Lawless Lawyer (무법 변호사) is a 16-episode South Korean legal drama and crime thriller series that I picked up upon the recommendations of multiple people. I am a person that absolutely adores legal thrillers, so when this one came up, it didn’t take a lot of convincing for it to catch my interest almost instantaneously. When I sat down and watched the first episode, my first impressions of it were quite superb and filled with zestful anticipation of things to come. Now that I have finished watching the whole thing, I can say proudly that my anticipation wasn’t let down even once!
Lawless Lawyer follows a man named Bong Sang Pil who grew up in a life of crime as a gangster after his maternal uncle takes him in in the wake of his mother’s death. Determined to avenge what happened to her, he starts studying vigorously to become a lawyer, just as she once was. Using his prominent fighting capabilities, legal loopholes, and sharp wit he amasses an impressive winning record. Then one day he receives a mysterious package with a gift that beckons him back to his home town for the opportune chance at finally obtaining his vengeance.
There are so many things that I can go on and on about with Lawless Lawyer. Each of the characteristics that stand out are ones that can be discussed at length because of how contemplative they are, even the technical aspects such as angles, lighting, and focus. It seems like every little detail was considered when crafting the narrative for it. Instead, I think I’ll briefly stick to my favourite traits, what I enjoyed about the story and characters, and the theme that stood out above all else, to me anyway.
Favourite parts? Easily the first one is the character of Bong Sang Pil. He is a very handsome and supremely intelligent young man. His cunning jocularity is his most attractive feature. Intelligence is one of things that I find to be most charming and sexy in an individual, any individual, and his was a breath of fresh air. Honestly with legal thrillers such as this, you can’t expect anything less than that, now can you? Additionally, he has a smouldering intensity brought on by his tragic past and recollections of childhood spent with a woman he respected more than anyone else. Toss in arrogance, fierce loyalty, and vehement determination, as well as the smoothness of which he can kick arse while wearing a custom tailored suit—what isn’t there to love?
Other things that Lawless Lawyer excelled at include its evocative nature, specifically where emotions are concerned. Since there are quite a few complex tragedies depicted in the series, the depth of which the heart-strings are pulled, including ones that eventually lead to rage and bits of frustration, can be very strong ones. On more than one occasion I found my eyes misting over, or just damp cheeks from where I had begun crying without realising it was happening. The emotional depth contribute to the serial’s high level of suspense and tension as well, which is then balanced with near-perfectly timed comic relief, such as the scenes involving Bong Sang Pil’s camaraderie with his gang of good-hearted miscreants.
The last small thing I loved were the car chases! I’m normally not a person who likes car chases because I think they can be either over-used or used as filler and fluff to make something longer than necessary. With that said, however, Lawless Lawyer’s car chase scenes were very, very entertaining. Most of that amusement stems from Bong Sang Pil’s cockiness and unwillingness to back the fuck down. I also like that they are realistic in terms of damage done to cars and the fear that a person would normally feel when confronted with an oncoming vehicle headed towards their face, or even from just being in the passenger seat of such a debacle.
The story was exceptionally paced. It is a straight forward revenge narrative at its core. With most revenge films or media that I have seen, the story will start off about getting back at the person who’s harmed the protagonist, but then slowly mutate into another subject that has virtually nothing to do with vengeance. But that doesn’t happen here. From episode one all the way until episode sixteen it is always about retribution for Bong Sang Pil. He never forgets it, just finds creative ways to shift gears when his plans don’t go accordingly. When plot twists do pop up, they arrive with a natural finesse that are, once again, impeccably timed, which includes episodic cliff-hangers!
The changes in direction, moreover, contribute to some brilliant character building. You do have a couple of more shallow cast members, but nearly all of the major players are so much more than their assigned archetypes. If there is any character that gets a lot of screen-time that I felt could have benefitted with a bit more dimension, it would have to be Ahn Oh Joo. We learn about his background, but it isn’t focused on the way that Bong Sang Pil, Cha Moon Sook, and Ha Jae Yi do, and I know that just a few more minutes with him would make me love him even more than I currently do.
This leads me to the acting. The acting was phenomenal across the board, but there are two people who are the golden stars of the series. Firstly, it’s the lead actor: Lee Joon Gi. His portrayal of Bong Sang Pil was incredible! To be able to go through a plethora of emotions with such authenticity, occasionally in a single scene, is not an easy task to accomplish. But he completely nailed it. The second actor—and my most fucking favourite—that killed their role was Choi Min Soo, who plays Ahn Oh Joo. Ahn Oh Joo is one of the major villains of the series. But with Choi Min Soo’s acting, he shows us that things aren’t black-and-white, even when it comes to corruption. From the slimy fucking smile to that charming yet very gangstery grin, even the remorse and regret he feels upon seeing one of his henchmen die—it was all astounding. Ahn Oh Joo is an extremely difficult person to empathise with, let alone like. But the more that I watched the series, the more and more I became infatuated with him and the fact that he was as much a victim as anyone else. Honestly, it was some of the best acting I’ve seen for a dude in a negative role in years.
All of this brings me to what I consider to be the ultimate greatest thing about Lawless Lawyer: the theme of nature versus nurture when it comes to an environment that a child is raised in. Many people believe that all evil-doers are inherently born with the inclination to be an asshole criminal. But that isn’t the case at all. Most negative behaviour patterns are learned.
The first example I’m going to use is Bong Sang Pil. His mother was a very caring, compassionate, and nurturing individual. He grew up watching her work her arse off to support them, as well as to help others who were less fortunate in one form or another. Through this, as well as witnessing something that was so terrible, he learns empathy and the same form of compassion that she has. He learns to care for others and to fight for justice and what is right.
The second example comes in the form of Kang Yeon Hee, who is the daughter of Nam Soon Ja (one of the villain’s grunts). Her mother has always pushed her to be the best, no matter what the cost of that success comes with. Kang Yeon Hee grew up watching other people be better than her and then her mother bullying them into submission to help her daughter surpass them, even if she wasn’t warranted the accomplishments. Kang Yeon Hee becomes obsessed with prestige and wanting to please her mother that somewhere alone the way she starts to lose bits of her humanity, exactly like her mother did.
Thirdly, we have Cha Moon Sook, one of the main villains for Lawless Lawyer. She grew up in a completely corrupted and privileged environment. She was born with so much fucking power that she didn’t even realise the depth of that power. She’s never truly struggled for shit in her life. Cha Moon Sook also didn’t tolerate anyone saying anything negative about those that taught her to strive to be the best, no matter what the cost. As such she’s also excruciatingly lonely. A truth she keeps buried beneath her superiority and her greed and her desire for dominion. The problem with power like this is that in the end you will always be alone and you will never, ever be satisfied.
So, this theme of environments moulding the type of individuals that kids will ultimately grow up and become was utterly mind-blowing to me, and an aspect that kept me glued to my iPad hungrily for all sixteen episodes. Of course this is just one of the many themes explored. Nevertheless, I believe it’s one I appreciate the most because of how subtle it can be in context. It’s not blatantly written or expressed, but far more intellective in the actions and interactions of each of the characters, adding layers of intrigue and depth you’d never expect from a basic vengeance thriller.
All in all, Lawless Lawyer is a spectacular series, and one I cannot recommend enough no matter how hard I try. It has everything you could ever want from an outstanding story and character focused series. If you’re more of an action individual when it comes to your thrillers, fear not. The martial arts and sequences of arse kicking are also bloody fantastic and can satiate any adrenaline junkie out there. Thankfully, Lawless Lawyer is still available to anyone interested in checking it out. Just head over to Viki Rakuten. You don’t be disappointed.