KDRAMAGUK : Korean Drama Soup

a landing site for quick, completely biased, and totally snarky korean drama reviews


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Prosecutor Princess (2010)

Prosecutor Princess
검사 프린세스 / Prosecutor Mata Hari
(Mar – May 2010)

who’s in it
Kim SoYeon (Iris, The Grand Chef)
Park ShiHoo (Iljimae)
Han JungSoo (Chuno)
Choi SongHyun (Birth of the Rich)
Park JungAh

what’s it about
Kim SoYeon plays a newbie prosecutor in the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Just as a side note, South Korea’s Prosecutor’s Office is not to be confused with the procedures of the District Attorney’s Office in the U.S. legal system (if, of course, your frame of reference is like mine and coming from this side of the ocean). In Korea, qualified prosecutors are appointed to office after completing a two year training course in acquiring their law degree; they are civil servants who participate in an investigative judicial process that includes fact-finding and sentencing. They are not too dissimilar from an American district attorney, but they hold far more authority and influence than their U.S. counterparts because unlike in the States where there are grand juries for evidential review and a trial by jury—the right to be judged by a panel of one’s peers—is a constitutional right, there is no true system of juries in South Korea, although their judicial system has recently evolved to allow for special civil participation.

Back to our heroine: she’s gorgeous, fashionable (well, expensively dressed anyway) and completely self-absorbed. She’s not so much an airhead as a shallowhead. As she points out early in episode 1, she has a rather high IQ and is quite the clever femme fatale. She’s got a good-sized brain, but she chooses to utilize it for fashion and frivolity rather than waste it on the duller side of life.

Now, at her new salaried job, which appears to be more an act of prestige-climbing for her father than any true passion for justice on her part, she’s a bright pink flamingo in a field of monochromatic ostriches. These dedicated and hard-working birds don’t like her skimpy and expensive feathers, nor do they care for her lack of consideration for their more humble lifestyle, and most especially, they can’t abide her brand of work ethic, which comes across as thoughtless and lazy. The problem is, every Kim SoYeon action is motivated by selfish instant-gratification and not only is she unable to see anyone else’s point of view, but her me-me-me world is narrow and insulated. Her talent for self-justification is a defensive barrier that her coworkers are unable to break down.

The lead prosecutor in the office, also a love interest, is Han JungSoo, the hunky ab-licious actor who played General Choi in recent KBS saeguk blockbuster drama Chuno. He’s drawn to this carefree new recruit, but his reasons may be one of nostalgia, more of a face thing than anything else, as she resembles someone from his past. Another man with ambiguous interest in the affairs of Kim SoYeon is a well-to-do-lawyer played by Park ShiHoo. He’s got one interfering eye on Kim SoYeon, and while he’s charming enough and full of flirty smiles whenever she’s around, it is unclear whether this interest a good thing or reflective of a darker twist yet to reveal itself.

What will become of our red Audi-driving fashionista prosecutor when she learns that in the real world, people and laws aren’t black and white, but shades of heather and sadness, a color scheme not found in her vocabulary much less her designer bag?

16 episodes


first impressions
Between the frantic tempo of the character introductions and the cartoonish depiction of the female lead, I somehow missed the part where I was supposed to find these people interesting. This feels like a Legally Blonde revisit without the original’s wit, charm or heart. Like the main character’s wardrobe, there is too much color and no proper application of all that rich hue. The show and its prosecutor princess are only funny in theory and not actually very fun to watch. Instead of a thoughtful establishment of all the main players and their roles, for our first meeting with the cast, we are given a cheaply contrived scenario surrounding a pair of Grace Kelly inspired shoes, a setup that turns out to be equal parts unamusing and nonsensical.

For all the brightness and exaggerated comedy in the drama, I found it all surprisingly boring. None of it felt very new, not the characters, not the possible romantic entanglements. Kim SoYeon’s character, likewise, feels a little too much, too obvious, and too cliché. After the first few hours, it’s easy to figure out the core clockwork of all the personalities involved, but a little more difficult to tell if I will ever love any of them.

I’d be neglect if I didn’t mention the campy theme song that pops up frequently, like a punch in the face that yanks me right out of the moment. Prosecutor’s Wednesday/Thursday rival Personal Taste has been beleaguered with criticisms regarding its editing and obtrusive use of music, but frankly, Prosecutor far surpasses Taste when it comes to abusive employment of obnoxiously cheesy songs that chase after scenes instead of highlighting them.

