Namgoong Min shows off his great versatility in the fun One Dollar Lawyer (천원짜리 변호사/One Thousand Won Lawyer). The 12-episode SBS series is a hilarious take on the crime and justice drama. And while there’s definitely a lot of unrealized potential in the premise, the series is an overall satisfying and enjoyable time.
Cheon Ji Hun (Namgoong Min) is a stylish and skilled lawyer who charges only 1,000 won for his service and operates out of former coffee shop space in a small neighborhood. Fresh law graduate Baek Ma Ri (Kim Ji Eun) is sent to be an apprentice to Attorney Cheon by her grandfather, who is the head of the famous Baek Law Firm, in order to see if she is truly capable of the big leagues. Though Ma Ri initially thinks it is a pointless endeavor, she soon finds worth in the humble work of Attorney Cheon. And together with Cheon’s assistant Sa Mu Jang (Park Jin Woo), the three of them work almost like a ragtag team to fight for justice for those who might not have the money, connections and power.
The series starts out very lighthearted. The trio often find themselves in interesting situations thanks to Cheon Ji Hun’s unique style and Baek Ma Ri having to adjust to this unglamorous setting compared to her grandfather’s law firm.
But the series takes quite an abrupt turn halfway through as Cheon Ji Hun’s far more dramatic and tragic past (and the reason he charges just 1,000 won) is revealed through a two-episode-long flashback.
This kind of abrupt, almost-night and day shift might doom other series. But One Dollar Lawyer is able to instill enough confidence early on that the less hilarious final third of the series comes across as the storm after the calm.
The first half of the series allows Cheon Ji Hun, along with Baek Ma Ri and Sun Mu Jang, to endear themselves to the audience. It is like quickly make nice new friends before you suddenly learn it wasn’t always a happy life for them. You feel for them and want them to have a more positive future. That’s definitely the case here. And because you’ve already begun to care about these characters, especially Cheon Ji Hun, you are invested in the outcome of their story and the ultimate climax.
The series was expected to run longer than just the 12 produced episodes. And the final third of the series seems to show a bit of a rushed ending due to the last-minute change.
But again, the series was able to foster enough goodwill that the ending is ultimately satisfying for our main characters.
Probably one of the biggest bits of unrealized potential was to have Cheon Ji Hun and team solving more cases and meeting more of the “little people.” That is, it would’ve been very enjoyable to watch them going to fight for the less fortunate who have been wronged by the money and power in society. Having them interact with these people and perhaps solving cases that result in emotional, heart-warming resolutions could’ve really elevated the series even more.
Sadly, the series getting cut short was very much reflected in the sudden shift in pacing of the story. So there’s a lot of “What Ifs” here.
Nonetheless, One Dollar Lawyer is simply a good time. And a series that will make you laugh and smile (at least early on) than most new Korean dramas this year.
To make that happen, the cast definitely played a huge role. Most especially Namgoong Min in the title role. He has always been a talented actor with a wide range. One drama he could be an irredeemable evil villain and the next, the kind, guy next door. And of course, everything in between. He is able to draw upon that colorful experience to bring Cheon Ji Hun to life. When the scene calls for some outrageous performances, he’s got it. When the stories get a bit darker, Namgoong Min delivers too. It’s another one of those charismatic, solidly leading man performances from him. And it should come as no surprise that he makes it look effortless.
His chemistry with Kim Ji Eun and Park Jin Woo (both of whom he also starred with on MBC’s The Veil) really carry the series. From the moments we see them get to know each other and go out investigating to the final moments where Baek Ma Ri and Sa Mu Jang must do what they can to help their boss and friend; it’s a wonderfully endearing team that you wish you could see more of. Especially in action. And if you need one reason to watch the series, the three of them will be it.
They lead a strong cast, including drama veterans Choi Dae Hoon and Gong Min Jung as prosecutors and friends of our leads as well as the always dependable Lee Deok Hwa as Ma Ri’s grandfather Baek Hyun Mu.
The appeal of One Dollar Lawyer isn’t so much on an overarching, series-long mystery. But really more on the characters you meet and eventually grow to love and enjoy. You just want to see them work and in action, no matter the case that needs to be solved or the people that need to be fought for.
And ultimately, that’s what makes One Dollar Lawyer a worthy watch. The two halves of the series may seem different, but they come together in an overall enjoyable package. Thanks in large part to the excellent cast and the initially amusing and funny antics of the main characters. The actors bringing those characters to life have no problem delivering the necessary performances. And all together, the series ends with a positive and satisfying conclusion.