Autistic characters are not an unusual appearance in the world of cinema, but they are not as common in Asian film productions. Lee Han, known for his humanistic approach to feature films, tackles the topic of autism in a feature that aims to be several things: a courtroom drama, a crime film and a family drama, with elements of comedy and thriller thrown in.

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Photo © Lotte Entertainment

Soon-ho (Jung Woo-sung) used to be a human rights lawyer, but switched to the dark side by getting a job in a privately owned law firm, to help pay off his family’s debt. The film lets us know that his soul has not completely crossed over, no matter how disillusioned he seems to be, but his bosses are eyeing him as a possible partner – that is, if he is willing to “dirty” himself up a bit. The chance comes in the form of a fairly simple case – an old man, who suffered from depression, is allegedly murdered by his housemaid. Soon-ho is to defend her; she insists that there was no murder, but merely a suicide attempt that she unsuccessfully attempted to thwart. The case goes to court due to there being a witness – an autistic 15-year-old Ji-woo (Kim Hyang-gi), whose testimony was video-taped due to her condition. Soon-ho senses that he could win the case easily if he could get the girl to testify in person; and even though the prosecutor Hee-Joong (Lee Kyu-hyung) and the family try to stop him at first, he stubbornly approaches her to both win her trust and successfully communicate with her, which would enable him to put her on the stand.

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Photo © Lotte Entertainment

Innocent Witness is a problematic film on several accounts. To begin with, the superficiality on various aspects of the plot makes the film more of a TV-movie than a cinematic experience. There are several side stories, but they never get explored in depth – like Soon-ho’s relationship with his friend Soo-in, which doesn’t really serve a proper purpose except to hint that he might be interested in a romantic relationship despite the fears of his father, and she is also present to make Soon-ho feel guilty about his life choices. The entire by-plot of Soon-ho’s work in the law firm as they try to make him into another sold soul feels almost like it belongs to a different film. The storyline is also very one-sidedly focused on Soon-ho and his interaction with Ji-woo, while the prosecutor appears only in some of the key points of the film – a proper under-use of Lee Kyu-hyung’s talent. Also, are there no laws in South Korea that would prevent a lawyer from basically stalking an under-age girl, even if it is for a case? Soon-ho and Ji-woo’s interactions do include some truly funny moments, but a shadow of inappropriateness hangs over most of their communication.

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Photo © Lotte Entertainment

Still… this entire kerfuffle could have worked, were it not for the fact that a complete lack of decisiveness on what kind of film we are watching ebbs from every scene. There are a murder case, corrupt lawyers and bullying of an autistic person in the rooster, and yet, the entire film oozes with feelings of light-warmheartedness, along with ample comedic moments. One would expect at least some heavy melodrama thrown in, but the film steers clear of that and remains light, with extra cheese on top, especially in its final moments.

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Photo © Lotte Entertainment

The intent of the film is obviously good, and it is true that the message it tries to send out is noble, but it took on bigger bites than it could ultimately chew. But credit where credit is due; Kim Hyang-gi as Ji-woo does a splendid job. It is obvious that she approached her character meticulously and put in a lot of effort, making her stand out from the mess that is the narrative. Similarly, Jung Woo-sung manages to stay afloat with his neither-here-nor-there character, making him likeable to the audience even while his character’s intentions are not entirely pure. Also, all the negatives aside, the sub-plot of Soon-ho and his father is funny, heart-warming in a surprisingly natural way with excellent chemistry between the two characters; one could even say that it deserves a movie of its own.

Rating: b3cd6-2.52bstars

Written by Sanja Struna

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About viewofkoreancinema

Maggie Gogler is a freelance film producer, production manager and she also works with children. She has a passion for Korean and World Cinema as well as music and arts. Maggie has been interested in cinema since she was 15 and discovered love for Korean films in 2004 when she saw Kim Ki Duk’s The Isle. She supports British and Asian independent film-making and enjoys producing creative and interesting projects. Maggie is the co-founder of View of the Arts and its sister website View of Korean Cinema. Sanja Struna is a freelance translator, occasional writer and a perpetual dreamer. Film is her first and longest-lasting love; since writing is her second, she saw the light a couple of years ago, let the two join hands and entered the field of film journalism. She has honed her knowledge through various film festivals which she either worked for or frequented. She is currently harboring a fascination with all things Korean and condones losing sleep if that means she can watch a good Korean film or drama. Sanja is the editor of View of the Arts and co-founder of View of Korean Cinema.

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Film, Film Festival, HOME