I was bored and disappointed.

Ok, with all that negativity out of the way (I know, I know, harsh criticisms indeed for a show that is only trying its best), I’m going to discuss some of the positives. Kim SoYeon is an interesting leading lady. She has character and intelligence ingrained in the very mien of her face so it’s credit to her that she is able to passably portray a character who doesn’t think twice about donning Playboy-ish bunny ears and prancing around in tall, black hooker heels while drunkenly crowing out bad karaoke. She has moments of genuine sass and likability. Right now, the cartoonish nature of the entire drama is creating distraction, but once the glitter settles, I’m hoping her character will develop into something less Mariah and more Meryl.

Both men seem well-cast for their parts and there is mystery enough to allow for plot movement. Whether or not that movement will be forward or sideways remains to be seen but I’m tentatively trusting. Also, the extended litter of side characters and their stories could turn out to be potentially engaging tentacles.

The initial start isn’t a complete train wreck, but close. The early episodes feel like a bratty young child acting out for attention. I’m disappointed but I do believe that this drama has in its cast the talent to survive the uninspiring start. I genuinely believe that if the good actors stay the focus in this drama, despite my reservations, Prosecutor has a very good chance of developing into something substantial. I look forward to finding out...

Do you like shows about zeroes who become heroes?

Who knew this was gonna turn out to be an Ugly Duckling drama? I certainly hadn’t expected the story to pull out the “she wasn’t always this pretty” card part way into it and make me feel sorry for this bratty rich girl! Okay, okay, it wasn’t so great a surprise that the leading lady was eventually revealed to be a likable person considering the classy actress playing her, but still, the ugly duckling gimmick was a clever way to re-introduce and re-define the character in a drastically different light without completely undoing her already established character definition.

In this world, there are two types of women: fat and skinny, competent and incompetent—women who are loved by their husbands, and women who are disregarded. Don’t be like your mother, HyeRi.

These are the words of wisdom passed from mother to daughter, and it gives a fairly good summation of the deep rooted self-esteem issues going on within Kim SoYeon’s character. Obviously I do not agree with such a simplified version of the way the world’s men categorize women, as I believe that a worthy man will always prefer a gal with brains than one without, but it does touch upon a serious issue in the world where women seek self-worth in diets and plastic surgery. I once read an article—about China and Asia—discussing the extreme and dangerous lengths women will go through to attain an ideal type of “beauty,” one that is mostly socially constructed, i.e. skinny and tall. The article talked about women undergoing a potentially maiming surgery that cracks their shins in order to place metal rods so that they can become taller. Anyhow, the finer points of that particular article are way too serious for this review and this drama, but my point is that this sort of cynical view of the way women internalize the pressure to be “beautiful” isn’t a completely inaccurate assessment of society’s love for the pretty people.

Without a doubt, Kim SoYeon is definitely one of the pretty people but this drama wants us to remember that adults were once children, and sometimes adolescence can be a kind of hazing ritual that will leave a scorch mark on the insides of a body for a long time, regardless of how drastically time matures a person on the outside. It asks us to take a second look beyond the pretty face of this seemingly shallow woman and see the timid girl inside. What brought her here? What made her strong? Is she really a ditz or is it an act of self-defense?

It was around that 5th/6th episode mark when the show finally gave us some history and favorable advancement in Kim SoYeon. This is when the character became plausible for me. The early episodes were difficult to get through, I didn’t understand the character and I didn’t like her…she felt too much like a person concocted from bits and pieces of other shows. Luckily, that turned out to be the point. As in real life, snap decisions can be made about the people we meet but after getting to know a person, we may learn that there’s more to them than meets the eye.

