One Dollar Lawyer (2022) May It Please the Court (2022) First Impressions
Tis the season for legal dramas apparently. For those of us who enjoy our legal dramas it’s too early to be breaking out the bubbly at this point because a good first impression is seldom any guarantee of a decent completed product. It’s not possible to watch them all but Namgoong Min and Lee Kyu-hyun are perennially likeable to make watching their ongoing dramas usually worth my while. Thus far there are no complaints. Both are at their quirky best and are paired off with plucky women who are learning and re-learning some home truths about how the legal system works for the down and out of society.
Having played law enforcement officers more recently, this time round Namgoong Min is the One Dollar Lawyer, Cheo Ji-hun, who takes on seemingly insignificant cases involving the underprivileged. He is a former prosecutor who left the job for reasons not yet known. It could have been the prospect of flaunting his colourful wardrobe that saw him make the switch. Or it is more likely (since this is a K drama) that some tragedy befell him while working for the public service. A wake-up call that set him resolutely on his present path. It’s not hard to see why a sensitive man like him would change course if he encountered a miscarriage of justice along the way. He encounters Kim Ji-eun’s Baek Ma-ri on a couple of occasions while she’s doing probationary prosecutor duty before she ends up reluctantly at his doorstep begging for a job in his dank shabby establishment. It is the prerequisite laid down by her CEO grandfather (Lee Deok-hwa) that she do a stint with Ji-hun before she can get a job at the prestigious family firm. Of course the idiosyncratic Cheo Ji-hun doesn’t make things easy for her and to her consternation, she’s tasked with defending him against a deliberate damages suit as a condition of hire. The comedic tone is set in place right out of the blocks and all expectations should fall in line accordingly. Namgoong Min’s delivery as expected is pitch perfect whether he’s outraged over petty indignities or swanning around the courtroom playing the unorthodox legal counsel with great flair.
While I enjoyed Ji-hun’s humorous theatrical stint in the courtroom defending his client from pickpocketing accusations, it seemed to me that this was not a case in reality that was worth wasting taxpayers money over. In all likelihood, it was meant to school the audience and Ma-ri on the most rudimentary legal principles of — a) the presumption of innocence, b) the sufficiency of evidence presented by the prosecution proving beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of the defendant. While I haven’t been to law school, I’ve been a member of a jury previously. The dearth of evidence in this case was obvious from the start — it was one man’s word against another. There was only one witness and he wasn’t reliable. There was no footage of the incident. The accusations were unprovable except that the accused had a record of pickpocketing. It also made no sense that an experienced pickpocket would allow himself to be caught so easily by a man who was intoxicated at a urinal.
At this point the cases here looks to be largely be about civil matters where those who are at the bottom end of the socio-economic divide are disadvantaged by the system. Much of the initial interpersonal conflict also seems to be setting up a growth arc for the somewhat entitled Ma-ri. Whether or not the present dynamic between the leads (of mentor and apprentice) evolves into romance remains an unknown at this point. Their stories can be told without it (even the anticipated healing narrative) so I imagine any prospect of romance will be more of a drawcard to those who don’t usually pick up genre shows like this.
Along a similar vein is May It Please the Court which stars Jung Ryeo-won and Lee Kyu-hyung as lawyers with very different ideological commitments to their profession. Jwa Shi-baek (Lee Kyu-hyung) on one side is the wholehearted defender of the man or woman on the street while Jung Ryeo-won’s Noh Chak-hee has earned success as a conniving corporate lawyer cleaning up after the wealthy. At the start of the story Chak-hee comes reasonably close to making partner before the rug is rudely pulled from under her. Her boss, CEO of Jangsan, Jang Gi-do (Jung Jin-young) needs to shore up his resume in his bid for the upcoming general assembly elections and is using her as a diversity hire to earn his street creds with the more politically progressive crowd that he has to woo. Her relationship with the Jangs is curious — both father and son treat her with unusual affection and have taken her under their wing — even though her grandmother was only their “lowly” housekeeper for many years.
The leads first clash in true rom com fashion when they represent clients from opposing sides in a case where Big Pharma vehemently pretends that their most popular contraceptive pill is safe and effective until a young mother known to Chak-hee, stabs her husband and doesn’t remember why.
As a result of her CEO’s machinations, Chak-hee ends up in the same office as Shi-baek. Surveying the local landscape from the rooftop of her new office, a disgruntled Chak-hee thinks a year in the boondocks is rather humiliating and tries to shorten her stay by gaining publicity for herself. She quickly discovers however that all her old legal tricks don’t yield the same results in this particular context. Without sincerity and dedication she cannot do her best for the under resourced clientele that come to her in desperation.
Jung Ryeo-won does well enough as the manipulative Chak-hee. She isn’t immediately loveable but she’s adaptable and far from being irredeemable. Her relationship with Shi-baek is prickly initially but quickly come to see the wisdom of his ways and better understand why a public defender’s job is a thankless one at 3% success rate.
Jwa Shi-baek comes across as an oddity in almost every respect as a man and as a lawyer but may it’s because he doesn’t care that much about money or achieving a name for himself. A lawyer that actually cares about their client must be something of a quaint rarity and could quite easily be construed as an eccentric. In that regard he is Chak-hee’s opposite. However what he does outside office hours is what has everybody intrigued. There seems to be some indication that Shi-baek is a vigilante from a few clues here and there but after 4 episodes I’m less inclined to buy into that theory. They’re probably red-herrings calculated to misdirect. There is certainly a serial killer on the loose and a distinct pattern to his victimology that indicates that they know him personally.
Lee Kyu-hyung is adorable as he’s attempts to dodge his new colleague and neighbour as far as it is possible but of course some things are just meant to be. No amount of evasion on his part can ultimately prevent them from working together and his better self always comes to her aid when she least expects. I imagine a romance between them is in the works from how their relationship is being staged. It’s not pairing that I would have thought of but the chemistry is surprisingly good probably because both are quite at home with the comedic side of things that dominates almost all their interactions so far.
Frankly I don’t think one has to like legal dramas to enjoy these newer offerings from the K drama production line. In this there’s humour to savour and relatable slice-of-life moments to make these accessible to anyone who is looking for something that’s not mainly about romance.