Versus (abbreviated vs.) means to go against or compete; the football game this week is Army vs. Navy. But it also means compared to; the texture of frozen yogurt vs. ice cream. When I first saw the title of this drama, Judge vs. Judge, I expected it to be a rivalry between a male and female judge – the first definition. I waited for the sparing to begin, but there was none. They worked together well and were a great team. So why the “vs.”? Then I realized it had to be the second definition. Thinking of it that way made more sense because these two judges are different and we find out how as the drama progresses.
“The desire for what is right, not the letter of the law, is what keeps justice alive.” – Judge Oh Ji-Rak
When Lee Jung-Joo was in high school she watched as Judge Yoo Myung-Hee sentenced her older brother to 20 years in prison for the rape and murder of a middle school girl. Because her brother admitted to the grisly deed Jung-Joo changed her name and refused to ever have anything more to do with him. The judge presiding over his trial encouraged Jung-Joo to become a judge herself and now, many years later, she sits on a panel as a judge in the Seoul District Court. One day she finds out her brother may not have been the perpetrator after all. The new judge she has been assigned to work with, Sa Ui-Hyun, helps her investigate the possibility of her brother’s innocence and what they come up with is very disturbing to both of them – there’s a slight chance Prosecutor Do Ha-Joon (Ui-Hyun’s childhood friend and the man who likes Jung-Joo) has something to do with all this. As more and more evidence of what really happened over ten years ago comes to light, Jung-Joo’s brother is killed in prison. With the help of Judge Ui-Hyun will Jung-Joo be able to catch the real rapist/murderer after so many years in order to clear her brother’s name?
Known as Judge Knucklehead, Lee Jung-Joo definitely lives up to her reputation – ripping off her robe, standing on top of the bench (judges’ table), and screaming obscenities at a defendant. Her job means everything to her and she doesn’t hesitate to skip food and sleep to spend the entire night working on a case. Because her mother died while she was in high school, she was adopted by her aunt and changed her name. They live together in a humble apartment and she gets to and from work with the aid of public transportation. She has known Prosecutor Do Ha-Joon for many years and sees him as a very close friend, nothing more. She thinks of his mother, Judge Yoo Myung-Hee, very highly and credits the woman for her career choice.
Sa Ui-Hyun is incredibly intelligent and has always been at the top of his class. He studied in the U.S. at Harvard Law School and became famous for de-escalating a hostage situation while he was there. Although he is not without sympathy, he is not one to allow his emotions to override the law. He is serious, soft-spoken, and methodical in everything he does and you don’t often see him smile or laugh. Because his father has been friends with Do Ha-Joon’s parents since they were in college, Ui-Hyun is also close to the family. He lives at home with his father who was a judge before Ui-Hyun was born and then permanently hung up his robe to become an attorney with his own very successful law firm.
Do Ha-Joon has been friends with Ui-Hyun since they were small boys. They spent time at each others homes and went to school together. Although Ui-Hyun chose to become a judge Ha-Joon decided to take the prosecutor route and is a very good one, although he carries with him the same nickname he gave Jung-Joo – Knucklehead. His mother was the judge in Jung-Joo’s brother’s case so he has known and been close to her for many years. In fact, he has his heart set on marrying her. His personality is pretty much the opposite of Ui-Hyun’s – he drives a motorcycle, laughs and jokes all the time, and is outgoing and sociable. Lately, Ui-Hyun has been distant but Ha-Joon is determined to not let their life-long camaraderie slip away.
Would you believe 25 year old Park Eun-Bin, who plays the part of Judge Lee Jung-Joo, has been in a total of 41 dramas, seven feature films, 11 music videos, and one theater production? It’s true. She debuted at the young age of just seven years old. Her first role came in 1998 when she appeared in the drama White Knights 3.98 in the role of Choi So-Young. I first became aware of her in the romantic time travel drama Operation Proposal, which happened to be her first leading role. I loved that show. I’ll never forget hearing the song A Little Love Story on the drama and thinking, “That girl’s voice sounds an awful lot like Ham Yi-Seul’s (her character) voice.” And I turned out to be right! She did sing that song for the show.
