Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 4
This episode cements the rebirth of our protagonist as he takes up the mantle of Neighborhood Lawyer and walks away from his previous lifestyle. No longer is he content to run away, nor will he succumb to the temptation of power. In a way, Episode 4 marks a new beginning as Jo Deul-ho helps right a wrong he created and can now truly become a lawyer for the people on the streets.
EPISODE 4 RECAP
Jo Deul-ho asks the frazzled grandma, his new potential key witness in the murder trial, if she happened to pick up her umbrella after an accident. She shrieks that it’s hers and holds onto it tightly. Her daughter-in-law comes out and calms the old lady down, and asks them to stop probing.
In the den of evil, Chairman Jung toasts with Attorney Jang and Chief Prosecutor Shin. Chairman Jung asks if everything is over, and Attorney Jang assures him that while Jo Deul-ho may be able to appeal, he has no evidence or witness to win.
Chairman Jung notes that Jo Deul-ho has been awfully flagrant lately and asks if he won’t be a stumbling block. Chief Prosecutor Shin pours the chairman a drink, saying, “I took pity and took in the stray cat, but it seems a stray cat will always be a stray cat. I will take care of it appropriately.” Chairman Jung replies, “Wouldn’t it be all right to put one dangerous cat to sleep?”
Just then, a secretary comes in and whispers something to Chairman Jung that makes him bark. Sporting sunglasses indoors, Michael Jung whines over the phone about his latest debacle, and complains that he can’t go clubbing. The chairman barges in, and whiny son immediately takes off his sunglasses and gets on his knees.
Chairman Jung orders his secretary to play it, and they watch the viral video of his son sleeping in public in his undergarments with red circles drawn around his nipples. Enraged, he throws himself at his son, who deftly avoids the attack. The chairman asks what’s written on his back in the video, and Michael replies that it was something about a USB and Geum San. Chairman Jung becomes instantly aware of the implications.
Attorney Jang reassures Chairman Jung over the phone that he’ll take care of it and orders Attorney Kim to take everything down concerning the video. Attorney Kim cautiously states that people haven’t deduced the connection to their firm, but Attorney Jang slams his hands on his desk and tells him to monitor Jo Deul-ho better.
Grandma sits at her usual spot and asks her daughter-in-law about the people from earlier, saying that she wants to help. Her daughter-in-law mentions that it’ll just bring back memories of her son and give her a hard time. Grandma contemplates that while her dead son is pitiful, maybe they, too, have sent someone off before them.
Deul-ho pores over the tire track photos and thinks back to the yellow umbrella. His assistant Ae-ra comes huffing into the office bearing photos of the victim with his yellow umbrella and explains that a lady worker at the homeless shelter gave it to him. He cherished the umbrella and carried it everywhere.
Soon after, loan shark Dae-soo and his two lackeys shuffle in appearing to have failed at their mission, only to reveal their successfully acquired tire. Now that they have evidence that the tire treads match, Deul-ho looks at Ae-ra and asks how they’ll get Grandma to court.
At Geum San, Eun-jo makes copies and thinks back to her last encounter with Deul-ho. She was driving and barraging him with questions while he was reluctant to talk to her. Despite his lack of response, Eun-jo smiled and talked a mile a minute, clearly excited at the prospect of finding the real culprit.
Attorney Kim catches Eun-jo shaking her head and approaches her. He says she must be bored with no work and hands her a divorce case. She hesitates and then says that she’ll have to use her paid leave.
Deul-ho gets a call from loan shark lackey Yoo-shin and gets up to leave. Dae-soo cuts him off and asks if he’s using his employee. Deul-ho skirts the accusations and tells him they should help each other, as he steals Dae-soo’s coffee and hurries out.
Downstairs, Eun-jo is stalking Deul-ho and follows him in her car. By the time they arrive in front of Grandma’s house, he’s a passenger in her car and complaining to get out.
Their big plan to convince Grandma turns out to be playing Go Stop, and Grandma merrily plays along. Deul-ho asks if Grandma wants to play somewhere else, and she says why not. Ae-ra mentions that it’s predicted to rain tomorrow, and Grandma shouts that she can just bring her umbrella.
