Prosecutor Princess — The Curious Case of the Near-Miss

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Prosecutor Princess has an ardent following. I couldn’t get past eight episodes. It was a close-run thing, though. I might just as easily have carried on watching. I didn’t vehemently hate it. I just ran out of interest. It was a near-miss for me. Why?

Recently I sprang a question on Thundie: “What in your opinion is the greatest sin a drama can commit?” And then realized that I can’t give a very coherent answer myself. Perhaps, taking PP as a case study I could manage an analysis. Now, this isn’t quite on point because PP is by no means the worst sinner or worst offending drama I have encountered. But on the other hand it’s quite interesting to explore the borderlands. When a drama is very bad it is usually bad for fairly obvious reasons. When it is good it is just good. When a drama is in the middle for me, not bad but not great, what tips the balance between “ok, I’ll go with this and keep watching and take it for what it’s worth” and “forget it, I’m outta here”? Perhaps by analysing why PP fell onto the wrong side of the line for me I can figure out what makes a drama work for me. Or not.

It’s said that art says more about us, the people encountering it, than about the artist or the art itself. In this sense, I think k-drama is art. So right from the start I concede that my reaction to PP probably reveals more about me than about PP.

Now, what exactly went wrong between PP and me? First of all, it came out at a bad time for me. I was quite stressed at work and there were other things happening in k-drama land which I found more enticing. So the timing was just not right for PP and me. On the other hand, when I’m stressed I often retreat into dramas which are mindless and comforting. Why did I not find PP such a refuge? Why was it that the show instead brought out the worst of the Drama Princess in me? “We are not amused,” I murmured to myself, royally grumpy.

I have a theory. (Uh oh, Serendipity and her theories.) And I have coined a new phrase to go with the theory…

Aspirational Gap

This is the gap between what a show aspires to do, and the extent to which I can respond in the desired manner. If a show aspires to be little more than mindless fun, and I am happy to receive it as mindless fun – we have a Match (see, Boys Over Flowers which I enjoyed). If a show aspires to be great but I think it is average – we have a Gap. If a show aspires to win my heart and I just can’t be bothered – we have a Fail. And for everyone, the gap is different. Because we all respond differently, and we all have a different interpretation of what a show aspires to.

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“Why don’t you love me? Why? Why?”

My read is that PP aspires to be more than a pleasant but mindless bundle of entertainment. I feel that it wants me to be involved in its story, to care about and root for the Prosecutor Princess, to be intrigued by the Mystery Man, to be caught up in the legal drama… Basically, I feel it wants me to really, really like it.

It’s like an earnest young man asks me out on a date and I oblige because he seems nice enough. But I find he kinda bores me. I try to distance myself from him, but he is not happy and finally confronts me, “Why don’t you like me? Why?” At which point, if there were any doubt before, I now feel he is definitely not someone I want to get involved with. Why would you expect me to like you? Why should I have to even explain myself for not liking you? If on the other hand he didn’t whine needily but just kicked back, not pushed at me or put me on the spot, relaxed and continued to be my friend, I wouldn’t feel the same need to flee from him.

Aspiration No. 1:- Ma Hye Ri wins me over from the start, charming me with her spunk and her adorableness. I am impressed by her brand of smarts and sorry for her tribulations.

The Evidence: Even PP’s die-hard fans admit that MHR’s behaviour was annoying and childish in the first few episodes. Wish Upon a Star pulled this same stunt but only for one episode – by episode two tragedy forced the heroine to grow up dramatically and be a different person. No drama can risk dishing up an unsympathetic heroine for episodes on end. Ergo, PP must have intended that Hye Ri be sympathetic from early on in the series in spite of all her bumblings.

My response: Er. No. I don’t find her bumblings cute, I don’t find her cluelessness adorable, not for seven-plus episodes so I doubt anything is going to change.

And this is mostly about The Gap. You see if PP had just come right out and positioned itself to say that Hye Ri is a ditzy girl who happened to pass her law exams because she was just about above-average smart (possible, you know), but who is actually really shallow, who has idiot-level EQ and is colour-blind – that I can go with! But if she’s supposed to have a genius-level IQ, be a heroine to inspire (or at least endear herself to) the young professional women among us, be the one who opens the hearts and eyes of her stodgy colleagues to a brighter and better world, be an icon for be-true-to-yourself-ism, and make two hot men fall in love with her (I may have only watched seven episodes, but I think I can see where all the Mary-Sue is heading)… Er. No.

