TV Review: Miss Hammurabi (Spoilers!)

In life, and nowadays, when it comes to choosing what to watch next, sometimes, taking that leap of faith and choosing something that you are not sure with is definitely worth the risk. As mentioned before, even though I’m a little bit of an old hand when it comes to watching Asian dramas, I still misjudge dramas by their titles, premise, and the lead cast. At first, I wasn’t sure about “Miss Hammurabi” as I wasn’t fond of Go Ara. However, I decided to take a leap of faith after seeing reviews and comments that the show was an unexpectedly lovely show, because JTBC hasn’t steered me wrong yet in terms of awesome  content, and after learning that the screenwriter was a former judge who also wrote the novel it was based on. And lo and behold, I was pleasantly surprised as it was a refreshing break from procedural and serialized dramas centering around court cases as this was a wonderful slice of life drama that showed us the highs and lows of being a judge, and was also a discussion on what justice is and how the justice system is today. T

“Miss Hammurabi” aired from May 21 to July 16,2018  for sixteen episodes on JTBC. As mentioned earlier, the drama was written by Moon Yoo Seok , a former judge, who turned his novel of the same name, into a screenplay. The cases that were featured both in the novel and in the drama were also based off of real cases that he encountered as a judge. Having the drama being written from an actual judge’s perspective really does make a world of a difference, as it made the show grounded and realistic, and  it really allowed us to get a sneak peek into what judges and court clerks go through all the time, and how they handle things, emotionally speaking. I am also glad that amidst all the other legal procedurals and shows that have judges as the main characters, that this show was the first drama I’ve ever watched that does focus on dramas. Many people have compared this show to “Live”,  as it allows us to witness their highs and lows firsthand, but expect it to have less case solving, as it is more like an office/workplace drama.

Miss Hammurabi Poster
Image Source: JTBC Drama Facebook Page

The drama mainly follows the lives of the three judges in Civil Department 44 as they go about their daily lives and job, and along with them, we witness the highs and lows of being a judge; while it being a small discussion about what justice is and the current justice system today. The judges in the department include Presiding Judge Han Se Sang (Sung Dong Il), whose name literally means “world, an older judge with a lot of worldly wisdom; Judge Im Ba Reun (Kim Myung Soo or L), whose name is a play on the word “right”, Judge Han’s right seat associate judge who is a stickler for the rules and principles and is very by the book, and who has been in the game for a while; and Judge Park Cha Oh Reum (Go Ara), whose name is a play on “brimming with emotion”, a newly appointed judge who serves as Judge Han’s left seat associate judge, who is still very much idealistic, passionate and doesn’t back down from injustice. The drama also focuses on the challenges that court clerks face, and also tells the story of associate Judge Jung Bo Wang (Ryu Deok Hwan), and Department 44’s assistant and stenographer, Lee Do Yeon (Lee Elijah). As the drama goes along, we witness how hard it actually is for judges to come up with fair and neutral judgments amidst public sentiment;  we see some cases that are mediated instead of being settled in the courtroom; and how sometimes, changing the system to adapt to the changing times, especially within the rigid hierarchy of the judicial system, can be a good thing and a sign of progress.

One of the wonderful things about this drama is that even though it can be described as a workplace or office drama, it doesn’t follow the usual norms of what one would expect in a workplace or office Korean drama. It’s script, it’s direction, acting, character development and cinematography are a little bit more subtle, which was very much refreshing and reminiscent of Japanese dramas. Because of this, I didn’t mind that there wasn’t that much focus on the romance of our main leads, because it wasn’t the main focus, and because the way these characters were written didn’t really call for blatant public displays of affection.

This drama can also be seen as a little bit of a discussion on what justice is and what the judicial system is, and this can be seen through our three characters, who serve specific purposes in the drama.

Three Judges
Kim Myung Soo/L as Judge Im Ba Reun, Sung Dong Il as Judge Han Se Sang, and Go Ara as Judge Park Cha Oh Reum Image Source: JTBC

Oh Reum is the ideal version of justice, a justice that is compassionate and passionate about setting things right. In an interview, the writer also mentioned that she is very much the product of the version of justice that people crave for especially after big tragedies like the Sewol Ferry incident. Ba Reun represents the law itself, as he is a justice who goes by the book and his own set of unwavering principles. He is the kind of justice in which the law is upheld to the very letter. Se Sang, on the other hand, represents a justice that is colored by a more worldly point of view, one that knows the implications of a judgment and how that will affect the public and the individual being judged.

In the end, this drama taught us that justice should stick to the law as a guide, but with compassion for others, while being tempered with worldly wisdom.

Go Ara was wonderful in this drama, and I am glad that I finally saw her in a project in which her character was written well, and it gave her a chance to show her range when it comes to acting.

I am not a fan of Infinite, and I haven’t seen Kim Myung Soo or L in anything yet, but I thought that he did well and was perfect for this particular role.

Do Yeon
Lee Elijah as Court Stenographer Lee Do Yeon Image Source: JTBC
Bo Wang
Ryu Deok Hwan as Judge Jung Bo Wang Image Source: JTBC

Sung Dong Il never ceases to amaze me, as I’ve seen him in three dramas now, including “Prison Playbook” and “Live”. Ryu Heok  was a revelation to me and I would like to see his  other projects as well. I know Lee Elijah from “Fight for My Way” and I’m glad that she got more to do here.

Some of the character arcs here were subtle and some were a little bit noticeable, but I do like all the character arcs that were presented, and how Oh Reum’s character, which had the potential to be too on the nose and annoying, wasn’t, and learned from her mistakes which guided her actions as things went along.

