South Korean film “The Advocate: A Missing Body”, which is released as “Angry Lawyer” in South Korea, feels like an expensive TV pilot episode right from its opening title scene. First, we are introduced to a hero with considerable reputation in his profession, and then we see how his life and career are turned upside down due to one tricky case – and how he comes to arrive at a turning point which will possibly lead to other interesting cases for him in the future.
Lee Seon-gyoon plays a hotshot lawyer named Byeon Ho-seong, whose name is probably a pun on “Byeonhosa” (it means lawyer in Korean). In the opening scene, he is handling a civil lawsuit against some powerful pharmaceutical corporation, and we see how this wily guy makes a successful defending argument for his wealthy client in the courtroom. He is interested only in protecting his client’s interest and winning the case, and he does not give a damn about whether a newly developed drug manufactured by his client has a serious side effect as claimed by the plaintiff lawyer. Even if that were true, he would then adjust it just for his win (and a big paycheck, of course)
Not long after his another success in the courtroom, there comes a case which initially looks pretty simple. Ho-seong is asked to defend a man who was recently arrested as the prime suspect of a brutal murder case, and he accepts this case as a favor to one of his clients although his new client seems guilty as charged by a young prosecutor who was once Ho-seong’s junior during his early years in the prosecution.
However, as looking more into the case, Ho-seong begins to see that he actually has a good chance for getting his new client acquitted. Along with his assistant, he searches for anything the police might have missed at the crime scene, and it turns out there are several things suspicious enough for reasonable doubts. Besides, there is one perplexing element in this case; the victim’s body was not found at the crime scene, and it has not been discovered yet, while the police only speculate that their prime suspect somehow took care of it before he hurriedly left the crime scene right in front of an eyewitness.
This is certainly an intriguing setting for courtroom mystery drama, but then the movie shifts its gear onto thriller mode once an unexpected thing happens during the trial. Angry and humiliated, Ho-seong is determined to dig deeper into the case, but then he comes to learn that his case is a lot more complicated than he thought. He soon finds himself pushed toward a dire circumstance with a very little chance of clean exit, and this may be the end of his career if he is not very careful about every move he is going to make.
As Ho-seong tries to find any possible way for getting out of his impossible situation, the screenplay by Choi Kwan-yeong and Lee Gong-joo maintains well its level of interest even when it becomes very predictable after Ho-seong makes a certain decision during its second half. The mystery in the film is solved a bit too early, but that moment, which clarifies many things in the story before it moves onto the next step, is accompanied with the satisfaction of a solved puzzle. While the movie lightens up its mood with some humor, we are constantly reminded of what is being at stake for Ho-seong and a few other characters in the film, and there are a couple of suspenseful moments when he must think and act fast within short time.
Since I came to notice his excellent performance in “Paju” (2009), Lee Seon-gyoon has steadily delivered solid performances in a number of recent South Korean films, and he is well-cast here as a slick, sardonic lawyer with some petty sides. Ho-seong frequently behaves like a selfish jerk, but he is a smart guy to watch as Lee imbues his character with personality and presence, and Lee is good especially when his character must depend solely on his wit. There is a tense sequence where Ho-seong must take care of an unconscious body before it is too late, and that reminds me of “A Hard Day” (2014), in which Lee plays a corrupt cop who attempts to hide a body as soon as possible for saving his position.
In case of the supporting performers revolving around Lee, they mostly fill their broad archetype characters who can easily be defined right from their first appearance, and some of them are relatively more notable in spite of their underdeveloped characters. While Kim Go-eun is a feisty female prosecutor determined to solve the case, Im Won-hee provides small moments for laughs as Ho-seong’s goofy but resourceful assistant with an unlikely background, and we may meet their characters again if a sequel happens to be made.
Compared to other similar films like “The Lincoln Lawyer” (2011), “The Advocate: A Missing Body” is less colorful and distinctive, but the director Heo Jong-ho did a fairly nice job of mixing different elements into a coherent package, and I enjoyed its clever moments along with Lee’s performance although I also found that it sometimes relies a little too much on contrived coincidences (Ho-seong’s plan during the climax part requires lots of luck and good timing beyond his control, for instance). It still looks like an average TV pilot episode on the whole, but it feels like a competent one none the less, with considerable potentials for next stories to follow. I do not know whether there will really be a sequel, but I’d love to see whether it will go further with the potentials glimpsed from this entertaining film.