acting and variety experience have made Cha a natural – he moves comfortably and fluidly adapts to his co-stars. But his acting chops aren’t enough to sand down the awkwardness of Jung Yong-hwa’s Dr. Shin Ha-ru, although their interactions and the contrast in their characters are admittedly entertaining.

Credit: Viu

Jung leans too much into his character’s arrogance and overconfidence. It’s more insufferable than endearing, particularly when the evidence of his supposed genius is rather unconvincing: news reports, other characters’ gossiping about his abilities and an inexplicable, House-y moment where he deduces that a possible suspect has Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.

One can’t entirely blame the acting, though. The show’s writing so far is riddled with awkward dialogue, filler sequences, and most of all, tiring tropes. Shin Ha-ru’s behaviour, for example, is mostly excused because of, predictably, childhood trauma that altered his memories. And for a show that centers so much of its narrative in the medical field, there is also shockingly little attention to detail: while performing an autopsy, Shin gets a terrible headache, and promptly pops some medicine while still wearing gloves coated in cadaver-brain-fluid, to name just one example.

Brain Works’ pacing is choppy, too. Between long-winded conversations about concepts and a narrative that jumps between cases and plotlines, it’s hard to get a clear picture of the characters or even the show’s objective. At best, it’s a show pretending to be more intellectual than it really is. Brain Works is undoubtedly trying for some variation of the buddy-cop comedy, and the cases may eventually prove that the human brain is far more complex than simple labels – but until that happens, you’ll spend quite a few brain cells trying to make sense of this show.

Brain Works airs every Monday and Tuesday on KBS2 and streams on Viu in some territories

The post ‘Brain Works’ review: veteran Cha Tae-hyun saves this choppy, pseudointellectual K-drama appeared first on NME.


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