Review: The Jury’s In: “Prosecutor Princess” Wins Hearts

This review was written for and originally appeared in the Korean Quarterly.

Some people choose their dramas because a particular actor or actress has been cast as a lead, others because they are fans of a particular genre (“I never miss a good sageuk”), but there is much to be said for choosing a drama based on its writer. “Prosecutor Princess” is a case in point; while this writer is very much a fan of Shi-hoo Park for his work in “Iljimae” and “How to Meet a Perfect Neighbor,” and was impressed by So-yeon Kim’s work in “Iris” and “Gourmet,” the knowledge that Hyun-Kyung So penned the script made this a must-see. So was responsible for the excellent 2009 melodrama “Shining Inheritance” and another successful outing in one of 2011’s best dramas, “49 Days.” Writer So has a genuine gift for creating characters grounded in honest emotion and substance, and when that is combined with talented and charismatic actors, you know you’re in for a treat.

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Kim So-yeon and Park Shi-hoo


One of the hallmarks of a So story is the natural and progressive growth that characters will experience during the course of the story and “Princess” is no exception. The story begins by introducing us to new lawyer Ma Hye-ri (So-yeon Kim) who will clearly not fit the stodgy image of most lawyers. She attends her graduation ceremonies in a wardrobe fit for Carrie Bradshaw of “Sex and the City,” like a peacock amongst the crows, and shows a frivolous side in her actions as well. She’s opted to join the Prosecutor’s office but, rather than attend the new lawyer orientation session, she treats herself to a shopping trip — one with a very specific agenda — to score some pricey designer shoes at an exclusive auction to be held at a ski resort. She’s aided and abetted in this by her mother (played by veteran character actress Hee-kyung Ae), who endures a few insults from Hye-ri’s father (Jung-woo Choi) gladly if it means that her daughter is happy.

“Crime” doesn’t pay

Hye-ri’s plans, however, don’t run smoothly. While at the resort her belongs, including cell phone and wallet are stolen, and someone has mysteriously cancelled her room reservation, stranding her and leaving her without the wherewithal to pursue her desired objective: a pair of designer Gioberni shoes. Someone else is occupying her room, an attractive young man by the name of Seo In-woo, who in learning of her plight offers to share the room with her — and his date. She assumes he means for illicit purposes and stalks off, but attends the auction all the same and attempts to complete her mission. Now we see how she managed to get through law school; the girl is single-minded, dedicated, and resourceful. Unfortunately, she’s not the only one interested in the auction. It’s also the scene of a prosecutorial investigation, looking to capture a high-end counterfeiter. This stakeout is headed up by Prosecutor Yoon Se-joon (played by Jung-soo Han, who most recently made hearts flutter in “Chuno”), a dedicated, action-oriented, and single-minded individual. To say that things do not go as intended for Hye-ri and Prosecutor Yoon would be an understatement. Only (perhaps) Seo In-woo got what he came for this evening!

Back to the city, Ma Hye-ri reports to the Prosecutor’s office in her completely inappropriately high fashion, high heeled wardrobe to take up her assigned position and, sure enough, it happens to be the same one where Yoon Se-joon is a lead prosecutor. Still stinging from his failed stakeout thanks to events that unfolded and her role in them, he pretends to not recognize her. There’s something else going on as well, having to do with that level of recognition, could it be attraction? Interest? Whatever the emotion, he bottles it up well and maintains a stiff, all-business approach, though he’s dismayed to learn he’s assigned to be her lead in the office. This doesn’t sit well with another prosecutor, Jin Jung-sun (Song-hyun Choi), who is the female counterpart to the flashy Hye-ri, appropriately dressed in suit, stodgy glasses, and sober haircut. This solid, respectable citizen and civil servant has a beating heart under her drab clothes and it beats for the widower Se-joon.

Role Model, Mentor, and Man of Mystery – Lucky Hye-ri!

As Hye-ri’s professional career begins on a less than enthusiastic welcoming note, we begin to see a little more of Seo In-woo’s background unfold. He’s apparently also a lawyer, one who picks and chooses his cases based on his own inclinations — and rarely loses a case. For some reason he’s very interested in Hye-ri, and has been keeping a close eye on her actions, with the assistance of his colleague Jenny Ahn (Jun-ah Park). At every turn he puts himself in front of Hye-ri, acting as savior, friend, sympathetic shoulder, and you could even say as a mentor. Because Hye-ri needs a mentor. While she knows the law, she has a blind side to understanding the human side of the law. And she also has a fairly blithe disregard for many of the “do it for the team” side of the workplace, especially a Korean workplace. She refuses to work overtime as she’s a civil servant (there will always be more work, she’s not paid overtime, if they have more work to do they should hire more workers, so why bother?) and puts her well-shod foot wrong in a few cases, leaving her ostracized. In fact, in short order no one wants to work with her and she’s shuttled off to her own office and given no work to do in the hopes that she’ll quit. In-woo, for mysterious reasons, can’t have this and steps in to give her work and guide her into being a contributing member of the prosecutorial staff.

