Highly acclaimed crime-genre films in South Korea

Recently, South Korea has often made world headlines for its impeachment of the sitting president, Park Geun-hye. On March 10, the country’s Constitutional Court formally announced its decision to uphold the parliamentary vote to impeach the president for political scandals involving her longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil. Amid this political chaos, however, two characters became instant internet sensations and gained almost celebrity status for reasons that were both beyond and within expectation.

The first is Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi, who oversaw the impeachment trial of former president Park Geun-hye, and is the only female among the eight judges. Then there is special prosecutor Lee Kyu-chul, who is also the spokesperson of Park Geun-hye’s trial.

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 Justice Lee Jung-mi, apparently too hardworking and focused on the trial, went to work hours before announcing the impeachment with pink hair rolls in her hair.


Prosecutor Lee Kyu-chul, on the other hand, is known for his excellent sense of business fashion, earning him titles given by Korean netizens such as “king of coats”, and “the walking fashion textbook in the legal circle”. The fact that these lighthearted episodes have generated such internet fervor in the midst of the country’s monumental political scandal is likely an indicator that the Korean public has long lost confidence in domestic politics and the legal system, which are rife with corruption. Hence, it is not surprising that public servants projecting a down-to-earth and honest image are being put on a pedestal by the public.

Always keeping abreast of social realities, the South Korean entertainment industry has produced a number of highly acclaimed crime-genre films and television series over the past six months that depict the shady reality and corruption of real-world politics. We have chosen for you two outstanding productions from this genre, one film and one television drama series.

Korean Movie《the King》

In the film “The King”, actor Jo In-sung returns to the big screen for the first time in nine years. Jo plays Park Tae-soo. Having witnessed his father beaten by prosecutors in his teen years, Tae-soo is determined to grow up into someone capable of wielding immense power. He mends his delinquent ways and grows up to become a prosecutor himself. In the world of politics and influence, Tae-soo learns to make smart moves and climbs the career ladder to the top, only to find himself slipping and falling off a steep cliff. The film ends on a note of Tae-soo learning the important lessons of life. “The King” has drawn much attention from fans. In addition to the main storyline, the film recounts some of the key events in modern Korean history and prophetically hints at the impeachment trial that had just been settled.

Whether one is in politics or not, in the Korean society, the power-obsessed must know how to “pick sides”. But power is a dangerous game, where the more one gains, the more one loses. Maybe that is the price one must pay.

Korean Drama《The Defendant》

Fans of actors Ji Sung and Um Ki-joon must have been looking forward to the release of the series after watching the trailer. Both at the top of their games, Ji Sung and Um Ki-joon deliver textbook-perfect performance in this thriller!

Ji Sung plays Park Jung-woo, an upright and resourceful prosecutor with a strong sense of responsibility for his job, and incorruptible by money and power. One day, Park wakes up and shockingly discovers himself on death row for the murders of his wife and daughter. Yet, Park has no recollection of how he has landed himself in this desperate situation. Determined to uncover the truth and find the real perpetrator who has framed him, Park, with help from his attorney and fellow inmates, eventually brings the villain, Cha Min-ho (played by Um Ki-joon) to justice, and rights all wrongs.

Seeing that his own future is at stake, Park’s longtime friend and fellow prosecutor, Kang Jun-hyuk (played by Oh Chang-seok) betray Park and sides with the perpetrator. As he’s being coaxed by the corrupt deputy director of the Prosecutor’s Office into becoming an accomplice with the perpetrator, Kang eventually wakes up to his humanity and senses. He stands up for what is right and helps Park expose the truth to the frame-up.

The story of “the Defendant” depicts scenarios we see too often in reality: an innocent man tried for something he did not do; law and justice compromised for money and/or power. There must be many who’ve experienced a similar fate like Park Jung-woo, and criminals who cheat the law with cunning schemes. In “the Defendant”, it takes Park Jung-woo nine months to bring the real murderer to justice and restore his name and honor. One wonders in real life, how long it would take to rid our world of such blatant injustice.

A newly launched television series, “Whisper”, starring Lee Bo Young and Lee Sang Yoon, is another legal drama involving money, power, and the ensuing corruption. The legal genre with charismatic prosecutors is gaining so much traction in the entertainment industry that we are seeing an outpouring of new productions on television, such as “While You Were Sleeping”, starring Lee Jong Suk and Suzy, and “Thieving Thief”, starring Seohyun and Ji Hyun Woo.

From former South Korean president Park Geun-hye’s impeachment a short while ago to her arrest which has just taken place, and to the snap election that will be taking place on May 9, the real world events in South Korean politics and the legal circle are more engaging than fictional dramas. Now more than ever, the South Korean general populace is determined to realize genuine democracy and make things right. Against such backdrop, we expect that films and televisions in the political and legal genre will continue to enjoy popularity for some time.

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