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Confession of Murder or Naega Salinbeomida or 내가 살인범이다 (2012)

April 8, 2013 1 comment

Confession of Murder

Confession of Murder or Naega Salinbeomida or 내가 살인범이다 (2012) makes a pleasingly dramatic start. It’s 2005. Our hero is drowning his sorrows in a bar when a masked man throws himself through the window to attack him. Recovering quickly from the surprise, there’s a terrific fight followed by a trademark chase in the rain. It’s always good for a director and scriptwriter Jung Byoung-Gil to make a statement of intent. No mater how cerebral this police procedural may get, there will always be a chance for fights and the occasional shooting. Anyway, our hero is left carrying a scar on his face to remind him of his run-in with a serial killer. Retreating ever further into the bottle, he views himself as an increasing failure as a detective.

Jung Jae-Young hot in pursuit

Jung Jae-Young hot in pursuit

 

This is Homicide Detective Choi Hyung-Goon (Jung Jae-Young) who, at his peak, was in charge of a major serial killer case. It was never solved. Then after the period of statutory liability has expired, Lee Doo-Suk (Park Shi Hoo) writes a book confessing to the murders. The news conference where he launches his book confessing to the murders is a nicely judged commentary on the role of the media. The author’s display of the bullet wound allegedly resulting from the shot fired by Detective Choi when they chased across roof-tops is guaranteed to grab everyone’s attention. When he starts to do the rounds of the parents of the girls he claims to have killed to show his remorse, the press follow and sales of the book are phenomenal. The question for the police, therefore, is whether the confession is real. A question that becomes all the more pressing when the author and the media come into the police station to greet the detective in charge.

 

The media, however, are anxious to get the alleged criminal and failed cop on to the same television show. If the cop kills the confessed murderer on a live show, the ratings will go through the roof. The television impresario played by Jang Gwang is magnificently capitalist. He truly understands the cult of celebrity and is out to exploit the opportunity to the maximum. There are two things going for him. The first is that the man making the confession is not only inherently newsworthy, he’s also rather beautiful. Vast numbers of women and teen girls are swooning over his good looks. Indeed, when the detective accuses him of being a fraud, we see the young girls outraged. They want their new hero to be the serial killer who used to go round killing young girls. The satire is moderately savage, charting the mindless irrationality of the cult that rapidly grows up around this admitted killer and the exploitation of this cult by the mainstream media to make millions of dollars profit.

Park Shi Hoo beginning to find life a little tough

Park Shi Hoo beginning to find life a little tough

 

Meanwhile, led by Han Ji-Soo (Kim Young-Ae), the mother of the last girl whose body was never found, the relatives plan their own quiet revenge. Except the manner of the kidnapping wins prizes for being one of the most amusing I’ve seen in years. It’s a complete masterpiece showing how amateur criminals are accident-prone when it comes to executing a plan and it’s worth seeing the film just for that sequence. The most dangerous of this group proves to be Choi Kang-Sook (Jo Eun-Ji). Her efforts with the crossbow prove highly effective. Mention must also be made of Jung Hae-Kyun who gives a performance of great physicality. He has terrific screen presence.

 

Taken overall, we have a wonderful film. Indeed, it’s one of the best of 2012. Although I think it rather obvious what’s going on, the mechanics of the plot are worked out with rigorous attention to detail. Absolutely everything you see has a purpose and builds up to a most satisfying emotional outcome in the epilogue. Park Shi Hoo smiles most convincingly as the man making the confession. That he manages to come over as sympathetic even when admitting to multiple murders is a significant triumph. Jung Jae-Young is also impressive as the detective slowly falling to pieces — a fall made all the more terrible when the flashbacks explain his personal history. Although revenge films can sometimes leave a sour taste in the mouth as you feel vigilanteism is being condoned by film-makers, this plays absolutely fair with everyone, both individual and state officials, operating within the law and upholding its principles. Indeed, one character goes above and beyond the ordinary call of duty to ensure the law is not broken (too much). Confession of Murder or Naega Salinbeomida or 내가 살인범이다 is a film you should go out of your way to see.

 

For those of you who are fans of Park Shi Hoo, there’s a fan site at http://parksihoo4u.com/

 

Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 13 to end

Well, we’re into the final episodes of Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu with Seo In Woo (Lover Boy) (Park Shi Hoo following on from Iljimae and Family’s Honor) ‘fessing up to everything — even to stealing Ma Hye Ri’s (Kim So Yun) credit cards and cell phone at the ski resort so they would meet. Jeni Ahn (Park Jung Ah) also admits to being in on the conspiracy. Now our couple must adjust to the new reality. At first, she’s into self-pity, lying at home feeling sorry for herself, not answering her phone and worrying everyone at the office. What does Lover Boy want her to do? Just clear his father’s name. He died of a heart attack in prison as a murderer. We then see the significance of the football boots. He promised to buy them for his son but was diverted and framed for the murder before he could pass them on. Lover Boy also explains that he saw Ma Sang Tae (Choi Jung Woo, continuing in father roles from Brilliant Legacy) as a child at her home. Denied help, his mother couldn’t stand being in Korea without her husband, so they went to America where she was killed in a traffic accident. Left on his own, he was adopted. Yet again, he refuses to apologise for using her to investigate her father.