gave up

snoozer moments
The main suspense of the show was the ambiguity of Park ShiHoo’s motivations. What does he really want from Kim SoYeon? He was clearly not a bad guy. Come on, anyone that would come up with something as cute and silly as “fishing pole flirting” between condo balconies was unlikely to have a soul completely black to the core. Yet, he was always agonizing about some deep dark secret that would hurt Kim SoYeon when revealed. This mystery was a large part of what kept me interested during the first half of the drama, but nearing the end, it started to annoy. Instead of progressing this major plot point, the drama just kept dancing around and around it, making a mountain out of a molehill. What was that Frost poem? We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the Secret sits in the middle and knows. The poem is obviously alluding to more profound existential matters than whether or not Park ShiHoo hates Kim SoYeon, but that’s what it started to feel like, a big fat tease. An endless circle of something that shouldn’t really have taken nearly the full 16 episodes to divulge. After all, it wasn’t really the meaning of life we’re talking about here. The non-movement and the constant “should I or shouldn't I tell her” of Park ShiHoo’s big secret eventually became a dragging point for me.

Yes, and I must say, Park ShiHoo had the funniest drunk-walk. Actually, it wasn’t altogether the most convincing stumbling of a drunkard…but it was cutely done.

what didn’t work
The editing of this drama was horrible. It felt choppy and it took me a while to put my finger on it, but the reason why Princess came dangerously close to being ridiculous was because of the way it packaged itself, not because of the story or the acting. The way the camera jerked and cut around in blunt movement, the way the music exploded like fireworks over every scene, the way scenes jumped from one another like bumper cars... 

It was ungracefully done.

what did
Park ShiHoo was pretty good here.

I don’t think I’ve seen him in too many dramas, How to Meet the Perfect Neighbor with Bae Doona comes to mind, as does Iljimae with Lee Junki. I’ve always had a non-opinion of him as an actor. But here, I was blown away by the charm delivered by Mr. Park ShiHoo. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty, his rival, Han JungSoo, is one hot man, and I’m not just saying that because I got to ogle his abs for twenty-four satisfying hours in Chuno. Even fully clothed, the man was handsome to the max. But surprisingly, never once was I tempted his way. Not that Park ShiHoo was lacking in the looks department, but despite the fact that my objective eyes preferred Han JungSoo, it was Park ShiHoo’s character that kept me focused. When he tells Kim SoYeon that “there’s no such thing as someone you can’t love,” really, I about swooned.

Princess was asking the age old question of who’s better: the fantastically handsome cool guy you lust for at work or the friend at home by your side that makes you laugh and pushes you to be a better person? Turns out, it’s always the one that picks you up when you’re at your lowest, that’s the guy for the smart girl.

My only real point of contention with Park’s depiction of Lawyer Seo was the invisible “good guy” wall he kept hitting. I thought he could have gone darker. It was always crystalline that the good Force was strong in this one. It would have been more of a spellbind, however, if perhaps he had gone more Vader, instead of completely sticking with the Anakin route. Tortured conscience is good and all, but I definitely wished there had been more moments when he really got into the revenging. Just to keep us viewers on our toes on his moral stand. That would surely have amped up the suspense. There were also probably one or a few moments I thought he was bit too maudlin for the character and shed one too many tears, but all in all, he really sold the part for me.

what made me want to gouge my eyes out
Oh, don’t even get me started on the music in this drama. Like the editing, the music was like a kickboxing match simultaneously broadcast over each scene. If I heard “good-bye my princess!” or “fly high!” one more time in this drama, I…

...well, I’ll leave that thought unfinished. Fortunately, the drama was pulled by enough acting chops to save it from what could have been a cataclysmic disaster.

Hey, a soundtrack is important. It’s one of those things…you appreciate it when it’s good, you don’t notice it when it’s average…but if it’s bad, it’s all you can think about! Isn’t that why the worst songs are the ones that always seem to stick in your head forever?

what kept me going
As I mentioned, I really found Park ShiHoo’s character charming.

After him, Kim SoYeon was a little sparkly herself. As she began to grow, I found her an enjoyable watch. I don’t think this character will go down as a favorite, but I cannot deny there was an appeal to her delivery of Ma HyeRi, this woman who learned early that the world was a cruel place and therefore built herself a wall of designer shoes and clothes for protection. She decided it was better to be envied than to be pitied. But what made her work as a person was that she remained the same wholesome person from childhood who looked at the world with trust. Despite her wall, she had never truly become jaded. Kim SoYeon was well-casted, as she had a tough girl strength about her, yet was able to switch gears to soft and girlie depending on the mood.

