Story by: Dean Crawford, Photos by:
Directed by Yang Woo-seok
One of the biggest hits of last year — and, coincidentally, another courtroom drama — was Yang Woo-seok’s feature debut, “The Attorney,” starring the amazing Song Kang-ho. Without ever directly referencing his name, the movie is based on the early life of Korea’s ninth president, Roh Moo-hyun, whose pre-political career was dedicated to preserving the human rights of students on the peninsula.
Song Woo-seok (Song) is a tax attorney in his hometown of Busan. Despite being a success, he is looked down upon by others in his field due to his lack of a university diploma and his desire for financial gain. His outlook changes, however, once he sees police brutality directed at a group of students after they were falsely accused of being communists.
It’s not uncommon for to me complain about the sudden tonal shift in Korean movies, but “The Attorney” is a perfect example of a director getting it spot on. Looking at the film’s jovial movie poster, you could be forgiven for thinking after the first 30 minutes that you are simply watching a comedy about an uneducated local man making good. But once the protests happen and the subject matter darkens, so does the tone. Whereas a film like “Hot Young Bloods” (2014) would have benefited from keeping the mood primarily upbeat, that just wouldn’t have worked in a film about state brutality and torture.
Song Kang-ho proves once again that he is one of the best actors working today as he delivers a passionate, enthusiastic performance. At times the acting veers into the melodramatic, such as when some of the courtroom scenes become full-on shouting matches, but where this might have been a turn-off in other films, Song is constantly captivating. The film’s final image of the character is bittersweet, depending on your politics, but knowing the circumstances surrounding the life of the real Roh Moo-hyun, it’s hard not to be a little sad in the face of such a tender moment.
The film is ultimately a tale of right versus wrong, which most of us can sympathize with. It’s a fitting tribute to one of Korea’s most controversial leaders that everyone living in the ROK should see.