Seok-joo (played by Kim Myung-min) is a very competent, very stone cold lawyer who has long since stopped caring about the kind of work he does. The opening sequence is a very serious expose of war crimes during the Japanese Occupation. The tone very much feels like a firebrand work about the dark days of the past- then Seok-joo opens his mouth and, with a powerful commanding voice, lays out a strong legal framework that, while technically correct, feels rather horribly unjust.
The uncaring lawyer isn't exactly a novel concept in legal fiction. Kim Myung-min's strong performance goes a long way to rehabilitating the material, but I was actually more intrigued by the subtle parallel with Ji-yoon (played by Park Min-young). She's just starting out as a legal intern, and there's some of the usual naive morality stakes, since she takes an ethical interest in her work that's clearly at odds with what the firm wants to do.
Now, in a standard narrative, she'd be the person who gets Seok-joo to change his outlook on life. But that's not the trend established so far. Note the sequence where these two first meet at the wedding, and how everything about the background up to this point has been deliberately telegraphed to establish that Seok-joo is bad news. Then we finally find out what his connection to the bride is and, well, suddenly it's surprising that the guy's so restrained.
It's easy to see why Seok-joo doesn't care about justice- he's figured out that in the real world, such a thing doesn't exist. So why should it in the legal world either? The case we end up getting into proves to be fascinating. In the first place it's a fairly plausible rape scenario. The guy's not evil, but he's a lousy human being. He could probably improve with some serious soul-searching, but there's no way Seok-joo's going to help with that. It's not in his job description.
I really like the drama's portrait of a man who simply does not care. Right now I don't even want to see the guy change. Everybody talks about what a beast Seok-joo is in the courtroom, and this persona is just begging for a public exposition. Goodness knows Kim Myung-min is up to the task. Even the comedic undertones take on a dark tinge whenever he's on screen. So far "A New Leaf" has pulled off a look at the more cynical undertones of the legal system that's actually fairly sympathetic, and I want to see more of that.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "A New Leaf" Episode 1"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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