Updated: Jan 28
Kim Soo-hyun stars in this adaptation of BBC’s “Criminal Justice” as a man wrongfully accused of a murder and rape in a drama that is both unwatchable and completely bingeable at the same time. It is an understatement to call the drama suspenseful as it keeps you on your toes from the first notes of its opening sequence all the way till the very last second of each episode.
Kim Hyun-soo (Kim Soo-hyun and yes I found the names confusing, too), a 20-something-year-old college student sneaks out of his family home and drives his father’s taxi to attend a friend’s party. At a stoplight, a random passenger gets in. She is too enticing to refuse and before long, she has convinced Kim Hyun-soo to spend the evening with her. Against his better judgment, he finds himself trying drugs, drinking, and eventually sleeping with her. When he wakes up, he finds her stabbed to death in her own bed. And thus begins his harrowing journey to prove his innocence, survive the Korean jail system, and maintain his sanity.
Reportedly the highest-paid Korean actor this year, Kim Soo-hyun is worth every Won. Every time his character gets an asthma attack, I feel a second-hand panic attack coming on, too. As the wrongfully accused Kim Hyun-soo, he takes us in with those soulful eyes and refuses to let us go. Much like how his character is helpless against the random passenger, he holds his audience captive as his life careens out of control.
In contrast to his wide-eyed naiveté are equally laudable performances of the worldly prosecutor who is out to make a name for herself, and unyielding police chief who wants to retire with a bang. The only person who is on his side is unorthodox lawyer Shin Joong-han (played by Cha Seung-won) whose questionable methods (and personal hygiene) belie his real genius. He is both captivating and repulsive as the sleazy lawyer with a conscience.
The carefully nuanced direction, along with the bleak gray tones and the hauntingly powerful score, keeps its viewers on tenterhooks for each of its eight episodes — on one end, hoping that Kim Hyun-soo can finally be exonerated and, on the other, trying to ward off the niggling feeling that maybe he could have done it.
The power of the drama is in consistently but not abrasively reminding its viewers that Kim Hyun-soo could really be anyone whose innocence is shattered by the justice system that is supposed to protect him. And that all of us are really just one poor choice away from turning one ordinary day into the worst day of our lives.
STREAM IT: If you're in for a nail-biting mystery.
SKIP IT: If you want to have a laid-back, feel-good watch.