The most puzzling thing about this slightly odd drama is that it’s not based on a manwha. It seems tailor-made to have been based on one of the melodramatic, romantic manwhas that are so often the rage in Korea and Japan. And yet it’s an original creation from screenwriter Kim Kyu Wan – to which all I can say is, you got grit, to break from the tailor-made drama template most screenwriters use in this way. Kim Kyu Wan tends to write problematic dramas with a lot of potential, like Cinderella’s Sister and Robber. Iron Man centers on Joo Hong Bin (Lee Dong Wook), the oddball CEO of a hugely successful game company (video games, not board games). A chance encounter with Son Se Dong, an aspiring game designer, and the unexpected appearance of a young son he didn’t know existed, turns Hong Bin’s world upside down.
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I like Partner. Granted, it’s not quite as witty as I expected, or as centered on the relationship between Kim Hyun Joo and Lee Dong Wook’s characters in a romantic way, but it’s charming and enjoyable thus far.
Brief synopsis: Kim Hyun Joo is a newbie lawyer who clashes with her partner. She cares for the innocent and tries to help them whereas Lee Dong Wook doesn’t see his clients as actual people but treats them as a business deal.
Kang Eun Ho(Kim Hyun Joo), a widowed single parent and rookie lawyer, gets accepted a law firm in Seoul, and promptly packs up her son and all her possessions and moves to Seoul, leaving behind her grandfather, who taught her everything she knows about law and for reasons unexplained is sliding more and more into alcoholism(he’s clearly able to take care of himself however; there’s no implication that Eun Ho is being careless or unloving to leave him there). Once there, however, it turns out that not only is the law firm she’s been accepted to a small, struggling one, but that none of the employees there welcome her, and indeed when she first gets there the firm’s Representative is about to cave to the pressure from his underlings and back out of hiring her. Halfway through the conversation, however, he has a brilliant idea: what better way to placate both Eun Ho and the other lawyers than assign her their most recent, impossible-to-win case, one involving a boy accused of killing his stepsister? The evidence, while mostly circumstantial, is highly convincing against the boy, and Eun Ho is sure to lose, especially as a rookie lawyer. He gives Eun Ho the case and tells her that if she wins he will hire her, and tells the other lawyers that she’s sure to lose so they’ll have her off their hands soon enough.
Eun Ho, meanwhile, is assigned to a desk in Lee Tao Jo(Lee Dong Wook)’s office, and the Representative assigns Tao Jo, as an experienced lawyer, to assist her on the case. Tao Jo and Eun Ho get off on the wrong foot almost immediately, mostly on Tao Jo’s side as he finds her a drag.
Eun Ho: I realized, after watching the first two episodes of this drama, that I was subconsciously expecting Han Hyu Joo to reprise her fierce, graceful role as Jun-pyo’s butt-kicking sister in Boys Before Flowers here, but that was a mistaken assumption. I was rather taken aback actually, because the drama starts with her appearing in much this role – she is teaching boxing to a group of teenage miscreants and soundly defeating all of them while berating them between blows on their delinquent ways – but soon after switches and shows her instead as naive and idealistic and not exactly confrontational. She’s stubborn, and tends to bull ahead with what she wants sometimes because she’s so sure that she’s right, but she doesn’t take offence easily and puts up with a lot from her fellow lawyers, particularly her “partner” Tao Jo. Two things about her character:
1)she weathers things well, which after thinking about I think is a good representation of her age and position in life – she’s a middle-aged mother, not a teenager or 20-something to be swept by every mood and passion that strikes her – she takes all the nonsense that Tao Jo throws at her and his bad attitude in general with frustration but without resentment or lasting anger
2)I find the idealistic/naive side of her rather a disappointment, given how many stories we’ve seen of young rookie idealists who sail in and magically change the legal system or win some major case on the basis of their heart. I was hoping that Eun Ho would be a tough-as-nails, ball-busting, coolly competent lawyer with a heart of gold and a heart for people, who uses those exact traits and tactics to stand up for them, instead of the naivete wrapped in good intentions with which she actually stands up for them. I mean, I haven’t seen an interesting do-good lawyer character since Matt Damon in The Rainmaker or Rani Mukerjee in Veer-Zaara – we’ve been there and done that and this type of character has lost its flavor and originality, not that it possessed that much to begin with. Not that Eun Ho is annoying at all, however – she’s not particularly up on a high horse and Hyun Joo brings a lot of humanity and warmth to her, I’m just a bit disappointed because I think they could have taken the character in a different direction, especially given the actress’s potential.
