On his wedding anniversary, Han Chul-Min drives into his apartment complex parking lot and sees a large crowd gathered by the entryway into the apartment. Chul-Min enters his apartment holding a bouquet of flowers for his wife when he sees police officers scattered about collecting evidence. Chul-Min walks into his bedroom and sees a large pool of blood on the bed. The blood is fresh enough that it is still dripping onto the floor. A police officer handcuffs Chul-Min and takes him to the police station. Jang Ho-Won, a broker for attorneys, brings the case of Han Chul-Min to attorney Kang Sung-Hee. He informs the attorney that the alleged murder victim’s body was never discovered, the police have yet to find any direct evidence connecting Chul-Min to the murder of his wife and his arrest is all based on circumstantial evidence. Kang Sun-Hee takes the case and applies in court for a jury trial. Is Han Chul-Min a cold-blooded killer or the victim of a cover-up?
Director Sohn Young-Sung’s The Client offers a gripping courtroom drama through its exercise of effective acting, but is it enough to save it from stumbling in its own execution? Those accustomed to such dramas know that one of the essential elements in producing an effective whodunit tale is the ability and strength of its cast—a key facet in a sub-genre that takes place primarily within the conversational chambers of a courtroom. Such dramas are almost entirely centered on individuals conversing, but it’s through conversing where a film can find itself balancing between being atrociously boring or absolutely engrossing to view. Luckily, The Client makes considerable headway towards the latter, wherein the likes of actors Ha Jung-Woo and Park Hee-Soon create the necessary intensity as defending attorney and prosecutor respectively. From the charged courtroom confrontations, to the investigatory work culminating up to such encounters, the film effectively weaves a narrative where the details of the case gradually unfold in a matter that will keep viewers guessing as well as surprise them—even it does seem like we’ve seen these premise all before.
And it’s this sense of familiarity where the film becomes somewhat obstructed, refocusing its attention outside of the realm of the courtroom. Where the intense framework offered through Young-Sung’s direction is highly realized within the courtroom proceedings, outside of it is where The Client easily falls into a cliché-riddled narrative as the film steadily wraps up. With a whodunit premise tightly displayed throughout the first half of the film—where Ha Jung-Woo and Park Hee-Soon’s characters are attempting to out maneuver one another within the court—once the film finally unveils the true killer and their motive, the narrative soon relies on simple tropes that are easily viewed within television dramas for resolve—a choice that was rather unnecessary considering the film’s strong first half. The legal proceedings are where The Client truly shines, so when the films awkwardly can’t decide to follow that path or become the Korean equivalent of a hackneyed CSI episode, one begins to wonder why such an approach was warranted. One can understand the needs of conventionality within a rather detailed-heavy drama such as this—it’s an approach mainly utilized to untangle and simplify a rather convoluted plot for some viewers—but here it just seems too easy, like Young-Sung just wanted to offer a quick conclusion towards the complex scenario he establishes earlier throughout the film.
As such, The Client is one film that still works well because of its strong casting appeal and courtroom affairs. Director Sohn Young-Sung nicely handles these two elements, but if more attention were paid towards developing a unique twist on its tired premise, it would have fared much better. Having the film stay within the confinement of the court and not relying on conventional means to conclude its story would’ve made The Client one of the better Korean films dealing with the intricacies of an unsolved murder case, but sadly it decides to play it safe for the sake of resolving itself in an uncomplicated fashion. This undemanding lead up towards the film’s conclusion may appeal to some viewers, but ultimately it hinders the film rather than support it. Overall though, The Client still remains a very solid and intriguing courtroom drama—despite its noticeable flaws when it decides to exit that courtroom.