The 2018 SBS drama Your Honor (친애하는 판사님께) is a pitch perfect series that blends together family drama, romantic drama and procedural legal drama all into one fast-paced and fully engaging package.
It is emotional when it needs to be. It is funny when it needs to be. It is frustrating when it needs to be. It is hopeful when it needs to be. It is romantic when it needs to be.
Yoon Shi Yoon plays twin brothers Han Kang Ho and Han Soo Ho. Soo Ho is a hotshot judge while Kang Ho is a five-time convicted criminal. And they have a complicated, tumultuous relationship growing up.
When Soo Ho mysteriously goes missing, unbeknownst to anyone, Kang Ho slips into his brother’s position to avoid getting thrown back into prison. Now having to become a judge and rule in actual cases, Kang Ho finds support from unwitting law student Song So Eun (Lee Yoo Young).
Much of the series’ funniest moments come from Kang Ho having to sometimes bumble his way through the Korean justice system. But many of the series’ most emotional moments also come from Kang Ho using his own experience with the law to bring about his own flavor of justice and wisdom to the courtroom.
It helps that each of the cases of the week are equally engaging and impactful. And Kang Ho’s involvement in upending the usual buttoned-up proceedings gives each case a fun, yet meaningful twist.
The bigger picture, however, deals with a theme that is definitely tried and true in many a Korean drama, but unfortunately also in real life: corruption. At the center of the overarching plot is the massive web of corruption by chaebol families trying to protect their criminal heirs and their bottom lines by any means necessary. And that involves the almost systematic bribery and maneuvering of lawyers and judges alike.
We learn about the sordid web of lies and money at the same time as Kang Ho and it is an effective way to get the viewer to accompany him in his anger, disgust and eventual quest to right the wrongs.
As corruption is so widespread, it is an easy target to loathe. But it doesn’t become cliché here thanks to the unique situation Kang Ho finds himself in.
Elsewhere, the more personal conflicts between Kang Ho and Soo Ho as well as their mother (Kim Hye Ok) drive a lot of the initial set-up and gets fully unfurled during the course of the series. The mother-sons relationship and their family dynamic is a reliable part the series regularly circles back to that always works on point.
Then there’s the romance that blossoms between Kang Ho (posing as Soo Ho) and So Eun. And in a way that feels natural and right. Not like many a series where a romantic angle can feel forced or unnecessary. Even better developed than a typical romcom.
Newcomer (at the time) Lee Yoo Young shares such great chemistry with Yoon Shi Yoon that you know from the start their romance was inevitable. But their journey there is no less interesting. Meanwhile, Lee Yoo Young is able to give So Eun a perfect sense of naivety that comes with being a wide-eyed law student getting her first taste of the nasty real world. She is at first overwhelmed, but is able to muster up the strength and courage to push forward. And she remains hopeful throughout, thanks in large part to the kindness she sees in Kang Ho.
While the series features a strong ensemble, Yoon Shi Yoon is masterful in the dual role. Kang Ho and Soo Ho are almost polar opposites at first. They have different personalities. They carry themselves differently. That plays into the fascinating backstory of their growing up. But Yoon Shi Yoon is able to make both characters distinct.
While we only see him as Soo Ho at random times throughout the series, we still see the versatility from Yoon Shi Yoon as Kang Ho goes form exaggerated loudness to quiet thoughtfulness within a span of minutes.
Kang Ho can be both funny and profound. Despite no law degree, he is able to dole out knowledge and judgement fairly. Yoon Shi Yoon balances funny and over-the-top with his certified dramatic chops. A combination that he of course first became known for in his career role in Baker King Kim Tak Goo.
The series has a lot of heart and Yoon Shi Yoon is responsible for most of it.
Your Honor does a masterful job of juggling its many plot threads and cases of the week. The series is fast-paced, yet you get depth with the characters and the various stories they are able to tell. Whether it’s for overarching plots or the cases of the week.
It’s hard to find a flaw with Your Honor. And even if there might be one or two somewhere, the rest of the series is so well-done it would be hard to notice.
Overall, Your Honor is pitch perfect, wholly engaging, sincerely romantic and reliably emotional in a way that delivers an experience well worth having. So worth having that it has become one of my most favorite Korean drama experiences I’ve ever had.