I’m actually somewhat surprised to find myself writing this review, because I almost didn’t watch this show.
I’d dipped my toe into episode 1, where Kim Hye Soo’s character states emphatically – like she does in the trailer – that she detests juvenile offenders, and somehow, that didn’t roll off my back the way it did when I watched the trailer.
I decided really quickly that this show probably wasn’t for me – and then, hours later on the same day, cautiously poked my head back in, thinking that I’d just watch a leettle more, if only to see how the first case wrapped up.
..Which is how I ended up finishing the entire show, heh. Funny how that worked out, eh?
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS
Here are a few things that I think would be helpful to keep in mind, to maximize your enjoyment of your watch:
1. Show can be pretty dark and gritty
It’s not the worst I’ve seen, so it’s not terrible. However, if you’re squeamish about violence and blood, you might find this show a bit of a challenge.
Trigger warnings [SPOILERISH SO HIGHLIGHT TO READ]: murder, domestic abuse, sexual assault, suicide ideation
2. Show has a melodramatic bent
This is fairly common in Korean crime shows, but it’s still good to know in advance, so that you can adjust your expectations accordingly.
STUFF I LIKED
Our main cast is solid
Our core cast does a very decent job all-around, of delivering their characters and bringing forth the requisite levels of intensity &/or emotion.
Kim Hye Soo is suitably businesslike as Judge Sim, with fierceness and charisma to spare, while showing glimmers of hidden pain and vulnerability, when the occasion calls for it.
Kim Moo Yul disappears quite nicely into the personality of Judge Cha, who’s timid, tentative and generally eager to please. SO different from his character in My Beautiful Bride!
Of course, Judge Sim and Judge Cha have opposite ideologies, and seeing them slowly come to understand each other better, as they work together, was a nice plus point of this show, I thought.
I also really liked seeing Lee Sung Min in this, as Judge Kang. I thought Judge Kang was a reasonably interesting character, and I liked that we delve into his personal story for a bit, in Show’s later episodes.
Also, on a shallow note, Lee Sung Min’s looking fantastic in this; so healthy and glowy! 🤩
The cases are reasonably interesting
From what I know, the cases featured in this show were inspired by real-life cases, so this was a hard look at the hard crimes that come through the juvenile justice system.
I found it sobering to be confronted with the extreme dysfunction present in many of these cases, so I think if Show was aiming to provoke thought and discussion around the juvenile justice system, as well as the struggles of young offenders, I would say it succeeded.
Credit to Show, for not only focusing on cases involving teens from troubled homes, but also including cases involving teens from very privileged corners of society. I thought that was pretty well balanced.
On a related note, I also wanted to say that all the young actors portraying our various troubled youngsters, did a very believable job.
STUFF THAT WAS OK
Show’s melodramatic bent
Like I mentioned earlier, it’s not that unusual for a kdrama that focuses on crime, to also have a melodramatic backstory, and a melodramatic bent in general (Bad Guys comes to mind).
I personally didn’t love the melodramatic flair so much, and in particular, when that melodramatic tone was introduced into court proceedings, I found myself having to suspend disbelief, that such antics would be allowed in court.
Sometimes, I also felt that Show skimped on some case details, in order to focus on the melodrama of the case, and I felt that that weakened the narrative instead of strengthening it.
However, I was in-principle ok with the idea of our main characters having backstories that leaned melodramatic.
That said, I was less ok with it, when our main characters’ backstories causes them to lean into the melodrama in court.
For example, in episode 3, the filling out of Yu Ri’s (Shim Dal Gi) story is solid, but the skip from that, to suddenly having her father (Hyun Bong Sik) stand trial, and with recorded evidence, feels a little rushed.
The melodramatic tone is also pretty strong, especially with Judge Cha’s backstory coloring his view of the domestic violence case.
Which is all pretty ok, until Judge Cha ends up reflex throttling Abusive Dad, right there in the courtroom. That.. feels like a bit too much.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH
It feels rather heavy-handed, to my eyes
Your mileage is likely to vary, but I personally found Show rather heavy-handed in the delivery of its message.
In principle, I feel that Show is poised to do for the juvenile justice system what D.P. did for the military.
D.P. unveiled the systemic dysfunction and abuse within the military, in unflinching, gritty detail, and provoked a good amount of thought and discussion, via its narrative.
I do think that a good part of the reason D.P. was successful in doing this, is because D.P. came across as factual and unflinching.
It didn’t attempt to be preachy; it just presented the reality as it was, and left audiences to draw their own conclusions on what our responses should be, and what needed to be done, to effect change.
While watching this, I kept wondering why I didn’t feel the same way about this show, as how I felt about D.P., even though this show is gritty and unflinching in its portrayal of juvenile crime.
And my conclusion is that this show leans instructional and preachy, where D.P. leaned more neutral.
In this show, particularly in the later stretch, characters are shown drawing conclusions for us, along the lines of how heavy the responsibility is, of a judge, and how it takes a village to raise a child, and how we are all perpetrators.
I didn’t like that so much.
I would have preferred if Show had taken an approach similar to D.P.’s, and allowed us as an audience, to reach our own conclusions, instead of telling us again and again, what our takeaways were supposed to be.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
In our final stretch, Show leans more heavily into the melodrama, and explores Judge Sim’s backstory, where the perpetrators who had caused her young son’s death 5 years ago, in an act of violent mischief, now show up as suspects in another case.
The way she has an anxiety attack upon seeing the suspect’s name on the case file, and falls into a dead faint is pretty dramatic, as is the way she insists on working on the case, despite the conflict of interest inherent.
I’m glad though, that she doesn’t show any inclination for revenge, and is simply intent that these perpetrators don’t slip through the cracks of the law once again.
I did feel Show was going ham somewhat, with the way Judge Sim goes to investigate Baek Do Hyeon (Kim Kyun Ha), where she gets stabbed, and then heads back to the office, while still bleeding heavily from the stab wound.
It just felt like a bit much, to my eyes. 😅
I’m glad, though, that Presiding Judge Na (Lee Jung Eun) actually takes to heart Judge Sim’s words about not rushing through trials, and gives the case the extra time and attention that it needs.
The idea of Judge Sim finally letting her pain go is a nice one, but I just don’t think she should’ve burned those photos of her son. Like, what in the actual heck?
That’s her son, and she should always treasure his memory and the photos that she has of him. Why should she burn them at all? I thought this was a very weird narrative decision.
Like I mentioned earlier, Show gets rather too preachy for my taste, particularly in the final stretch, and I didn’t like that so much.
However, I did think that the final scene, where Judge Sim comes face-to-face again with the first defendant from episode 1, Baek Seong U (Lee Yeon), is quite dramatic.
Particularly since, this time, Baek Seong U’s looking more troubled, wild and challenging than ever, with all those new piercings and tattoos, and that defiant look in his eyes.
It brings everything full circle effectively, to bring across the message that the judges’ work is never done.
Even when they manage to do a good job and put the correct perpetrator behind bars, those who get a second chance, like Baek Seong U had, can fritter it away, and still end up on the wrong side of the law.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Solidly interesting, despite its sometimes overly melodramatic leanings.
FINAL GRADE: B
WHERE TO WATCH:
You can check out this show on Netflix.
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