You could say that this drama is fundamentally a mystery, masquerading as a fluffy romance — at least it seems to be a fluffy romance initially, with Ma Hye-ri in her flirty skirts, sky-high heels, and girly office accoutrements. (And oh, how her two assigned staffers hate the ridiculously feminine touches all around them!) But little by little secrets are revealed about each of our characters. Why is Hye-ri so certain that you can’t count on the love of others so you must love yourself first and foremost? Why is her mother obsessed with her weight?

The answers to those questions reveal a particularly poignant and contemporary touch to the story; the way people are treated in a relationship shapes their perceptions of relationships in the future. The marriage you see your parents’ having informs your view of your own potential relationships. It’s a smallish detail in the grand scheme of things, but it’s one of those character and plot points that goes a long way in helping the viewer understand why Ma Hye-ri acts the way she does and makes her growth as a person all the more meaningful. Early on you could say that the plot takes a few cues from “Legally Blonde,” but by the midway point in the drama the differences become more distinct and for a simple reason: Hye-ri does not really see herself as a beautiful person with a brain. She is someone who’s worked hard to make the most of her attributes, both physical and mental, but doesn’t have the blithe confidence of Elle Woods, as you will discover. This makes her progressive improvements in her career more plausible and the character more likeable.

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Park Shi-hoo confuses and bemuses Kim So-yeon’s Prosecutor Princess

Even more significantly, the flow of the story brings us more and more curious behavior from In-woo and then finally the tide turns and we begin to get the details on how and why he’s acting the way he does. Why exactly is he so interested in Hye-ri to the point of deserving an order of protection writ against him for stalking (which of course does not really happen because if he didn’t follow her every move, how else would we get to see how absolutely adorable he is?) Best to let you discover this for yourself: telling would be spoiling!

The story comes complete with a sort of love quadrangle: In-woo obsesses over Hye-ri; Hye-ri comes to have a serious crush on the dedicated Se-joon; Jung-sun longs to have Se-joon look her way too; Se-joon is kind of hung up on his deceased wife who happens to have looked a lot like Hye-ri, but he respects Jung-sun as a colleague and mother figure to his young daughter; and Hye-ri feels very comfortable with and relies upon In-woo. Is that complicated enough? The beauty of it is that Writer So manages to make the stories work and the actors bring the characters to life.

So-yeon Kim reveals a deft touch with the rom-com genre and is successful with playing a woman who is not cool, elegant, or a North Korean assassin. She’s smart, but kind of a screw up. She’s warm-hearted, but lacks a certain amount of common sense. She’s got great instincts for the law it turns out, but she’s also sometimes shortsighted when it comes to planning. It seems like Kim’s trying too hard to play ditzy and frivolous and that may turn off some viewers (as it did some friends of this writer), but once she starts relaxing into her role as a prosecutor, So-yeon Kim let’s us see that sharp brain of Hye-ri’s as it starts to click. The reasons for hiding that brain come to light and we are let into the character’s inner world of hurt thanks to Kim’s performance, just as we come to see the day-to-day bravery of the young woman to cope with heartache and cruel expectations.

Stop! Thief! (No… Don’t!)

Shi-hoo Park is a well-known scene-stealer — he’s twice been cast as the second lead and ended up with the girl due to changes in the story in previous dramas — and it’s clear to see how and why he’s moved up to first lead position. With such a handsome contender as Jung-soo Han, who brings a smile to any girl’s face with his cheekbones and stellar physique, it seems that he’s the primary candidate for the love interest. But Park has a way of sneaking up on you and making you connect with him emotionally.

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Known scene-stealer Park Shi-hoo and gorgeous Kim So-yeon shine


When we first see him in the drama there are times when he’s almost creepy, and others when he’s definitely creepy! There’s that smile of his when he is trying to charm Hye-ri, or deflect her attention — it’s just a little… off. It’s the right touch to make us suspicious of him, and so we should be. But as we learn that he’s carrying some serious and painful secrets of his own and his face takes on a more guarded and tentative expression, or one that slips and reveals his truthful feelings, then all bets are off on who’s going to get the girl! The question is no longer whom, but when (and maybe how). It’s maybe a strange thing to say, but one of the things that Park excels at is looking anguished, so storm clouds on the horizon in a drama mean that he’s going to break your heart and make you swoon just a little bit more!

As with the prior year’s “Shining Inheritance,” this drama deals with a “sins of the father” storyline and raises the issue of filial duty. It’s the central driver for “Prosecutor Princess,” in fact, and represents a satisfactory mystery. It unfolds at a fairly rapid pace in the latter episodes, but the pacing does not seem to rush the impact of the story. You’re not left wondering how things happened and why, and for those who prefer to have dramas that focus on the relationships-side of the story, this tidying up of that aspect of the plot allows a satisfying amount of time to allow our protagonists to sort themselves out romantically.

And at the end of the case of “Prosecutor Princess,” the verdict is in: it’s entertaining and well-spun yarn with performances from a telegenic and likeable cast, well worth your time. Make plans to see it, and if you haven’t already had the chance to explore the works of Hyun-kyung So, add “Shining Inheritance” and “49 Days” to your viewing list as well!

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