- FILM & PEOPLE
- K-Cinema Library
Jul 13, 2020
- Writerby Pierce Conran
2013 | 126 MIN | Drama
DIRECTOR YANG Woo-suk
CAST SONG Kang-ho, KIM Young-ae, OH Dal-su, KWAK Do-won, IM Si-wan
RELEASE DATE December 18, 2013
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2013 was already one of the strongest years ever at the Korean box office but just 13 days before ringing in the new year, it found time for one more gigantic hit, but this one, in addition to being a well-crafted crowd-pleaser, was also a major political statement that launched a trend for star-driven period political tales. Beloved star SONG Kang-ho headlined YANG Woo-suk’s The Attorney (2013), a fictionalized account of the early professional career of future president ROH Moo-hyun.
Song Woo-suk (a portmanteau of the names of the film’s star and director) is a low-rent lawyer in Busan in the early 1980s who is ridiculed for not having a high school degree. When a new law is passed allowing lawyers to act as notaries, he begins to throw himself into this niche and soon finds himself rolling in cash in the early real estate boom. He expands into tax law but a major change happens within him when the innocent son (IM Si-wan) of the owner (KIM Young-ae) of his favorite restaurant is arrested under the guise of the murky National Security Law and tortured into giving a false confession. He comes to the mother’s aide and though it will jeopardize his practice, he takes on a case to try and free the son and his friends.
The events of The Attorney (2013) take place shortly after the Gwangju Massacre of May, 1980, during the early years of the CHUN Doo-hwan administration, when any form of dissent was quickly squashed by the National Security Law, which allowed government officials to hold citizens for even minor and vaguely defined infractions for up to two months, during which time torture and coercion were common.
The film fictionalizes ROH Moo-hyun’s transformation into a leading human rights advocate who became a key figure in the June Democracy Movement of 1987 before entering politics a year later, eventually reaching the highest office in the land, serving as president from 2003 to 2008. It specifically draws the real-life Burim Case, in which 22 book club members were arrested on trumped-up charges of being North Korean sympathizers. ROH formed a legal team to aid them, which included MOON Jae-in, another human rights lawyers who has been serving as President of South Korea since 2017.
YANG builds on a few smaller films that preceded it, including CHUNG Ji-young’s courtroom drama Unbowed (2012) and torture expose National Security (2012) and laid the foundation for big-budget commercials openly engaging with South Korea’s political and social nadir in the 1980s, a period that commercial cinema had largely avoided directly confronting. Following The Attorney (2013), several other hits documenting the period and human rights abuses emerged, including JANG Hoon’s Gwangju drama A Taxi Driver (2017), also featuring SONG, and JANG Joon-hwan’s June Democracy Movement tale 1987: When the Day Comes (2017).