October 17, 2015

The Attorney: Let Justice Reign

South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun's life was certainly worthy of a movie. The youngest of five kids in a poor, small-town family, he often had to leave school to help out at home. Despite never going to college, Roh passed the bar and became not just a self-taught lawyer but a judge, although it was in the former capacity that he did the civil rights work that became the core of his career. Eventually he was elected to the highest office in the land, at which point he was indicted then reinstated. After leaving that office, he was embroiled in a few controversies around bribery and political corruption. Eventually, he committed suicide by jumping off a mountain. That's a pretty compelling life story!

Yang Woo-seok's The Attorney doesn't follow that biography to the letter of the law but even though the lead character is named Park Byung-ho (Song Kang-ho), and his backstory is somewhat recast as that of an apolitical opportunist who has an ennobling epiphany about his profession when the faultless son (Yim Si-wan) of a big-hearted cafe-owner (Kim Yeong-ae) is illegally held prisoner and tortured for being part of a harmless book-reading group, we know this is about Roh. But stripped of his official identity, the movie also allows us to embrace Roh's accomplishments without being burdened with the sad details that followed his ascent to the presidency. All of this helps make The Attorney a feel-good story.

We like seeing the self-taught litigator outwit his snobby colleagues to become a successful self-made businessman. We like seeing him move into an apartment that he helped to build back in the days when he was doing construction to make ends meet. We like seeing him rise to the occasion when injustice suddenly pops up in his inner circle. And we love his refusal to compromise when the insider deals are offered as if justice could be meted out that way by a stuffy judge (Song Young-chang) with no conscience! That may be the way, people like Park's greedy sidekick (Oh Dal-su) and his stone-faced nemesis (Kwak Do-won) want things to go, but in this Capra-esque tale, no can do!

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