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PP should be eternally grateful to Kim So Yeong who gamely plays Ma Hye Ri without a shadow of embarrassment. But sadly for me, her excellent acting just meant that she brought to life the character that was written for her, the one I just can’t quite clasp to my bosom.

Take episode one. Now, I understand that the show is setting the scene for her development and that she is at this point still raw and inexperienced. But I must believe that the show is not suicidal and that it expects us to like Hye Ri not despise her. And it’s supposed to introduce her as our spunky, resourceful, clever and Bohemian heroine, brimming with potential and just waiting to blossom. That, at least, is the theory. In reality the Aspiration Gap kicks in for me straight away, for nothing that Hye Ri did in episode one made me love her. This was a problem for me, as I knew I was supposed to like Hye Ri and that the show would not work for me if I didn’t. I think Kim So Yeong the actress is cute and convincing. But nothing that Hye Ri the character does leads me to suppose that she is worth my time. She lies in order to get out of an important professional development course. She gets her mother to lie along with her. She lies in order to purchase a pair of outrageously expansive designer shoes. (Shoes! Aigoo, if you are going to consign your professional morals to flames, do it for something more worthwhile, please?) When she is robbed and left in the lurch she shows startling lack of resource and an alarming disregard for her safety by opting to share a hotel suit with a strange man rather than condescend to a motel. She turns up for her first day of work in a get-up too loud for a girl’s first day as a travelling cosmetics saleswoman, let alone for a government legal department. Her skirt is sluttishly short and her inability to clock that her colleagues are dismayed by this and that criminal suspects are taking her for a tart shows that she has as much EQ as a government-issue filing cabinet. On being taken out by her colleagues after her first day of work, she drinks too much, changes into a skimpy playboy-bunny dress and to the horror and discomfort of her male colleagues sings and dances suggestively in front of them.

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See the Aspiration Gap? If all this were meant for me to roll my eyes at Hye Ri, me and Show would get on fine. However, I’m pretty sure this is not the case and Show aspires to have me find Hye Ri’s cluelessness and exuberance adorable. Er. No.

Things do not get very much better as we progress through the second episode and onward. She refuses to bear her share of her team’s work, which is irresponsible and clueless for a newbie who should be making up for her lack of experience by working harder than anyone else. She flouts basic rules of confidentiality, security and common sense by taking away papers relating to a juicy celebrity case, and then losing them. She signs off on legal documents without reading them. She takes cases at face value and doesn’t bother to consider evidence in any depth (though she does better with this in later episodes). We are told that she really wanted to be a fashion designer but had gotten into trouble because her memory is so powerfully photographic she innocently reproduced another designer’s collection without realizing it (er, Show? No, that’s not how it works. Smart people with good memories remember where they have seen things before). She is an adult but she allows herself to be held hostage by her father’s threats to withhold her car and credit cards and lock up her precious wardrobe, and we are supposed to feel sorry for her? And my heart is supposed to break for her when she overhears her colleagues (rightly, imo) speculating how long she will last, with her bad work attitude and her propensity for getting arrested in night-clubs?

From the enthusiasm with which she learns a card game (to go undercover) I’m supposed to be convinced that she is clever and has the potential to be a great lawyer? Hmm… And her going undercover (to catch a den of gamblers) without informing her colleagues is supposed to showcase her resourcefulness and determination, not her lack of common sense and professional suicidal instincts? She gets sent to the doghouse when the sting goes pear-shaped and no evidence is obtained. Is the show implying that if her life-endangering escapade had resulted in arrests she would have been feted? Wow. People can be (and have been) fired for less serious lapses of judgement.

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Then we have the whole ridiculous back-story of how Hye Ri used to be mocked and abused because she was obese (and had prosthetic fingers like bleached sausages – well, who wouldn’t mock those). I might be able to pass over this farrago and the whole mother-locks-her-up-in-dungeon-till-she-loses-weight scenario as purely comic and not meant to be taken seriously. (Though, even solely as comic diversion I found the whole sequence tediously long-drawn.) However, I have the feeling that I am supposed to feel sorry for her and excuse all her unprofessional conduct because she’s suffered mental anguish in the past. Er… Well, you can just guess how I would take to that.

Aspiration No. 2:- I care about Ma Hye Ri’s development as a person.

Well, this one flops straight away, if I can’t much care about Hye Ri as a person, I don’t care about her development.

