With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

THE ATTORNEY is available today

Well Go USA Entertainment
The Attorney / Byeon-ho-in
Directed by YANG Woo-seok
Starring SONG Kang-ho, LIM (a.k.a. YIM) Si-wan,
OH Dal-su, and KIM Yeong-ae
South Korea, 2013, 127 minutes

The Attorney was a major box-office hit in South Korea and today this fantastic drama becomes available on DVD and digital (video-on-demand, electronic sell-through, and streaming) in North America. The film begins in 1978 and ends in 1987, with one flashback to 1971.

SONG Woo-seok (the always great SONG Kang-ho) is an attorney with a wife and two children, a son and a daughter. He is at several disadvantages professionally: he has no college degree, hence no real connections, and very few clients. But he is smart and ambitious.

In 1978, after resigning a meaningless judgeship in Daejeon, he returns to Busan where he takes advantage of a change in the law and becomes hugely successful handling real estate registration. When that source of income dries up, he moves on to another area. Neither of these endeavors endears him to his fellow attorneys, who are scornful of him. He is described by Busan's lawyers as "A money-hungry idiot with no education."

SONG Woo-seok, Jin-woo, and Mrs. Park

In a flashback to 1971, before he earned his license to practice law, we learn of an indiscretion he committed at a small restaurant specializing in pork stew that is run by Mrs. Park (Kim Yeong-ae), a single mother. After becoming successful, SONG religiously patronizes the establishment, throwing as much business its way as he can.

The 1980s were a turbulent period in South Korean history. A military coup had led to a harsh dictatorship that justified it's repressive measures on threats posed by communists, both real and, all too often, imagined. PARK Jin-woo (newcomer LIM, a.k.a. YIM, Si-Wan), the restaurant proprietress's son, participates in a college reading group. Although in no way a communist or anti-government group, it is nonetheless targeted by the powers that be. Jin-woo and several other young men are snatched up by government agents and held incommunicado for many weeks.

When SONG help Mrs. PARK find Jin-woo, he is appalled to discover that the young man has obviously been beaten and tortured. Previously apolitical and unsympathetic to the county's protesting youth, SONG decides to defend Jin-woo against charges of reading subversive literature with seditious content and with praising anti-government groups. The trial, however, is intended to be a mere formality, a negotiation over sentencing, not the determination guilt or innocence.

SONG (right) with Mr. Park (OH Dal-su), his office manager

But SONG fervently seeks to have Jin-woo and his co-defendants completely exonerated of all charges and to expose those officials and their agents who are truly responsible of committing criminal acts against the young defendants. He does so at peril not only to himself but to his family as well. But a sense of righteous indignation had been ignited within him and he refuses to back down.

The film is based on true events, a fictionalized account of the attorney days of the late ROH Moo-hyun (1946-2009), who came to serve as South Korea's president from 2003-2008. Called the Book Club Case in the film, the actual conspiracy case was known as "Burim." Hounded by conservatives after leaving office, ROH ultimately committed suicide. He remains a hero to many South Koreas.

SONG Kang-ho initial turned down the role. He changed his mind primarily because of his wife's recommendation,  but also due to encouragement of directors PARK Chan-wook and BONG Joon-ho; SONG has previously worked with both of them, and they are also friends of the actor.

SONG Woo-seok in court

And we can extremely happy that he did take on the role, as it's a fantastic performance, one of three SONG graced us with in 2013. (The others are in Snowpiercer and The Face Reader.) Of course director YANG Woo-seok, who also co-wrote the script with YOON Hyeon-ho, must be commended for his taut direction, particularly in the courtroom scenes at the end of the film. Such scenes can easily drag, harmfully slowing the movie down. But those in The Attorney are edge-of-your seat gripping and exciting. To say that this film is an auspicious feature film directorial debut would be quite an understatement.

As far as the disc goes, audio options on the DVD are Korean 5.1 or 2.0, with optional English subtitles. There are no extras.

The Attorney won three awards at the 50th Baeksang Arts Awards:
- Daesang: Song Kang-ho
- Best Picture
- New Director: Yang Woo-seok

The Attorney is one of the finest dramas I've watched in some time. Don't let the lack of availability of a Blu-ray version (the DVD looks great when up-converted on a Blu-ray player, which is how I watched it) or extras dissuade you. This is a film that deserves a place in the collection of anyone who appreciates Korean films, SONG Kang-ho, or courtroom dramas.

AsianCineFest rating: 4 out of 4 stars; highest recommendation.