Necessary fiction“This is ridiculous,” third-generation heir to a conglomerate, Jo Tae-oh, likes to say as he commits crimes and uses his wealth and influence to get away with. Veteran detective Seo Do-cheol does not give up when he is pressured and threatened.
Last year, “Veteran” drew 13.4 million admissions. Jo Tae-oh’s reckless and violent behavior, and use of money and influence to interfere with the murder investigation, warrant public outrage.
Seo Do-cheol and his team track down the arrogant millionaire and bring him to justice. Thanks to this straightforward “good-triumphing-over-evil” plot, “Veteran” became the 3rd all-time highest grossing film in Korea.
“My Lawyer, Mr. Jo” is a television series that has been airing on KBS2 since March. In it, the character Jo Deul-ho grew up in an orphanage and passed the bar examination to become a prosecutor.
But when he won’t comply with his boss’s unlawful orders, he ends up facing false charges. After serving time in prison and becoming homeless, he becomes a lawyer once more to help the weak and vulnerable and bring justice to criminals.
“Veteran” and “My Lawyer, Mr. Jo” reminds me of another drama, the 12-part series “Gimlet,” which aired on JTBC in October and November, 2015. It is based on a popular online cartoon about the unlawful labor conditions and union struggles at a foreign company-owned supermarket.
The first episode had over 2 percent rating, and critics praised the plot as solid and the characters as faithfully matching the original characters in the cartoon.
However, the show was not so successful and its ratings never went over 2 percent. It had a loyal fan base, but average viewers didn’t tune in. A CEO at a conglomerate said, “It was a rarely well-made drama. But it was so realistic that it was frustrating.”
In the show, the company unlawfully oppresses the union, but the employees don’t get back at the management.
Seo Do-cheol or Jo Deul-ho would mercilessly retaliate. However, the reality is different. A hero who defends the weak and brings justice to the powerful, such as Seo or Jo, is hard to come by. So viewers find gratification in the stories of exaggerated heroes.
In the 1980s, Kim Hong-shin wrote “The Human Market,” the origin of vigilante stories in Korea. Kim recently said, “The time was dark and gloomy, and people wanted someone to relieve their rage for them, and the protagonist, Jang Chong-chan, was the one.
The period when books like ‘The Human Market’ are popular is a tragic one. I really hope that people no longer need such books.”
Just as Kim pointed out, we hope for the time when we don’t need to feel vicarious satisfaction from “Veteran” or “My Lawyer, Mr. Jo.” It may not be easy, but this is the task of our time.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 26, Page 30
*The author is the editor of People & Section of the JoongAng Ilbo.