And as a side note, from what we learn through flashbacks, the ‘world’ she grew up in was truly cruel. I mean, really, if you saw a girl lying in the street on a rainy day, tell me, would you tell that stranger, “Get out of the way, you’re blocking the path”? Hmmm, it makes me weep for society. I believe the compassionate reaction would be to say, “Are you hurt? Do you need me to call 9-1-1?” I’m going to believe we have another case of kdrama exaggerated-cruelty.

What else kept me going? The romance between the shy and serious prosecutor Choi SongHyun and her longtime crush on the Chuno hottie was really sweet.

Other factors:
predictability Yes
engrish No
originality I guess
eye-candy Yes. Most especially, I’d like to mention that Park JungAh who played Park ShiHoo’s best gal pal from the U.S. Truly, she was very pretty.
hair and fashion I didn’t like it. I actually thought Kim SoYeon’s attire was more suited for an aging madam or sahmonim in her fifties than a young professional in her twenties. Her supposed fashion forwardness was more gaudy and matronly than stylish! As for Park ShiHoo, cute as he was, his character wore a lot of swooping v-necks, which are not my favorite on a fellow.

is it worth trying to find?
Sure. It wouldn’t be especially tragic if you missed it, but this kind of drama is one of those “personal preference” types. Depending on the watcher, it could turn out to be a favorite.

total enjoyment factor 
9/10 character and story
3/10 music and editing  

Honestly, the horrid music and editing really turned me off, both of which were so obvious and corny. I really didn’t need the music to yell at me, guiding me on how to react to the moments. The actors were doing a fine job on their own with the tearing and intense staring. The score was worse than a laugh track. In the end, the actors in the drama proved to be better than its production. If we scraped away all that outside gunk, underneath the loud mess of bad photoshopping, there was a decent picture here. I liked it, but really couldn’t give it a higher score. I recently reviewed Coffee House and gave it an eight, and that one had seamlessly creative production quality and good acting both, so in all justice, if that’s 8-work, then Princess had to be a couple steps lower.

total disdain factor

why this review is completely biased
I’ve liked Kim SoYeon ever since she played second fiddle in The Grand Chef. I was determined to like this one. Fortunately, while I did find it hard in the beginning, I gladly finished. Y’all don’t even know how relieved I am that I could give this one a decent review. My first impressions were not that positive, if I recall.

could a non-kdrama fan like this

One of my favorite scenes in this show, and also one of the few examples of decent editing, comes near the conclusion when Kim SoYeon stands outside her house and remembers her first meeting with Park ShiHoo when they had been children. It’s night out, as it had been back then. The flashback is interspersed with the present moment as she reflects on her past, asking their childhood versions how they had arrived at this point in their lives. It was a really powerful scene that captured so well the emotional war within Kim SoYeon. And really, the emotional battle that had been raging the entire drama.

If more of the show had been built around quietly competent scenes like the one above, I think it would have been a better product. I could be wrong, but I think Princess did want to be taken seriously, just like Kim SoYeon’s character. But you know, throwing a song that belts the chorus good-bye my princess over and over during a sad scene...really, that’ll crack the egg. 

I blame it all on the music and editing, a tarnish on an otherwise well-acted drama.


  1. lol... u pinpointed exactly every good and bad points of this drama... we appreciated the same things and disliked the same things too. except that i LOVED the positive and was only slightly annoyed by the negative. so i guess overall, i ended up liking this drama more than you did. truth taken, i was quite hyped over it cuz i followed it live but quality wise, i agree with you.
    and guess what, the reason the lyrics sucked was because it was the drama producer or director or someone like that who customed wrote the lyrics for this drama.. a total waste of a good voice and song if u ask me.
    and even if this is one of those rare case where we do not agree completely, i loved reading ur review!!! very well written.^^

  2. ooh.. just saw ur comments... i totally agree. ha ji won's bro looks totally like her. ^^
    and yeah... yoo ah in is a total SHOW stealer.. i mean, he's just HOT>
    but i have to say that SJK is quite fine himself.. actually, that whole drama is full of eye-candy is quite distracting.. haha. *swoon*

    oh.. wat do u think of athena?

  3. You're right, Scandal is just heavenly on the eyes!!! Hmmm...I don't know about Athena, I don't see myself tuning in...you? Nothing about it really excites me...


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