Next…

Aspiration No. 3:- I am interested in Ma Hye Ri’s professional development

Here I have to be careful, because I know I can be extremely hard on legal dramas. Extremely. Hey, I couldn’t bear to watch Ally McBeal which everyone else loved. I understand that it is unfair to go into full-nitpicking mode, because then where would we all be? After all even as a non-medico I could see that the medical stuff in Thank You was pretty laughable, but I still love that show to bits.

I think however there is a difference between the way TY and PP treat their respective professions. In TY the focus of the plot was on the development of Dr Min Gi Seo as a person, not as a doctor. The occasional medical scenes contributed to the flow of the plot, but they are mostly plot devices rather than the heart or point of the show.

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In PP on the other hand, Hye Ri’s development as a professional and as a prosecutor is pretty key to the plot. More than half the action of the show revolves around her work life (whereas for most of the time we are hanging out with Dr Min in TY he is unemployed). Her identity as a prosecutor is so key the word “Prosecutor” appears in the title of the show, for pete’s sake. If the legal stuff were peripheral, I might let it pass. But because it is central, it’s hard to ignore and it’s tiresome to have to keep giving out free passes – “Oh, that’s risible, but never mind, it’s just a show”. “Oh look, another stupendous misrepresentation, never mind, it’s just a show.”

First off, prosecutors are not investigators. They are lawyers, not policemen. They do not investigate cases, much less go around chasing bad guys. They most certainly, absolutely, not in million years go around on undercover stings “finding their own cases”. *Serendipity gnashes teeth*. I mean, if the show wanted Hye Ri to dash around digging up fresh cases, it should have made her a police detective not a lawyer.

Secondly, you can not convict a man of sexual misconduct based on previous charges of sexual misdemeanour which were dropped years ago because of lack of evidence. That’s all kinds of inadmissible – circumstantial, prejudicial, etc.

Finally, can I just point out? Public prosecutors are lawyers, not doctors, much less forensic pathologists. They do not conduct autopsies.

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Now, at this point you may well protest that I am bullying this poor Show and beating it with the big stick of Proper Criminal Procedure. You probably have a point. But my point is this: If the show aspires to have me take the professional development of Hye Ri seriously, then it should take the professional development of Hye Ri seriously. It’s not impossible to be both entertaining and broadly accurate – for which see the dorama Hero for Kimura Takuya as a prosecutor behaving as he should.

Aspiration No. 4:- I’m fascinated by Seo In Woo’s mystery. And by In Woo.

Ever since I watched How to be a Perfect Neighbour I have had a girly crush on Park Shi Hoo. Girly because it’s quite shallow: I think he is pretty to look at. So it’s notable that my predisposition to ogle PSH can’t save PP for me. Again, it’s the Gap. If I think I’m just asked to enjoy his pretty face, I would be most happy to oblige. Then I wouldn’t mind that I find his acting skin-deep, with the result for me that I find the character he plays only skin-deep. But if I think I’m being asked to find him deeply fascinating… Er. No.

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Eight episodes in, and we still don’t know what Seo In Woo’s deal is and why he keeps popping up in Hye Ri’s life, *dum dum dum* cue dread drums of mystery. Now, mystery only works if people are interested enough to hang around to watch it unfold. If you stretch out a mystery for more than eight hours, you must be pretty confident that people are dying to find out more about your Man of Mystery. But I just can’t care. I mean, it’s obvious that In Woo and Hye Ri are the OTP – the promotional posters pair them so it’s a foregone conclusion. The only way this k-drama poster rule would be broken is if PP were a truly subversive, sophisticated, subtle, twisty drama – and a few minutes into the first episode is all I need to know that it is so not. To be sure, In Woo has a hidden agenda. We know this from the way he is always doing the *wink nudge* “heh heh Ma Hye Ri is coming along nicely according to Our Plan” thing with his sidekick Jenny (see pic above). And since there are flashbacks to IW and HR meeting in childhood we may assume it has something to do with the past. Whatever this agenda is, whether good or evil, we know that the agenda is going to be overtaken by our hero’s love for our heroine. It will furthermore become the standard obstacle in our lovers’ course (Alas! Aleck!) causing misunderstand, angst, regret, tears and recriminations. But rest assured, finally there will be avowals of love which will conquer all, followed by forgiveness, reconciliation and sunshine. (When I wrote this I hadn’t watched or read recaps beyond ep8, honestly!!) To me, there’s no mystery.

