The Law Cafe: Episodes 1-2
If you’ve ever wondered what the love child between Vincenzo and Our Beloved Summer would look like, then you’re in luck. KBS’s latest rom-com The Law Cafe has all the sweetness of a rekindled high school romance with the added kick of a brazen, justice-seeking heroine. But when our leading lady quits her day job at a prestigious law firm to open a “law cafe,” will her new business prove fruitful, or will her leading man get in her way?
EPISODES 1-2 WEECAP
I wasn’t sure what to expect with our latest rom-com The Law Cafe. This drama promised a lot, and I had a few concerns that it wouldn’t find a balance between all the various plot devices. There’s the over-the-top comedy, the bickering former lovers, various legal cases, and the coffee shop setting, where customers are able to ogle flower boys and order a side of legal advice with their morning Americanos. It seemed like the very embodiment of the idiom “to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.” And yet… it works for me (so far).
Admittedly, I was still a bit concerned after our initial introduction to our leading lady KIM YURI (Lee Se-young), because her actions in the opening courtroom scene were annoyingly unprofessional. I don’t quite understand the supposed faux pas of her wearing a tiger-striped blouse, but the way Yuri talked out of turn and argued directly with her opposing counsel was off-putting. If the writers were trying to portray her as being an intelligent woman who also marches to the beat of her own drum, I think they missed the mark a bit with that scene.
First impression aside, we do quickly learn that Yuri is a talented, hardworking lawyer who has accumulated a whole wall of awards and accolades. Even her boss CEO HWANG (the always delightful Kim Won-hae) is torn between celebrating and mourning her recent resignation. She may be a pain in his butt, but he can’t deny that she’s an astounding lawyer that he’d like to keep on the payroll — even if her pro bono work costs their firm more money than she earns.
Yuri has just one case left before she leaves the prestigious Hwang & Goo Law Firm, and after she wraps up the public service lawsuit against a factory where unsafe conditions led to a worker’s death, she’s going to open a law cafe. And in case you’re just as confused as everyone else who hears Yuri’s business plan, a law cafe is like a normal cafe — but with an optional side of free legal advice for those who need it.
Yuri’s logic is that she can help potential clients avoid the hassle of a courtroom battle with her savviness and some sternly worded documents, and she’s confident that her business will be successful. Her new landlord KIM JUNG-HO (Lee Seung-gi), however, has multiple reasons for being opposed to her cafe.
The rationale he provides her for wanting to terminate her newly signed lease — penalty fees be damned! — is the one most rooted in logic: she couldn’t tell the difference between a coffee bean and a lima bean. In a neighborhood home to several other coffee shops, her incapacity to brew a good cup of coffee is a valid concern. It’s understandable that he’d question the profitability of her business and, thus, her ability to pay the rent, but Yuri suspects the real reason Jung-ho is so eager to kick her to the curb is more personal.
In true K-drama fashion, our leading man and lady share a past. In fact, they were close friends in high school and college, but for some reason that remains a mystery to Yuri, Jung-ho built a metaphorical wall between them and has since gone to great lengths to avoid her. Like, he literally ran away and hid from her after the wedding ceremony for their mutual friends HAN SE-YEON (yay, Kim Seul-gi!) and DO JIN-KI (Oh Dong-min).
Yuri breaks the fourth wall to tell her version of events, and she laughs and responds as though her trip down memory lane was prompted by someone asking if she liked Jung-ho. She vehemently denies ever having feelings for him, but methinks she doth protest too much.
I mean, even if we ignore the fact that this is a romance drama and acknowledge that people (and K-drama characters) are capable of going from 100% platonic friends to having romantic feelings later in life, her suggestion that they fake date in college seemed rather sus. Was it really a means to deter unwanted suitors, or was it her juvenile attempt to ask him out while still having the “I was just kidding lol” safety net to fall back on if he rejected her?
Regardless of Yuri’s motivations, Jung-ho accepted her contract relationship proposal, and we are treated to a very cute montage of this fake couple “acting” like they’re a campus couple. Right up until the moment Jung-ho decides to end their pretend romance and leave Yuri hanging.
In the present, Jung-ho keeps insisting that he’s going to terminate the lease, even if it means that he will have to sue her, but his opinion softens after Yuri tricks him into attending her final courtroom trial. She successfully proves that the factory’s safety violations made the company liable for the victim’s death, and her justice-driven desire to defend the little guy ultimately wins Jung-ho over — but not without some extensive stipulations.
Jung-ho stays up all night composing an addendum to Yuri’s lease that’s thicker than a John Grisham novel, and it contains petty and restrictive rules intended to drive Yuri away. This, Beanies, is when we learn that Jung-ho — who also breaks the fourth wall to tell his version of past events — did have romantic feelings for Yuri.
When he transferred to Yuri’s high school, he immediately usurped her spot as the top ranking student, but instead of being upset, she asked him to help her find the solution to the math problem that she couldn’t solve. So began his 17-year unrequited crush. But if he has feelings for her, why is he pushing her away?
