[A Look Back on Korea's 'Cheonman Movie' #12] 'The Attorney'

나확진 / 인턴 차민경 / 2021-10-19 06:00:18
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by Ra Hwak Jin / Cha Min Kyung

[Episode 12] The Attorney (2013 Directed by Yang Woo-seok)

▲ This photo, provided by Korean Film Council, shows the movie poster for "The Attorney." (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

"The Attorney," released in December 2013, attracted 11.37 million viewers, ranking No. 13 as the highest-grossing film in the Korean film history, according to KOBIS (Korea Box-office Information System).

While the name of the main character, Song Woo-seok (played by Song Kang-ho), is fictional, the Korean movie is actually inspired by the early years of the late President Roh Moo-hyun. After passing his bar exam as a high school graduate, Song Woo-seok becomes a small-time tax lawyer. When Song visits a rice soup restaurant in his hometown, he learns that the owner Soon-ae (Kim Young-ae)'s son Jin-woo (Lim Si-wan) is embroiled in a situation that violates his human rights. Song completely changes the path of his life after becoming Jin-woo's lawyer by taking on the human rights case.

Although Song does not look very similar to President Roh, the movie at the time of its release received an explosive response as the actor's passionate performance convincingly captures the political situation in Korea at the time and allows people to picture what former President Roh would have done in real life. 


▲ Song Kang-Ho poses during the photocall for 'Bi-Sang-Seon-Eon' at the 74th annual Cannes Film Festival, in Cannes, France, 16 July 2021.(AFP=YONHAP) 

◇ 'The Attorney' evenly combines social dramas with real-life human stories 

"The Attorney" appropriately blends social dramas and human stories. The film is based on the so-called "Burim case," which was the administration of the then authoritarian President Chun Doo-hwan in order to solidify the basis for his dictatorial regime.

In 1981, the police illegally arrested and tortured 22 university students, teachers, and office workers, who were all part of a book club, on rebellion charges to suppress pro-democracy activists for 20 to 63 days. The incident was called the "Burim case" since it was the Busan version of the "Hakrim case," a representative public security case during the Fifth Republic of Korea.
▲ This file photo, taken on Feb. 13, 2014, shows the five defendants of the infamous "Burim case" at the Busan District Court. (Yonhap)

Of the 22 arrested, 19 were indicted on charges of violating the National Security Act and sentenced to one to six years in prison, however when the defendants' activities were later recognized to be a democracy movement in 2014, after the release of "The Attorney," the victims were found not guilty in a retrial.

Former President Roh reportedly changed his specialty from tax law to being a human rights lawyer after handling the Burim case.

Since the movie deals with heavy topics, many guessed that it would not have been easy to succeed, however both Song and Oh have played a big role in softening the harsh reality using humor.

For example, at the beginning of the movie, when lawyer Song tries to buy an apartment and he says, "Well..Why don't you finish the rest of your eye makeup?" to the woman who owns the house, or in the scene where secretary Park Dong-ho (Oh Dal-soo) makes a fuss after drinking hot tea at lawyer Song's office.

◇ From a webtoon writer to a movie director, Director Yang's journey in the film industry

Director Yang Woo-seok, who was in his mid-40s at the time, made his debut with "The Attorney" as his first film.


▲ South Korean director Yang Woo-suk of the movie "The Attorney," poses for a photo in Seoul on Dec. 9, 2014. The movie was released in South Korea on Dec. 19. (Yonhap)

Director Yang first entered the film industry as a producer for production planning at MBC Productions in 2000 without dreaming of becoming a film director. Yang later produced Korea's first HD film "Desire" (2004) and after becoming interested in computer graphics (CG), he turned to cartoons and wrote webtoons such as "V" (2007), "If Thou Must Love Me" (2009), and "Steel Rain" (2012).

In an interview for "The Attorney," Director Yang explained that he initially wanted to make the courtroom drama film into a webtoon, however after listening to producers' advice, he became in charge of directing the film. Although the movie director wanted to create an independent movie at first, when Song was cast as the leading role, "The Attorney" became a commercial film.

The films "Steel Rain" and "Steel Rain 2: Summit," which were director Yang's next works, were based on the webtoon "Steel Rain."


◇ 'The Attorney' released four years after the passing of former President Roh Moo-hyun

As a movie inspired by the early years of the late President Roh Moo-hyun was released four years after his death, politicians were excited even before the movie was released.

Within the Democratic Party of Korea, the supporters of the former president made reservations and watched the film as a group.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who was the chief of staff during Roh's presidency and a member of the National Assembly in 2014, watched the film in Busan with the victims of the Burim case and officials from the Roh Moo Hyun Foundation.



▲ This file photo, taken on Jan. 3, 2014, shows President Moon in the middle of the movie theater with the victims of the "Burim case" ahead of watching "The Attorney." (Yonhap)

President Moon was also in charge of defending the victims of the "Burim case" during the retrial which happened seven years ago.

Since Moon was defeated in the previous year's presidential election, some pointed out that Moon watched the movie as a stepping stone to form a 'pro-Roh' group.  


Cheon Ho-sun, who was the official spokesperson for the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae during Roh's presidency and the chief of the Justice Party, led the politicians at the Justice Party to watch the film together and Ahn Cheol-soo, the current Leader of the People Party, also viewed the film and later posted a tweet on Twitter.

Lee Jae-oh, a member of the then ruling party, Liberty Korea Party, also mentioned his experience of receiving torture after his participation in a democracy movement, saying, "Where is our democracy now heading towards to? I'm tearing up," on a Twitter post.

While some say the movie praises former President Roh, in an interview at the time of the movie's release, director Yang, "I tried to balance between praise and contempt," stressing that "understanding and introspection" was his main message.

However, the former Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism of South Korea, Yoo Jin-ryong, later revealed in a media interview that former President Park Geun-hye was not comfortable with CJ Group's investment in the film.





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