Much ink has been spilt and many pixels fired up in the blogsphere debating whether or not In Woo is a stalker. Personally I don’t find In Woo’s stalkery behaviour as creepy as I find Hye Ri’s (non) reaction to it. In Woo is up to something mysterious so of course he does inexplicable things. Also, he is the dashing leading man so according to the Rules of Romance he can be as masterful and controlling as he likes so long as he eventually redeems himself by his Undying Love for our heroine, having been suitably tortured by his guilt and self-doubt along the way. Understanding this, I can take his disconcerting behaviour in my stride. What is truly disturbing to me is that Hye Ri doesn’t notice how weird it all is, that he keeps popping up and insinuating himself into her life. She seems to be able to believe six impossible things before breakfast without blinking. And we’re supposed to believe that she is smart? Perhaps she is a savant!

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What I do find a lot more objectionable about In Woo is his knowing smile and his amused chuckling at Hye Ri’s cute cluelessnesses. This is the way the show indicates that he is falling in love with Hye Ri and that she is inveigling her way irresistibly into his heart. Personally, I find this patronising. I would kick in the shins any man who says he finds me adorable because I’m clueless, and then gives me a knowing smile. *grrr*

By the time we get to episode six and learn that In Woo has moved into an apartment next to the apartment Hye Ri has just rented and feigns astonishment, I have ceased to care whether In Woo really has the devil’s own luck or is indulging in another bout of master-puppeteering.

Aspiration No. 5:- I’m sucked into the love triangle between Hye Ri, In Woo and General Choi oops I mean Yoon Se Joon

Ah, General Choi. What can I say? I liked Han Jung Soo in Chuno but even then I could see he was just a “type” of character – the Voice of Reason, the solidly dependable one. And it seems to me that he was cast to play more-or-less the same role in PP. Except that in PP it misfires for me.

Prosecutor Yoon is supposed to be the professional guiding star in PP. You can see the set up – you know that Hye Ri will have “made it” when Prosecutor Yoon is finally won over and says “well done, good and faithful servant”. But Prosecutor Yoon is shockingly unprofessional in that he doesn’t even attempt to train or supervise the newbie before unleashing her on an unsuspecting public. I mean, he and their boss put this untried (and, indeed, so far failed) greenhorn in charge of a child molestation case????!!!!!! Forget firing Hye Ri, I would fire the entire prosecution team.

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On the other hand, I do feel sorry for Prosecutor Yoon the man. I can see he is being set up as the cold second lead who eventually falls for our heroine when she has proven herself and he has to eat back all his hard, mean words, but too late because she will have fallen for someone else, haha serve him right and hooray for our vindicated heroine. I can see exactly where this love triangle is headed, and I’m not all that interested.

The Less Gap-y Stuff

There were a few things I liked about PP. Unfortunately they weren’t enough to keep me going.

I liked Jin Jung Sun (played by Choi Song Hyun), our second female lead. She is sensible and straight, and at the same time not at all mean. What little I saw of her, I liked and found refreshing. Hey! There’s an idea! Make Jin Jung Sun the star of this show and I could get behind it!

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I appreciate that the show portrayed prosecution work as hard slog – all those nice thick stacks of documents being wheeled around, all that unpaid over-time. Pity that in other respects it sells the profession short.

Legal Travesties and Legal Transvestites!

I have a friend who is actually public prosecutor. She’s sensible, smart, and works very hard. (And is always dressed sensibly in plain white shirt and black pants.) I met her recently and she told me about the difficult and complicated case she was working on, the long and tedious hours she was putting in, the unreliability of her wretched witnesses and the stress of going to court every day. I actually felt embarrassed that I was part of the k-drama world watching PP at that time. I felt an urge to say, “Forgive them, my friend, for they know not what they do.”

Finally, one last ranty grouse. Show, if you’re going to make Hye Ri a lovable fashionista, couldn’t you at least give her a decent wardrobe? The poor thing looks like a cross between a nouveau riche ahjumma and a street-walker. Actually, with the over-heavy make-up and over-the-top accessories she kind of looks like a transvestite. And, actually, PSH with his pale face, red lips and extremely dubious wardrobe also kinda puts me in mind of a transvestite…

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In Conclusion: A Near-Miss…

As I said, I don’t hate PP. If one day I find myself with more free time than I know what to do with, I might come back to it and watch to the end. Or I might not. If I do, I’ll be sure to act on the results of my Aspirational Gap analysis, i.e. adjust my expectations severely and not read too much into PP’s aspirations. It is harmless enough and I can see that another person (other than me) might enjoy its ride.

