Law School (2021) Romance or not to Romance

I don’t mind admitting that I’ve been doing the rounds on YouTube gawking at fan edits of Kang Sol [A] and Han Joon-hwi interactions. It’s frightening how Google cottons on to what you’re doing online and makes the appropriate recommendations but I was gobsmacked by the number of fan vids featuring this pairing when this isn’t even billed as a romance. Not that I have any objections of course because it keeps me grinning from ear to ear watching Kim Beom’s reaction shots to Ryu Hye-young’s antics. They are such a delightful pairing to watch indeed. It seems self-evident from everything that’s transpired that Joon-hwi is already functionally Sol [A]’s boyfriend whether or not he is in name. Mentally, subconsciously he’s already there. Take just those two scenes when they encounter Ye-seul and the abusive-waste-of-oxygen Ko Yeong-chang. They serve as a contrast. All are studying law in some fashion or another. However, one couple has all the right metrics — protective not possessive, supportive not suppressive. Joon-hwi’s body language and vocal delivery says it all. The other pair can only end in tears… if they’re lucky. For me the Sol [A] and Joon-hwi coupling seemed to be a foregone conclusion so it took me by surprise when I saw a comment somewhere that said that the real endgame is between Kang Sol [B] and Joon-hwi. To which I thought… Huh?

Talk of chemistry is often subject to personal interpretation and largely about how people feel about the characters involved. So let’s look at the facts… rather than feelings or what outcomes are deemed desirable. It should be said that I didn’t approach the drama with the view to any kind of romance. In principle I’m very leery about crime shows having a dominant loveline as it’s often a recipe for some predictably sloppy writing down the track. Romance and crime combos in any Asian drama has a checkered record at best. For all kinds of reasons, it’s a difficult sell even on a good day. It’s hard enough to do romance well without murder, detective work and obstacles coming at you to complicate matters further. But for some reason, this show pulls it off by keeping it as the side dish and as part of Sol [A]’s development as a struggling law student amidst a crisis in the faculty.

There’s also the pesky thing of what the camera does when the two of them are alone together. Aside from any warm fuzzies I might be feeling when they’re in a frame together, there’s also Joon-hwi’s reaction shots to what Sol [A] says or does. Why bother with showing these if it’s not pointing to special feelings on his part towards her? First time round, it could mean anything, twice it could be a coincidence but after the third time, it becomes a pattern… and a habit. From the moment he picks up her highlighter and says that that there’s no one with a top knot in the room, he is smitten. One of my favourites is the scene where the study group and the dean encounters Assemblyman Ko and the president (I presume is the equivalent of a Vice-Chancellor) in the lobby. After a heated exchange about Ye-seul and the dean’s incompetence, everyone turns to leave and Ko shouts for Sol [A] to remain. So she does. Ko Hyeong-so reveals that he knows it was her idea to request a jury trial for Ye-seul on the charge (claim?) of self-defence. With all the sass she can muster, she demands to know whether he’s hiding spy cams like his good-for-nothing son. How else would he know? This leaves Ko speechless and Sol [A] struts off in triumph. Then the camera zooms in on a watching (and waiting) Joon-hwi who allows a smirk to form on his lips momentarily before turning to follow Sol [A].

Yes, it is hard for me to believe that the show would go to all this trouble to give us Joon-hwi reaction shots just to show “friendship”. Yah… that would be friends becoming lovers if that’s the case. Furthermore on another occasion Joon-hwi installs a surveillance camera strategically outside Sol [A]’s place for fear of mischief that the not-so-neighbourly Lee Man-ho could inflict. This is another fascinating contrast to the exploits of the very perverted Ko Yeong-chang who puts a spycam in Ye-seul’s alarm clock so that he can have footage of them doing intimate things. Why would a man secretly video himself having sex with his girlfriend unless he’s trying to cobble together extortion material for later use? It’s not exactly the stuff of true love. In Joon-hwi’s case he tells Sol [A] that it’s for Byeol’s protection and there’s something he’s after that’s “top secret”. It’s suspicious no doubt. There’s no need to be cryptic and pretend to be mysterious if it’s just about keeping an eye on Lee Man-ho.

Then there’s also that lovely sequence in Episode 14 of them having conversations with Professor Yang and Professor Kim respectively. The editing juxtaposes their parallel scenes coming to the same conclusion about the mastermind behind Lee Man-ho. During the group meeting, they both insist in chorus that they will be able to find the necessary evidence prove their deductions.

Joon-hwi is a shrewd highly intelligent young man who knows that Sol [A] has a lot on her plate. She’s already biting off more than she can chew. He understands her passion to save anyone and everyone despite already being so behind academically but her heart is in the right place and she has her own kind of smarts. He is not that different from her in that regard. They have a strong sense of justice and doing the right thing. That’s why the thought that he could be interested in the walking automaton Sol [B] boggles my mind especially when he’s usually polite and businesslike with her. I suspect that Joon-hwi knows that a confession to her in the middle of all the chaos will only add another layer of complexity to her already problematic life.

So why does he say to Sol [B] that he’s grateful to Sol [A] when she asks him why he’s so adamant about helping her? Well, it’s not untrue that he’s grateful to her for all that she’s done to help prove his innocence and to uncover all the facts regarding his uncle’s death. But he can’t tell Sol [B] what he hasn’t already told Sol [A]. A man who has any kind of self-respect shouldn’t be confessing about another woman to a third party who may or may not have feelings for him. Until he has made known his feelings to Sol [A], he has to be as evasive as he can to others about his feelings. It would be unpleasant for Sol [A] to find out that other people knew definitively before she did that he likes her. It’s likely that that the adults do anyway but for him he has to keep mum until he breaks it to her himself.

I admit unreservedly that romance doesn’t matter here (it’s the icing on the cake) but I can’t believe that the showrunners would go to all kinds of trouble in the dialogue, the storytelling, the camera work, and the performances to show that Joon-hwi treats Sol [A] differently from other girls only for it to go nowhere. It’s so unnecessary especially in a busy show that has so many more pressing matters at hand.