It turns out Seok-joo does have one personality trait that pretty clearly wasn't there in the first two episodes- curiousity. The weird personal recognition cliffhanger at the end of the last episode bothers the man here, and he works figure out what's happening. This might signal a problem at the law firm, but fortunately Seok-joo's prior lifestyle of apathy was a two way street. He didn't care, and he was aided in this by other characters who also did not care.
Oddly, the main person we'd expect to encourage him with this personal change is Ji-yoon. But she doesn't actually do much here. Ji-yoon has a few roles- the awkward implied romantic relationship between her and Seok-joo creates comedic fodder. There's also her home life with the annoying little brother. And she's also working for Yeong-woo. Not very well, given the way Seok-joo's character is progressing, but it was pretty dumb of him to entrust the job to her in the first place. Ji-yoon has no context in which to understand the "correct" way for Seok-joo to act.
And neither does Seok-joo, which is what makes his character growth believable right now. It seems like every situation he gets in the first thing he wonders is why the law firm does business in this particular way. With his prior self this was pretty easy to justify- Seok-joo hated everybody, didn't listen to anybody, so naturally a heartless business model was the one that came up looking smart.
But emotional events that failed to move Seok-joo before take on an odd feeling of desperation now. The oil spill victims surely must know by now that emotional pleas won't have any effect on a cold-hearted man like Seok-joo. And yet they still try to pull off these kinds of appeals because, well, they don't have any other options. At least that's what I'm assuming- otherwise the writing comes off as kind of shoddy.
By this point "A New Leaf" has thoroughly established how ambivalent Seok-joo feels about about his current living situation, so hopefully we now get to see him take action and do something about it. I'm interested to see what his courtroom style is going to be when so far all his strengths appear to have been built on the assumption that Seok-joo is cold, heartless, and will sink to any level in order to win. It's hard to reconcile that kind of attitude with a desire to do good in the world- this begs the question of whether he can pull it off, and that's exactly the kind of tension this drama needs right now.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "A New Leaf" Episode 5"
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