It’s been 13 dramas (three months) since I last gave a 10 rating in a review. Well, the count starts over now with Defendant. The show is an oh-so-good, tense, emotional rollercoaster ride with multi-award winning actor Ji Sung at the controls.
Park Jung-Woo is a top prosecutor and loving family man. One day he awakens from sleep only to find himself a prison inmate, sentenced to death for murdering his wife and seven year old daughter, and he doesn’t remember a single thing. How can he find out what really happened when all his memories are gone?
There’s so much more I’d love to tell you but one of the appealing aspects of the show is the mystery of it all so I refuse to spoil it for you. I don’t mind telling you a little bit about the main characters, though…
Park Jung-Woo is the golden boy of the prosecutor’s office working in the violent crimes division. He’s the best of the best, never lost a single case and has been offered a job at the U.N. Although companies would love to have him on their payroll his goal has never been to work for a large law firm. His desire is to put the criminals behind bars, where they belong. He adores his wife and daughter and gets along well with his in-laws.
Cha Min-Ho wasn’t always evil. His older twin brother, Sun-Ho, was the favored son, groomed to take over the very lucrative family business – a huge corporation. When the woman Min-Ho loved was taken from him and given to his brother, strictly for business reasons, Min-Ho began to go off the deep end. He’s violent and doesn’t care who he hurts as long as he comes out on top.
The attorney that helps Jung-Woo tackle his appeal is Seo Eun-Hye. She’s never won a case but that doesn’t stop her from giving Jung-Woo’s case her all. She believes in his innocence and is on his side 100%.
Jung-Woo’s closest friend is Kang Joon-Hyuk. They became prosecutors together and have always fought on the same side. But Joon-Hyuk is the man who prosecuted Jung-Woo’s case, even recommending his long time buddy be given the death penalty for the horrendous crime of killing his family.
Yoon Ji-Soo is the wonderful woman who married Jung-Woo. She is a devoted wife, not interested in money or status, who encourages her husband to be his best. She is a beloved daughter and sister and is a super mother.
The seven year old daughter of Jung-Woo and Ji-Soo is Park Ha-Yeon. She is a well adjusted girl who knows she is loved.
Multi-award-winning veteran actor Ji Sung (born Kwan Tae-Geun), who plays Park Jung-Woo, entered the world of entertainment 18 years ago. Both his parents were educators so it was thought he would be a teacher but in his sophomore year in high school his father gave him a VCR and after watching Dustin Hoffman’s performance in Rain Man (the first movie he rented) he decided to become an actor as well. And I’m so very glad he did. He’s the only actor that’s a repeat star in my top 20 favorite Kdramas (Protect the Boss and Kill Me, Heal Me) and he ties with Ji Chang-Wook as the star whose dramas have received the most perfect 10s in my rating system (Kill Me, Heal Me and now Defendant). He married the woman he was engaged to in the Kdrama Save the Last Dance for Me, Lee Bo-Young, and they have a daughter together.
Uhm Ki-Joon began his career as a theater actor in the play Richard lll. He has been in a host of theater productions – Grease, Singin’ in the Rain, The Three Musketeers, Jack the Ripper, Carmen, Robin Hood, Cinderella, and The Count of Monte Cristo to name just a few. The first thing I remember him in is the Kdrama Golden Cross. He played a bad guy and I recall thinking his evil smirks were quite unsettling. He does the same thing in this show as Cha Min-Ho. He has these looks that say “I’m mentally ill, psychotic” and other facial expressions that say, “I’m perfectly sane, just pure evil.” Creepy.
Kwon Yuri, who plays Attorney Seo Eun-Hye, might have begun her entertainment career as one of the nine members in the Kpop group Girl’s Generation but she’s been working hard on expanding that into the acting field. She has a degree in Theater and Film and has been busy in both movies and TV. This isn’t her first time working with lead actor Ji Sung, though. She made a cameo appearance in his drama Kill Me, Heal Me before playing the main female character in Neighborhood Hero and the title character in the romantic webdrama Go Ho’s Starry Night.
