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May It Please the Court (2022) Blind (2022) Mr Bad (2022)
Of all the legal dramas that I’m currently watching, I’d say that May It Please the Court is the one that’s hitting the spot. There were some notable pacing issues in the middle but it has finally hit its stride in the most recent two episodes (Episodes 7 and 8). It’s certainly the case that the best part of the drama is the bickering/bantering leads which contributes in no small part to the palpable chemistry firing away merrily on all cylinders. After Little Women I have no expectations (none at all) on the romance front despite the show so insidiously giving us hug between the leads. Regardless of what happens in that department, the two make a good team. From Si-baek (Lee Kyu-hyung)’s end the barbed comments may sound acerbic but the man is unabashedly a kindly soul especially when one is privy to his interactions with his clients and his “brother”. If there’s a weakness in the character, I’d argue that he cares rather too much.
While the show and Si-baek himself would like us all, Chak-hee included, to believe that he’s behind the spate of serial killings, I’m of the view that he has some idea about who is actually responsible for them (or thinks he does) and is playing a game of cat and mouse with law enforcement to protect the individual in question. As a legal whiz he is able to use the law to keep the cops at bay. In truth the list of suspects is not a long one. It’s really not that difficult to see how he could be implicated in that crime considering that his fingerprints are literally over the evidence. The truth is though if a man like him actually committed a series of murders, I doubt he would be found out this easily as a result of carelessly leaving traces of himself everywhere.
The other aspect of the show which makes this better viewing than something like Blind, is Noh Chak-hee, Jung Ryeo-won’s character. At the start of the story she’s presented as the Jangsan Inc. lapdog but now she’s slowly discovering all kinds of unsavoury secrets about the people who gave her a head start in the legal profession that reeks unpleasantly of child exploitation. As Si-baek observes with his usual clear-sightedness and wit, she’s a far better human being than she acknowledges. The fact that she is loath to admit that she has a functioning conscience, however, makes her all the more endearing.
What’s getting my attention in recent days is Si-baek’s history with the Jangs — Jang Gi-do, the son and Jang Byung-chun, the father in particular. The deeply ambitious Gi-do is keen to have Si-baek on his campaign team because of his street creds as a “man of the people”. And while Si-baek initially hesitant and glowering with hostility, he eventually signs up to endorse candidate Jang Gi-do as it apparently provides him the opportunity to ingratiate himself with them for reasons he keeps to himself. So this inevitably leads to two questions 1) What is Si-baek scheming? 2) How is he related to Gi-do’s old flame, the one that Si-baek’s eyes resemble, the one that the dumpling chef allegedly married?
While there’s this dark serial killer revenge plot running right through it, May It Please the Court is imbued with humour and unexpected warmth. The characters — main and supporting — while having specific roles in a murder mystery still manage to come across as layered and fleshed out. Everyone’s connected by a K drama sordid past but they are still agents in an imperfect world, not merely plot devices at the bidding of the writer.
This brings me to my biggest beef with Blind which up to Episode 8, presents itself as some kind of mystery box whodunit using shifting perspectives and unreliable narration to pique interest. The benefit for the writer of course is that allow the story to seem more convoluted than it really is and allow the conflicts to be far more protracted through misdirection and misinformation. Sure, it offers certain attractions (which explains why I’m still watching) but the result of all the script machinations is that it’s hard to connect with the characters. Taecyeon’s character Ryu Sung-joon is perpetually stressful to watch because he’s always lurching from one crisis to another in large due to his own desperate recklessness. He’s not devoid of detective skills and he is persistent but the number of times I’ve facepalmed while watching him rush off to a crime scene which could potentially incriminate him has seen me go red. In general I don’t have a problem with Taecyeon’s performance although it tends to be limited. Considering what he’s been given that’s may be just as well. Half the time I’m not sure what he’s really trying to convey with his eyes.
Han Suk-jin’s character Sung-hoon, the judge, though more measured is also frustrating because he is keeping crucial facts to himself that would certainly expedite the police investigation. People are dying left, right and centre but everyone involved is fixated on their own agenda. Hence it’s an immensely unlikeable bunch of people we’re dealing with (with one or two exceptions) and it’s not with any real sympathy for their predicament that I’m watching things play out. Although he’s done much to arouse suspicion, I’m not especially suspicious of Sung-hoon even at this point because he seems to me to be genuinely bewildered and distressed about what’s going on but family obligations are holding him back from upholding his most cherished principles. He is doing his bit as Mummy’s boy and mummy has her reasons for not wanting her past known.
