Extraordinary Attorney Woo K-Drama Review
Director: Yoo In-Shik
Cast: Park Eun-bin, Kang Tae-oh and Kang Ki-young
Woo Young Woo is a young lawyer with Asperger’s syndrome. She boasts a high IQ, an impressive memory, and a wonderfully creative thought process, but she struggles with everyday interactions.
Extraordinary Attorney Woo K-Drama Review:
This is a simply marvelous series with an astonishing performance by Park Eun-bin. The show began with diminutive ratings in Korea on a minor cable channel but reached stratospheric ratings because of word of mouth and was widely popular on Netflix internationally. It’s a gem of a 10 and I say this as someone who tries to combat ratings inflation.
Autism has been captured by several Korean shows, most notably The Good Doctor (remade in Japan and the United States) and It’s Okay to Not Be Okay. In both of these, as in Extraordinary Attorney Woo.
The focus is on relatively high-functioning individuals and the writers have to be careful not to minimize the effect of the social awkwardness and lack of awareness that is commonly encountered among autistic individuals. All three shows occasionally stray in this regard, but overall they do extraordinary work in evoking understanding and sympathy without descending into maudlin pity.
In Extraordinary Attorney Woo, Park portrays a young woman whose tremendous memory and strong character help her to have great success at university and law school and to become the first autistic lawyer to pass the notoriously tough Korean bar examination.
Despite finishing at the top of her class, she is unable to get a job at any law firm, due to the routine prejudice she encounters. Nevertheless, through the intervention of her father, who was a classmate of the (female) senior partner of a leading firm, she is hired out of the ordinary hiring cycle and begins to work on a series of cases that form the basis for every episode (one story takes place over two episodes).
The show also depicts Park’s interactions with her colleagues and clients, with opposing counsel, and with judges, all of whom have to adjust to dealing with the extra-normal behaviors of an autistic individual. Some do better than others. The cases that Park and her colleagues must deal with are engaging. They repeatedly show how rarely anything in life is black and white.
In one episode, a North Korean defector is accused of robbing a woman who owed her money but the woman’s injuries turn out to be much more likely to have been caused by her abusive husband; in another, Park must help a community resist the building of a road that will cut a village in half in the service of a housing development, where the alternatives are either impractical or much more expensive.
Perhaps the least realistic is the case where Woo defends a somewhat delusional young man, the son of the founder of one of the notorious cram schools to which even quite young Korean children get sent after school to give them an edge in getting into college and where they have to spend innumerable hours after their regular school, deprived of playtime and even food and sleep.
The defendant hijacks a bus that is supposed to take the children to school. He announces that he is the leader of the Children’s Liberation Army and takes them to a local nature spot where they are told to have fun and be healthy. But while that case is not very realistic, the issues that are raised are very much on point and must have struck a nerve in Korea; it made for one of the most enjoyable episodes of the show.
Generally, while the trials are inevitably compressed as demanded by the format of the show, the writer, Mon Ji-won, has done a pretty good job of showing the kinds of ethical dilemmas so often faced by lawyers where the demands of truth and justice can conflict with their duty to robustly defend and advance their clients’ interest. I also liked the often nuanced way the judges in the show ruled on gnarly questions with which they were faced.
Before speaking about Park Eun-bin, a word of praise for an outstanding supporting cast. Much attention has been paid to Park’s romantic interest, Lee Joon-ho, played by the dishy and sympathetic Kang Tae-oh, but the breakout performance here is from Joo Hyun- young as Dong Geu-ra-m, playing Park’s best friend with comic and joyful freshness.
Shout- outs too to the actors playing the lawyers at Hanbada, the law firm where Park works, Kang Ki-young as Jung Myung-Seok, Park’s mentor, Baek Ji-won as Han Seon-young, the CEO of Hanbada who was so memorable in Be Melodramatic.
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2019, the gorgeous Ha Yoon- Kyung plays Park’s classmate Choi Soo-yeon, and Joo Jong-hyuk as Kwon Min-woo, a straitlaced and less than a loveable colleague who approaches his unusual colleague with an uncomfortable combination of envy and arrogance. Others, too numerous to mention, contribute recurring roles and cameos that will stay with you.
Now to Park’s performance: It’s just wonderful. Her mannerisms, her slightly unfashionable dress and hairstyle, her off-kilter way of thinking about her cases, and her (occasionally hilariously) straightforward way of dealing with others, all work perfectly.
\She conveys her character with enormous charm and she overcomes the challenges of the role with grace and, judging from her public statements, humility. You just can’t take your eyes off her. I would guess that the public will not be satisfied with a single season; I certainly will not and there are, thankfully, reports that a second season will come in 2024.
Verdict: Extraordinary Attorney Woo K-Drama Review
Extraordinary Attorney Woo can be easily ranked as one of the best K dramas of the year. It leaves you happy, heartbroken, feeling empathy and not pity for an autistic key character. If you haven’t watched it yet, I’d recommend spacing it out and watching it one day at a time to truly enjoy the experience.