(one of his rare moments of actual deeper emotion)
Tao Jo: Again, not really what I expected, but not necessarily in a bad way. I assumed that Partner would be one of those dramas about two equals meeting, sparring, dancing around each other inside the courtroom and out(since they’re lawyers) and ultimately falling in love. But Partner, instead, is clearly going to be one of those woman-changes-the-man and makes him grow up kind of dramas, because Tao Jo is a highly immature character at this point in his life. He is an irreverent playboy who views his profession for the most part as a mere past-time and skates through both life and the law on looks, charm, and a quick tongue. It’s not that we haven’t seen playboy characters before, but when we have they tend to be more of the uber-successful, wealthy type – Tao Jo, while mostly successful in his cases, is working for a struggling firm and is far outshined by the firm’s main star, Yoo Mi Yun(Choi Su Ri). He seems less like a man who takes life lightly because he’s good at everything he does than like a boy who hasn’t quite grown up yet. However, adding interest to his character is the requisite Tragic Past, so necessary for every kdrama hero and heroine, which in his case consists of having witnessed some kind of traumatic death at first hand and of being estranged from his father and brother, having left his father’s law firm some time ago for reasons which aren’t yet clear. He is also half in love(it’s unclear yet whether it’s serious, but at the moment it seems like a boy’s crush on an older, more confident woman) with Mi Yun, who is unknown to him also having an affair with his married brother.
The episode itself: (must cut this short since it’s past my bedtime)
What fascinates me the most about this drama, unsurprisingly even though it hasn’t been developed much thus far, is the future Eun Ho/Tao Jo relationship – I assume that they are the romantic pairing as the two main leads. While it’s clearly still far in the future at this point, it will be interesting to see how Eun Ho changes Tao Jo and to what extent, particularly since Eun Ho has one thing which most kdrama heroines don’t, and which would require Tao Jo to do some major growing up- and that is a son. I confess I can’t wait for this part of the drama.
Another part which really stood out to me was Eun Ho’s relationship with her son and her role as a single mother – there’s a very funny and adorable scene in which her son takes a bunch of her very important legal papers and makes them into paper airplanes and throws them off the balcony of their apartment building, forcing her to rush into work late at night and gets replacements from Tao Jo. I find it very fascinating since I love this kind of character in general – someone who’s strong enough and independent enough to care for a child on their own, while also presenting such delicious possibilities of vulnerability and need, at the very least for a father-figure for the son, to whoever the male lead might be in the drama.
And finally, what hints most promisingly to me of good/better things to come are the brief flashes of darkness we’ve gotten to see in Tao Jo – when he has the flashbacks in the bar of the man dying before his eyes, when he tells his brother that of course he’s not enjoying his life, and when he ends up alone on a roof outside all night, staring out into the dark(loved the juxtaposition of this with Eun Ho going out onto her own balcony that morning, having worked all night, and stretching contentedly – it shows the difference in the way they lead their lives), and of course the as yet unexplained tension between he and his father/brother. Tao Jo is clearly more than a little screwed up, and as I’m quite sure that Eun Ho didn’t escape unscathed from an apparently parentless existence and a husband’s death, I’m very much looking forward to seeing these two discover each other’s weaknesses and get closer in the process.