It’s not very often that a Korean movie captivates me as much as the Korean film The Attorney, did when I watched it recently.
Looking at the poster, you think you get a general idea what this movie is about. Something warm and fuzzy about a family, right? Happy movie, right?
You’d be totally off-the-mark.
The Attorney is about one man and the incredible transformation he goes through in his life.
Song Woo-Seok, played by the great actor Song Kang-Ho, is just a regular man who endured incredibly hard times to graduate from high school and then eventually pass the bar exam to become an attorney in Korea. Valuing money above all else, including his pride, Song walks the streets passing out his business card to anyone who will accept it, hoping to get any sort of clients; he doesn’t care — if he can make money, he’ll take the case.
Looked down upon by his peers who graduated from college and went to law school to become attorneys, Song perseveres and practices any law that will pay money. He starts in real estate transactions and when he sees tax law as potentially being profitable, he moves onto that, too.
In the Busan area, despite being mocked and despised by his peers, Song starts raking in the money, won by won.
Once he’s well-established, Song goes back to a restaurant where he had once run off without paying the bills due to his financial hardships. There, he approaches the kind and trusting owner lady, played by the equally fascinating actress, Kim Young-Ae, to admit what he had done, and ask if she recalls him.
This visit would be the beginning of something wonderful and amazing.
I won’t go into great detail as I want you to watch the movie, not read about it. But as is the case with real-life relationships, one friendship or acquaintance between two human beings can often be the catalyst to enormous change to one or both of their lives — sometimes reaching even further than the two individuals.
Such is the relationship between Choi Soon-Ae, the restaurant lady, and the attorney, Song Woo-Seok.
The first 1/4 of the movie lays the groundwork for who Song Woo-Seok has been.
The remainder of the movie is extremely touching with very deep undertones. It’s a battle between what is easy and what is right, and how one man abandons what’s easy for the first time in his life to correct a grave wrong. It’s the journey of how a man begins to see that there is something greater than himself, his family or money.
The story in The Attorney is in and of itself a good script. It’s a story we all love — there’s an underdog who fights a huge villain, in this case, the Korean government, and watching his tribulations is intriguing if not mesmerizing. But this story is loosely based on the life of Roh Moo Hyun, the past Korean President who actually became more famous after his suicide than during this presidency. He had taken on a case of this nature, and he had made this transformation. While some of the story was fictionalized, and the character’s names are all different — the director clearly states that it is a loose translation of President Roh’s earlier years.
In hindsight, while his presidency was tainted by bribery allegations that his wife and son-in-law were part of, he is remembered as one of the least corrupt presidents of Korea thus far.
But past the story, it’s the actors in this film that bring the story home. Each person in this film envelopes their character fully. The casting could not be more perfect in terms of looks to role, but then, Kim Young Ae and Song Kang Ho bring to life their respective roles. The tears, the strife and the joy are all felt honestly and deeply.
Any mother will find it impossible not to feel the pain that Kim Young-Ae exudes in The Attorney.
Another great actor is Kwak Do-Won, whom I’ve been a little fascinated with since his role in Good Doctor. He’s an actor with a style, face and aura that I find it hard to dislike despite how evil some of his characters have been. There’s something simplistic about how he plays his roles, and even when evil, there’s a personable side that inevitably emerges when he takes on the role. In The Attorney, the film depicts how he became as horrid as he is, and while there is no salvation for him in this role, you find that you don’t hate him as much as you really should.
That’s kind of Kwak Do-Won’s “thing.”
Be it in the movie The Thieves, or in this film, Oh Dal Soo holds his own in each scene. Even in a supporting role in The Attorney, he is likable, funny and endearing. With a face that would ordinarily be classified as something other than “handsome” — Oh Dal Soo easily engraves his own special spot in everyone’s hearts with his acting abilities and great humor that he adds to each role, even though he’s not really “funny” in The Attorney.
The Attorney is mostly about one man’s transformation from a regular guy who just wants to make a good living to a true civil rights lawyer who fights to undo wrongdoing, and believes in democracy. This was very much what Roh Moo-Hyun was known for, and his case in Busan back in the early 80s was what brought a regular guy into the spotlight, which would eventually lead to becoming President of the country (though he was impeached later).
The movie is part of the elite Top 10 highest-grossing films in Korea with more than 200 million tickets sold for this movie — really impressive when you realize South Korea has all of 50 million residents in its entirety. The film has clearly done well with foreign markets and as mentioned, it’s a theme that will resonate with many, many people.
At this time, this movie is only available through Apple / iTunes, Netflix or Amazon, all requiring payment to watch. I watched it on Apple TV (iTunes) and thought the subtitling was quite good. Take a look at it here.
Once it’s released for all of us, I’ll consider subtitling it on YouTube for you.
Don’t miss this movie!!!