Ma Hye Ri (Kim So Yun)

Angry she goes to her father. Bad Papa instructs her to quit as a prosecutor and marry the man he chooses. For once, she stands up to him. Later she finds a recording Lover Boy made for her alarm clock when he says he’s sorry for the pain to come. So we get her confronting him and demanding respect. At last, she’s trying to become a real person. This bring us to the classic line, “I love you, you bastard!” which does rather sum it up well. And then we get a kiss for real. At last she feels she can breathe freely. But instead of leaping into bed to celebrate — this being a Korean drama — they go outside and she remembers the boy who came to their house to assert his father’s innocence. She took pity on him and gave him banana milk and a cookie which, in line with his friendly character and allergy to bananas, he threw on the ground.

Seo In Woo (Lover Boy) (Park Shi Hoo)

So because there are three more episodes to go, they decide they’re not a couple (despite the real kiss) and she gets back into the investigation, talking honestly to Shin Jung Nam, the security guard who claimed to see enough to blame Lover Boy’s dad. Lover Boy does the follow-up to soften up the man. Finally, Shin Jung Nam admits he took the large sum of money that was left at the scene of the murder. When Bad Papa realised he’d been spotted, he paid the hospital to treat the guard’s son and told the guard to keep the money he’d found. Meanwhile Bad Papa realises Lover Boy has been using his daughter to investigate the murder. They meet and he accuses Lover Boy of seducing his daughter as revenge. Lover Boy offers to give up his daughter if he admits the murder. It now gets painfully melodramatic. Bad Papa apologises to his wife for being prepared to break all the rules to get out of poverty. Seeing the writing on the wall, Bad Papa agrees to confess if Lover Boy will never see his daughter again. My pain level is rising fast as Lover Boy and Ma Hye Ri continue to insist they’re not in a relationship. He apologises, again, for using her and the script writers pile on the romantic angst. The scenes with the mother add fuel to the flames of unnecessary pain. All we need is for Bad Papa to admit all and the happy couple to walk off into the sunset.

Ma Sang Tae (Choi Jung Woo)

So finally he explains how he killed the man who was blackmailing him and framed Lover Boy’s father. It was all a dirty business deal with a politician standing in the shadows to give planning permission and wave through permits. He paints it as self-defence when the blackmailer attacked him. Lured on by greed, he kept quiet, the wrong man went to jail and died there. This is wonderful but there’s a legal wrinkle. If it was an accident or self-defence, there’s a seven year period of limitations on the prosecution. This has expired. But if it was murder. there’s a fifteen year period and he could still be prosecuted. Feeling too guilty at he pain he’s causing, Lover Boy decides to stop, so Jeni Ahn releases all the accumulated evidence to the Prosecutor’s office. To add further embarrassment, Lover Boy now volunteers to be Bad Papa’s lawyer.

Yoon Se Joon (Han Jung Soo) and Jin Jung Sun (Choi Song Hyun)

With everything to play for, Bad Papa’s business starts to collapse while Lover Boy goes to talk to the corrupt politician Kim and blackmails him into giving evidence in support of Bad Papa. Predictably it’s Lover Boy who ultimately wins the day because he prepares an animated presentation, CSI-style, that convinces the prosecutors the death was basically an accident. A court formally declares Lover Boy’s dad innocent and there are smiles all round, except Bad Papa’s business collapses and creditors strip the family home of everything moveable. Bad Papa and Mum set up a bakery and, when all the guilt has subsided, our happy couple are finally free to be happy ever after. As a postscript, Yoon Se Joon (Han Jung Soo) actually proposes marriage to Jin Jung Sun (Choi Song Hyun) which proves common sense can prevail even in daft Korean drama.

This is a great shame. After a rocky start, Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu picked up speed only to die in the final furlongs. When you run a race, the pace should pick up as you reach the end and not focus on the losing horse being dragged kicking and neighing across the finish line. The ending is agony prolonged to excruciating levels. At its core this is a good but slight story. Everything could and should have been wrapped up in no more than ten episodes. Spinning this out into sixteen episodes was a catastrophic mistake. Adding to the problems were the complete lack of credibility in the primary characters played by Kim So Yun and Park Shi Hoo. Kim So Yun was a victim of the script which gave her no chance of appearing completely sane while Park Shi Hoo looks good but continues to act woodenly. I actually felt Choi Jung Woo came out rather better as the homicidal father. He did at least fight to defend his position and then made an honest confession. He actually managed a smile as the bread-maker in the new bakery business run by his wife. While Han Jung Soo and Choi Song Hyun demonstrate how difficult it is for any couple to get together in Korean culture. Life over there sure is tough when it comes to romance.

For the reviews of all episodes, see:
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 1 to 4
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 5 to 8
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 9 to 12

For those of you who are fans of Park Shi Hoo, there’s a fan site at http://parksihoo4u.com/

 

Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 9 to 12

The Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu continues with Ma Hye Ri (Kim So Yun) getting all worked up when she finds Seo In Woo (Park Shi Hoo following on from Iljimae and Family’s Honor) has a photograph of her taken more than a year ago. Then she’s convinced that means he’s had a crush on her for a long time. But, no matter what the truth of it, safety first. She tells him to move out of the neighbouring house. Meanwhile, she and her investigators dig up evidence strongly suggesting the car accident from Episode 8 was a murder to collect the insurance. The problem is how to prove it. Ma Hye Ri invites Yoon Se Joon (Han Jung Soo) out for a meal. Unfortunately she takes him to a floating restaurant and gets violently seasick. Fortunately, he finds this somewhat amusing and they hold hands as they walk under the cherry blossom. Jin Jung Sun (Choi Song Hyun) is doing her best not to be jealous, but decides it can’t hurt to dress in a slightly more revealing way.

