March 31, 2012

The Case of Itaewon Homicide: One Murder. Two Suspects. No Verdict.

Ripped from the headlines, Hong Ki-seon's sensational docudrama The Case of Itaewon Homicide retells the real-life grisly murder of Jong-pil (Song Joong-ki), a hard-working, clean cut student who gets randomly knifed one night in the restroom of a Burger King by one of two vacationing American teens -- either AJ (Sin Seung-Hwan), a spoiled brat from NYC, or Pearson (Jang Geun-Seok), a half-Mexican gang member with whom he's been hanging out for the last three months. Each of the young men accuses the other of the pointless slaying; both have secrets to hide; and ultimately, both are to blame. Throughout this courtroom drama, you get the feeling that neither is out for justice so much as he's looking for a way to save his own hide. As such, they're both unlikable, and even if you're pretty sure you know who did it, the villain of The Case of Itaewon Homicide actually ends up being not one of the suspects but AJ's attorney (Oh Kwang-rok) who, because his motives are clearly mercenary, undermines the very legal system that he should be honoring.

A defense lawyer's job isn't to decide whether the client is guilty or not; it's to provide the client with the best defense possible.

I've heard that sentiment before and while I "get it," it's also always left an unpleasant taste in my mouth. It's not quite "innocent until proven guilty." It's more like "not guilty if any mistakes are made." The burden as always lies with the prosecution, here represented by Public Prosecutor Park (Jeong Jin-yeong), one of those noble souls who fights the good fight even if victory isn't necessarily attainable. Park's also, interestingly, a perpetual skeptic. He's not a champion. He's a doubter. He doubts the system, his opponent, his client, even himself. Which isn't to say that everything's relative to him or to us. It's just that in a world where no one can be counted on to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, what you end up parsing is a collection of half-truths, coverups, and bogus assertions. It's why nothing ever works as the ultimate truth -- the church, science, the legal system... Every institution is made of people, and people lie, cheat, and hide information for reasons that sometimes we'll never know. In life, I guess you've got to do the best with what you've got. The Case of Itaewon Homicide definitely does that because despite some second-rate performances, it's still a first-rate film.

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