defendant

10 Apr 2017 03:52 pm
mayoraasei: (Jdrama)
[personal profile] mayoraasei
"Pigoin", or "the defendant".

I should be studying for exams and obviously I'm here posting about K-dramas...

The Defendant is one of those shining examples of Korean script-writing that in part explains why, while Japanese dramas in general is in a decline, the new Korean dramas continually break records in ratings and audience response.

That is not to say that it's without flaw (though I haven't watched the whole thing yet), because if you take a step back, some parts of it isn't really consistent with what a character might do. For example, Park Jung-woo choosing to avoid authorities instead of trying to enlist the help of either his colleagues (though understandably he may not trust all of them) or his family, despite being previously a law enforcer himself. Or the odd choices by Cha Min-Ho to kill or not kill people - especially his "wife" when she "betrayed" him multiple times.

The script does something that both Japanese and Korean dramas are good at - the exploration of human nature, of the effect society (especially in a much more conformative society as would exist in Asia compared to the western world) has on the actions of an individual, and the drivers behind a crime and a kind act.

What it adds to that, and is something that recent good Korean dramas have been able to achieve that Japanese dramas struggle with, is the wholeness of a story. Japanese dramas have been very good at suspense and crime procedurals, but they have very rarely done a good job with a story arc that is paced across the entire series. They also have this inexplicable penchant for explaining away plot points with some mind-boggling conspiracy that feels more like a badly written hyperbole.

Pigoin is about a well-respected prosecutor who (conveniently - Korean drama staple #1) is struck by amnesia, and can't remember exactly why or how he came to be on death row for the murder of his own wife and young daughter. What unravels as he slowly regains pieces of his memories is an intriguingly complex web of ruthless petty vengeance, jealousy, greed, personal ambition, loyalty, obligation, integrity and love.

If Descendants of the Sun painted soldiers and doctors in a romantically unblemished light, Pigoin comes across as an ode to the faithful barristers and prosecutors who respect and uphold the moral demands of their jobs. It also reminds us that the world, especially where the law is entangled, is grey: that while most criminals are not framed like Park, many despite their crimes usually has some goodness in them.

It's nice to see the despicable factory owner in Descendants of the Sun get somewhat of a good part this time - though he starts out a gangster angry at the main character for putting him in jail, he eventually becomes an ally and then a friend.

But let me get to exactly why this post came to be. Kim Minseok - the cute little spark in Descendants of the Sun, the runaway thief who became everyone's little brother. Despite staying in side parts, his roles are getting meatier and meatier, last year playing a neurosurgical intern diagnosed with brain cancer (of course - it's amazing how many hospital staff get sick in the correct specialty in medical dramas). This role is his best yet.

***** SPOILER ALERT *******

He is an accomplice in the murders, but after he kidnaps Park's daughter he finds he couldn't bring himself to murder her. He was rorted into this because the bad guys promised they would pay for his ill sister's operation, but his sister died in the operation anyway. Struck by guilt, he then spends 10 episode looking after Park's daughter and hiding from the bad guys, who have told him that if he dares to go to the police then they are able to pin Park's wife's death on him. He was forced to turn himself in later on and had hoped to provide the evidence to convict the man who instructed him to abduct Park's daughter, but ends up being killed for it.

This is one of those roles that can really make an actor, and Kim is helped along by his baby face that makes him look more like the kid's older brother than (almost) 20 years her senior.
The interactions between him and the girl are some of the sweetest things on TV and is in fact cuter than the father-daughter interaction (I'm guessing Shin Rina spends a lot more time on/off screen with Kim Minseok than she does with Ji Sung, and the level of comfort shows because of her young age).

His character stands as the symbol (one of many in this series) of what a single selfish action can bring and what a singular kind thought can achieve. And (I can't seem to emphasise this enough XDD) his baby face really helps his case as the young and immature kid who made the wrong choice in life, and throughout the series grows enough to accept retribution for his wrongdoings.

In fact, if anything, his character has a more complete character development arc than anyone else in the series. The main characters have had a lot happen to them, but they've pretty much stayed consistently themselves, with their fixed world views, from beginning to end.

His is only one character in the throng of interesting character motivations - take Park's friend, who turns from upright prosecutor to protecting his selfish interests; or Cha's wife, who initially stays silent but surrenders to her moral misgivings at a crucial moment. It's a fascinating web of humans being driven by their flawed or virtuous humanness, the flaws that put the noose neatly around Park's neck, or the kindness that slowly weathered away until those traditional heroic virtues - kindness and justice - won the day.

It is a good script, if flawed and slow at times, and it is the type of script that explains (above and beyond the pretty faces that adorn it) the good ratings that accompany a drama of this calibre.

It is the contrast that you see with a terrible script like A Life ~ Itoshiki Hito that explains why Japanese dramas are struggling to obtain ratings above 15% these days despite being stuffed full of well-known names.

Japanese literature and film have traditionally been great at its incisive comments on the human condition, and it's getting more and more technically mature at doing police procedurals, but the formula is getting tired. I'm waiting for the day where it can put together something that fits together as well as Pigoin does - and it has the luxury of doing this in only 12 episodes instead of dragging it out over 18 (for Pigoin, sadly a victim of its own popularity).

Like in the heyday of Hanazawa Naoki, I think we would see something that's more deserving of a high rating than the brain-numbingly silly Doctor X.
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