• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Friday, February 15, 2019

    Cain and Abel (2009)

    I discovered a Korean series on the UK version of Netflix last week (just before it expired...) which has been given the English title of Cain and Abel, but is set in modern times. At 20 episodes long, the first of which is over an hour long, I only managed to watch the first episode, but thought I'd post my findings for anyone interested enough to want to give it a look.

    The series takes place in a hospital and is centred around two brothers, both of whom are doctors. One (Lee Seon Woo), seems to be some superstar surgeon that swans in to the hospital from elsewhere for special surgeries; whereas the other (Lee Cho-in) prefers to work in the emergency room, where homeless people turn up for treatment with life threatening conditions, only for him to swoop in and offer for payment for their treatment to be "added to his account".

    On top of this both of the brothers' parents are also at the hospital. The father, somewhat oddly for a show based on a patriarchal story, is in a coma (so far at least) and so present and yet somehow absent. I suppose this might be some kind of metaphor for the way Adam seems strangely estranged from his children, given that, according to the most popular reading of the text, there are only four people on earth at that point in the story.

    More interesting is the mother character, who has some sort of senior medical role at the hospital - at least that's what I infer from the fact she wears a white coat and keeps walking into rooms barking orders at younger looking doctors. She is also somewhat estranged from Lee Cho-in. The two have to talk in a professional context, but both there is conflict, both personally and professionally.

    All of which brings me to the naming of this show. Korea has a large Christian community, but I have no idea to what the Bible has permeated the wider culture, which gives me a range of questions. Is the 'Cain and Abel' tag a literal translation, or something that Netflix, (or whoever first brought it to the English-speaking world), called it in order to grab viewers attention? Is one of the key players in the production a Christian? None of the leading characters' names seems to be linked to the original story so at what point did this become a "Cain and Abel" story?

    Indeed thus far the story fits the set-up of the Jacob and Esau story at least as much that of Cain and Abel. Even the start of the show - which starts ahead of the rest of the main story with Lee Cho-in staggering through the desert injured - could be as much About Isaac's sons as Adam's. It also seems like naming the series after a story which famously climaxes in the murder of one of the two protagonists potentially reduces the tension. But then, if the story is not widely known in Korea then perhaps that was less of an issue.

    Sadly this disappeared before I could watch any more of it, so it's possible that it's still 18 episodes away from the story reaching any kind of biblical parallel, but the IMDb summary does suggest that things do continue along biblical lines as the series progresses:
    Based on the biblical story of Adam and Eve's first two sons, Cain and Abel is about Cain's jealousy towards his brother Abel. Lee Cho In is a very gifted doctor who has everything that he wants whereas his older brother, Seon Woo, is jealous of all the attention that Cho In receives. Seon Woo blames his brother for taking everything good in his life away from him. Seon Woo blames Cho In for getting their father's love, getting more recognition as a doctor, and for stealing the woman he loves.

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