“It’s not a crime to fall in love,” the protagonist of Shin Sung-han’s (Cho Seung-woo) favourite television show proclaims in the opening scene of Divorce Attorney Shin. “I never wanted to take it this far.” As Sung-han is heating up his microwave dinner, he yells at his television: “You have to sue his mistress!” Of course, he would know all about taking legal action to avenge failed marriages – as a reputable attorney who specialises only in divorce cases, his motto “happiness begins at home” is what largely drives his work.
Sung-han is unafraid to embrace his peculiarities when it comes to working on his cases. As a former professional pianist and music professor, he has a keen ear for classical music and turns to the operatic tunes of ’70s trot musician Na Hu-na to deal with the immense stress that comes with the job. He assumes a chaotic, bewildered persona both in and out of the courtroom that bewilders both his opponents and clients alike. “You’re very unusual,” a client tells him the first time they meet to discuss a case, but in spite of it, his reputation precedes him.
While a large majority of Sung-han’s deeper motivations remain a mystery only four episodes in, Cho Seung-woo wholeheartedly takes the role head on and imbues the character with just the right amount of spirit. Sung-han’s eccentricities sit at the heart of the show, and between his exaggerated trot singalongs and habit of drinking cheap soju out of extravagant wine glasses, Cho perfectly captures Sung-han’s dry humour and charming lack of social smarts. To make things even more interesting, every little quirk to Sung-han ends up being crucial to his process as a lawyer.
That being said, Sung-han would not shine as much without Divorce Attorney Shin’s supporting characters, namely Jang Hyung-geun (Kim Sung-kyun) and Jo Jung-shik (Jung Moon-sung). The trio of friends have incredible chemistry on screen and work well to deliver the more comedic aspects to the show. However, the series has troubles when it comes to striking a balance between scenes with absurdist humour and those with a heavy melodramatic flair.
As a legal procedural, Divorce Attorney Shin is refreshingly open to delving into the nitty gritty of divorce cases. As the series demonstrates, divorces are sticky situations to be in. Sung-han’s job doesn’t just encompass the formal process of separation, he also has to deal with fierce custody battles, overarching family feuds, property ownership and more. Each episode presents our titular hero with a fresh web of complications arising from divorce without sugar-coating the ugly parts: from abusive and neglectful spouses to leaked sex tapes, Divorce Attorney Shin unashamedly sheds light on the unspoken.
Yet, Divorce Attorney Shin struggles to spin an original tale from a format so heavily reused and recycled in the realm of K-dramas – and even beyond – especially with new (topically heavy) cases per week. There is only so much a show can do to birth an innovative, distinctive and attention-grabbing storyline in the overused setting of a courtroom.
Divorce Attorney Shin falls through the cracks when pitted against much stronger contenders of the same vein, such as Extraordinary Attorney Woo and The Devil Judge, to name a few. It may be worth holding out some hope that the series will blossom into something more substantial than it currently is, especially in the hands of screenwriter Yoo Young-ah – who previously penned standouts wuch as Thirty-Nine and Miracle in Cell No. 7 – but in its current state, Divorce Attorney Shin is nothing to write home about.
Divorce Attorney Shin airs every Saturday and Sunday at 8:30pm KST on JTBC and is available for streaming on Netflix in select regions.
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