By Episode 10 it becomes clear that the motivations of the characters for acting the way they do are much more important than the capture of the perpetrator(s) to prevent further blood spilling. Just about everyone is trying to cover their rear ends. This poses a troubling moral predicament for a viewer like me. Even when the cops conclude as they do in the latest episode that the jury is being targeted, why are the surviving members still wandering around town without a care in the world? Why aren’t they under 24 hour police surveillance? In fact, since we’re on this topic, why are there so few cops on the case? Shouldn’t there be a major task force set up and all hands on deck? There’s a serial killer on the loose and innocent civilians are dying but the only person who is dogged about getting to the truth is Sung-joon. The only person who comes off remotely likeable, is Eun-ji, the social worker who happened to be on that jury too.
A part of me couldn’t care less “who done it” but it seems to be clear who’s on the shortlist. Regardless of what the show itself might be implying, there’s certainly no way that this mammoth undertaking can be achieved by a single person. For one, how does one manage to get everyone who was or related to someone complicit in the abuses of the Hope Welfare Centre involved in that trial and jury? Even with serious hacking skills, that’s impossible.
As a police procedural this where the show really falls down. The template they’re following doesn’t lend itself to the genre. Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries like And Then There Were None as well as The Murder on the Orient Express even Death on the Nile work best when there are no police officers on the job: A fixed location, isolated from the rest of the world, an elaborate conspiracy etc and all the players gathered for a single purpose but no official law enforcement in sight. The police are rendered useless for as long as it the story needs them to — more of the usual blatherings about corruption in the forces with almost no redeemable or relatable characters.
Clearly I don’t have to care about the characters to watch this show which is still a shame and the murderer’s MO ensures that no one will be sympathetic towards him/them once all the pieces of the puzzle come together because whatever the rationale the crimes are heinous.
For a change of pace I completed Mr Bad last week and found myself thoroughly enjoying it all the way to the end, the slow start notwithstanding. Every so often I find a limited budget trashy rom com to lose myself in and as it turns out this isn’t one of them. The budgetary constraints are obvious but it is a bit better than your average web drama where the author falls in love with her creation (and yes, it’s usually “her”). Most that I’ve seen has the female lead doing a Thursday Next (Jasper Fforde reference) where she finds herself mysteriously zapped into her own book. This one however has the male lead spring to life from a fictional work due to some supernatural interference and the two predictably bicker and bump heads. Until Xiao Wudi (Chen Zheyuan) develops feelings for the overly cheerful Nan Xiang (Shen Yue), much to his own chagrin. How he navigates all of that, without knowing who he really is, is hugely fun to watch, much more entertaining perhaps than watching the other male lead pout and stomp his feet when things don’t go his way.
Perhaps it’s my bias talking here but this drama seems a cut above most rom coms that have passed my desk recently largely because Chen Zheyuan is much better than what he needs to be. Xiao Wudi isn’t an outright villain or even an anti-hero. He’s certainly disgruntled and a modest trickster but underneath all those prickles and good looks, he’s just a guy who is trying to find his place in modernity experiencing love for the first time. There’s nothing extraordinary about the character on paper but Chen Zheyuan imbues him with a multifaceted personality and warmth that feeds into his chemistry with Shen Yue. He’s no cartoon character. They both look like they’re having a genuinely good time with this and putting all their energy into it despite the limitations of the script and format. The story is simple and falls along predictable lines but the actors make it work. The bonus for me personally is that after witnessing the unsatisfying finale from Little Women, the predictability and the tropey nature of the story was actually quite refreshing, and something of a palate cleanser. The show played up the skinship and the consummation with gleeful abandon and I wasn’t complaining at all. It knows exactly what it is, what the audience wants and is eager to fanservice to the hilt. The “carpe diem — seize the moment” theme was consistently applied all throughout with the figure of Nan Xing’s mother there to nag the youngsters endlessly about thinking and planning ahead.
The other reason I think this show works for me is that in most romance dramas, separating the leads for as long as possible is the name of the game but this one has the leads doing all they can to stay together despite their unworldly quandary. It is an odd thing to have to point out and increasingly unique in the C drama landscape.
I might also be in the minority camp in that the second leads’ romance didn’t send me to sleep in the way it did for others. For me it’s fine that there’s an older couple with their own set of fairly plausible relationship issues although it seems convenient that things come to ahead only when Nan Xing goes to work for them. It probably doesn’t help things when the second male lead who is a well-known writer and publisher comes across as an immature pubescent lad. Fortunately he chooses to take the hard road and develops into a stronger better person that his lady love can come home to. It’s probably also an advantage that I was interested in the publishing side of things which is where much of Nan Xing’s growth arc plays out. Moreover I’m rather fond of friends becoming lovers type stories.
There’s definitely a place for shows like this in my watch list. It struck me too that for reasons yet unknown I can sit through a rom com from Mainland China to the end these days but seem to have really had a hard time finishing even the most lauded South Korean ones.
P.S If anyone’s interested, I’ve written fix-it fic for Little Women. Go here to read it. I know the show wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea so I’m not making a fanfare over it.