3/5 stars Kim Hye-soo, one of Korea’s most enduring screen icons, adds her star power to the 10-part legal drama Juvenile Justice , her first original series for Netflix. After a few months of big-budget sci-fi and dystopian stories, the global streaming giant slows down for its latest Korean offering, which has more in common with Move to Heaven than the likes of Hellbound . Here is a grounded actor’s showcase that explores juvenile delinquency in a tightly woven frame of jurisprudence which occasionally shifts into a very melodramatic gear. Kim plays Judge Sim Eun-seok, an indomitable judicial force who will stop at nothing to get to the truth and serve out her own stern form of justice. She’s the kind of judge who spends most of her time out of judicial robes and on the streets where she interviews witnesses; the kind who will give chase to fleeing teenagers and get right back up again after being knocked over by a car. She’s also a judge with a painful secret, a secret that drives her to volunteer to be a Juvenile Court judge, despite her sterling credentials and the post’s lack of advancement opportunities. More curious still, she evinces a lack of sympathy for the teens that cycle through her court. Her repeatedly stated mantra is: “I detest young offenders.” Eun-seok shares her office with Cha Tae-ju ( Grid ’s Kim Moo-yeol), another associate judge, who is in many ways her polar opposite. He cares deeply about the young and troubled souls whose cases he tries. He believes his duty continues beyond sentencing and he provides counsel and moral support for teens who he hopes can be rehabilitated after having served their juvenile detention sentences. 8 new Korean drama series to look out for in March 2022 Eun-seok and Tae-ju also differ in their interactions with Chief Judge Kang Won-jung ( Misaeng ’s Lee Sung-min), who spends a lot of time worrying about his image as a TV commentator and is soon courted for a political appointment. Tae-ju has great respect for Judge Kang but Eun-seok quickly locks horns with him. Beyond these three judges and their individual stories, Juvenile Justice proceeds in an episodic fashion. Major cases, many of them referencing headline-grabbing Korean crimes, are presented before the bench, with each running for an episode or two, while later episodes begin to encroach on the personal lives of the judges. In a strong opening hour, the show dives into a particularly gruesome case after teenage boy Baek Seong-u walks up to a police precinct with a slick red hatchet and confesses to strangling and mutilating an eight-year-old boy living in his building. The case, which becomes Eun-seok’s first in her new position, draws national attention for the barbarity of the crime, but also because according to Korean juvenile law, any child under the age of 14 convicted of a crime can only receive a maximum two-year sentence in juvenile detention. While this opening crime is fairly violent for a K-drama (it’s actually the most violent of all the cases in this first season), Juvenile Justice arguably takes a bigger gamble with its casting, as 13-year-old boy Seong-u is played by the 27-year-old female Lee Yeon. Lee is commendable in the part but the obvious piece of stunt casting proves a little jarring. Kim Moo-yeol, Lee Sung-min and Parasite ’s Lee Jung-eun (who becomes a major character late in the season) are all veterans who excel in their roles, but make no doubt about it, this is Kim Hye-soo’s show, and she commands the screen whenever she appears. The actress is particularly effective in her many courtroom scenes as she glowers at the teenage defendants before her. Beyond being a star vehicle for Kim, Juvenile Justice ’s main raison d’être is to investigate contemporary themes of disaffected youth and juvenile violence. For all its blood and gore, All of Us Are Dead gave us a simplistic and optimistic view of teens stymied by adults and banding together in the face of adversity; Juvenile Justice offers far less pat and more realistic observations. Misguided youth are called that for a reason, and the show explores how violent and alcoholic parents and an apathetic society can lead to this sort of youth violence. Not everyone is so far gone that they can’t be rehabilitated, as Tae-ha so desperately tries to do with his charges, but Eun-seok (partly owing to some very pronounced personal biases that become clear later on) is more realistic – not everyone can be saved. In that sense, Juvenile Justice is the latest in a line of South Korean stories about damaged modern teens that kicked off in the late 1990s with Jang Sun-woo’s Bad Movie and Im Sang-soo’s Tears , and has typically remained in the indie realm right up until the recent Young Adult Matter (starring a ferocious pre- Squid Game Lee Yoo-mi). As a commercial offering, Juvenile Justice is prone to more maudlin introspection than its cynical indie peers, with wailing mothers in courthouse car parks and corridors being a prominent fixture throughout the series. While the show can’t really reconcile its melodramatic and social impulses, the legal thrills and strong cast make up for any shortfalls. Juvenile Justice is streaming on Netflix.