Korean dramas: Crackpot plot thrills

Telemad

The legal thriller I Hear Your Voice begins with a disclaimer that it isn't based on actual events - which is like labelling canned soup to warn you that it wasn't made by your mother.

More delicious than nutritious, this South Korean drama prizes the joy of a good story, or in the words of a bored judge, a tale that "has an impact".

Early on, a lawyer (Lee Bo Young) who has applied for a job as a public defender decides to try telling the truth, after she eavesdrop on other interviews and finds other candidates using up all the model answers on her cheatsheet.

Keen to make some sort of impression on the interviewers, including the aforesaid judge, she admits that she isn't idealistic like the rest and isn't terribly interested in representing the underprivileged.

Actually, she was expelled from high school, doesn't have a sterling resume, isn't good enough for a law firm and will be grateful for the stable pay from a government post.

The judge lauds her honesty, then tells her it doesn't work for him. But intrigued by her mention of expulsion, he asks to be told the story behind it.

She gets the job after she gives him an incredible tale that weaves together a firework accident, wronged innocence, petty rivalry, wounded pride, a murder, a death threat and a court case.

And that isn't even the full story, which will expand in flashbacks through the drama and which also involves a student (Lee Jong Suk), the homicide victim's son, who somehow became a mind reader on the traumatic night of the crime.

Although the show talks about the importance of evidence in a courtroom, what it believes in is empathy and imagination (an ingredient quite vital to storytelling).

The student becomes a secret asset to the lawyer, helping her see through her clients, but they are often no match for her colleague (Yoon Sang Hyun), whose great gift is the ability to commit to the least sympathetic client, then put himself, as well as the judge, in the defendant's shoes.

The drama negotiates comedy, tragedy, thriller and romance easily, though sometimes it is nearly sucked into a black hole of nonsense (such as when a homicide case disintegrates when defence lawyers question whether the victim is actually dead).

Yet, like Yoon's good lawyer, the show stays committed to its crackpot plot. Because it believes in what it's doing, you do too.

After the smash hits My Husband Got A Family and Seo Yeong, My Daughter, it is hard not to have faith in You Are The Best!, the latest weekend family drama on KBS World.

This show barely begins when it hints its heroine (IU), the youngest and least successful of three sisters in a middle-class Korean family, was adopted and you have to wonder, isn't it too soon for another long-lost child after My Husband Got A Family and Seo Yeong, My Daughter?

But You Are The Best! soldiers on and though it isn't as strong as its predecessors, it has good moments.

Many of them have to do with the heroine's discovery of her own talent, after she signs on with an impresario (Jo Jung Suk) and before she learns her acting coach (Lee Mi Sook), a television star, is her birth mother.

During a reading, she demonstrates an instinctive grasp of performance when she chuckles in a sad scene.

She just finds it sadder when she doesn't - and can't - cry, she explains.

Even so-so Korean melodramas, it seems, are made by people with a subtle understanding of how they work.

woeiwan@sph.com.sg

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