Review: ‘The Attorney’ courts a miscarriage of drama

Gandhi, Mandela and Castro took to the streets armed with certainty that the courts would never grant the change they desired. In the soppy legal drama “The Attorney,” the protagonist eventually arrives at a similar conclusion as he embarks on a journey of radicalization from bourgeois self-involvement to principled crusading.

Set during South Korea’s bloody transition from dictatorship to democracy in the 1980s, “The Attorney” revisits the everyday terror of that era through one of its gravest sins: the detainment and torture of college students for reading school-approved Marxist literature. Law had only been a ticket to the upper-middle class for Song Woo-seok (Song Kang-ho), but the tax attorney sacrifices his rising-star status to clash against the police on behalf of a family friend whose gentle son is arrested and beaten for suspected Communist activity.

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“The Attorney” is on the side of justice, but it’s a ham-fisted dramatization of real-life events that mistakes anger for persuasion. Earlier segments detailing Woo-seok as an underdog huckster winning over clients thrum with life, but later courtroom scenes are weighed down by an indignant idealism that could only impress a freshman in his first poli-sci class. It can’t be a coincidence that writer-director Yang Woo-seok shares his name with his legal-hero protagonist. The director is his character’s biggest fan.

“The Attorney.” No MPAA rating; in Korean with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 7 minutes. At Regal La Habra Stadium 16, La Habra.