Review of 대한민국 변호사: The Lawyers of The Great Republic Korea (** spoilers **)

I binge-watched the Korean TV series The Lawyers of The Great Republic Korea last week.  It is typical of the Korean romantic dramedy genre, with a love quadrangle consisting of two high-school friends who grow up to be an actress and a lawyer, a portfolio manager who marries and divorces the actress, and another lawyer who shacks up with and then abandons the lawyer, only to return.

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Through a typical meet-cute process the abandoning lawyer defends the actress in post-divorce settlement hearings while the lawyer-friend-of-the-actress defends the portfolio manager.  Also, because this is  Korean love quadrangle, the abandoned lawyer is the plucky working-class girl with a heart of gold.  The portfolio manager is a rich cad with a scheming and toxic mother. The abandoning lawyer is eye candy who we expect to eventually hook up with the actress, which he kind of does in the end.  The plucky working class girl gets the rich portfolio manager after 16 hours of simmering.  The rich actress goes from being shut-in wife to sought-after star and of course works on a film-within-the-film entitled, winkingly, “Love Quadrangle”.

There are some semi-implausible timing issues in all of this.  The working class girl starts out as a coffee-serving clerk in the law firm of the abandoning lawyer, who eventually proposes that they move in together, which she accepts as a kind of marriage proposal.

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Then after 2 years he leaves her for 6 years, with no notice but a phone call, to move to Los Angeles.  In retrospect it turns out that he had to go donate a kidney to his father blah blah blah and couldn’t tell her because he didn’t want to burden her blah blah blah.  We get to see the surgery scar on his otherwise athletically flawless stomach.  She waits for him 6 years without dating anybody else.  This seems both totally implausible and plausible for a girl with no self-confidence whatsoever and no other prospects.  This is indeed how she is painted in the beginning, to the extent that we don’t see why handsome lawyer guy would want to move in with her.  After 2 years, they are not intimate enough for him to share family problems with her.  So that doesn’t add up.  It’s just the story, very broadly written.

To support this somewhat contradictory story, when we first see plucky downtrodden working class girl, she is wearing pants and a haircut designed to kill all male desire.

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Then, as the romantic plotline advances and she starts to gain credibility as a rival for the portfolio manager’s affections versus her friend the actress, her hairstyle subtly improves.

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At the end of the series, in terms of looks, she is a match for the actress.

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The actress, to be honest, has a slightly butch duenna cast to her looks, which makes the progression to romantic parity a little easier.

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So this hairstyle progression is a little card trick played by the manufacturers of this confection.  The woman playing the ugly girl in real life started working as a model.

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The glasses and the hairstyle are model-fugly.  Take off the glasses and comb the hair and voilà.  It’s a cheap trick but an effective one if you combine it with a bunch of other cheap tricks, which is how this kind of sausage gets made.

Fashion makes an appearance in the story but only slightly.  At one point the portfolio manager takes to wearing shorts, which is a provocative challenge to the perception of his corporate standing.  His chauffeur then starts wearing short-sleeve suits with short pants. They have fun with it.  I’m having a hard time finding screenshots of this.  This is the chauffeur:

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This is the kind of suit he was rocking.  Note it’s not just short pants but short sleeves that make the look unique.  This kind of fashion weirdness always crops up in Korean TV series and counts as a viewer bonus feature:

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In another scene, the actress goes to diss her toxic mother-in-law, and she’s all Gucci’d up, while her mother-in-law is sitting in a hotel restaurant with another plain rich girl that she wants to be Daughter In Law 2.0.

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At the end, for various reasons, the actress strikes a deal with the portfolio manager which means that he has to repudiate the working class heroine for 3 years, to suffer for his personality defects.

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So the working class heroine is abandoned by Boyfriend #2, without notice, and she goes into hibernation again for another year.  This is really the most implausible part of the story, that a woman who is capable of attracting heavy duty male suitors without effort would also be quite willing to sit out the bulk of her 20s waiting for guys who don’t show up.  The stretches of time involved render that implausible and make the story seem that much more contrived.  But the stretches of time I take to be allegorical, not real, and represent how long things seem to be in such interludes.  Or it could be that these timelines are realistic for that culture, which I doubt.

In the end they finally get together, culminating in a closing Big Screen Kiss.  (BSK for Hollywood insiders.)  He proposes marriage and she says No, let’s date for another 2 years to finish out the agreement with his ex, then marry.  Forever delaying.  She’ll be in her 40s before they settle down and have kids.  But whatever, no rush.

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This kind of TV series is written to be broadly entertaining, inoffensive, PG-rated family fare.  There are adorable little kids that show up from time to time, the children of the chauffeur.

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And they eat lots of noodles.  In this genre there is generally a lot of eating of salt-of-the-earth local foods and they drink lots of rice wine to lower inhibitions and get to the heart of the matter.

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Certainly there are people who sit out their lives, incapable of getting involved.  I’m just not sure that this set of people could really interact in the ways described.  It brings it down from a possible 10 to an average rating of 7.0, which is what fans of this genre gave it.

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