Choi Jung Woo as Papa Ma with Kim So Yun as his daughter

There are creepy things about Ma Hye Ri’s home — she has an unannounced visitor. When she suspects, she calls Seo In Woo who winkles out the uninvited lodger. They take him down to the police station. This prompts a change of heart. Ma Hye Ri is so grateful to have a friend to call in emergencies, she tells Seo In Woo he need not move away. Meanwhile, Seo In Woo’s long-term plans are slowly coming nearer to completion as two cases are in the prosecutor’s system: one is a case alleging Go Man Chui (Sun Woo Jae Duk) fraudulently sold the home in his wife’s name, the other alleges Go Man Chui is the director of a building company responsible for defective work. Ma Hye Ri and Yoon Se Joon have yet to realise the link. This is a trail back to Ma Sang Tae (Choi Jung Woo, continuing in father roles from Brilliant Legacy). All they have to do is recognise it. Now mother Park Ae Ja (Yang Hee Kyung) meets Seo In Woo and Ma Hye Ri spends time listing all the things she likes about him. This is deeply distressing because she sees only his sincerity and not his lies. His conscience may force him to give up whatever the plot is against her father.

Park Shi Hoo being a lawyer

He gets very drunk and has to be helped home by Jeni Ahn (Park Jung Ah) who first appeared as a lawyer in Seo In Woo’s firm early on. It now seems she knows him from America and has been in Korea for one year helping him with his plans. Ma Hye Ri has a second “date” with Yoon Se Joon where they exercise together. After hours watching video from shops along the route the murderers probably followed, she finds the key piece of evidence. When the pictures are blown up, the evidence is convincing. She goes in person to arrest the husband for the murder of his wife and is distressed when his children cry. When confronted, the murderous couple explain how they gave the woman a fatal injection and then staged the accident. Ma Hye Ri is upset her investigation will leave the children as orphans. To cheer her up, the team of prosecutors invite themselves round to her place for nibbles. We then have more sad moments as the foursome eye each other with appropriate longing.

Park Jung Ah as Jeni Ahn, a friend from the USA

Now Seo In Woo and Jeni Ahn offer a little help to drop Go Man Chui, the missing fraud witness, into the hands of the police. Ma Hye Ri is asked to share the case with Yoon Se Joon which alarms her father. Indeed, he has every right to be frightened as Go Man Chui, the intended scapegoat for the defective building work case, identifies Papa Ma as the man behind the fraud.

After the initial shock, Ma Hye Ri rushes round to confront her father who admits to knowing the man from his home town, but denies any recent connection. Nevertheless, Ma Hye Ri must withdraw from the case. When mother Park Ae Ja confronts her husband about pursuing an arranged marriage, her husband seems resigned to the world no longer working as he wants and allows his wife to proceed on the basis that Seo In Woo will marry his daughter. When Ma Hye Ri tells her team about the embarrassing involvement of her father, Yoon Se Joon takes on the case solo. Go Man Chui changes his story again and blames a man now dead. He says he only accused Papa Ma to embarrass the prosecutor. Yoon Se Joon can find no evidence directly linking Papa Ma with the fraud. To celebrate, she buys Seo In Woo a bracelet. He’s getting increasingly conflicted over all this plotting. He decides to try keeping her at arm’s length. Yoon Se Joon is slowly starting to realise Jin Jung Sun has been in love with him for years. When Jin Jung Sun confronts Ma Hye Ri, she begins to make a choice between the two men. But she finds it difficult in the face of Seo In Woo’s sudden coldness.

Equally suddenly, Ma Hye Ri is off on the hunt again when the evidence from the Land Registry finally appears and shows her father was involved in the transfer of land to Go Man Chui fifteen years ago. She goes back to the wife who first alleged fraud and asks about this transfer. With this information, Ma Hye Ri is able to link back to a murder case. When she checks the records of the police investigation she finds statements from her father, Go Man Chui and his wife. We are also allowed a flashback to see Seo In Woo doing the same research. Now Seo In Woo disappears leaving Ma Hye Ri in tears just as she has begun to choose him.

Han Jung Soo (Yoon Se Joon) and Choi Song Hyun (Jin Jung Sun) look as if they might become a family

She decides to ask her mother about her father and then confesses she misses Seo In Woo. The next day, she goes to speak to one key witness from the murder case fifteen years ago. It turns out he’s the father of the man Seo In Woo represented in the alleged assault case. The issue is whether Papa Ma bought an alibi with the land. Unfortunately, there’s no clear outcome. Then we have a resolution where she apologises to Yoon Se Joon for chasing him and insists he look seriously at Jin Jung Sun. When Seo In Woo reappears, he cuts her dead but she confronts him. At least he knows she’s not going to give up with out a fight. We now have an ah ha moment. It seems the man who was convicted of the murder fifteen years ago was not the type, but he died in jail and his family went to America. Papa Ma is now alerted to his daughter’s interest in the events fifteen years ago while Go Man Chui looks to be in a good blackmail position.