I also like how they were able to use the cases to talk about both important topics and topics that don’t seem much, but are important as well.  Aside from the justice system, they also talked about corruption, the way the privileged view this world and take their power for granted, how power can be abused and can be oppressing to the powerless, all the way to issues in the workplace.

If you are looking for a wonderful slice of life drama that is a refreshing take on the legal procedural or the Korean workplace/office drama, then this one is for you. Just make sure that you have a box of tissues handy near you because this drama is just a wonderful ride of emotions, that somehow does restore your faith in humanity, even if its just by a bit.

Now, you know the drill, from here on out, there will be spoilers!

warning-spoilers-final

As mentioned earlier, I am not really that fond of Go Ara, but based off of this experience, this opinion of mine was probably formed because her characters in the last two dramas she was in, “Hwarang” and “Black”, weren’t written very well. However, I am glad that she was given a chance to shine here as Judge Park Cha Oh Reum. Here, she showed her range in acting, from slightly comedic, to her potential to pull of more dramatic roles. Because of this, I am looking forward to seeing her in good projects in the future, and if anyone can tell me what other projects she was good in (let me know in the comments below), I’ll give them a watch as well.

Judge Oh Reum
Go Ara as Judge Park Cha Oh Reum Image Source: JTBC

Oh Reum again

Oh Reum’s character, as I said earlier, did have the potential to become annoying, especially with her own idealistic sense of justice and how persistent she is. Because of this, I was very much relieved that as the drama moved along, she was able to take the lessons she learned from her experiences and from Ba Reun and Se Sang, and apply it in the actions she takes and the judgments that she ended up making, even though she is still learning how to balance things out. Her character is definitely more of the “inspirer” type, and I’m glad that she never lost that innate ability to move and change not just people but outdated systems as well.

Kim Myung Soo did well as Ba Reun, and although there is always room for improvement, he was definitely perfect as this introverted judge who sticks to the rules. I would definitely love to see him in other projects,  whether past or future ones, and I hope that he’ll be given roles that would allow him to grow more as an actor, because the potential is there.

Judge Ba Reun 2
Kim Myung Soo/L as Judge Im Ba Reun Image Source: JTBC

Happy BR

More than Oh Reum, Ba Reun’s character experienced a very interesting and noticeable journey. He went from someone who stuck by the rules and who didn’t care about his co-workers that much, because of his experiences with his mother being the family’s breadwinner and his dad caring too much about others that he causes them to be broke, to someone who cares about others and whose judgments are now colored by both worldly wisdom and compassion for others. In a way, Ba Reun also does represent most people, as most of us are also like this. These changes came about both because of Oh Reum and what he learned while presiding over the cases that he did, and in particular, his turning point was that case with the violent after drunk old man.

br and or date
The two judges of Department 44 on the “Im Ba Reun Tour” Go Ara as Judge Park Cha Oh Reum & Kim Myung Soo/L as Judge Im Ba Reun Image Source: JTBC

I didn’t mind that there wasn’t so much focus on the romantic relationship between Oh Reum and Ba Reun, and that it wasn’t as blatant, as Bo Wang’s and Do Yeon’s relationship. This is mostly because Ba Reun understood that Oh Reum would be more hesitant when it comes to this because of her current situation and especially because she was sexually harassed before. Also, his character isn’t the type to be very public about it as well, and show his feelings transparently. Their love for each other runs deep, is patient, and the knowledge that they will always be there for each other, her to motivate change in him, and him being her rock and support, is enough for me.

BFs
Best Friends since High School- Ba Reun & Bo Wang Image Source: JTBC

Bo Wang is also another character who is very much like most people, so that change from wanting to be like everyone else, be liked by everyone and continue being a people pleaser, to someone who will stand up for his own beliefs and the people he cares about was noticeable and admirable, and this was thanks to Do Yeon and Oh Reum. It’s hard for people like him to actually stand up and go against the crowd, so when he helped initiate the petition for Oh Reum at the end, I was very much proud of him and Ba Reun. I also just adored the bromance between him and Ba Reun.

Judge Se Sang
Sung Dong Il as Presiding Judge Han Se Sang Image Source: JTBC

Se Sang is a wonderful character who ended up being almost like a father figure to the two. For me, his resignation in the end wasn’t unfair and was an interesting choice, because, as he said, its time to make way for the future; and in a sense, I also like that the Chief Presiding Judge acknowledged that as well.

I also loved the ending, with our three main judges going back to their department, and that meta moment in which Do Yeon (who is also a novelist and writer) finished her script entitled “Miss Hammurabi” and sent it to a scriptwriting competition by JTBC. Even more than that, I love how it was shown in the end that Bo Wang and Do Yeon had met each other before as students, although they probably don’t remember it; and the fact that the day that Ba Reun stood in amazement when the old and painfully shy Oh Reum decided to speak up and stood up against a man who had taken her seat in the library, and that man happened to be Se Sang studying for the bar. I guess these characters were always destined to be in each other’s lives no matter what.

“Miss Hammurabi” was an unexpectedly lovely drama that bucked the usual tropes as it was an interesting discussion about justice and change, wrapped in a workplace/office drama with the all the warmth of a Japanese Drama. Once again, JTBC has done it again, and has given us a drama that has definitely made it to my own personal list of favorites for this year.

Have you seen “Miss Hammurabi”? Would you like to check this drama out?  Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Image Source: JTBC Drama Facebook Page & JTBC

One thought on “TV Review: Miss Hammurabi (Spoilers!)

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