If I had to choose my favorite Korean courtroom drama, I honestly might choose the 2017 JTBC series Solomon’s Perjury (솔로몬의 위증). I had been meaning to watch this series for a while. But finally getting a chance to watch, my only thought is “What took me so long?” Solomon’s Perjury is a fascinating, enthralling and meaningful series that takes a look at some of the most oft-talked about ills of today’s society. But does so in a unique and refreshing way.
It is quite an unexpected series, even if you know what it is about going into it. Solomon’s Perjury focuses on a student-run mock trial after the death of one of their high school classmates, Lee So Woo (Seo Young Joo). Quickly ruled a suicide by the police and the school desperate to sweep the tragedy under the rug, a group of students are determined to find out the truth and hopefully find justice for their classmate.
Leading the way is top student Ko Seo Yeon (Kim Hyun Soo) who is inspired to hold a school trial after feeling like she and her fellow classmates bear some responsibility for So Woo’s death. A few weeks earlier, she and the rest of their class watched as So Woo was engaged in a fight with brutal school bully Choi Woo Hyuk (Baek Chul Min), but remained silent when the time came for witnesses to step up. Seo Yeon decides to act as prosecutor after an anonymous letter accuses Woo Hyuk of pushing So Woo off the roof of the school.
Defending Woo Hyuk is Han Ji Hoon (Jang Dong Yoon). Though he attends a different partner school, Ji Hoon offers to represent the defense. And with a couple of Seo Yeon’s friends and classmates, they put together a full mock trial. The school, however, cringes at the mere idea and works to put a stop to it before long-kept secrets get uncovered.
Solomon’s Perjury is a unique blend of high school and courtroom drama. Both genres are ripe for story and there have been plenty series in either genre over the years. But this series merges the two into an unexpectedly fun, yet thoughtful package.
As the series deals with school violence, mental health, abuse and corruption, it might not seem like the series would offer anything new. But it does so and in the most engaging way possible.
Solomon’s Perjury presents a strikingly unflinching look at the lives of Korean teenagers. It is no secret how much teens in Korea struggle against the pressures of a whole number of issues. And it is sadly not uncommon that those same young people make the ultimate and tragic decision to end their lives. Whether it is lack of resources, support or further emotional and physical abuse, stories of people (young and old) suffering with mental health going untreated is so hard to accept.
Solomon’s Perjury paints a pretty damning picture of how that is even possible in today’s society. But at the same time, it also offers a bit of hope and light amidst a situation that might seem dark and hopeless.
The trial uncovers truths about So Woo as well as the school, its students and even the trial participants themselves. Seo Yeon and her friends shine a spotlight on the toxic environment high schools have become with they themselves learning a bit more about their own shortcomings in that sense.
The series is as much a coming-of-age drama as it is a crime thriller.
Though the series has an interesting challenge with tone (sometimes, lighthearted moments feel out of place considering the tragic events and heavy material), the stories and characters nonetheless resonate in a way that other series are unsuccessful at.
Another of the series’ most appealing points is its stellar young cast, all of whom have since gone on to bigger roles.
Kim Hyun Soo is one of the breakout stars of the blockbuster Penthouse. But here as So Yeon, she shows that she’s always had the talent that allows her to command the screen. Being able to balance a maturity with her performance as a teenager is something not many other young actresses can easily achieve. But she does so here. And being a sort of moral compass for the story, that is an important quality to have.
Jang Dong Yoon has also emerged as one of the most promising young leading men. With a diverse mix of roles, he’s proven as much. But making his acting debut here as Ji Hoon, he is tasked with bringing to life a complicated and multi-layered character. As the layers unfold for Ji Hoon, Jang Dong Yoon must convey a wide range of emotions. And he does so with ease.
I first watched Seo Ji Hoon in the excellent KBS Drama Special Legendary Lackey. And he too has had a diverse filmography since then and his turn as Bae Joon Young here on Solomon’s Perjury. Though on the surface, Joon Young seems like the nice guy next door, he hides a pain and struggle that he at first chooses to keep to himself. Through these scenes, Seo Ji Hoon effortlessly delivers some of the series’ most emotionally affecting moments. All while still being a charismatic and charming leading man. A versatile actor, to be sure.
Seo Young Joo, however, is a standout as So Woo. After breakout film roles (including in the Kim Ki Duk shocker Moebius), he was amazing in the KBS Drama Special Youth. (Which is where I first watched him as well!) He has always shown great promise and talent. But he absolutely delivers here. As the series features flashbacks to before So Woo’s death, Seo Young Joo is so captivating in the role. You hang on his every word and move. But Seo Young Joo delivers such a nuanced performance that is at the same time quiet and commanding.
It’s really an excellent performance alongside an excellent ensemble cast. And it is that ensemble that helps to make this high school courtroom feel like the highest court in the land.
There’s really not many words to do this series justice. It’s one of those rare series that need to be experienced firsthand. It is by no means perfect. But it does the most important things right. Emotionally affecting, edge of your seat exciting. As both an unflinching look at the harsh realities of today’s youth and a legitimately engrossing mystery, Solomon’s Perjury is undoubtedly a must-watch.