At the beginning, South Korean courtroom drama “Minority Opinion” emphasizes that it is entirely fictional, but I and others in the screening room knew well that its angry story reflects the reality we all are very familiar with. After all, it is clearly inspired by a real-life incident which happened several years ago, and most of us could already see that its characters would go through a long, difficult fight as struggling against the powerful and corrupt system. They want justice, but they are only reminded of how hopeless their small fight is – and how much they will pay for that.
Everything begins from the big clash between a riot police unit and a group of defiant people refusing to be evicted from their neighbourhood which is being ready for redevelopment. The authorities are determined to drag out these people from their place by any means necessary, and they even allow hired goons to participate in this police operation. The demonstrators led by Jae-ho (Lee Kyeong-yeong) are also quite determined to hold their position, and we see bottles of Molotov cocktail when the movie looks into their place.
While many reporters are already around the site, the police eventually begins its riot suppression operation, and the situation becomes very violent and chaotic. All of the demonstrators are arrested as planned in the end, but the police find that they have a very serious problem. Jae-ho’s young son died during the operation, and one young policeman was killed by Jae-ho around the same time. Jae-ho claims that the dead policeman killed his son, but the police say his son was killed by one of the hired goons.
His lawyer Jin-won (Yoon Kye-sang), a small-time lawyer who reluctantly agrees to be Jae-ho’s public defender, has lots of good reasons to be cynical about his client’s upcoming trial. Jae-ho admitted his killing, but there is nothing to prove that his claim is true. The prosecution already gets the confession from that hired goon in question, and the prosecutor assigned to the case is fully ready to punish Jae-ho hard for his manslaughter.
Jin-won tries to do as much as he can as his client’s lawyer, but he begins to see how unfair the system can be to a targeted individual. He requests a permission to examine the police record several times, but his requests are always denied by the prosecutor and other legal authorities. There is also an absurd scene where the police commissioner is virtually exempted by the prosecution from any responsibility for whatever happened during the riot suppression operation. Everyone in the system is connected with each other in one way or another, and they are surely good at covering each other if that is required.
Though a young reporter named Soo-kyeong (Kim Ok-bin), Jin-won comes to see more of the big picture surrounding his legal defense. It seems that the government is heavily involved with some big construction company behind the redevelopment project, and we are also told about how the government can distract the public attention through a media tactic which has worked pretty well on many people in South Korea. Whenever something scandalous happens in the government, it is usually followed by heaps of reports on some other sensational case, and that tactic becomes more effective especially in our digital era when everything is quickly read and discarded hour by hour.
While it looks like he is up against the wall, Jin-won gets a good idea. First, he requests that the trial should be a public one with jury. Meanwhile, he and his partner/senior Dae-seok (Yoo Hae-jin) file a lawsuit for damages against the government, and they demand the government the public apology along with the indemnity no more than 100 won (it is less than 10 cent, by the way). They receive lots of attention from media and people as a result, and that gives the prosecution major headaches although that side is still the one with power and influence.
The courtroom scenes in the movie are infuriating to watch at times for many absurdities to behold. Even when it becomes quite clear to everyone in the court that everything is set in advance, the trial continues with the judge’s passive consent while the prosecution can get away with many things. Jin-won succeeds at throwing several good jabs at his opponent during the trial, but he finds himself more cornered both inside and outside the court, and even his client lets him down at one point.
The adapted screenplay by the director Kim Seong-je and his co-writer Cheon Seong-il, which is based on Son Ah-ram’s novel with the same name, often stumbles in its attempt to draw its big picture of social injustice and corruption. There are a number of moments when the characters make unwise choices just because it is demanded by the plot, and the story feels dragged especially during the middle part. Fortunately, the movie begins to regain its momentum during its third act, and it gives us several strong dramatic moments while never pushing them too far. The occasional moments of humor are mixed well into the film to lighten up the mood a bit for the audiences, and I especially like a funny scene involved with the hearing on Jin-won’s ‘misconduct’ by the Korean Bar Association.
Kim also assembled the impressive cast for his film. While Yoon Kye-sang is the reliable center of the story, Yoo Hae-jin steals the show with his another likeable supporting performance, and Kim Ok-bin brings some feisty spirit to her colorless character even though she frequently seems to be wasted in the movie. The other notable actors including Lee Kyeong-young, Kim Ee-seong, Jang Gwang, Park Tae-min, Kwon Hae-hyo, Eom Tae-goo also have their own moments in their respective supporting roles, and they work together well as parts of the ensemble performance in the film.
Although it was made in 2013, “Minority Opinion” somehow did not get the chance of being released in South Korea until this year, and some speculated that its distribution company had shelved it because it did not want to anger the government. While it is not successful in some parts, the movie is an engaging courtroom drama with the sharp social criticism on the South Korean legal system, and it certainly leaves us something to think about when it is over.