K-drama logic would suggest one of two reasons: either he’s trying to maintain the physical distance needed to get over his feelings or he’s being a noble idiot. Initially, I thought it was the former because — let’s be real — fake dating the woman he loved could not have been easy, but it appears there’s some of the latter thrown into the mix, too… but more on that later.
Yuri takes on her first law cafe client JO SUK-JOON (Jo Bok-rae), a man driven insane by the excessive noise coming from his neighbors’ apartments. At first, it appears to be a pretty cut and dry case, but then she learns that the apartment above Suk-joon is vacant. With other tenants reporting similar loud noises of equally mysterious origins, Yuri suspects that his problem lies with the poorly constructed building, not his neighbors. As she digs deeper, Yuri discovers that the apartment complex was built by Dohan Construction, the company responsible for her father’s work-related death.
In order to avoid culpability for the fire that killed Yuri’s father and several other workers, the CEO of Dohan Construction LEE PYUN-WOONG (Jo Han-chul) framed Yuri’s father. A witness lied that Yuri’s father came to work intoxicated and started the fire, and KIM SEUNG-WOON (Jeon No-min), Jung-ho’s father and the prosecutor on the case, failed to convict Pyun-woong.
After the trial, Yuri was infuriated at the injustice, and she took her frustration out on Seung-woon and Jung-ho. She rebuffed Jung-ho’s comforting affection and umbrella to shield her from the thematically appropriate downpour, but after Yuri got over her initial anger, she apologized to Jung-ho. Logically, she knew that he and his father were not responsible, but in the aftermath of the trial she was blinded by her emotions. Jung-ho and his father just happened to get caught in her crosshairs.
Even so, Jung-ho never forgot about the Dohan Construction fire, and when Jung-ho became a prosecutor, he looked into the case files. Something about the documents looked janky to him, and he confronted his father, suspicious that Seung-woon had gone easy on the defendant because — shocker — Jung-ho’s maternal family owns Dohan Construction.
Although Seung-woon claimed he and Jung-ho’s mother cut ties with her family, Jung-ho remained unconvinced and began wallowing in his guilt by association. Jung-ho resolved to be a noble idiot and distance himself from Yuri, believing the misdeeds of his family made him unworthy. So he got drunk, waited outside where he knew Yuri would find him, and tearfully bids her goodbye. She doesn’t realize it, of course, because he never actually explains his intentions. Thus, her present-day confusion.
We can also assume that it is at this point that Jung-ho quit his job as a prosecutor and transitioned into his current persona as a track-suit wearing bum who also moonlights as a successful author. But if you thought Jung-ho was secretly a romance writer — I totally wanted that be the case — you’d be wrong. Instead, his online novels are actually part of his own revenge plot to expose his family’s dirty laundry.
And if the little speech Jung-ho gave when he was trying to talk Suk-joon down from the ledge of his apartment building is any indication, Jung-ho has been plotting and biding his time so he can enact his revenge at the best possible moment. Yuri’s heart goes pitter-patter as Jung-ho promises to help her and Suk-joon file a lawsuit against Dohan Construction, and it’s downright amusing to see her completely flustered and unable to identify her feelings.
Her current confusion does seem to suggest that she was being truthful when she claimed that she didn’t have feelings for Jung-ho when they were younger, so maybe absence did make the heart grow fonder? Or maybe she’s just been in denial for a ridiculously long time? Personally, I like the fact that the timeline for Yuri’s feelings is a bit of a mystery. With a premise like this one, we already know that there will be romance, so the real fun is going to be watching her go through the mental gymnastics of denying and then accepting her feelings. And from what we’ve seen of her character so far, that should be a pretty fun ride.
I also like that the romance is at the forefront of the plot while the legal aspects of the story are seemingly taking a backseat. As I said earlier, there’s a lot of plot devices and artistic choices being thrown around in this drama — mostly for quirkiness and comedy — but I think grounding and embedding the chaos within the equally crazy romance helps keep everything in check. Well, mostly.
The comedy doesn’t always stick the landing or tickle my funny bone, and I have reservations about the characters breaking the fourth wall. It seems heavily inspired by Our Beloved Summer, especially in context with the former high school/college romance, but without an explanation for why the characters — even the random neighborhood ajummas — are talking to the camera, it feels like a poorly conceived imitation. If they aren’t going to give a valid reason for why the characters are speaking to us directly (e.g., a documentary set-up), I wish that the ability to break the fourth wall was restricted to Yuri and Jung-ho so it seems more like a cheeky little way of emphasizing their different perspectives. But if the whole neighborhood is able to address us, as would seem to be the case, it loses some of its impact, in my opinion.
In general, though, I thought this was a fun premiere, but as of right now I don’t see this being a runaway hit. I suspect that the stylistic humor and video editing is going to be an acquired taste for many, but I also think many people will stick around to see how the romance between our leading couple plays out. I just hope they don’t address their feelings too soon because the high-end energy of their bickering is a large part of this drama’s appeal, and if the romance progresses quickly so the story can shift and focus on the revenge plot, I fear the magic I found in these two episodes is going to peter out.
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