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June 17, 2014

The Attorney

the attorney 1.jpg

Yang Woo-Seok - 2013
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

A good part of The Attorney takes place in the shadows. People are only partially seen in dimly lit areas, or seen in silhouette. The darkness provides easy symbolism for a film that takes place during a dark era in modern South Korea, when the government was taken over by a military coup. While the film is a fictionalized account of a historical events, the film takes on a level of contemporary relevance with news of recent events in Thailand.

Yang's debut film struck a chord with Korean audiences, becoming one of the most successful films of 2013. At the same time, the film generated quite a bit of controversy depending on one's political bent, as well as discussion on those elements that have been fictionalized. It should be understood that while the main character was modeled after the man who would become the ninth president of South Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, and what was known as the "Burim case", the film is presented as a work of fiction.

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The film primarily takes place in Busan, around 1978. Song Woo-seok is something of an outsider in the legal profession, a lawyer by dint of having passed the bar exam, scoffed at by most of his peers for having no more than a high school education. Due to changes in the law, Song takes up real estate work formerly done only by notaries, establishing a very lucrative practice, followed by becoming a wealthy tax attorney. A flashback shows the younger Song running out of a small restaurant at the time when he was short on cash, and uncertain about his future. This connection to the restaurant eventually leads to Song's involvement with a trial that changes his life.

Some aspects of the film could well have reverberations for the stateside audience regarding the use of torture to obtain information. Within a historical context, there is also the question regarding U.S. support of countries that may not have been democratic, but were loudly anti-communist. The trial of nine students accused of subversive activities is shown clearly to a vehicle for displaying government power and a means of keeping citizen dissent at bay.

For most viewers, I suspect that they will enjoy The Attorney simply as a kind of David and Goliath story, where one lone man takes on an entire country at the risk of himself, his profession and his family. Were it not for the historical roots of the story, this is almost the Korean equivalent to the kind of narratives one might find from the likes of John Grisham where a seemingly unqualified lawyer takes on the establishment. On those kinds of terms, The Attorney is effectively entertaining. For other viewers, there is more than enough to ponder.

Posted by peter at June 17, 2014 07:17 AM