The day has arrived, and Grandma is escorted to the courtroom by Ae-ra. Deul-ho downplays her surroundings to calm her, and Grandma adjusts a little too well as she acts boisterously and greets people.
Eun-jo meets her mom who sells makeup, and says that it must have been hard for her to take care of Grandma when she had Alzheimer’s. She asks when it was that Grandma would return to her senses, and Mom notes that she seemed to always be in her right mind when she was talking to Eun-jo. That sparks an idea for her, and she hugs Mom, thanks her profusely, and bounces out of the store.
Back in the courtroom, Deul-ho questions Grandma while she answers in her brusque manner. He asks if she remembers the car accident three years ago, and Grandma turns uncharacteristically silent and answers solemnly that she does.
Deul-ho asks if she remembers who was hit, and she thinks back to that fateful evening, when the sports car veered down the road and smashed into a pedestrian. Deul-ho argues that this man could be their victim, and an accident rather than the fire may be the cause of death. If so, their defendant Mr. Byun isn’t the culprit.
Then, Deul-ho uses Byun’s police statement from three years ago as evidence revealing how both witnesses mention a sports car at the two crime scenes, giving further credence to his argument.
Prosecutor Ji-wook cross-examines the witness and asks if she has any children. She replies that she had a son, but he died. Ji-wook goes into detail about how the witness’s son died in a hit-and-run accident, arguing that she’s confusing this case with her son’s.
We see in flashback that Ji-wook met with a doctor and asked under what circumstances Grandma’s symptoms would worsen. The doctor told him that talking about her son’s accident would heighten trauma.
In the present, Ji-wook asks if she has Alzheimer’s, and Deul-ho objects, saying that she’s able to testify. The judge sides with Ji-wook, and he grills Grandma mercilessly about her son’s accident.
Grandma suddenly yells and gets up from her seat, asking where she is. She cries for her son and collapses to the ground. Eun-jo and the daughter-in-law rush into the courtroom, which calms Grandma. The judge asks if she can continue, and with a nod of encouragement from her daughter-in-law, Grandma returns to the stand.
However, Ji-wook isn’t finished and vehemently argues against the credibility of an Alzheimer’s patient as a witness. The judge is about to make a decision, when Grandma suddenly shouts.
She glares at Ji-wook and says that her son has a big build. How could she, his mother, confuse her son with that scraggly man? She says her sanity may come and go, but she isn’t that bad yet. She yells that she saw that hit-and-run with her own two eyes.
Ji-wook says that since she claims to have seen the victim, she should be able to identify him from the photos he’s prepared. Deul-ho objects that she was twenty-five meters away from the crime scene. Ji-wook argues that if she knows the man’s physique and the color of his clothes, she should also have seen his face.
Grandma gets up to look at the pictures and points out two photos. Ji-wook smirks and tells her that the first one was correct, but the second was wrong. Grandma argues that the man is in the back, and we see that he is in the second photo, just tiny and in the background. Ji-wook can’t hide his surprise and asks the grandma if the lawyer showed her pictures and made her practice.
She laughs and swears at him. She remembers the victim because he stopped by her store multiple times. Ji-wook admits that she might remember this customer, but she could have easily confused him for the victim.
It’s Deul-ho’s turn, and he admits that the witness could be wrong. Then he presents a photo of the victim and asks what they see. Grandma shouts out “umbrella,” and Deul-ho explains that the victim always carried this umbrella. He asks Grandma if her umbrella is hers, and she tells them she picked it up at the crime scene.
He asks to see the umbrella, and Grandma instinctively pulls back until Deul-ho whispers that he’s not stealing it. He opens the umbrella, and everyone immediately recognizes it as the victim’s. The tides have turned, and Grandma happily gets up yelling, “Bi-gwang!” (a card in Go Stop of a figure holding an umbrella) while holding up her cards. A little symbolism to show that they’ve won.
Deul-ho paces outside and tells Eun-jo she did a good job. She says she didn’t do anything, but Deul-ho says she brought the daughter-in-law. Eun-jo brightens at the compliment, but he tells her not to stick to him once she gets fired. She retorts that there’s nothing to stick to since he’s borrowing an office from a loan shark and probably can’t afford a salary.
Deul-ho rushes to Grandma, calling her “Mal-sook-shi.” She whacks him for being too familiar, and Deul-ho jokes that he’s her boyfriend, and that he loves intelligent, sexy women.
