My First Client Review: A Korean Masterpiece On Child Abuse

My First Client is not a great film because it tackles such a relevant sensitive issue. It is a great film because it has a riveting survival story to tell

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My First Client Review: A Korean Masterpiece On Child Abuse

Films about child abuse are not infrequent from Korea. In this country, violence against children,  most of it perpetrated by parents, is not uncommon.  Director  Jang Gyu-Sung (whose last film I Am The King was as different from this as Meryl  Streep from Whoopi Goldberg) takes us into one such incident and leaves us as battered as the two little children whom I just wanted to yank out of their fiendish mother’s brutal clutches and bring them home. Be warned. My First Client is not an easy film to watch. The director doesn’t dissolve the issue into an easily soluble pill. Indeed the violence against the two little siblings in this film will haunt you for days as will their determination to stay united as fate deals them a barrage of blows.

I saw the film 24 hours ago and I haven’t been able to sleep. How can adults do such unthinkable things to vulnerable children scaring and scarring them, physically and emotionally for life? Jang Gyu-Sung’s script is fabulously formalistic. It does get over-dramatic at times. But the core of the theme remains untarnished by compromise. A young lazy lawyer Jung-Yeob (Lee Dong-Hwi) who wants nothing except to lead a good life by working in a posh law firm, comes of ‘rage’ when he befriends two siblings 10-year-old  Da-Bin (Choi Myung-Bin) and her kid-brother  Min-Joon (Lee Joo-Won). It is obvious to Jung-Yeob that the two children are being regularly abused by their stepmother  Ji-Sook (Yoo-Sun). But he conveniently abandons them and leaves the city.

What happens next shakes the audience as much as it shakes Jung-Yeob. The narrative builds into a stunning courtroom finale where  I found myself crying and clapping like a madman. Also, wondering how audiences loudly would applaud when the lawyer-hero turns to the monster mother and spits out, “You call yourself a mother? You are  not  even a  human being.” Jung-Yeob finds his conscience. When will societies that perpetrate violence against the vulnerable, find theirs? My First Client leaves us with many questions about the laws and state policies that allow parents to  “discipline” their children by thrashing them. It also leaves us with visual images (scintillating and yet docu-real cinematography by Jo Jung-Hee) that will linger in our heads forever.

My favourite image is that of Jung-Yeob breaking into the scene of domestic violence with a hammer and walking out with the battered bloodied girl on his back as neighbours stare. Goosebumps! Jung-Yeob who has so far done only secondary parts rises to the occasion creating a hero who doesn’t fly in a cape. He isn’t interested in saving the world. He just saves the life of one little girl.

The two child actors are beyond wonderful. And if 10-year old Choi Myung-Bin doesn’t make you cry in her courtroom breakdown sequence then you probably don’t have a heart. Yoo-Sun as the monster mother is so brilliant I would probably throttle her with my bare hands if I ran into her. My First Client is not a great film because it tackles such a  relevant sensitive issue. It is a  great film because it has a riveting survival story to tell. The conscience is the true hero of this unforgettable film. Its awakening is magically potent in the narrative. You will search for your conscience after seeing this film. That’s a promise.

Directed by Jang Gyu-Sung, My First Client gets 4 and a half stars. 

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