[Review] The Good Wife – 굿와이프

YOU CAN GET WITH THIS, OR YOU CAN GET WITH THAT

When Kim Hye Kyung’s (Jeon Do Yeon) husband, Prosecutor Lee Tae Joon (Yoo Ji Tae), is sent to jail after a public scandal involving sex and corruption, Hye Kyung returns to her law practice so that she can take care of her family.

She’s hired by MJ Law Firm as a first year, run by an old law school buddy, Seo Joong Won (Yoon Kye Sang), and his sister, Seo Myung Hee (Kim Seo Hyung).  Not only must Hye Kyung deal with her personal problems in the spotlight but she also faces stiff competition from young lawyers at MJ as well as other lawyers who want to win their cases against her.

My initial hesitation about watching this drama was because I had been a fan of the original American series from the very beginning and I worried that I would constantly be comparing this drama with the original work.  And yet, when they announced the cast, I couldn’t resist checking it out, especially since this drama marked Jeon Do Yeon’s return to television.

Nell – 숨 (Breath)

넬(Nell) – 숨

I will admit that I couldn’t stop my brain from making connections between the cast and their original character counterparts so it’s probably best to get those comparisons out of the way now.  Many of the characters remained the same except for two glaring things.  Seo Joong Won and Seo Myung Hee were not originally siblings in the original series but simply colleagues.  In the Korean version, it makes sense that they are because many big Korean companies started out as family-run businesses and legacy is an important facet of Korean culture.

The other difference is Oh Joo Hwan (Tae In Ho), Tae Joon’s lawyer.  I expect his American counterpart was meant to be Eli Gold played by Alan Cummings.  However, Joo Hwan is quite a subdued character.  Although he helps Tae Joon out by bending the interpretation of the law, he tries to play things on the straight and narrow at least in the public view.  There is another female fixer that Joo Hwan brings on board but as Eli Gold was one of my favorite characters, I was a bit disappointed by how this character changed.  However, can you really replace the venerable Alan Cumming?

Beyond the characters and the main plot, the cases that MJ take on, including Seo Joon Won’s indictment remained true to the American series.  Obviously, the case law details were tweaked so that they aligned with Korean case law but the developments remained the same.  While I get that cases of corruption and class action lawsuits are relatable to Korea, the twists were pretty similar so I couldn’t help but feel that I had a cheat sheet when it came to this drama.

On the other hand, the thing about Hye Kyung’s (originally Alicia’s) story that works so well for Korean audiences is that this main character is first introduced to us as a domestic woman who has to become the head of her family.  What’s likable about Hye Kyung is that she is even-tempered, smart and knows exactly the right thing to say.  And yet, there are times when I can see that these characteristics create a wall between her and the people around her.  Still, the drama makes us want to root for her because she’s a kind person who is put in the middle of things either because of her status or because she’s placed her faith in the wrong person.

Hye Kyung’s relationships and her feelings towards Tae Joon and Joong Won are constantly being compared throughout the drama.  Neither Tae Joon nor Joong Won are completely innocent people but the way they treat Hye Kyung is entirely different.  This is quite important for the show but I think the Korean version makes a vocal opinion about who we should be rooting for.  I think it could partly be the way these characters are written but in another light, I do think Yoo Ji Tae plays Tae Joon in a way that makes us want to root for Joong Won.  Or perhaps I’m just biased towards Yoon Kye Sang.  The good thing about this version is that we don’t have to wait too long for Hye Kyung to make a decision as three seasons of the original version is condensed within these 16 episodes.

As for the supporting cast members, I think we had a lot of great performances. I enjoyed watching Kim Seo Hyung as Seo Myung Hee because we don’t often see assertive female characters in Korean dramas.  And yet, I wish we had more with her character.  At the very least, I would loved the drama to develop her loveline because we simply did not get enough of that.

I wanted to be very critical of Kim Dan but I think Nana did a very good job of playing the bold, cool-headed and a bit manipulative Kim Dan.  It’s too early to say that Nana is a great actor but I think her natural personality was a good fit for this role.  I was also impressed with Lee Won Geun who plays Hye Kyung’s young first year rival at MJ, Lee Joon Ho.  His smiley face hid a cutthroat ambition and yet, Joon Ho isn’t a bad guy.  He just knows that if he doesn’t look out for himself, no one else will.

I also have to mention that even though Lawyer Son Dong Wook is based on the Louis Canning character, it was great to watch Yoo Jae Myung playing him because he is so great in the role.  Louis Canning is a character who has tardive dyskinesia, which is a disorder that causes involuntary, repetitive body movements, played by Michael J. Fox who has Parkinson’s disease.  As someone who does not have a disease or disorder that causes involuntary body movements, I was quite impressed by Yoo Jae Myung’s portrayal.  Not to mention that Son Dong Wook is a character who uses his disorder in an underhanded way to win cases.  It’s this multi-layered representation of many of the characters that makes them feel real and captivating.

Despite loving many of the characters in this remake and even liking the procedural pacing of the show, I wasn’t satisfied by the ending.  Perhaps this is where the format of American TV doesn’t work within the Korean format.  The original series had 7 long seasons (22/23 episodes each) to develop its story and characters.  Here, the drama falls flat by skipping ahead a few months to let us know that the status quo of our characters has barely changed.  The ending feels very abrupt and we’re not really given a sense of closure from the climax.  I suppose there could be some possibility of creating another season but it would be very difficult to get this full cast together considering the demand of the actors.

Still, I’m a bit torn regarding how I feel about this drama.  If you watched the original series, the hardest thing about watching this would be stopping yourself from making comparisons as there are too many similarities.  However, this drama has a lot working for it.  Great cast, interesting stories, relatable characters that keep new viewers on the edge of their seats.  The prosaic ending was unsatisfying because as much as Hye Kyung is poised throughout the show, I wanted her to go out with an exclamation mark.  While this is disappointing, I don’t regret watching the show because the cast’s fantastic performances made it worthwhile.

Rating

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