Ma Hye Ri now gets evidence showing that her father’s alibi was a lie. Except by talking to all these people, she’s also putting together Seo In Woo’s involvement. She knows he’s been meeting with all the relevant witnesses as a lawyer, writer and customer. She realises it must be his father who died in jail. Now they really do have something to talk about.

Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu has actually picked up. I was beginning to doubt whether Kim So Yun as Ma Hye Ri was ever going to be really likeable, but the character is slowly maturing and realising what’s actually important to her. For too long, she’s been living the lives given to her by her parents. Now that she’s finally on her own and involved with a completely new circle of people who relate to her as she is, a new person is emerging. She’s prepared to reject Han Jung Soo as Yoon Se Joon (who was only confused because she looked like his dead wife) and push Choi Song Hyun as Jin Jung Sun into action. Instead of trying to hide all the evidence about her father, she wants to continue the investigation. Choi Jung Woo is suitably creepy. And she’s prepared to break with convention and impliedly tell Seo In Woo how she feels. The shame showed by Park Shi Hoo is reasonably convincing. So it’s all beginning to come together in a better way.

For the reviews of all episodes, see:
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 1 to 4
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 5 to 8
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 9 to 12
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 13 to end

For those of you who are fans of Park Shi Hoo, there’s a fan site at http://parksihoo4u.com/

 

Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 5 to 8

The Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu Episode 5 continues with the case of the music teacher accused of child molestation. Seo In Woo (Park Shi Hoo following on from Iljimae and Family’s Honor) is waiting for Ma Hye Ri (Kim So Yun) outside the office and acts as her driver for the day. Well, first she bakes biscuits. Her decoration style is somewhat crude but they taste good. Then they go to the home of the young victim and, after feeding her biscuits and making clothes for her dolls, the victim slowly opens up. Now she knows what happened, the mother and girl come into the office and a formal statement is given. In due course, the alleged molester comes to trial. The girl must repeat her evidence in a closed court but with the testimony piped to the public through a video link. For this to be inflicted on a seven-year-old says a great deal about the Korean justice system. Ma Hye Ri wins the girl’s confidence by taking off her robes and doing a little dance. The girl recognises the music she’s humming as from Swan Lake. Then she gives a moving and credible account of the assault. Seo In Woo’s role is becoming even more blurry because he has secretly obtained evidence from America showing this is not the first time our violin teacher has been accused of improper behaviour towards a child. He causes this evidence to be delivered to Ma Hye Ri and this completes a very strong case. Suddenly Ma Hye Ri is hot news and the press feature pictures of her on the front pages of local newspapers. Her father, Ma Sang Tae (Choi Jung Woo, continuing in father roles from Brilliant Legacy), is suitably pleased and resumes pursuit of a suitable match.

Kim So Yun after a few extra biscuits

The next case involves a young man accused of a violent assault. It looks open and shut but Seo In Woo turns up and asks for more time. Ma Hye Ri is not inclined to give it. Not deterred, Seo In Woo investigates and finds evidence that the accused was acting in defence of a woman about to be raped. When he produces the woman, Ma Hye Ri takes a moment and then accepts defeat, reducing the charges and allowing the man out on bail. Now comes a pivotal moment. Jealous of her success, co-workers release a picture of Ma Hye Ri when she was at university. This takes us into the same territory as Ruthless People with a sideways glance at Sherman Kump in The Nutty Professor. We get to see Kim So Yun in a prosthetic fat suit as she goes through school and then into the first year at law school. She’s the most intelligent girl in the school and the top-performing law student, but deeply conscious of her excess weight. Unfortunately she misunderstands a boy’s kindness for sexual interest and unilaterally falls in love. When her “friends” mock her, “How could she possible believe anyone could love her?” she breaks down. Her mother locks her in the cellar with three personal trainers and feeds her salad until she loses weight. The reward for achieving the perfect body is that her mother will engineer her daughter’s departure from law school. So now we know why she’s so obsessed with her clothes and, more importantly, why her emotional growth has been so stunted.

Han Jung Soo valiantly fighting off womankind

For once Seo In Woo is too late to intervene. This is left to Yoon Se Joon (Han Jung Soo). He becomes like a spreading tree to her, offering shade. This is a pivotal moment because he not only gives her advice but talks to himself when he says, “You have to give up the past to make way for the future.” He’s three years into mourning and has left no room for his own future growth. Ma Hye Ri decides to pursue Yoon Se Joon but, every time she tries to get him on his own, Jin Jung Sun (Choi Song Hyun) is in the way. She decides she has to move into the same neighbourhood so that they can carpool. Ma Hye Ri stages an accident which spooks her father into allowing her to move out. Now Seo In Woo’s creepiness goes up a notch as he covertly engineers her moving into a house next to him. He’s driven by a past injustice and we await his backstory to see if it will keep him sympathetic.