Grandma grabs Deul-ho’s and Eun-jo’s hands and places them together. She tells them to have lots of children and live happily. They both jump at that, and the daughter-in-law directs Grandma away.
Mr. Byun stands in court as the judge gives her verdict: not guilty. Deul-ho does a fist-bump dance, and Byun cries and thanks Deul-ho with a hug. Byun hugs his son too, and Deul-ho gives a thumbs-up to Eun-jo.
Back in his office, Ji-wook throws down his papers. His father walks in, and Ji-wook states that he can still win. Chief Prosecutor Shin simply asks if he’s confident that he’s caught the real culprit. If he is, then he should do it; but if he isn’t, then he should give up.
Ji-wook yells that it was a clear win, but his father tells him that’s exactly why he lost. While he thought like that and let his guard down, Deul-ho went out and brought back evidence and won. His father tells him to step down, but Ji-wook asks for permission to continue. Chief Prosecutor Shin poses his own question: Is he angry about losing the trial or losing to Deul-ho? He tells his son, “It might hurt, but listen. You don’t stand a chance against Deul-ho, yet.”
Now having to deliver bad news, Chief Prosecutor Shin tells Chairman Jung that winning the case during the final appeal hearing will be difficult, but he’ll take care that the prosecutors don’t find the real culprit. Chairman Jung isn’t satisfied with that answer, not as long as Deul-ho remains.
He yells that if Chief Prosecutor Shin doesn’t wrap this up, he’ll have to take action. Chief Prosecutor Shin tells him he’ll take care of this matter, and Chairman Jung ominously replies that he’ll trust him this one last time.
In his car, Chief Prosecutor Shin recalls Deul-ho’s past prosecutor days. He joined Deul-ho for lunch one day and asked why he was eating alone. Deul-ho laughed that no one wanted to eat with someone without school prestige, money, or connections. Chief Prosecutor Shin offered to make him someone with money and connections, and Deul-ho took his hand.
In another memory, a bruised and bleeding Deul-ho marched ahead of a group of thugs having gone into the field himself. And in the interrogation room, Deul-ho was completely unfazed by an uncooperative suspect. Deul-ho ate an array of Chinese food, sashimi, and steak until the suspect finally caved and gave him the information he wanted. Chief Prosecutor Shin watched, clearly pleased with his protégé.
In the present, Deul-ho hangs his laundry and eats ramen, juxtaposing his previous glamorous life to his current humble state. Chief Prosecutor Shin enters the office and asks if Deul-ho betrayed him just to show him this. Deul-ho says he was only doing his duty as a prosecutor and got stabbed in the back for it. Chief Prosecutor Shin asks what he got in return: becoming a neighborhood lawyer?
Deul-ho says it’s better than chasing after Chairman Jung’s tail and cleaning up his messes. Chief Prosecutor Shin asks if he’s out for revenge. Deul-ho replies that he’s fighting for social justice, something he couldn’t do before. Chief Prosecutor Shin says he can’t cover for him anymore and warns that if he wants to see his daughter Soo-bin grow up, he’d better stay quiet.
Deul-ho sits down at his old spot in the tunnel where he used to sleep when he was homeless, and thinks about the consequences of his previous actions. He narrates that his client went free but the true culprit continues to live without repercussions. But if he lives for the day when he can put that man behind bars, he might be able to endure the weight of being a lawyer.
Deul-ho gets up and leaves sober.
Deul-ho and Ae-ra stand outside and notice the sign in the window stating “Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho” (which is misspelled) courtesy of Dae-soo, of course. Once they enter the office, Dae-soo sits Deul-ho down and tells him to sign a contract along with a receipt for all the expenses they’re owed thus far, wanting to make their arrangements formal.
They playfully bicker, until Eun-jo comes by with guests. Mr. Byun and his son are here to give their thanks. Byun declares that he can start anew thanks to Deul-ho. He gives a full bow and presents a new suit as a token of appreciation.
The newfound law firm crew squishes into a car and arrives in front of a restaurant for a celebratory dinner. Strangely, the restaurant is deserted, but the owner recognizes Deul-ho and welcomes him warmly. When Deul-ho asks about the owner’s mom, he’s vague about answering.
