Justice: Episodes 1-4 (Review)
There are so many dramas airing these days, with too few hours in the day. Since we haven’t been able to provide full coverage for every drama, we thought this would be the perfect time to revive the First Impressions feature. Much like the title (okay, exactly like the title), we’ll share our first impressions on a drama’s premiere. Without further ado, let’s get to it!
Amongst the flood of premieres this week we had KBS’s latest Wednesday-Thursday drama, a thriller called Justice. Lawyers, corruption, crime, and court scenes — normally, this sort of story isn’t enough to grab me right off the bat, but Justice is slick, fast-paced, and quickly builds a compelling story. The drama had two points of interest for me before it premiered: the cast and the writer who is responsible for two of my favorite teen dramas, School 2017 and Sassy Go Go. It’s quite the genre shift here with Justice, so I’m interested to see how the writing and style will translate (or won’t translate).
EPISODES 1-4 REVIEW
Our hero, so to speak, is LEE TAE-KYUNG (Choi Jin-hyuk). He’s an unscrupulous lawyer who does the dirty work for the wealthy, and Justice wastes no time giving us an up-and-close peek at what that looks like. Tae-kyung is busy boozing it up and gambling at some ritzy locale when he’s mysteriously called away. It sounds serious on the phone, but Tae-kyung is slouching in the back of the car with a lollipop in his mouth as he asks casually, “Is she dead?”
We soon find out that he’s been called to the suite of an assemblyman’s son who has gotten in some hot water. It’s clear to everyone (and I do mean everyone) that the kid has assaulted and raped the girl that was visiting him, but when we flash forward to his trial, Tae-kyung masterfully makes the assailant into the victim. The kid gets away; the woman is vilified.
We’ll circle back to this case later on (because K-drama interconnectedness), but what we learn from these early courtroom scenes is important. Tae-kyung doesn’t care about truth, justice, right, or wrong. He cares about winning — and what he gets out of it, which are things like land, buildings, and red refrigerators bursting with cash.
Tae-kyung works directly with SONG WOO-YONG (Sohn Hyun-joo), Chairman of Beomjoong Construction, and the two seem to have a perfect set-up going. Chairman Song gets the higher-ups in the palm of his hand by using his genius attorney to help them out of sticky situations (like the court case above). Beyond being driven by this desire to be at the top, the Chairman’s motives aren’t fully revealed to us yet (but there’s a 99.9% chance they are no good).
He also uses Tae-kyung’s skills to remove any “rotten links” in his own path to success/power. In the case of Episode 2, it’s a thug named YANG CHUL-KI (Heo Dong-won). Though this seems like a one-off case at first, it winds up later setting off a huge (huge!) chain reaction in the plot.
Also in Episode 2, we get more of an introduction to Prosecutor SEO YEON-AH (Nana). She’s clearly the opposite of Tae-kyung in every way — she’s committed to the law, justice, and isn’t afraid to fight it out.
There’s a great scene where Yeon-ah runs into Tae-Kyung and Chairman Song outside of the courthouse. That we can feel the history between these characters before we even know what it is, is a testament to the well-honed script. The three have fought it out before, we are led to believe, and though they’re civil and even playful, we know there’s a lot of history between these three.
Justice is based on a web novel of the same name, and it really shows in the look and feel of the drama. Both the direction and editing are slick and stylized, and it works so well for the story the drama is telling.
I love the attention in each and every shot — even the establishing ones are intentional, sharp, and fit the mood of the drama. Flashbacks and reenactments are used a lot in the first few episodes as well, so when we hear about past crimes, we see them (in all their gory detail).
The flashbacks of Tae-kyung’s past that are well-parsed throughout the premiere episodes, and they build a rich (and sometimes conflicting) picture of our hero. For instance, the bloodied and distraught Tae-kyung we meet in the stark opening sequence is very different from the arrogant present-day Tae-kyung we meet in the courtroom.
The juxtaposition of who he was, and who he became, is already being revealed, and it will be interesting to watch it unfold. Where the drama really succeeded for me was in showing us where the “cracks” are going to be. We see first-hand the glittery veneer of the world Tae-kyung lives in — but we also see where it’s all going to fall apart.
The cases and people Tae-kyung gets involved with in the first two episodes of the drama are not only tied to each other, but tied deeply to Tae-kyung’s past. From his rapport with Chairman Song, to the suspicious details surrounding the tragic loss of his little brother, to the convergence of characters that shouldn’t be, but are, connected — the pieces of the puzzle are slowly coming together.
While our first look at Tae-kyung is as a hotshot lawyer with no rules (moral or otherwise), in the space of just the first few episodes, we see many other sides of him as well. I’m already invested in his story, and I’m even more interested to see how he changes as he digs deeper into these cases. It’s no secret that it’s going to get personal — or that Chairman Song is more involved than we first expected — and a battle of wits awaits us.
This role is a fantastic fit for Choi Jin-hyuk, especially after seeing him last in An Empress’s Dignity. He performance in Justice so far is dead-on. It’s amazing how much nuance, detail, and authentic emotion can be drawn out by some good directing. I’m pretty sure I saw Choi Jin-hyuk stare himself down in a mirror in An Empress’s Dignity too, but if it was flimsy there, it’s electric here. It’s nice to think he’s found a role that will put his onscreen gravitas to good use.
Nana, on the other hand, seems pretty standard. I like that she’s found her niche, and she’s good at it (and I respect her for not banking on her gorgeous looks), but I don’t feel like I’m seeing anything from her that I haven’t seen before (yet?). But again, the bottom line is that direction makes all the difference. Nana can play practically the same role here that she did in Kill It, but in Justice she’s interesting and well-drawn, instead of being two-dimensional and predictable.
The drama also has a fantastic supporting cast that I can’t wait to see more of. Just to name a few favorites so far: the scary Kim Ji-hyun as a higher up in the Prosecution, the gorgeous henchman of Chairman Song played by Jang In-sub (*stares*), and Lee Dae-yeon (the security guard from Flower Boy Next Door who I forever love) as Nana’s mentor.
While I wasn’t crazy for Justice’s early case-by-case feel, and the content was a bit harsh and gory for me at times, I really liked the story set-up. And even more than the story, I really liked the execution.
If the drama continues as strong as it has begun, there will be some rich storytelling as we watch Tae-kyung react to what he uncovers. I expect there will be loyalties a-shifting and lines a-blurring as the truth is revealed. Between the smart and sharp direction, and the compelling and twisted story that’s just started to unravel, it looks like Justice will be quite the ride.
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