Saturday, August 20, 2022

Extraordinary Attorney Woo

"Extraordinary Attorney Woo" (2022) with an autistic lead has impressed me the most of any television series seen this year.  The Autism Spectrum Disorder is becoming a more common theme.  More of us now realize it is in society and we will likely encounter one variation or another.  Increasing our awareness in an entertaining way is challenging, but they pull it off.  If you like stories of overcoming obstacles and some really smart twists you will not be disappointed.

 Those looking for entertainment can find it with odd antics and the soap opera elements.  Those who are looking for something deeper will find more comments and segments that illustrate the feelings of autistics.  Almost as important we watch those who live and work with autistics how they deal with the odd behavior that can be disruptive or frustrating.     

Hans Asperger was an Austrian physician who worked with children who learned of a Russian scientist's work.  He was associated with Nazis and there is some uncertainty about his role.  He identified some autistic youngsters who did useful work as adults.  He helped develop the concept of autism spectrum disorder.   Attorney Woo is on the high end of the spectrum.

Woo is a graduate who topped her law class, but couldn't get a job interview.  After six months an old friend of her father decides to offer her an opportunity.  She does display a number of annoying habits, but with her unbelievable memory is able to uncover some otherwise overlooked legal strategies. Sometimes identifies with clients, even against law firm strategy.  She over reacts to loud noises by covering her ears and shaking.

The series depicts mostly odd cases.  She is disruptive, but the team she is on is mostly (not totally) supportive.  For one case she is summoned because the accused is another autistic.  However this young man is quite different and she doesn't relate any better than the others.  This prompts her to discuss with her father and we get a perspective on his attitude.  The father feels he does not get an appreciation of his efforts.  We appreciate that autistics are diverse, some being highly functional and others far down in functionality.  She does solve the communication problem and we learn it is easy to misunderstand one another.

Autistics are supposed to be unable to lie or detect a lie and for a lawyer that can be fatal.  Woo gets some coaching from a colleague and a close friend.  It is humorous, but also reflective.

Another interesting case, more because it hits close to home is a sexual assault on a mentally disabled woman.  Is she being taken advantage of or does she have the right to find love however it comes? 

Other of society's problems such as pressure on teenagers and younger children receive coverage.

Legal details can become boring after awhile, but the series really focuses on the people.  Another theme was that legal expertise is a commodity that some can afford better than others and thus subvert justice.  We see this element in lots of courtroom films, but this time viewing from the perspective of a relatively naive lawyer. 

Her closest friend is a school mate who beat up some of her tormentors, but at first did not want to be friends.  In some of the episodes she gives critical advice, but with lots of humor. 

Her father is very supportive, but feels a lack of affection from her.  She in reality owes her very life to him.  At one point she embarrasses him with a complaining customer in his restaurant and he disowns her (for the moment).  He is very protective and is unsure if he made all the right decisions.

Almost everyone feels they need a way to contain Woo's enthusiasm.  She is apt to interrupt conversations when she gets a flash of insight, but very often she advances understanding.

Her hiring at first causes some resentment which is gradually overcome.  She has the ability to remember large amounts of information and is able to recall important details that help direct a defense.  Still one colleague is especially upset and uncovers that she was hired through nepotism.  In reality despite having the top ranking from legal education, no one would even interview her until her father's friend, a law firm CEO decided for her own reasons to take a chance .

The plot has some clever twists which I am reluctant to give away.  Just before half we learn that the head of a rival law firm is Woo's mother.  And Woo admits that she admired her before she learns the connection. 

There is a romance and like many series it has very deep psychological barriers.  How does an autistic person who does not like to be touched, or to hold hands develop a relation with a "neuro typical"?   Gradually and requiring a lot of patience on the other side and there will be lots of disapproval and a setback.  A hug is used to reduce stress to Woo when dealing with loud noises.

One heart wrenching scene is when Woo realizes she is too self centered and her partner would end up being lonely--she heard from people who were lonely because their partner was too self absorbed elsewhere.  Two lines I remember but don't want to put in context   "unrequited love for a cat"  and a little later in the same conversation "but cats love their owners."  

Jejeu Island is the location for two episodes which is like a working vacation that also illustrates that although the law firm can be almost ruthless on behalf of their clients they also like to do work that benefits the greater community.   

Something this enjoyable series has a lot of capable people.   Here are a few.

Director Yu In-sik has been involved with tv. series since 2005.

Writer Ji-Won Moon with his first series.  Previously he scripted a feature film that focused on an autistic witness for a crime.

Eun-bin Park plays the lead, a very challenging task.  She could opt to make her a comic figure or perhaps to attract sympathy, but the role is both funny  (at times) and realistic.  It was decided not to model any specific person.  She had appeared in "The King's Affection" (2021) where she was a woman masquerading as a man in order to be the king (and stay alive).  Check:

Tae-on Kang plays the lead male.  He found himself in a delicate position, falling for a woman with odd and sometimes disruptive behavior.  He realized early that he couldn't start an intimate relationship without a long term commitment.  Recently he had a cameo role in "Thirty-nine" (2022).

Jeon Bae-soo plays the father.  At first it seems strange that we learn he has law books at home and graduated from law school, but now runs a restaurant.  He is protective of his daughter who shows him virtually no affection.  His credits include "Masquerade" (2012) and "The Wailing" (2016)

Kang Ki-young  played the supervisor of Woo who mostly appears calm, however he gets to display a wider range of emotions.  He has been in numerous films and tv series since 2014, mostly in supporting roles.

Joo Jong-Hyuk played a male legal colleague who tried to undercut Woo.  This is his third series.

Yoon-kyesong Ha plays Choi Soo Yeon, Woo's colleague who had gone to school with her.  This is her third series.

Jin Kyung plays Tae Soo Mi,  head of a rival major law firm,  You may dislike her, but she is very smooth and is not the most devious.  She has been in films and series since 2014, including "Assassination" (2015).

In one episode, Lee-Bong-Ryu played an opposing lawyer who instead of working for a big firm preferred to work for her own firm where she could represent female causes.  I knew I had seen her elsewhere, but in fact had got her name mixed up with the wrong actress.  She trained to be a photographer and got into a musical and from there into regular theatre where she was discovered by recent Oscar winner Bong Joon Ho who cast her in "Okja" (2017), a joint Korean American film.  She later appeared in "Burning" (2018) and the tv. series "Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha" (2021).  She still does musical and regular theatre.  Check 

For me this has been the most engaging series for this year.  It shows a deeper dimension of autism than I have seen elsewhere.  Inevitably there are lots of comedic scenes and the legal cases seem selected to highlight the autistic lead.   Romance plays a role, but again illustrative of autism.  An intricate plot seems to point in a direction, but at the end there is a twist.  There is a theme that large firms represent their clients while other law firms are more apt to be concerned about causes.  In short it is entertaining and thought provoking.

A second season is being negotiated for 2024.  What actors and crew would be retained or what new ones hired?  What story lines to follow up and new ones to be developed?  I have confidence it will be worth the wait.

An excellent book that explains what it is like to be autistic from an inside view check:

An earlier Korean series with with a leading character with autism:

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