Born Kim Bong-Hoe, Yeon Woo-Jin, whose character is Judge Sa Ui-Hyun, began his entertainment career as a model in 2007 for Seoul Fashion Week and then for jeans brand Evisu the following year. In 2010 he played a teacher in the daily drama All My Love but he really began getting attention in 2011 with his role as the youngest brother in the drama Ojakgyo Family. His first leading role came in the form of a four episode drama special entitled Just an Ordinary Love Story. That’s an excellent show I highly recommend with two thumbs up. He’s been in a bunch of TV dramas and films over the years. I didn’t like his role as a sneaky stab-you-in-the-back sort of guy in the drama When a Man Falls in Love but I loved him in A Divorce Lawyer in Love, My Shy Boss, and Queen for Seven Days.
This is my favorite Kdrama having to do with the law/courts. The writing is very good and keeps us on our toes, guessing who the real bad guy is over and over again. Evidence points to one person and then something else will be uncovered that points to a new suspect and that’s exactly what a good mystery should do. I did finally figure out “who done it” and why but, like my experience watching Wild Romance, it wasn’t until just before they came right out and told us.
There are a few things I learned watching Judge vs. Judge. If what the character said is correct, South Korea is trying to keep people out of the prison system – “In these times when we’re leaning away from imprisonment…” Also, I guess South Korea has never convicted someone and then had it later proven they were innocent – “… if I prove her innocence in her retrial, it’d be the first in Korean history. No convicts have ever applied for retrial and have been proven innocent.” Interesting. I also found out that what we in America call a vending machine they call a “wall cafe.” I like that. It sounds classy.
I want to give a small paragraph to Judge vs. Judge‘s writer, Seo In, and it’s director, Lee Kwang-Young. They worked really well together. I always like it when I’m able to back up my thoughts and feelings, like in this case. I was impressed with the directing and camera angles in this show and when I looked to see what else Lee Kwang-Young was credited for I discovered that name right next to the director spot (along side Hong Sung-Chang’s) of the Kdrama Entertainer. I remember I said the same thing about the directing in that show. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any information on screenwriter Seo In. However, I will say these characters were well thought out with diverse personalities yet each one is likable in their own way. Also, the mystery is excellent.
Judge vs. Judge is one of those rare dramas that has a full and complete ending. The mystery is solved and then we get quite a bit of content that takes place after everything is wrapped up. We see what’s happened to these characters’ lives after the situation that brought them together has been taken care of and I, for one, enjoy that.
There’s not a lot of music in Judge vs. Judge. Most of what we do hear, though, is instrumental so words don’t get in the way of the thinking we have to do in order to discover who the villain is. The few songs that do have vocals are very nice. Air ManGirl duet the song entitled Good Day. Their voices compliment each other and their harmonizing is what really makes the song wonderful. That Much is performed by Lucia. The song starts out with just her voice, which is very breathy, and a piano. An acoustic guitar is also easy to hear a little further into the song. And there’s what sounds like a cello about halfway through and at the end of the piece. It’s not the usual sound we hear in drama music so I really liked the idea. It kind of gives the song a sad sound. Taru sings the upbeat song Tok Tok. She is accompanied by just an acoustic guitar throughout most of the song but the music builds, adding electric guitars and percussion. I really like that particular song.
As for scenery, Jung-Joo and Ui-Hyun share a fairly decent sized office. And the courtroom is classy but lacks warmth. Ui-Hyun and Ha-Joon live in their parents’ homes, both big, elaborate, and expensive whereas the apartment Jung-Joo lives in with her mother is fairly small. Watch carefully for the sparkling lit snow globes Jung-Joo has. One is at home by her bed and the other is on her desk at work. The fact that she has two makes it seem like she really enjoys them and not like the props department just put random things up. Jung-Joo having one at home and one at work shows us she sincerely likes them. Nice touch.
If you are in any way interested in the law I think you’ll enjoy this drama because it’s not just entertaining, it’s also informative. I’ve chosen to close my Judge vs. Judge review with a quote from the show. According to Judge Kim Min-Sang…
“Judges have honor, prosecutors have authority, and lawyers have wealth.”
Very good acting
Thumbs up writing
We learn a bit about the law
Nothing I consider bad