Choi Song Hyun pretending to be a mankiller

Episode 7 is marking time with little forward progress. Ma Hye Ri’s next case involves bloggers libelling celebrities and she gets to see her first autopsy with Jin Jung Sun. There’s a tedious sequence demonstrating her fear of ghosts. Yoon Se Joon finally catches up with the counterfeiters from Episode 1, but as he explains his backstory and the death of his wife, he also makes it clear Ma Hye Ri makes him feel uncomfortable. We get a big hint that Seo In Woo holds some kind of grudge against Ma Hye Ri’s father. It’s connected to some football boots. We await further clarification. To try and patch things up, Ma Hye Ri invites Yoon Se Joon to a picnic but his daughter intercepts the message and he does not turn up. More fool her for going ahead without getting his agreement in advance. However, we’re left on a cliffhanger because, when he finally realises what he has missed, Yoon Se Joon runs round to Ma Hye Ri’s home only to see Seo In Woo kissing her.

Park Shi Hoo plants the jealousy kiss on Kim So Yun

Episode 8 sees Seo In Woo justify the kiss by saying he wanted to make Yoon Se Joon jealous. Ma Hye Ri is now caught up in uncertainty. She didn’t see the prosecutor and doesn’t know who to believe. She goes back and checks the mailbox. The invitation is not there so she finally gets up the courage to ask Yoon Se Joon why he did not come. He admits to seeing the kiss but says that’s her personal business. Meanwhile she’s allocated a vehicular manslaughter case and goes with Seo In Woo to investigate the site. They discover the victim was visiting a local buddhist temple and had been considering a divorce because of her husband’s unfaithfulness. On the way back, Seo In Woo injures his foot but carries Ma Hye Ri when she breaks her heel. They shop for practical things around the home and then cook together. He falls asleep while she works on the file but has a nightmare. Ma Hye Ri comforts him. The next day, she cracks yet another case because of her knowledge of high-end jewellery and celebrates by buying the team lunch. Yoon Se Joon then shows he may be jealous by warning her about Seo In Woo who’s suspected of having paid witnesses to change their stories to get clients acquitted. He challenges Ma Hye Ri to say what she truly knows of the man.

Well, this has been interesting. We’re expected to suddenly feel sorry for Ma Hye Ri because she was fat and abused. This cod psychology is extraordinary. She was stuffed with food by her mother and bullied by her father. Then her mother kidnaps her and forcibly slims her down in the cellar, so now she’s only bullied by her father who seems not a little weird. The fact she’s beginning to develop more empathy for investigating crimes and may be experiencing more real emotions about others is not changing the underlying reality that she’s severely dysfunctional. Seo In Woo is getting ever more creepy as he manipulates situations, dressing in different clothes depending on the social effect he wants to achieve. He just looks sad and rather lonely. Let’s hope he’s not a criminal as well. Yoon Se Joon has been ruthlessly exploiting Jin Jung Sun as an unpaid and unloved babysitter for his daughter. Now he’s also beginning to experience emotions again, he’s allowing a complicated situation to become worse. So the fate of this series hangs in the balance. I’m still inclined to like it but it’s testing my patience.

For the reviews of all episodes, see:
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 1 to 4
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 5 to 8
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 9 to 12
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 13 to end

For those of you who are fans of Park Shi Hoo, there’s a fan site at http://parksihoo4u.com/

 

Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 1 to 4

Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu is playing a similar game to Hollywood’s Legally Blonde in which a girl who has always traded on her looks to get what she wants finds herself inadvertently becoming a lawyer. In neither case is this her decision, of course. In the Korean drama version, she spends two years discovering that, despite her passion for shoes and handbags, she has no talent as a fashion designer. Her real passion is wearing fashion, preferring the branded goods others have created and subconsciously copying them until her father takes away her credit cards and threatens to throw her out of the house unless she passes the bar exams. Much to everyone’s surprise, it turns out that, despite the usual association between dumbness and fashionistas, she has a brain. It may not be capable of deep thought, but it does at least enable her to win a rather important case. That of convincing her father to return her credit cards.

Kim So Yun with her real passion on display

Now let’s meet Ma Hye Ri (Kim So Yun). She’s a young woman from a family where money has been intermittently showered on her when her father allows it. She flies through the bar exams and is appointed a prosecutor except she has no real interest in the job. Indeed, instead of attending the first major orientation seminar, she takes herself off to a ski resort where she proves accident prone. Someone steals her phone and credit cards, she loses her hotel booking, and her car has a puncture. Not deterred, she attends the charity auction where she fails to buy the celebrity shoes she has been pursuing for years. The one apparently good thing to come out of all this is her meeting with Seo In Woo (Park Shi Hoo following on from Iljimae and Family’s Honor). They share the same suite and he gives her the shoes from the charity auction. Unfortunately, she looses the piece of paper on which he writes his telephone number. Fortunately, he comes into the prosecutor’s offices to discuss a case. Yes, he’s a lawyer and, not surprisingly, he wants his money.

Park Shi Hoo — the "nice" stalker

While at the ski resort she disrupts an investigation by Yoon Se Joon (Han Jung Soo), one of the prosecutors and his young assistant, Lee Min Suk (Yoo Gun). Embarrassingly, she’s to work for him. Jin Jung Sun (Choi Song Hyun) is delegated to show her the ropes, but they could not be more different. She’s obsequious and dresses as if in a convent. The result is our heroine makes a total commitment 9 to 5 but, come the secondhand clicking to quitting time, she’s gone. When challenged, she points out she’s not paid overtime. If the Government wants the work done, it’s for them to pay the staff to work longer hours or recruit more lawyers. Meanwhile she pays back Seo In Woo. He suspects she will offer him low denomination notes so angers her by bringing a machine to count them.

