In K-drama Why Her? Seo Hyun-jin plays a vicious lawyer who falls from grace. Will she recover – and show us some human foibles?
- You Are My Spring’s Seo Hyun-jin stars as lawyer Oh Soo-jae, who falls from grace and is sent to teach at a law school to repair her image in the drama Why Her?
- Oh is cold and arrogant to a deliberately off-putting degree, coming across as a character to root against. It’s clear we have a lot to learn about her
This article contains minor spoilers.
Early June has a particularly stacked slate of new Korean drama series for viewers to choose from. Among them are a pair of new legal dramas that launched over the weekend.
In addition to sharing a genre and a number of supporting cast members – such as Lee Kyoung-young, who plays a corrupt bigwig in both – both shows feature a brilliant professional who rises to the top of their field and scores a highly sought-after promotion in the opening episode, only to have the rug pulled out from under them almost immediately.
Oh Soo-jae (Seo) is the only female partner at TK Law Firm and she’s also the best-performing one, as the revenue she generates for the firm dwarfs that of her colleagues. This puts her in the running for a big promotion to managing partner.
The only person in her way is the churlish and childish Min Young-bae (Kim Sun-hyuk), who thinks the job is his to lose. He’s right to be confident, as forces behind the scenes, fuelled by sexism in the executive ranks, are conspiring to keep Soo-jae down.
Nevertheless, the sharp Soo-jae is 10 steps ahead of everyone else. She forces Young-bae to implicate himself in malfeasance while their boss Choi Tae-kook (Heo Jun-ho) listens on the line, and then raids a client’s office for incriminating documents. To keep a lid on the situation, Tae-kook has to give Soo-jae the gig.
In a brutal tête-à-tête, Soo-jae mercilessly deflates So-young’s disaffected air with pointed barbs and cold dead eyes, reducing her to a traumatised and vulnerable wreck left with no legal recourse.
Soo-jae is immediately blamed for the death, but her hubris returns undaunted the next morning. She insults the press corps on her way in and barges into the TK board room, where she browbeats Young-bae, assertively exclaiming that “I am TK Law Firm”, and that TK is her.
Until now, Tae-kook has been quietly impressed with Soo-jae’s ruthlessly efficient tactics, but a line has finally been crossed and Soo-jae is forced to leave the office and spend a semester as a professor at Seojung University Law School until she can repair her image.
What separates Why Her? and Doctor Lawyer is the ways in which the shows treat their lead characters. Perfect, kind and beloved by all, So is the hero in every conceivable way in Doctor Lawyer, but as Soo-jae, Seo presents a very different kind of image.
Soo-jae is cold and arrogant to a deliberately off-putting degree. She struts around the office with an imperious air and talks down to her subordinates and peers. She cockily shuts down her boss and the firm’s top dollar clients. She even cruelly upbraids a rape victim who is clearly in need of an ally.
Unlike Doctor Lawyer, which seduces us with its idealised lead, Why Her? has deliberately pitted us against Soo-jae. When she is taken down from her pedestal, we get a certain sense of satisfaction that she’s got her just deserts, even though we can see that she’s been unfairly muscled out of her new position as managing partner.
Left to lick her wounds at law school, not only must she repair her public image, the character needs to win us back as well. We’ve seen hints of the naive and principled young woman she was and traces of vulnerability as she props herself up with tumblers filled with wine, but abject amorality and overweening attitude remain her dominant characteristics.
What Soo-jae doesn’t realise is that they’ve met before. Gong Chan used to be the teenage Kim Dong-goo (confusingly played by Lee Yoo-jin – he and Hwang look nothing alike), Soo-jae’s first client, who was wrongly accused of murder.
We have a lot to learn about Soo-jae, a woman who has buried her humanity to overcome rampant sexism, but for Why Her? the great challenge will be whether it can convince us when Soo-jae eventually embarks on the road to redemption.
Why Her? is streaming on Viu.