One Dollar Lawyer: Episode 1 (First Impressions)
One Dollar Lawyer wastes no time with its premiere episode: we jump right into the tale of our low-fee lawyer, and see his eccentric ways play out first-hand. The drama excels at random offhanded moments of comedy, and that’s totally what I’m here for.
Editor’s note: Continued drama coverage is pending based on Beanie feedback.
EPISODE 1 FIRST IMPRESSIONS
First, in case you missed it, the animated opening sequence for One Dollar Lawyer is just sheer 80s anime goodness, so please enjoy it here. After watching the intro, my only thought was this: please take that fun energy and bring it into the drama! And sure enough, the anime intro seems like the perfect way to describe the quick-paced zany show we’ve got in front of us.
We meet our hero LAWYER CHEON JI-HOON (Namgoong Min) under some appropriately crazy circumstances. A desperate man is on the truss of a bridge and about to jump into the Han River. No one can stop him, but there’s someone crazy enough to saunter over, climb up the bridge, and then — pretending to be cool as a cucumber but internally freaking out from the height — secures his client’s safety. Oh, and his 1,000 won fee (about $1 USD).
It’s the perfect intro to our hero, but it only gets better once we see him interact with his reluctant yet also strangely committed helper, dry cleaning owner SA MOO-JANG (Park Jin-woo). Moo-jang still can’t believe Ji-hoon only charges his clients 1,000 won, and asks if it’s for the wordplay, since his surname, Cheon, also means a “one thousand.” But we quickly see that Ji-hoon is dead serious about the clients he takes on and protects. He’s equally serious about collecting the fee. And he’s even more serious about fighting for justice by whatever crazy and unconventional means it takes.
We see this play out with the case Ji-hoon took on the bridge, and we move through this case with speed and with humor — two things sorely necessary if I’m going to make it through a legal drama and enjoy myself.
Ji-hoon and Moo-jang camp out at a loan shark’s empty office, waiting for their return. In a perfect example of the show’s campy humor, Ji-hoon suggests they order jjajangmyeon while they wait, and the two scarf their food down regardless of situation or circumstances. It’s hilarious.
Then our trainee prosecutor BAEK MARI (Kim Ji-eun) marches in with a crew of men and the notorious blue boxes. She assumes that Ji-hoon is the loan shark, and it sets up quite the crazy scene of hijinks and misunderstandings between them. (Also, her all-white pantsuit is amazing!)
When the loan shark Fire Bear finally comes in (whom Ji-hoon hilariously keeps calling Fire Chicken instead), we confirm that Ji-hoon was a former prosecutor and that he’s there on behalf of the bridge ajusshi. But also, we learn that his plan — concocted on the spot — is to defend Fire Bear against the prosecution. He charges this guy an exorbitant fee (which we learn about later), and then reveals his cleverness by rendering Mari’s search warrant illegal. It’s a quick, packed scene, full of characterization and comedy — and actually, that description goes for the entire first episode as well.
Ji-hoon works his magic with his legal fee for Fire Bear and the bridge ajusshi’s debts, and despite only having three or so scenes of this story line, it’s somehow really touching — and satisfying — when Ji-hoon and his client bow to each other before parting ways. Ji-hoon has his 1,000 won; the client has his crisis solved and his life turned around.
Ji-hoon’s next case is right around the corner. A pickpocket with four convictions is being (wrongfully) prosecuted and Ji-hoon decides to represent him, seemingly convinced when he notices the man has a daughter who’s hospitalized with a heart condition. Dangit, I didn’t need to see Namgoong Min being all cute with this adorable little girl, but they went there, and I love it.
Important to note is that Ji-hoon visits the man in prison and confirms for himself that he’s innocent. We don’t get much insight into Ji-hoon’s particular brand of choosing clients yet, but it certainly seems he falls more on the help-the-downtrodden-and-wrongfully-accused side of the fence — especially those who are treated with bias that shouldn’t exist in the law. That equation makes for satisfying payoffs if you ask me.
While Ji-hoon is cooking up a plan for the pickpocket’s trial — which he requests by jury — we see the other side of the case. The prosecutor in charge is none other than Baek Mari, and though she’s all fired up over Ji-hoon’s unconventional ways and means, he seems to have the respect of everyone in the prosecution office.
Mari’s supervisor is PROSECUTOR NA YE-JIN (Gong Min-jung), and when Ji-hoon pays them a surprise visit, she speaks to him informally, and he calls her sunbae. The mutual respect is clear. It makes us mighty curious as to why Ji-hoon left the prosecution, but that’s probably the most interesting (and risky?) part of this first episode: we learn literally nothing about Ji-hoon. We observe the nature of his character by what he says and does, but we know nothing about him, and more often than not he’s hiding behind a pair of slick shades (and looking damn good, I must say). His backstory will likely unfold as the drama progresses, and it will be fun to see it come to light as we go.
In our first episode, the setup, characters, and world-building were quite well-executed, but it’s the drama’s cheeky and random humor that really lights things up. It’s impossible to explain with words the offhanded silly reactions we get from Ji-hoon, his penchant for dramatically ripping up papers when he doesn’t like what they say, or all the general goofy interactions between the characters, but it was the highlight of the drama for me, and I was giggling all the way through.
The first episode wraps up with a cliffhanger at the trial of the pickpocket. Ji-hoon and Mari are facing off in every possible meaning of that phrase. For instance, with the jury selection segment of the trial, Mari asks carefully-coded questions to pull out the individual’s politics; Ji-hoon asks them if they like their sauce on the side or mixed in LOL.
Ji-hoon really looks like he’s going to lose this one, but of course he’s got a plan up his sleeve. And in this case it’s a wrapped-up lunch box. Characters keep peering inside to see what he’s about to wow the court with, and by the time the episode closes, everyone knows what’s in there but us. I didn’t expect to be quite this invested in the contents of a lunch box, but yeah, I am.
All in all, it was a great first episode full of color and comedy. Far from boring, dragged out, or overly violent, the cases were more about helping people in need — the people who society discriminates against — I like that far better than the murder of the week.
Namgoong Min, of course, is just excelling and having the time of his life here, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by Kim Ji-eun. My expectations were low, yes, but she’s more vibrant here than I’ve seen her yet, and I’m looking forward to more of their interactions as these two start working together, as our plot has promised.
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