Now we get to see her at work on a case of alleged assault. Two women seem to have fallen out over the same man. The wife suspected the other of seducing her husband so slapped the viper. Since neither is prepared to change her story, our heroine loses interest and disappears into the toilet with a juicy case file involving celebrities to read. Unfortunately she leaves it behind. Yoon Se Joon has to explain the importance of the prosecutor’s role in compensating for lazy police officers and actually doing something objectively for justice. At home, Jin Jung Sun is getting stick for not finding someone to marry, and we catch sight of Yoon Se Joon living a lonely life. At this point, a monster case comes into the Prosecutor’s Office, forcing a reorganisation. They all decide they would rather Ma Hye Ri found another job so send her to Coventry. At first, she doesn’t realise this marginalisation. When she does, she goes out, gets drunk and is arrested. Sadly, photographs and all the gossip from the office are published on the internet. Now her father, Ma Sang Tae (Choi Jung Woo, continuing in father roles from Brilliant Legacy), and mother Park Ae Ja (Yang Hee Kyung) are on the case. Daddy is humiliated because his daughter is publicly branded a complete failure. No-one will want to marry her now. He gives her two weeks to recover her good standing or lose the credit cards again.

Han Jung Soo good looking but oblivious to all romantic overtures

Now we learn a little about the background. Yoon Se Joon has a young daughter, his wife having died. Jin Jung Sun is doing her best to attract his attention, offering some care for his daughter. It seems Seo In Woo knew Ma Hye Ri when they were children and before he went off to America. That’s why he’s predisposed to help her recover her position. He arranges for her to go into a gambling den undercover. Not wanting to reveal this to her fellow prosecutors, she fails to set up proper protocols to ensure she can be rescued should anything go wrong. Except, when it does go wrong, she’s rescued by Yoon Se Joon with covert support from Seo In Woo. Both turn out to be accomplished fighters, but Seo In Woo leaves quietly — it would be inconvenient if it became known a private attorney was helping a prosecutor.

Back at the office, Yoon Se Joon stands up for her and she’s not fired. Instead she’s given a child molestation case. Frankly this is a ludicrous decision. She’s completely inexperienced. More to the point, she’s psychologically damaged and would never be able to relate to a seven-year-old victim. Still she gives it a try and makes such an impression, the victim’s mother demands she be removed from the case. The original assault case then returns and Yoon Se Joon proves the accused had been framed by the alleged victim. To get her revenge, the innocent woman returns with cameras and publicly humiliates Ma Hye Ri whose picture is all over the internet again. She decides to run away, this time to Japan. Fortunately, Seo In Woo intercepts her at the airport and, with the subtlety of a bull rhino, provokes her into staying to face the storm. Once back in the office, Ma Hye Ri admits she failed in the assault case and refuses to file charges against the attacker for assault. She then sets off to prove the case against the alleged molester.

The prosecuting team

I find Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu fascinating in a rather macabre way. The newbie prosecutor as played by Kim So Yun is unnaturally shallow. Her obsession for clothes and almost complete lack of empathy place her on the borderline of a psychological disorder. She has absolutely no conception of what it means to be a prosecutor and completely fails in creating any kind of relationships whether with the other members of the office or the individuals whose cases she’s supposed to investigate and evaluate. More importantly, she lacks any kind of critical self-awareness. She doesn’t understand what she’s doing wrong and doesn’t realise she’s been shut out of the system. When she goes undercover, she checks out some gambling addicts and then assumes the role of a slightly deranged housewife. It’s not a pretty sight. More generally, when she fails to get her own way, she pouts and hides. Her life seems to have been based on the assumption she can wait out her father’s tantrums and then carry on as before. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work in the real world. The contrast with the rest of the prosecutors could not be more stark. They are all highly professional, but none of them want to take any responsibility for either teaching her or firing her. It’s incomprehensible. No-one straight from university would be let loose on cases without positive supervision. I feel particularly sorry for Park Shi Hoo who must follow this accident-waiting-to-happen, picking up the pieces and offering advice. This is supposedly a top-class lawyer, but we never see him earning a living to pay for his swanky office. He seems far more interested in role-playing and stalking his childhood sweetheart. That said, he does manage quite an air of casual cool which is watchable despite the creepy things he’s given to do. The only one allowed to retain any dignity in all this is Han Jung Soo. He’s at least serious-minded, hard working and good at martial arts. The fact he’s completely unaware of Choi Song Hyun’s mousey co-worker is standard in this type of drama. Without such romantic blindness, these Korean drama shows would wither on the vine.

For the reviews of all episodes, see:
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 1 to 4
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 5 to 8
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 9 to 12
Prosecutor Princess or Geomsa Peurinseseu — episodes 13 to end

For those of you who are fans of Park Shi Hoo, there’s a fan site at http://parksihoo4u.com/

 

Family’s Honor aka Glory of the Family

October 6, 2010 1 comment

Television drama offers an outsider the opportunity to look inside a foreign culture, particularly when the serial is long. The most revealing aspects are always those that go without comment. These are the social norms that everyone local understands. In this instance, Family’s Honor aka Glory of the Family gives us 54 episodes looking at two fundamental building blocks of Korean culture. The first is the practical mechanics of courtship and marriage. The second is the class structure that divides the dynastic old respectability from the monied arrivistes. Put the two together and you have the central dynamic driving the narrative. Under what circumstances can members of the ancestral family marry “beneath” themselves. As in other Asian cultures, this is a choice between arranged marriages and marriages for love. In the Korean culture, the marriages should, wherever possible, be agreed between the families but, in principle, may be for love. However, when there is a clan and ancestral home involved, the sociopolitical rules are different to reflect the greater importance of the family’s identity.

