South Korean film “Juror 8” is a familiar but enjoyable courtroom comedy drama which delivers its points well while also entertaining its audiences enough. Although it is instantly reminiscent of other similar films such as Sidney Lumet’s “12 Angry Men” (1957), the movie is still as a conventional but engaging product, and you will have a fairly good time with it even though you can see through its story and characters right from the beginning.
Loosely inspired by a courtroom case in 2008 which had jurymen for the first time in the South Korean legal history, the movie tells us a fictional story mainly revolving around a female judge and a bunch of different citizens selected as the jurors for the trial over which she is going to preside. Because the trial has drawn lots of public attention due to its unprecedented inclusion of civilians in the process, there have certainly been lots of expectation and pressure on Judge Kim Joon-gyeom (Moon So-ri), but she is not someone who can be easily daunted, and she and her two assistant judges promptly embark on selecting eight jurors from various civilian candidates handed to them.
In the end, eight civilians are selected as jurors, and the movie comes to pay more attention to Nam-woo (Park Hyung-sik), a young man who has been struggling to get a business breakthrough via the latest product concocted by him. When he is interviewed by Judge Kim and her two assistant judges, his answers to her several questions are not that exemplary, but he eventually becomes Juror No.8 probably because of his earnest attitude, and we soon see him joining other seven jurors for the upcoming trial.
When they finally enter the courtroom under the supervision of Judge Kim, it looks like they will just spend a few hours on reviewing the case, which seems to be a simple case of murder on the surface. A poor disabled man was arrested for murdering his old mother for getting social welfare money, and he has already pleaded guilty in addition to his following confession of murder, so all the jurors will have to do is deciding how much he deserves to be punished for his murder.
As the jurors examine the evidences and testimonies presented to the trial, most of them become more convinced that the defendant is guilty as charged, but Nam-woo is not so sure about that. After accidentally encountering the defendant at one point, he comes to have a feeling that the defendant might not commit the murder, and then he also comes to have a reasonable doubt when one of his fellow jurors points out a certain questionable aspect of the autopsy result of the victim’s body.
As Nam-woo becomes more persistent with his growing reasonable doubt, he naturally comes to clash with most of his fellow jurors like Henry Fonda did in “12 Angry Men”, and some of them are understandably quite annoyed as their deliberation process becomes far longer than expected because of him. In case of one juror who turns out to be a hotshot guy working for some powerful conglomerate CEO, he wants to get back to his work as soon as possible, so he tries to persuade Nam-woo as much as possible, but Nam-woo still sticks to his undecided position as suggesting more deliberation on the case. While he wants to be sure about whether the defendant can actually wield a tool presented as a murder weapon, he also wants to confirm the reliability of a crucial witness’s testimony, and that eventually leads to the prompt re-examination of the crime scene later in the story.
Never overlooking the serious situation surrounding its main characters, the movie occasionally tries some humorous moments to lighten the mood a bit. There is an amusing sequence where Nam-woo finds himself losing his way in the courtroom building and then gets an unexpected help from a building employee, and I also enjoyed how Judge Kim remains unflappable in front of small and big happenings under her resolute supervision.
During its second half, the movie comes to lose some of its narrative tension, and you will not be surprised much by what is revealed around its rather sappy finale, but director/writer Hong Seung-wan keeps maintaining the level of interest at least. Although many of the main characters in the film are broad archetypes, they are at least colorful enough to hold our attention, and we are often entertained as watching the dynamic interactions among its main cast members, who ably fill their respective roles as much as required. While Park Hyung-sik is adequately cast as a decent lad who simply cannot neglect his growing reasonable doubt, the seven other cast members surrounding him as Nam-woo’s fellow jurors are also equally solid on the whole, and Moon So-ri, who has been one of the most dependable South Korean actresses for more than 10 years, is commendable as ably bringing firm authority and determination to her character.
In conclusion, “Juror 8” does not bring anything particularly new to its genre territory, but it is still recommendable mainly thanks to its earnest storytelling as well as the diligent performances from its good performers. To be frank with you, I often felt an urge to revisit “12 Angry Men” during my viewing, but I came to discuss a bit with an acquaintance of mine who happened to watch the movie along with me yesterday morning, and I became more generous to it while overlooking its several shortcomings a bit. It is not exactly fresh, but it did its job as well as intended, so I will not complain for now.