Editor’s Note: I would never be able to write a concise review for this show, but it deserves one. It was unusual, thoughtful, and revealed a lot about the post-Sewol zeitgeist in Korea. So when my friend and Dramabeans recapper Saya didn’t have room for Pride and Prejudice in her end-of-2015 wrap-up, I grabbed the chance to publish her review here. Thank you, Saya! I kept your British spellings in hono(u)r of K-drama fandom’s internationalism. — Odessa
Though Pride and Prejudice led the ratings in its time slot domestically, it largely flew under the radar among English-speaking fans. I’m determined not to let this rough diamond sink into oblivion, so my eternal thanks to Odessa for giving this review a home!
K-drama fans know it by now, but this show isn’t in any way a riff on Jane Austen’s “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you,” despite an unexplained cameo from the physical book in an early episode. Originally called Lawless World, and from the writer of School 2013, it was Choi Jin-hyuk’s last pre-enlistment drama (on that note: get better, quick!). It solidifies him as an actor who can carry complicated and demanding roles, given a good script (despite that rather dubious haircut).
But there are some things you need to know about Pride and Prejudice. First and most importantly: it isn’t for everyone. I warned you! This is a show that is best watched in marathon, because its details matter a lot, and because there are no recaps, and because sometimes you will get really, really frustrated. Pride and Prejudice has few reliable narrators, and this is either exactly your thing, or it will make you tear your hair out. As the characters re-investigate the unsolved murder of a child fifteen years ago, they will go through a lot of complex evidence and conflicting stories. My advice, should you choose to watch, is to take notes. I did.
Although Choi Jin-hyuk and Baek Jin-hee are the show’s leads, the real lynchpin is Choi Min-soo. Another piece of advice: give up trying to figure out if he’s a good witch or a bad witch, because damn, you cannot tell. Choi Min-Soo’s cunning and unscrupulous Chief Moon heads the Public Welfare Team, a department whose purpose isn’t to get things done, but to pacify the public with the illusion of getting things done. It’s something of a demotion for him, as well as for Prosecutor Ku Dong-Chi (Choi Jin-hyuk)—reputed to be one of the top three prosecutors in the country—who is back-ended to Public Welfare because the higher-ups can’t get their claws into him.
When newbie prosecutor Yeol-Moo (Baek Jin-hee) joins the Public Welfare Team, she quickly reveals her own agenda: to get revenge on ex-boyfriend Prosecutor Ku. Machiavellian Chief vs. Incorruptible Prosecutor vs. Impetuous Noob? Yes please, and no thank you, and why why why aren’t there full recaps? (This will be your refrain, I promise. Mainly because you’re confused.)
Pride and Prejudice feels like a different kind of show in both its scope and subtext, which is probably why it resonated so much with the audience in South Korea. There’s fascinating commentary here on the nature of the justice system, which is depicted as deeply flawed and rife with corruption. The show asks, how can we preserve justice in a rigged and broken system? Can sincerity move bureaucracy? Who, ultimately, does the system serve?
The team members are smart and competent, and show a refreshing professionalism towards their work. The show strips away the glamour and romance of the prosecutor’s job. The cases are quite dark, including difficult-to-watch investigations of violence towards children. Choi Jin-hyuk’s character is cocky and likeable, an emotionally upfront hero who doesn’t hide how much he likes the heroine. With his adult gravity, he doesn’t reach Kim Yeol-levels of flirty (honestly, who does?), but he does have a playfulness that offsets the darker tones of the show.
While the humour tends to run black in noir shows, Pride and Prejudice fuses a few surprisingly light touches to the heavy topics it addresses, such as Choi Woo-Shik (Hogu’s Love) providing comic relief as unmotivated Prosecutor Lee. There remains, nevertheless, a sense of underlying sadness in these characters who can’t move forward because of past trauma. (The mood is helped by that wistful piano.) Baek Jin-hee, in particular, anchors us to the show’s emotional centre. While she’s dogged and stubborn and often wrong, her heart is so much in the right place that it hurts.
Did I say this show is intricate? It’s intricate, frustrating, ambiguous and obscure…but rewarding. It’s a story that is as human as can be, about how a group of people deal with loss, grief, and their own wrongdoing. Ultimately it’s a homage to every forgotten victim, especially that one little boy last seen wearing a yellow jacket. ♥
Further reading: Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James. This is if you do want a legal thriller with Mr. Darcy. Go on, Jane Austen approves! If reading is too tiring, you can always just watch the BBC drama. Remember: what counts is that you tried!
Odessa’s show notes:
Alternate titles: None. The title’s confusing enough.
Availability: Viki and Dramafever. (Dramafever also offers the classic 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice based on Jane Austen, the version with the divine wet T-shirt Mr. Darcy. You should watch it too. But don’t get these two P&Ps confused!)
Help with the Confusing Bits: Don’t miss my reference chart. My “uncaps” aren’t “proper” recaps because I don’t speak Korean, and the dialogue often conceals more than it reveals. But they discuss the themes that make this show beautiful and interesting.