What makes this story so fascinating is that all the adult members of the traditional family are coming from failed relationships, whether through death or divorce which is significantly less common in Korea than in Western culture. This gives us the chance to view the cultural practices at every level of the family from the great grandfather patriarch who has apparently never acted on his love for his housekeeper, through his son and the three adult grandchildren.

The primary focus is on the relationship between the granddaughter played by Yoon Jung Hee and the son of a predatory family, played by Park Shi Hoo following on from his success in Iljimae, intent on buying out the business interests of the ancestral family. She is a diffident and quiet academic who went through a marriage ceremony. But before the marriage could be consummated, the couple were involved in a car accident in which she was injured and her husband was killed. There is an immediate problem in that one of her young students has a crush on her and, in the best traditions of not-quite stalkers, this man is prepared to “fight” for her hand. The parvenu has been trained by his father to use every conceivable strategy, legal or not, to win corporate battles. This is not the ideal basis upon which to build but, in the metaphorical sense, she is the beauty to tame the beast. Over time, she awakens a conscience in the man who comes to see that, sometimes, there are more important things in life than money. To a one-track-minded son of a nouveau-riche family, this is a revelation that does not come easy. What makes it all the more difficult for him is that, if he chooses the light over the dark, this means betraying his family. He was told to acquire the company for its status and valuable assets. How can he switch to protect the interests of the company and the family that owns it? As an aside, the section of the plot dealing with the government’s investigation of the young man’s business strategies is particularly revealing in the balance struck between the national interest and cultural expectations of respect for a successful businessman.

Then comes the revelation for an outsider like me. Having opted for love with his eyes open, our “hero” runs into opposition to the proposed marriage from his mother. His father, played by Yun Kyu Jin as a soft-hearted bully, would accept marriage into the clan for the enhancement of his status. But his mother, played with frenetic energy by Seo Kwon Soon, considers her prospective daughter-in-law jinxed. Because her first husband died on the night of their wedding, she believes the girl will always be bad luck. Her opposition is implacable. What added to my fascination was the acceptance of this as extreme but not unusual. Given the families must agree the marriage, both sides back away from each other, respecting the other’s point of view. Even when there are negotiations, everything falters when it comes to the list of wedding gifts she demands as a condition of agreeing the marriage.

There are also interesting ructions as the son marries a colleague of equal age and comparable status because she is pregnant with his child, while his two sons both wish to marry significantly beneath themselves, one to a police officer, the other to an office cleaner. As is the way in many cultures, wives must move into the households of their husband’s. The traditional family must therefore “accept” these socially inferior girls and train them in the traditional way of life. Equally, our quiet academic would have to move in with the harridan mother-in-law, a daunting prospect even if consent to the marriage were to be given.

The final element is that, at a relatively late point in the narrative, an unfortunate revelation emerges that would potentially destroy the credibility of the ancestral family’s implicit claim to a perfect lineage. The person who makes the discovery believes this is his meal ticket for life. All blackmailers bring their own sensibilities to the bargaining table. They could not stand similar facts disclosed about them. They assume the same reaction from their intended victims.

In the better tradition of a cultural anthropologist, I have learned much about the household routines of modern families, one traditional, the other newly rich. It is both reassuring and depressing that cultures survive. For those born into those rituals of life, everything is perfectly normal. For an outsider, we see that patriarchy still dominates as women are allocated their roles and style of dress about the house. Perhaps significantly for the future, there are signs the women may be growing slightly more assertive, but these isolated shifts in “power” are treated as amusing departures from the norm — the exceptions that prove the rule (for now).

By way of closing, mention must be made of Park Joon Mok who, at eight years old, showed maturity and presence as the great grandson, while Shin Goo is magnificent as Ha Man Gi, the great grandfather whose hard-earned wisdom sees the family through the crises. While there are inevitably times when the story spreads into different relationships or business situations, and everything slows down, this remains one of the more interesting of the contemporary dramas. Family’s Honor aka Glory of the Family is worth seeing through to the end for a relatively unsentimental view of love and marriage.

You can download the theme song here.

For those of you who are fans of Park Shi Hoo, there’s a fan site at http://parksihoo4u.com/

 

Iljimae

April 25, 2010 1 comment

There’s nothing more fascinating to an audience than the idea that wealth can be redistributed. Not unnaturally, the wealthy deeply resent the notion and will do their utmost to prevent it from gaining common currency (pun intended). In modern times, for example, the elite of the US stigmatise the idea of redistribution as the worst conceivable aspect of communism, rejecting even a modest use of taxation to achieve any degree of social justice. Yet, albeit in a subversive way, the idea runs through many different forms, perhaps most often emerging in the myth of Robin Hood. In this, I note the imminent arrival of yet another film version. This time, Ridley Scott and the often-cast Russell Crowe are having a crack at it. All of which neatly brings us to Iljimae, the Korean version of Robin Hood which takes a slight detour through Shakespearean-like confusions over a prophesy and the identity of brothers and their parents.

