Law School (2021) Early Impressions

After umming and ahhing for a week or two about whether to drop Doom At Your Service, I made the decisive move of picking up Law School and was immediately convinced that there are better shows out there than to hope pointlessly that Doom gets better. Yes, so I’m a little late to the party with regards to Law School but so far so good, I’m finding it hugely entertaining even if it’s rather over-the-top and nutty on steroids but at least there’s a storyline and a whole host of interesting characters who seem in usual K drama fashion to be intertwined in complex and potentially shady ways. Hilariously enough there are even a couple of female students in the featured cohort named Kang Sol who as the story goes are as alike as chalk and cheese. I’m not sure if there’s a love triangle in the offering but it would be doubly ripe with irony if the two students named Kang Sol ended up pulling hair over the same guy.

There are aspects of Law School that remind me of the old late 70s to 80s television series The Paper Chase about the lives of law students seen especially through the lens of James T Hart. I remember watching most of it in my early teens though not always appreciative of the nuances but even then I had the sense that it was good television. However, Paper Chase was a fairly realistic depiction of life in law school and the kinds of relationships that students are likely to have with their professors. Even with the drama that go on in the study areas, dorms and lecture theatres, the show aimed for a high degree of authenticity and from what I heard, succeeded. Law School, on the other hand, not so much.

To its credit I don’t think Law School makes any kind of pretensions to any kind of realism. For one, a high profile professor with a checkered record of perfidy is found dead right in the middle of a mock trial conducted by the students and soon the word “murder” reverberates through the hallowed corridors of Hankuk Law School. It seems too convenient for words for the students there to have a real life mysterious death right on their doorstep to have to practically apply what they only know on paper. It certainly leads to a series of high octane teaching moments especially when chief suspect number one is Yang Jong-hoon, an ex-prosecutor turned tyrant-professor who is known for his ruthless application of the socratic method in his classes.

Despite the backdrop and the legalese being thrown around, this show has more in common with Agatha Christie and other Korean crime dramas than Paper Chase. In fact, my mind went to shows like Taxi Driver and Beyond Evil where the law and its limitations are dragged under the microscope for further scrutiny. The context is different but the themes are essentially the same. The law is a tool or perhaps a better analogy would be… weapon and in the right hands it can be manipulated for good or ill. Depending on which side of the bench you happen to be on of course. And that often has nothing to do with actual justice because the law seems largely about the ability to prosecute arguments convincingly.

Like Rushmon, the show relies on the unreliable narrator to provide the stage for all the vested interests and their backstories to play out in this context. Whether they struck the fatal blow seems almost irrelevant after a while because like Murder on the Orient Express, everybody in this setting had a motive to kill the late professor Seo in part because of the man he was but also a consequence of covering up misdeeds committed on campus.

I’m really fond of the younger leads — Kang Sol (A) (Ryu Hye-young) and Han Joon-hwi (Kim Beom) — in terms of what they represent in the narrative. They are idealists and they’re not just trying to pass exams. Prof Yang sees Sol’s potential and is trying to nurture her because she has plenty of passion without the academic creds. My guess on the romance front is that Joon-hwi likes her more than the other Kang Sol as he likes hanging around her, protecting her and teasing her while he looks at Kang Sol (B) like she’s a pet dog who’s really smart.

There’s definitely potential in this to be another Beyond Evil as the foundations are present. The storytelling is excellent although there is the tendency to speed through the back and forth between the good prof and his disciples. Although I’m fond of shows that move quickly, there are times when this zips through the dialogue unnecessarily. But then I’m one of those who still has to read subs even with my speed reading skills.