New drama “Pride and Prejudice,” which started on MBC last week, isn’t getting a lot of attention in English. Why not? Probably because it’s up against stiff competition on Monday and Tuesday nights. I’m forced to take action and speak up for this show, which has a lot of potential.
I don’t have time to produce recaps, though, so I’m inventing a new form of television reporting: the uncap, an introduction to the show so far.
When I first saw ads for the show, I was annoyed. Stealing your title from one of the greatest novels ever written? Using a Jane Austen title for a show about prosecutors in contemporary Seoul? Have you no decency? Has Korea run out of titles? How can a proud nation with an alphabet of 24 letters run out of all conceivable titles? Are foreign imports the only way to alleviate the domestic shortfall?
But it stars Choi Jin-Hyuk (and a very experienced cast). My drama-watching is erratic, so I haven’t seen most of his shows. But as Kim Won, the cold older brother in “Heirs,” he had a ton of screen presence and made the character compelling. When he wasn’t acting evil, he could break your heart, like in that scene where he struggles to keep control of his emotions at a board meeting after his father insults him. It worked: by the last episode Kim Won looked less like an antagonist and more like tragic hero.
I wanted to see what he could do in a show billed as a romantic comedy. I would probably have watched a few episodes just for Choi Jin-Hyuk. He could read the phone book with that resonant voice of his and I would pay for the privilege of listening.
But if star power were everything, I’d still be watching “My Lovable Girl,” so I’m excited to report that “Pride and Prejudice” also has a smart script. The characters are intriguing. The first four episodes have kept the tension high. And the revelations about the past keep coming, along with new conflicts.
The tone is dark and melodramatic, but with shots of sardonic humor. Something about Choi Jin-Hyuk always suggests “sardonic,” but he’s supported here by a strong cast of equally sarcastic wise guys. The prosecutor’s office includes an egotistical director played by veteran star Choi Min-Soo with leading man intensity. There’s also an avuncular older prosecutor nearing retirement and a feckless young guy who spends most of his time at work staring at his cellphone. (Choi Woo-Shik is hilarious in the role of Prosecutor Lee.) And the recurring characters include an unpredictable petty criminal named Jung Chang-Gi, who also likes to make a scene.
The heroine, Han Yeol-Moo, arrives in this office as a trainee prosecutor. The actress Baek Jin-Hee is 24, but relatively short and slight, especially standing next to her male colleagues. She’s incredibly fragile looking. It’s poignant to watch her character jockeying for position in an office full of alpha males. Yeol-Moo wears an armor of toughness that would make her unlikable if it wasn’t so obvious that she’s suffering. She controls herself well and doesn’t back down from a challenge. But you can feel that she’s living with some sort of tragedy. She appears to be propelled purely by raw courage.
She’s assigned to a team consisting of experienced prosecutor Koo Dong-Chi (Choi Jin-Hyuk) and his assistant Kang-Soo (played by the sexy but completely not sardonic Lee Tae Hwan). My superficial knowledge of the Korean legal system suggests Kang-Soo is probably Prosecutor Koo’s investigator. But sometimes Kang-Soo is referred to as a prosecutor, so I’m not sure. One thing we can be sure about, however: Lee Tae Hwan will cause a few cases of Second Lead Syndrome before this is all over.
Uncapping the story so far…
Uncapping “Pride and Prejudice” Episode 1
Episode 1 starts with a moment of pure emotion: Yeol-Moo’s face, looking stunned as she spots Koo Dong-Chi in front of the prosecutor’s office. She stops in the middle of crossing the road. We can see time has stopped for her as she looks at Dong-Chi. But she gathers herself and continues across the street. As she makes her way toward the entrance, Dong-Chi spots her and hurries to intercept her. It’s her first day on the job.
The dialogue that follows is delightful in how much it leaves unsaid. We can make out that they know each other, but Yeol-Moo pushes away Dong-Chi’s attempts to be friendly. Whatever happened in the past, she dislikes and distrusts him. And his friendliness has an edge underneath it—of distrust? Disappointment? Anger? The dialogue is relatively unimportant but the underlying emotions are intense on both sides. They haven’t met in five years, but something is unresolved between them.
A morning staff meeting shows that this particular office is like a prosecutorial Island of Misfit Toys. Chief Moon has recently taken charge because he committed some unnamed disgrace. He used to have a higher position (also unnamed), and this is a kind of exile. He frets that people don’t respect his importance and that none of his subordinates besides Prosecutor Koo have experience and skill.
The first case on Yeol-Moo’s desk is a local flasher. The case appears slightly comic at first, but becomes more serious when Yeol-Moo encounters a little girl with a story about child abuse. The interwoven cases of the flasher and abuser lead to a suspenseful conclusion and make a satisfying, self-contained procedural. One of the surprising elements of “Pride and Prejudice” is the well-constructed cases in each episode. They provide counterpoint to the overarching background story.
“How did you get so stiff?” Dong-Chi asks her early on.
He glances at Kang-Soo and explains, “You know, in the past—she and I used to go out.”
Dong-Chi looks back at Yeol-Moo, but she turns her back and starts to walk away.
“She even confessed her feelings to me,” he says.
Yeol-Moo stops when he says that. We can see he struck a nerve. But she doesn’t turn around.
Dong-Chi’s voice is unsympathetic as he says to her, “What? Are you going to start crying? Why are you being melodramatic? Or do you still regret confessing to me?”
He goes back to work. But they clash with each other like this throughout the episode. When he’s angry, she walks away and refuses to engage. And when she’s confronting him, he acts reasonable and refuses to engage. Both of them simultaneously want to fight—and are afraid to fight.
At the end of the episode, as they leave the office, he tells her that it’s good to see her again, though with an expression that is sad more than anything. She returns the sentiment, to his surprise. Then, after he drives away, she turns around and re-enters the building where they work.
Dong-Chi smiles a little, with that sardonic look he does so well. “In a car accident,” he says. He pauses, then adds, “It was like an explosion.”
The episode concludes with a surprise: we cut back to the office, to find Yeol-Moo rifling through Dong-Chi’s files. She’s secretly scouring his office for something, we don’t know what, in the dead of night. Click here for Episodes 2 and 3 Uncapped.