K-drama The Law Cafe: Lee Seung-gi, Lee Se-young star in lazy legal romcom which baffles at every turn
- The Law Cafe stars Lee Seung-gi and Lee Se-young as a pair of bickering exes and legal geniuses who find themselves in close quarters once more by chance
- The series is a jarring mix of mismatched ingredients, from neighbourhood-style humour to lazy romcom tropes - you know the ending as soon as it begins
This article contains mild spoilers.
Based on the webtoon Love According to the Law, the show is a hodgepodge of tired K-drama clichés. The bickering cohabitation romcom and legal drama formats are mashed up in a story that relies on easy coincidences and hollow traumatic interludes.
The two Lees play genius lawyers who share a history and have each recently quit their jobs. Lee Seung-gi is Kim Jung-ho, a former prosecutor who now lives atop the building he owns; he rents out the rest of the floors while he idles in colourful tracksuits and moonlights as a comic-book writer.
Lee Se-young is Kim Yu-ri, an arrogant lawyer who turns up to court in leopard print blouses and talks back to judges. She takes on pro bono cases for a major law firm, but has decided to give it all up.
Despite being presented with a lucrative opportunity, she has her mind set on opening a “law cafe” to provide clients with legal consultation along with their morning cup of java.
Yu-ri has found the dream location for her cafe, but discovers that the owner is Jung-ho – her high-school friend and former boyfriend. Tensions remain high between them and Jung-ho initially balks at the idea of renting to her.
Finding themselves in close quarters once more by chance, the pair spout legalese at each other as they endlessly bicker. The first episode is largely devoted to seeing how they will come to an arrangement that will keep them both in the same building. For all its high tone, the series offers a jarring mix of mismatched ingredients.
There is the aggressive neighbourhood-style humour, in which protagonists laugh their heads off. Then there are the lazy romcom tropes. The show frequently uses flashbacks and seems constantly to take place within a billow of snowflakes or drifting cherry blossom leaves.
Most perplexing of all is a shoehorned mockumentary format that sees Jung-ho and Yu-ri speak directly to the camera in a series of confessional interviews.
The interviews, limited only to these two characters, are an odd fit with the rest of the series, and by the second episode they have almost completely disappeared.
Jung-ho and Yu-ri’s shared history is not limited to their friendship and past romance. Yu-ri’s father died in a workplace fire and was blamed by his employer for the deaths of others in the incident. The prosecutor in the case was Jung-ho’s own father.
There is an ugly moment in one of these flashbacks when a migrant worker testifies in court that Yu-ri’s father was drunk on the job on the day of the fire.
Since Yu-ri and her family know that he was not a drinker, we can only assume that this testimony was somehow engineered, but it is uncomfortable to see a migrant worker used in such a way on screen.
Migrant workers in Korean factories are poorly treated by their bosses and, since Yu-ri’s father was his foreman and is painted in the story as a victim, the show flips a very real social issue, before discarding the migrant character as an afterthought.
Since The Law Cafe does not really seem to have any novel ideas about how to implement and explore its set-up, it opts instead to jump the gun, skipping past character development to get right into the thick of the rote elements we eventually expect from such a story.
In episode two, Yu-ri’s very first law cafe client offers a direct link to Dohan Construction, the firm responsible for her father’s death. Enter the unseemly Dohan executive Lee Pyun-woong (Jo Han-chul).
In another troubling aside, his villainy is equated with homosexuality when his assistant and a lawyer go to his penthouse and catch him in the act with both a half-dressed woman and a man.
Meanwhile, on the romantic side of the equation, the opening episode ends with Jung-ho confessing that he still loves Yu-ri, as he directly addresses the audience. Yet we continue to see him go through the motions of trying to push her away, which includes drawing up a manuscript-sized agreement that will ensure they never cross paths.
Naturally, they spend almost every subsequent scene together.
With the protagonists constantly toe-to-toe, it is easy to think that The Law Cafe is a classic battle-of-the-sexes romcom, but in reality the battle is already won. In one scene, one of Yu-ri’s clients prepares to leap off a roof, but it is Jung-ho who manages to talk him down.
After wordlessly witnessing the scene, Yu-ri is in a tizzy, explaining: “I feel weird. My heart is beating.” Maybe that is how a character feels when their agency has been tossed into the trash.
The Law Cafe is streaming on Viu.