Korean dramas sometimes try stepping out of their limited genres and tropes, but also out of their format, even if more rarely. Trying something new is never easy and unfortunately, the more those attempts fail, the less willing the decision makers might be to give them another chance. However, effort and small successes count. 'A New Leaf' develops in a way very different to most dramas and while the one major flaw behind its efforts ultimately makes it feel like a failure, it gets some very important things right.
Kim Seok-joo (Kim Myung-min) is a very successful, but also very cynical and cold lawyer. After being involved in an accident that costs him his memory, he has to deal with his return to work and reacquaintance with his life and the person he used to be. Faced with his own cruelty and the cutthroat business of defending the corporate and financial elite, he begins to reassess his values and present.
That premise sounds very promising. From it, one would think the series would focus on a man and his journey through his morality and goals in life. While that does happen, to a degree, focus is something the series has issues with. Between a legal drama, a financial drama, a slice of life one and character-based piece, 'A New Leaf' just does not focus enough on any particular side it explores.
In the romance department, there really is not much to see, as the work makes some attempts that ultimately lead nowhere exciting. The series starts out having a potential romance unfolding with the perky intern , Lee Ji-yoon (Park Min-young), pegged to function as Seok-joo's new moral compass. Things take a turn for the odd when this eventually changed into a focus on a newly established romance and introduced character, Yoon Jeong-seon (Chae Jung-an), who viewers are expected to be emotionally invested in, along with the still amnesiac Seok-joo, even though they spent half a series not even knowing of her existence.
And this jumping between topics spreads out to the rest of the series. What starts as a legal drama and character exploration piece moves on to a more financial and corporate focus, eventually turning into a long series of middle aged men in suits hurling finance jargon at the viewer. Moreover, most characters are left unexplored beyond a very basic level and most of the episodes are filled with new characters no one would really care about, talking about things that have nothing to do with our main ones personally.
However, one thing becomes obvious by the end. This plays out like a multi-season procedural. All the elements are there. Multiple, unrelated to one another cases, many characters with short introductions and individual talents, a few possible romantic interests and love lines, case-of-the-week, or rather case-of-a-few-episodes progression. This is a series that plays out like it will have a next season and this first season is the origins story. The introduction to the characters and how they will start working together for their common cause.
Looked at this way, it is actually great. We get a bit of everything and the series also manages to have some steady , even if basic characterization. There are no histrionics, no overly melodramatic presentation or the usual drama tropes and situations, the world and characters are not soapy or governed by illogical, emotion-based mindsets, without being cold or inhuman. It is a very realistic series in that regard. While lacking in focus, the development does not have any huge problems and it works just like a series of this type would.
If viewed as a multi-season law/crime/office series, 'A New Leaf' would be a lovely work and new format for Korean drama outside of what cable has to offer. However, given we will probably be getting no sequel, this is its ultimate failure. It refuses to focus on one thing, refuses to develop its characters aside from their function in the cases and gives almost no closure to viewers. It ends up being a tedious path down company politics, placing its cases and love for complex terminology over an actual main plot development and its promising premise and characters. And while its good elements are things dramas could learn from and very much appreciated, its ultimate refusal to be a one-season serial with an appropriate for its format development make 'A New Leaf' an interesting attempt that did not succeed as an individual work.
Written by: Orion from 'Orion's Ramblings'
Vasia, also known as Orion or Ori online, is currently doing opinion pieces and database upkeep. She has a love for good TV and a penchant for rambling in written form. Vasia can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "A New Leaf""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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