Kim Soo Hyun, Cha Seung Won and Kim Sung Kyu deliver captivating performances in the Coupang Play original series One Ordinary Day (어느날). Adapted from the BBC drama Criminal Justice, the series follows a young college student accused of murder and the scruffy lawyer who decides to defend him. A gripping portrait of a young man struggling to prove his innocence, One Ordinary Day is an edgy and sadly realistic look at the harsh realities of the justice system with a character-driven narrative that keeps you guessing until the very last moment.
Kim Hyun Soo (Kim Soo Hyun) is just an ordinary college student. Deciding to secretly take his father’s taxi in order to go to a friend’s party one night, Hyun Soo reluctantly takes in a young woman as a passenger. But that soon leads to an evening of alcohol, drugs and sex. When Hyun Soo wakes up a few hours later, he finds the young woman lying in a pool of her own blood. Frightened and confused, Hyun Soo tries to run. But he eventually becomes the number one suspect with no memory of what happened post-sex.
While in the holding cell, he meets attorney Shin Joong Han (Cha Seung Won). A self-proclaimed “third rate lawyer,” Joong Han usually deals with small, run of the mill cases. But he feels compelled to help Hyun Soo and offers to defend him.
With the prosecution and the chief detective dead set on pinning the murder on him, Hyun Soo must remain in prison for the duration of the trial. And here he meets top dog Do Ji Tae (Kim Sung Kyu) who takes him under his wing.
Despite the effort Joong Han puts in to find a way to free Hyun Soo (all while having to deal with a persistent bout of atopic dermatitis), the situation looks hopeless. And it quickly takes a toll on Hyun Soo and his family.
In eight episodes, One Ordinary Day skillfully lays out the well-paced story in cinematic fashion. Almost like one long movie, the series is able to quickly establish the key players before delving deep into the characters. Most especially Hyun Soo and Joong Han, but also the people Hyun Soo meets in prison as well as the justice system almost as a collective entity and antagonist.
Though there is always a possibility that Hyun Soo is actually the murderer, the series instead focuses on the process he must weave through from arrest to eventual verdict. Between Hyun Soo’s physically brutal experiences in prison to the emotionally brutal moments in the courtroom, a central part of the series is seeing how heavy everything weighs on him.
Kim Soo Hyun delivers one of the most stunning performances of his career. The way the series lays out how everything seems to be stacked against Hyun Soo, it helps amplify the character’s almost hopeless situation. Kim Soo Hyun is able to masterfully depict the toll of this ordeal with a vulnerability that I don’t think he has gotten the opportunity to show since his breakthrough role in Dream High. It is thanks to his performance that you are able to hang on every last bit of hope that appears right until the very end.
Cha Seung Won, meanwhile, makes Shin Joong Han the likeable though gruff attorney. Well-meaning and sincere, Joong Han is one of the few people on Hyun Soo’s side. But at the same time, we get to know him as his own person outside of the case. And that goes a long way toward being able to connect with him. Cha Seung Won is definitely an experienced actor. Though best known for his strong, charismatic and heroic roles, he has also shown his prowess in lighter roles as well. And he brings that balance to Joong Han in a way that endears him and makes you put your trust in him.
Kim Sung Kyu is also a standout as a Do Ji Tae. As the prison’s top dog, his mere presence brings other prisoners to a halt. But he immediately takes a liking to Hyun Soo and takes him under his wing. Not only to help protect him from the antagonism of their fellow inmates, but also to offer key pieces of wisdom in order to help Hyun Soo get through this physically and emotionally painful ordeal.
Through these characters and with the actors’ excellent performances, the series is able to deliver a stunning look at the justice system at work. The carefully nuanced portrayal of all the people involved keep the series from being merely some everyday crime procedural. Instead, it is a character portrait of the accused, his defense and the justice system as a whole. It is definitely not always pretty. But the idea of a give and take is probably the most striking and humbling aspect that is presented through the series.
Powered by its excellent cast, cinematic production and well-paced writing, One Ordinary Day is an emotionally thrilling character-driven look at the justice system and the people who are affected and entangled with it at any moment in time.