South Korea keeps pumping show after show as they have always done but after the success of Squid Game, now each new release is being met with more hype than ever before. This can be a double edge sword, though, as more often than not the quality of the shows won’t meet the expectations of the audience. Not every show can be Squid Game.
Thankfully, South Korea has a standard of quality and most of their shows are entertaining at worst. Juvenile Justice might be one of those. The show presents a solid drama, and the acting and pacing are all very well executed, but the storylines often fall into melodramatic territory, and it is difficult to take some of the developments seriously.
Juvenile Justice is directed by Hong Jong-chan and stars Kim Hye-soo, Kim Mu-yeol, Lee Sung-min. The show tells the story of Shim Eun-seok, a judge with a lot of dislike for juvenile offenders, who gets trapped into a series of cases involving young offenders that will clash with her own morals. Can she take her own suffering aside and make true justice prevail?
The premise for the show is quite interesting from the get go. Take this character and put it in a situation where decisions need to be made, none of them easy. This clash of conflicts always generates good drama, and Juvenile Justice achieves that for the most part.
The cases are very well-built and the storylines avoid the “Case of the week” structure, so we can see the cases being developed throughout the show. None of the situations are simple, so they need more than just one hour to analyze everything in the proper way.
The show is very plot centric, which means that most of the revelations come in the form of plot twists and new clues being discovered. This is great as it keeps the audience engaged trying to solve the crimes by themselves. This loop makes for good TV, for sure.
The problems begin to arise though when the emotion is what prevails in most of the dialogue, and in how the storylines develop all the way to their conclusion. The characters cannot help but screen, cry, insult and so much more at every step of the way. Emotions are always at level 10, and they never go down, not even for one moment.
It becomes really exhausting at some point because there’s no levity whatsoever. At many points, it becomes clear that the show is not trying to be realistic. That’s fine, not all TV series should be realistic. However, the context of the show, the cases and more are very serious subjects, and it feels off when the show doesn’t know when to step back and just have the actors taking it down two or three notches.
Even when the storylines and the way the characters behave cross the line many times during the 10 episodes of this first season, the acting is very good overall. Kim Hye-soo does a good job as judge Eun-seok. It is a hard role, as the character, unlike everybody else around here, reveals very little of her to others. She is an enigma. Her motivations and backstory become clearer as the season goes on, but you can never really root for her all the way. It makes for interesting characters, but nothing much.
The rest of the cast goes wild, they are overly emotional, but that’s not their fault. It is the writing and the directing that make those decisions. Maybe, the decisions were made in order to make audiences cry or feel something else, but at many points, the actors fall into ridiculous territory when they have to cry or scream in such exaggerated ways.
Despite that, the show is very well shot, and the cinematography is dark and bleak when it has to be, and warm and subtle as well, although this latter aspect doesn’t seem to be as prevalent as the former. Hong Jong-chan doesn’t deviate very much from the typical look and feel of a South Korean drama, so if you’re an avid consumer of this country’s show, then you know exactly what you’re going to get.
Juvenile Justice is entertaining and very interesting sometimes. Its faults lie in something that is particular to this kind of Asian entertainment, and it might bother some members of the western audience. However, if what you need are crimes, detective work and some fascinating moral dilemmas, then this is the show for you. If not, then don’t worry, there are a lot more South Korean dramas being offered on Netflix to cover basically every genre.