This was my first time seeing Oh Chang-Seok act. This isn’t his first role, by any means, but I had never seen him before. He has been in three motion pictures and aside from 2011 he’s been in one drama every year since 2008, it’s just that none of them are shows I’ve seen. I thought he did a great job as Prosecutor Kang Joon-Hyuk. He has a very interesting part in the story.
Because Jung-Woo lost his memory we find out what happened (what transpired that caused him to receive a death row prison sentence) one tiny slice of reality at a time. It’s kind of like we remember what happened right along with him. Lots of the story is told in flashbacks which bring along those “Ah ha” moments. You know what I mean – when we learn something that clears up the question that had been floating around in our thoughts for quite some time.
I’m not a huge fan of prison movies (I was really uncomfortable watching the prison scenes in the drama Secret Love and I actually quit watching Padam Padam after the first episode because the scenes of what was going on in the prison made me antsy) so I was a bit apprehensive beginning this show. However, I was happily surprised to discover the prison scenes aren’t bad at all. In fact, the people Jung-Woo shares a cell with are decent guys we come to care about. At times it’s almost like those five men are dorm roommates and not prison cellmates.
There’s a scene in the show that made me cheer right out loud. I want to tell you about its cleverness but then that would spoil the “cheering” surprise for you. I’ll just let you know one of the characters refers to himself as Transformers‘ leading good guy – Optimus Prime. It happens at a perfect time and I couldn’t hold back a smile and a “Woo Hoo!” It’s great and you’ll love it. (He keeps referring to it throughout the rest of the show, too, after that one “Woo Hoo” scene.) Clever, clever writing.
When I found out who Defendant‘s screenwriter was I thought, no wonder I enjoyed its twisty-turny storyline so much – Choi Soo-Jin, the same person who wrote my perfectly scored City Hunter, penned this crime/thriller also. And Jo Young-Gwang, Defendant‘s director, was also responsible for the direction of the excellent psychological drama Hyde, Jekyll, Me which had a mystery woven into its love story. Defendant not only has excellence in front of its cameras but behind them as well.
While watching this perfect show I was a bit disappointed when I got to one spot that made me think, “Wait a second… they goofed.” At first I thought there was an inconsistency but was able to brush it away after I realized it was an easy thing to rectify. (A bad guy is buried in the ground up to his neck but when he’s escorted to the prosecutor’s office his clothes are nice and clean. Mistake? No. If I were the prosecutor who buried the guy I’d certainly buy him clean clothes before I took him to the authorities. You don’t want proof of what you did all over the guy’s clothing, now, do you?)
Defendant is 18 episodes long and worth every second you’ll spend on it. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Its ratings prove lots of Kdrama fans agree with me. Its last episode recorded a 28.3% nationwide rating (30.3% in the capital city of Seoul), the best rating of any Kdrama Ji Sung’s starred in to date.
San E, one of the most successful rappers in mainstream Korean music, performs Till the End, my favorite song on the entire soundtrack. It fits perfectly with the high energy of the drama. Son Dong-Woon, a member of the group Highlight (formerly known as Beast), sings the song Dreaming Now. It’s just the kind of background music a dream sequence in a movie would have. The instrumental opening/theme song has the absolute perfect sound for this drama – peace morphing into fast paced, uneasy, and unpredictable.
The scenery is mostly prison, courtrooms, prosecutors’ offices, and the big, fancy rooms in the life of wealthy Cha Min-Ho. Every single spot and every single camera angle on those spots are excellent for telling this high-tension, mystery story.
I’m going to end this review begging you to place Defendant right at the top of your watch list. In fact, as soon as you finish whatever you’re involved in now, find Defendant (I saw it on Viki) and start it. Then, when you’re done, watch (if you haven’t already) Ji Sung in Kill Me, Heal Me, Protect the Boss, Secret Love, and Entertainer. Every Kdrama fan owes themself a Ji Sung marathon, and Defendant is a great place to begin – total awesomeness!
Ji Sung is fantastic (once again)
Superb, emotional acting
Unsettling bad guy
Very interesting, diverse characters
Scenery is perfect for the storyline
Soundtrack is excellent
Not one single thing