'Attorney Woo' is must-see TV in any language

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Berl Falbaum
Veteran Political Journalist/Author

Those were the two words that continually came into my consciousness as I was writing this column on the Netflix series, “The Extraordinary Attorney Woo.”

Based in Seoul, Korea (with subtitles), it centers around a young woman attorney, Woo Young-woo (Park Eun-bin), who is autistic and joins one of the country’s most prominent and powerful law firms.

If you watch it and are not moved by Eun-bin’s performance, if you don’t feel yourself close to tears continually -- mostly happy ones -- or marvel at the humanity of the episodes, or experience lumps in your throat, then I will give you your money back.

The show examines the issues related to autism.  But it is also about parenting; it is about the law; it is about ethics in the law; it is about human behavior; it is about compassion; it is about ambition; it is about the use of power; It is about prejudice; it is about inter-personal relationships, friendships and competition.

And that only describes about half of it.

Moreover, there is not one profane word in the script. There is no violence, no blood and gore. There are no explicit sex scenes. There is no nudity.

But, yes, there is a love angle between Woo and another principal character, Lee Jung-ho (Kang Tae-oh), a legal assistant at the law firm.  

Jung-ho understands her limitation so their “love” scenes involve holding hands briefly, and barely touching lips in one kiss for a few seconds. When they commit to each other, they do so without even a hug.  

Guaranteed:  The scenes will prompt goose bumps, even for the most cynical and hard-hearted among us.  Move over Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Bogart and Bergman, Paris and Helen, Dante and Beatrice, and other famous romances on film, TV, stage, books and real life.

The script is flawless, and Eun-bin gives us a performance that provides a template for Hollywood’s best.

She is 30 years old, and already has had a long history as a movie and television actress in Korea, starting when she was 5.

There are scenes in which the camera focuses on her face and she doesn’t say a word for about 15 to 20 seconds which is a “lifetime” on the screen.  

Yet, she mesmerizes with her facial expressions, her eyes, mouth, and fingers. Time again, just with her eyes, she expresses feelings no writer could describe.  Without words, she projects happiness, despair, fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and a range of other emotions.

As one review put it, “She’s a magnetic force on screen,” adding, “The show is a delightful balm the world needs in the face of everything going on.”

A brief summary:  In each roughly one-hour episode, Woo is part of a legal team handling a difficult case.  She stands out because of her phenomenal photographic memory and helps the firm win several cases.  (At times, they lose as well).

But in each episode, there are also underlying theme whether it involves the relationship with her father, a kind, gentle soul who raised her as a single parent, her relationship with Jung-ho or the fierce competition between Woo’s law firm and the other major law firm in the country.

A special word about the “love” angle.  Woo breaks off her relationship with Jung-ho not because he does not make her happy.  Rather she worries that, given her autism, she can’t make him happy.  Here is the exchange between the two as they reunite:

Jung-ho: “My feelings toward you are like the unrequited love toward a cat. Cats sometimes make their owners lonely.”

Woo: “The unrequited love toward a cat?”

Jung-ho: “Cats sometimes make their owners lonely. But they make them just as happy, too.”

Woo: “The expression ‘the unrequited love toward a cat’ is inappropriate. Because cats love their owners, too. So, let’s not break up.”

She skips away -- literally -- like a 5-year-old while he sits in his car with a smile that that is the embodiment of happiness.  Now, that is a love scene.  And the scene ended without a kiss, without even a touch.  

I read several reviews, but did not find any that did not overall “rave” about the series.  Sure, there were a few nitpicks, but then movie/TV critics sometimes feel obligated to find some fault in their reviews. This is not to say that experts on autism have not criticized what they consider some “inaccuracies” in the portrayal of autism.

Rotten Tomatoes, a well-known review-aggregation website for film and television, gave the series a !00% rating.

Forbes Magazine reported the show had 24 million viewers in the first week and reached 77 million viewers by its seventh week.  Buoyed by favorable reviews [it] rose to the top of the charts and mostly stayed at or near the top of Netflix charts even after it finished airing in Korea.

I have seen, all 16 episodes, twice with my wife. The show ended this year, but the producers said they would bring it back with new episodes in 2024. That will give plenty of time to view the series a few more times.

(Berl Falbaum is a veteran political columnist and author of 12 books.)



 

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