With this, I trust I have demonstrated that I (and ockoala) don’t just gush about life-affirming dramas set on islands. I also do snark. ☺

*Serendipity runs off and hides…*

Now that I’ve dared say a scathing thing (or two) about the year’s best-loved drama on the worldwide blogsphere, I’m running off to hide. Indignant? Outraged? Stick your say into the comments section! I just apologise in advance that I may not be replying in a timely fashion because I’m travelling in a few days and won’t have regular internet access. Honestly! *ducks*

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40 thoughts on “Prosecutor Princess — The Curious Case of the Near-Miss

  1. @ Laica

    Oh, your comment wasn’t that long! And I know what you mean. Personally, I found HR’s immature relationship with her material things and with her father very annoying. I know it’s subjective (some people might find this cute, or at least unobjectionable), but the annoyance is real to me (and to you) and very difficult to get over.

    Thanks for your insight!

    @ missjb

    Ah, I shall bear that in mind when I have plenty of time to spare!

  2. ahhh love/hate PP…. I just one to say I’m happy you dislike ma hye ri char so much. IT’s a sign her char is not just one dimensional char classic female lead where everyone must love… Her char is more than that…. THis writer must be clever to create such an unique char like this.

    It’s kind new to me, and for me, the main char isn’t always supposed to relate for..

  3. hi serendipity. Nice to read your review. I just want to share, i read some article about prosecuter in korea, prosecutor have the authority to investigate some crimes. Prosecutor are investigation organization as well as an indictment organization. The legal status of a prosecutor as an indictment and that of prosecutor as an investigation organtization are different of each other. They play a leading role in the criminal investigation. In korean prosector sytem is similar to that france or germany. so i think it’s not breaking the rules at all. And in PP, hye ri investigate her cases not in her work time. A prosecuter can not finding an own case is right, but i think because of that they let hye ri failed, because it’s not the right thing to do.

    about autopsy, i think hye ri is not conduct them, they examine it. Did i miss something? Oh well…

    After watching pp, i decide to read many article about prosecutor in korea, because it’s intersting to know about prosecutor in korea want to know and finding out how accurate they are. I don’t know how accurate the article was, but i read some of them and they have similar theme and rules about prosecutor in korea. I just amaze u didn’t point out about hye ri who discuss a case with in woo all the time. I just wonder is it the right thing to do? Because she disscuss with someone else about her case. Because they can’t tell anyone about information.
    i can’t say i agree about all your statement because we have different point of view especially reading ma hye ri’s character. But it’s interesting to read your review, always interesting to find a disagreement about something we like.

  4. Pingback: Irrational Impediments – thundie's prattle

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  6. Agree with your insight. It’s a very average drama. While watching PP comfortably on the widescreen tv, i was more often then not distracted by the hugely entertaining Empress Ki on a uncomfortable 7 inch tablet (don’t we all multitask these days?). In the end, Empress Ki won hands down. I plowed through 51 eps in a few short days, before returning to PP (had rented the dvd so didn’t want to waste good money). It’s a forgettable piece. The main actor who does Seo In Woo has lousy acting skills. Saw him in “The Princess’ man” and found him quite cute there. But when i watched PP, i realise he has this strange acting style that carries through his shows. A comical rolling of eyes everytime he’s supposed to be thinking hard. A weird shoulder movement when he’s standing, reminiscent of a model’s pose. The little distracting actions constantly remind me that this actor is ‘acting’. Oh, did i mention a horrible song that keeps recurring in the show, which i am absolutely positive is sung by an untrained idol croaker….

  7. I recently saw this series when I found the DVDs in my local library in USA. I couldn’t really describe how I felt about this series until I saw your post. You echoed my thoughts for most part. The series was not bad but it felt lacking especially in the writing and direction department. As you said, there was a big gap between what the character was supposed to be and how they behaved. Not just PSH’s acting, but everything was skin deep in this series. The series tried to be emotional and serious but tried to gloss over everything with cute and silly. The end result was something that didn’t really make me feel anything for the characters or their stories or neither was I laughing and saying ‘So cute’. I completed the series unlike you, maybe because I was too lazy to search for a new one… hehe.

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