As the group is seated to eat, a man struts in kicking emptying crates, spitting on the floor, and complaining about the low quality of the restaurant. The owner tells the customer that they still have two more years on their lease. The man yells that, as the property owner, he has the right to kick out his tenants if it’s for reconstruction.
Deul-ho watches their exchange and finally interrupts. He introduces himself as a lawyer who came to eat stew, and he asks the store owner if he’s received reimbursements or premiums. The landlord has excuses for everything, and when Deul-ho mentions offering compensation, he scoffs, telling Deul-ho to shove off and eat his stew. The landlord leaves the store, and once outside, calls someone to tell them it’s time.
The group devours the food until a mob of men disturbs them. One fellow starts whacking his gloves and even slaps the owner with them. The owner explains that they’re subcontractors, and this is already the seventh time they’ve been here.
Deul-ho confronts them, and then tells Dae-soo to handle it. Dae-soo complains that it’ll cost him extra, but soon the whole gang is up. The restaurant becomes a battleground and our law firm troupe puts up a good fight, though Ae-ra does whack Dae-soo with a leek and Deul-ho grabs the owner during the fight. In other words, it’s a mad house.
Both groups end up behind bars, and Ae-ra pleads with the detective since they know each other. The detective can’t believe she’s in here for a gang fight, and the others get indignant at his word choice.
Ae-ra drops the sweet talk and yells at him to open the door. He whispers that he could get her, the lawyer, and the two young men out, but the gangster will be difficult. The detective remembers Deul-ho as the homeless man from the pickpocket incident and asks about his relationship with the restaurant owner. Deul-ho talks in circles until Ae-ra hits him and he blurts out, “Lawyer!”
At Geum San, Attorney Kim congratulates Eun-jo on not being fired and gives her a new assignment. He says it’s a minor eviction case, but it’s a request from Dae Hwa Group so she should give it special attention.
Meanwhile, Deul-ho and his group get out of jail and the owner comes running towards them gratefully, having heard that Deul-ho is his lawyer. Everyone stands awkwardly, unable to backtrack.
Ji-wook flips through a thick pile of files pertaining to Michael Jung. His assistant tells him Michael donated a billion won to a charity organization and then withdrew 8 million, and the chair of the organization also happens to be Chairman Jung. Ji-wook deduces that it’s a slush fund, but they can only do so much without a warrant. His assistant also informs him that news is abuzz on the internet that Michael’s been harassing tenants lately in order to build a shopping mall.
Ji-wook meets with Chief Prosecutor Shin and argues that they need to investigate Michael Jung. His father laughs, but his face turns cold as he asks Ji-wook if he wants to become like Jo Deul-ho. Ji-wook’s face slowly falls at the realization.
Michael plays around with his lady friend when the landlord from earlier enters the room and explains that a lawyer showed up. But despite his displeasure, Michael isn’t too worried since he’s requested help from the best law firm.
In the middle of the night, construction workers come to the restaurant having been ordered to knock it down. They’re about to start when they hear chains rattling and a man garbling a tune. Deul-ho arrives and parts the crowd like the Red Sea.
The workers ask him questions, but Deul-ho tells them to continue their business as he chains himself to the restaurant. When the workers start encroaching, Deul-ho tells them they’re breaking and entering once they cross the yellow line.
He identifies himself as the restaurant’s lawyer, and the workers complain that they’re just following orders from the landlord. Deul-ho rebuts that he’s just following orders from the restaurant owner. The workers warn Deul-ho that they won’t be responsible for what happens, and Deul-ho yells back for them to go ahead and hit him.
Now that the first arc is over, Deul-ho can start being the Neighborhood Lawyer. Narratively, it’s important that he started after the trial rather than before, because now he’s taken some accountability for his actions and can start a new journey. After winning the case, Deul-ho returns to his old patch of ground with a bottle of soju, and it’s here that he contemplates how to move forward. He narrates his newfound conviction and the weight of his title, a burden he’s only now realized. When Deul-ho walks away from that spot leaving the soju untouched, it symbolizes that he’s moving on from the coward he once was. Being homeless and drunk was Deul-ho’s coping mechanism to stop trying and ease the part of his soul that always wanted more. He surrendered to his cowardice and gave up fighting back. However, Deul-ho understands that giving up is selfish, and hence, I feel like he’s undergone a bigger transformation here than when he cut his hair, changed his clothes, and turned back into a lawyer in the first episode.