The primary question asked and answered in this Korean television serial is the ever-popular nature/nurture. Is the way in which character develops inevitable given the package of genes handed down by parents, or do people become the sum of their experiences, learning and adapting to the environment as it rewards or threatens them? So, as is the way of things when you want to set a cat among a flock of pigeons, you start off your journey with a long back story. We see the king and his always honourable brother who sires three young children, all of whom lead privileged lives. Unfortunately, rather like Macbeth, the king is given a prophesy which he assumes means his brother will betray him. As any self-respecting villain would, he sends paid killers to terminate this potential threat. The brother dies but, through a combination of circumstances, the rest of the family survives.

Displaced into an unfamiliar world, the children follow different paths. Some thirteen years then passes in the blink of a flash forward. With his identity concealed by his mother, one son is adopted into a wealthy family. The other is raised by a retired thief and his wife. The older sister only reappears later in the story, bent on vengeance but quickly betrayed. Although we lack the element of twins, this takes us into the territory occupied by Comedy of Errors as both sons struggle to relate their pasts to their present surroundings. The charity case is despised by his corrupt adoptive family — although their daughter plays against type to become the Maid Marian figure and a demonstration of the conundrum of character as a rich girl afflicted by a social conscience. In ignorance of his true parentage (which would have caused his immediate execution), the rest of the family still treat him like dirt and he reacts by growing into a pillar of moral rectitude, outperforming all-comers intellectually and, under the supervision of one of the men who killed his father, developing into a fearsome warrior with the skills to become a killing machine. He sees no moral difficulty in killing anyone who is less righteous than himself. Played by Park Shi Hoo, who went on to co-star in a high-octane romantic drama called Family’s Honour where he played a young man who finds redemption (albeit through the love of a slightly older woman), this is a solid performance in a role not designed to be sympathetic.

The other son suffers a traumatic loss of memory and only slowly remembers his past. Before and during this awakening, he’s a classic underachiever, electing to work as little as possible. He does not immediately follow his adoptive father’s profession as a thief, and most people in the city surrounding the royal palace think him likeable but slow-witted. However, when spurred into entering into a locked building where a nobleman stores his wealth, his lack of experience traps him. Without thinking of the consequences, he removes a valuable ink drawing and then abandons it. Another young man picks up the drawing and, not unnaturally, is accused of being the thief. When he is tortured and imprisoned, guilt forces our hero into action. After blundering several times, the innocent man is exonerated.

Unfortunately, as our hero grows in confidence and breaks into more homes, one innocent victim in the community is the harbinger of many others to follow. He must learn new skills in a surprising range of different trades to become a Robin Hood figure, being called Iljimae because of the calling card he starts to leave at the scenes of his thefts. He robs the rich to help the poor and, where necessary, uses his fighting skills to defend the innocent. Played by Lee Jun Ki, some of his early scenes as the simpleton are a little tedious but, as his memory returns and a steely resolve emerges, he grows into the role of a hero (ironically going on to star in another Korean drama with the title Hero).

What distinguishes the serial is the genuine humour surrounding the increasingly sophisticated thefts and one spectacular rescue of people from jail. They are worthy of David Copperfield on steroids. In a story supposedly set in the early Joseon Dynasty, presumably in the fourteenth and fifteen centuries, our hero is supposedly able to produce major special effects that, in modern times, would require teams of men days of effort to set up and then execute. This superhuman quality enhances the initial sense of naive enthusiasm surrounding our hero but, as is always the way, it soon turns dark as the state begins the inevitable crackdown to identify and capture the thief.

The central dynamic driving the story is the rise of the self-righteous brother as the detective to track down the thief. He is increasingly humourless and driven. Worse, he is manipulated by the King who ordered the death of his father. When the detective finally works out his relationship to the thief and comes to understand how their father died, the serial heats up to a violent and tragic conclusion. In this, some characters find redemption while others find only pain and death. The plot is correctly structured to give initial drama, some pathos interspersed with comic interludes, and then increasing tension moving towards the final series of confrontations as identities are unmasked.

This is not to say the serial is a complete success. It runs for some twenty hours and would probably have been better if it had decided to focus more completely on the brothers, the good-hearted ex-thief (Lee Mun-Shik) and his wife who protect the boy raised as their son, and the surviving men who killed their father. While opening out the pool of characters gives even relatively minor characters their moment and adds to the richness of the tapestry of the life described, it dilutes the intensity that would otherwise have been achieved. We cannot care about everyone, particularly when they only feature early on to become sacrifices later in the story. One point of interest is the appearance of Han Hyo-joo as a lost childhood friend who eventually recognises the grown up Iljimae. Nevertheless, the whole is reasonably entertaining and an interesting commentary on the paranoia and corruption that so often afflicts the ruling elite of many countries throughout time and around the world.

You can download the OST main theme called Lonely Footsteps here. It’s a great balance between a tender piano melody and a pulsating adventure theme.

For those of you who are fans of Park Shi Hoo, there’s a fan site at http://parksihoo4u.com/

 

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