[Review] Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul Ho – 동네변호사 조들호

AND YET ANOTHER UNDERDOG SUPERHERO

Star prosecutor Jo Deul Ho (Park Shin Yang) had a bright future ahead of him by being at the top of his career and the son-in-law to the head of a big Korean law firm.  When he becomes aware of the dealings of a corrupt CEO, he ends up becoming a scapegoat and not only loses his job but his family as well.  After serving time for a crime he did not commit, he ends up on the streets but is pulled back in the legal world when he encounters a client in which the law did not give him a fair opportunity.  He then begins to take other cases in the neighborhood helping people who have been cheated by a big bad conglomerate and rebuilds his practice together with Lee Eun Jo (Kang Sora), a young lawyer who looks up to him.

Based on a webtoon, I can easily see why Park Shin Yang was cast as Jo Deul Ho as he is at his best when playing zany characters who are motivated by helping the underdog.  At the same time, he’s able to peel back the layers of the original webtoon character to dredge up the deeper emotions of what drives them.  I found that that has always been the charm of Park Shin Yang’s acting.

Kim Feel –하늘을 걸어 (Betting on the Heavens)

김필(Kim Feel) – 하늘을 걸어

At the same time, I realized that I’ve also always like Kang Sora best when she played characters who take their own initiative like Misaeng’s Ahn Young Yi.  Here, she’s a young lawyer who is still trying to learn the ropes but even though Geum Sa Law Firm is one of the country’s top law firms, they don’t foster a nourishing environment nor do they see the value in her contributions.  So we are rooting for Eun Jo when she quits her job at Geum Sa to work for Jo Deul Ho.

Despite a great cast, I did find the storyline to be incredibly predictable and repetitive with the big bad corporation and the corrupt politicians pulling the strings so much that it makes life impossible for the middle and lower classes.  Essentially, it’s Jo Deul Ho that comes to their rescue and he does so in entertaining ways but pushes their buttons until the antagonists take things one step too far.  We’ve seen far too many of these corrupt chaebol dramas and it is disappointing that this drama doesn’t add anything new or provide a unique perspective to that tried storyline.

I also think one of the interesting aspects of the plot was witnessing Shin Ji Wook (Ryu Soo Young) be conflicted with emotions over what was true versus the people he thought he could trust, namely his father.  Unfortunately, Ji Wook barely takes action in what he believes in until the end of the drama when namely his father is willing to give himself up.  The right thing to do is almost handed to him on a plate which makes the viewers feel unsympathetic towards his inner struggles.  There’s nothing dramatic about watching a passive character.

However, the drama does deliver a feel-good storyline with humor and the strength of this drama is not only watching to see Jo Deul Ho in action but understanding what motivates him.  I think that’s why I was compelled by Jo Deul Ho’s backstory and the drama explore the relationship with his daughter because that’s the heart of this drama even though it’s not the sole thing that drives the overall plot.

I’m not sure why the drama felt it needed one, big bad character in which to blame all the corrupt dealings that we witness in the drama.  That’s one of the biggest thing that detracts from the drama as it seems to oversimplify who’s to blame for the corruption on just one person when there’s an argument that needs to be made that society is puts these people on pedestals to begin with.  Nevertheless, Park Shin Yang does know how to make his character shine and Jo Deul Ho’s quirky associates are amusingly entertaining.

Rating

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