As a result of Deul-ho’s change, the show was able to capitalize on the makeshift law firm group which is one of the highlights of the show. The way they bicker yet secretly love each other is a hoot to watch, and the comedic timing of their scenes is on point. Besides this group, some of the antagonists also got to shine in this episode. The audience became more privy to the intricacies of Chief Prosecutor Shin and his son Ji-wook. It’s hard to say that they’re “evil,” as in the case of Chairman Jung (more on this below), since they definitely struggle with morality though they appear to default to self-preservation over upholding social justice for the greater good. It’s also interesting to see more of the relationship between these two because Ji-wook comes across as the filial son with jealousy issues. He wants his father’s recognition, and while I think the chief prosecutor loves his son, he looks at him objectively and acts accordingly when it comes to work. That leads to Chief Prosecutor Shin and Deul-ho’s relationship. He seems to regret losing Deul-ho, and his words hint at an underlying hope that Deul-ho will return. However, while I think Ji-wook still has a chance to redeem himself and step away from the dark side, Chief Prosecutor Shin is too entangled with corruption, and survival seems to be his biggest motivation.
Looking at Episode 4 as a whole, I felt like Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho fell back on a few typical kdrama tropes, plot mechanisms, and overused pathos. It dips its hand at social commentary but falls short because it doesn’t add depth. It’s a formulaic legal drama taking on what’s become a very common theme — appeasing social anger toward the rich by painting the conglomerates as “evil.” All of the problems Deul-ho faces lead to “one big bad” who happens to be a greedy, rich, old businessman. Granted, class inequality remains a major issue both in South Korea and around the globe, so dramas devoted to exploring this topic are commendable. However, I don’t want to be satisfied with just this alone. The bad guys are two-dimensional and this simplification of class inequality as “us vs. them” fails to realize the structural injustices that allow these inequalities to flourish in the first place.
This is where I think comparing the original webtoon to the drama can be enlightening. For the most part, the two are vastly different. The webtoon is low-key and works in isolated arcs showcasing different cases and how the legal system works. It devotes itself to the happenings of Jo Deul-ho’s little firm (which only has one intern) and reveals nuances of social injustice and inequality beyond an individualistic level. However, you can tell that they’ve merely borrowed names and general plotlines for the television adaptation, which is designed to be flashy and titillating.
Despite my criticisms, the show has its merits. While I still find the writing, direction, and characterizations subpar to the source material, the show did a phenomenal job with casting. Park Shin-yang is the perfect Jo Deul-ho, and casting Hwang Seok-jung and Park Won-sang was a stroke of genius. Furthermore, Kim Gab-soo is amazing and Ryu Soo-young is a charmer. It’s really the cast that makes the show shine and keeps me watching.
However, one of the few caveats with the casting is Kang So-ra. The show is criminally underusing her. They cast her in a character trope, essentially, and have waylaid her. Particularly in this episode, Eun-jo was used as a device to move the plot forward, and her character feels more like an afterthought than a crucial addition to the story. Her character could be written out and it wouldn’t have a major effect on the show. Hopefully, she’ll get chances to act in future episodes, but I really wish the show would use her more because I think she could deliver, but just hasn’t had the opportunity yet.
While I might have sounded harsh, it’s not that I hate the show. It’s enjoyable as a light watch, and the comedic aspects make me laugh (that fight scene was golden). It doesn’t take itself too seriously and the show delivers some poignant moments like when Mr. Byun hears the judge declare not guilty, when Chief Prosecutor Shin reminisces about his relationship with Deul-ho highlighting their fission and regret, and when Jo Deul-ho contemplates at his old spot and makes his final stand to turn away from his cowardice. It’s just that sometimes you see what could have been and lament the loss.
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 3
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 2
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho: Episode 1
- Drama Hangout: Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho
- Song, dance, and the pursuit of happiness for Neighborhood Lawyer
- Neighborhood Lawyer or neighborhood beggar
- Kang So-ra considers human drama Neighborhood Lawyer with Park Shin-yang
- Park Shin-yang up for webtoon adaptation Neighborhood Lawyer