The Advocate: A Missing Body (2015) Review

A Detective/Lawyer movie starring Lee Sun-Kyun /이선균, Lim Won-Hee /임원희, Jang Hyun-Sung /장현성 , and Kim Go-Eun /김고은. Directed by second time director Huh Jong-Ho of “Countdown” (2011).


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Introduction



Hello, Folks. This is Prof AKIA with a new Korean movie starring Lee Sun-Kyun, Lim Won-Hee, Jang Hyun-Sung, and Kim Go-Eun. This is my review of “The Advocate: A Missing Body” (2015) or “성난 변호사” which can be translated as the “Pissed off Lawyer.” I would have to say that the Korean title is a far more descriptive of the movie than the English one.


This rarely happens.
[Finger wagging]

The English title of “The Advocate: A Missing Body” (2015) makes the movie sound like a social justice legal drama which this movie is not. It is not “The Attorney” (2013).


NOT!

At its core, the movie a pulpy “smartest guy in the room” detective story right out of 80s Hollywood cinema. While the 80s have been dead for decades, this type of stories has found life in TV basic cable shows currently albeit in its sanitized form.

mmmm….

“The Advocate: A Missing Body” (2015) is like the second or third main stream Korean movie this year that feels like a 2 hour pilot of an okay American basic cable TV show.

An Interesting phenomenon!


The Plot
First and foremost, “The Advocate: A Missing Body” (2015) is not a legal drama. It is more of a detective genre movie with some court room elements shoved in there. As the central character, we have Lee Sun-Kyun of “A Hard Day” (2014) playing the lawyer. I would use some of the following terms to describe his role.


Dick!
Prick!
Wise Ass!
Greedy Bastard!
JERK!

He is a weasel in a $5000 suit. Not only would he do what is required to win a case, but he will shove it in your face while doing so with a smarmy grin and some wise cracks. However, he is not just any sleazy weasel in a fancy suit. While this side of him tends to overshadow his intelligence in the eyes of others, he is actually the “smartest person in the room.” 



This makes him basically a more asshole version of Sherlock Holmes. He even has his own version of a snarky Dr. Watson type sidekick. It is just that everyone else is too irritated by him to acknowledge this to themselves.

This is the protagonist everyone!
Now the case…



One day, he gets asked by a “wealthy industrialist” (yes, one of those) to defend an [lowly] employee of his accused of murdering his lover. Even though there is no body at the scene of the crime, the amount of blood at the scene makes the police think the victim is dead. His client was seen fleeing the scene. 

Open and shut!


the client 

On the surface, the case seems to be open and shut. His client is guilty. However, as the lawyer digs deeper doing his best impression of Sherlock Holmes, he notices holes in the police’s case. This makes his ask the following questions.


Is his client really guilty?
Who else had the motive and opportunity to kill the victim?


He doesn’t care whether the person in guilty beyond that fact that he has to win. It may be easier if he had an actual innocent client.


Insert any Lawyer joke here!

Any Good?
If you think that the plot description is generic, you would be right. “The Advocate: A Missing Body” (2015) is generic. I repeat! It is a generic setup. It is the kind of generic you see when writers are first trying to get their legs in a new genre. You copy. You break down in surface trappings of the genre. You analyze the story structure. You identify the clichés. Then, you are ready to write a generic copy story. If you have read those stories, you’ll know that they are not all terrible.

Most are but some are okay.

The story of “The Advocate: A Missing Body” (2015) falls into the “okay & meh” category. It is basically a story for an okay TV show pilot where not everything is right yet but there are enough for a pilot. You can fix the rest later. This is the point where the execution should shine. A bad story can be improved by good execution after all. And this type of pulpy movie usually does not require the story to be great. You can live with a not terrible story for this type pf movie.

So?

The execution of “The Advocate: A Missing Body” (2015) is decent but not great. The cinematography, the editing, and the direction is passable. The cast is a mixed bag with mostly okay actors with a few exceptions. I’ll talk about that later. For the most part, the components going into this movie is about average for this type of genre movie. However, as a whole, the movie falls below average because of the story.

It’s problematic!

Stories, Korea, and Hollywood
It is difficult to notice in a sea of content we currently live in but stories used to be a rare commodity. There are only a few types of stories floating at one time. Even in the modern age, this is still somewhat true. While we encounter more stories now, mostly imported, there are still only a few a culture really understands and have a tangible connection to. The rest fade into superficial specters of what they could be.

However, if you want a thriving movie industry, you need to feed it stories. Usually, what you domestically generate within a culture does not suffice in quantity. This is the case of Korean cinema. The cultural depth of modern Korean is too shallow take up the task. There is simply not enough of a literary population to make it work. Thus, over the past few decades, Koreans have been importing and reshaping foreign stories to retell them in a Korean context. Both Hollywood and Japan have been rich sources to plunder.

However, as the Japanese cultural progress falters because of internal social issues, Korean cinema has been focused more on Hollywood since the turn of the millennium. Currently, Korean cinema has been going through the late 80s and early 90s of Hollywood movies for inspiration.  The movie makers of today grew up during those time periods after all. This is why you get movies like “The Advocate: A Missing Body” (2015) that feel old fashion and even weirdly nostalgic to an old timer like myself.

At this point, I have to remind you of the fact that these movies Korean cinema has been combing through for “inspiration” are not Korean. Their stories are not Korean. Koreans do not have the cultural reference nor familiarity with the stories to retell the story properly. One could overcome this deficiency with a very careful hand on composing the story. “The Advocate: A Missing Body” (2015) doesn’t.


The story of “The Advocate: A Missing Body” (2015) is generic and cliché as if someone did a “copy and paste” job.  This is not a great practice but many follow it. This is not the core of this movie’s problems. It is that the writer tries to be clever without really understanding the “smartest man in the room” story genre.  As a result, the movie feels unfocused about the character motivations and confused regarding the story genre itself. In a way, just being generic in terms of its story would have made for a better experience.  

Smart but isolated
“The Advocate: A Missing Body” (2015) is the “smartest man in the room” story. This is why the lawyer is a jerk and gets away with it. Even after the movie, he never really changes. Consider he is the “smartest man in the room,” where is the need for change? In any case, that is the central character architype! But why is it so?

This is where the movie encounters a speed bump. For the characters in these stories, their intellect isolates them from society which, in turn, make the characters actively put themselves in a self-imposed isolation from society. Koreans don’t really get this type of story and character. For Koreans and their culture, education and intellect is a way of grabbing social power after all. So, it is difficult for the Korean writers to emphasize with the plight of the characters in the “smartest man in the room” stories.

This is rather evident in how the character is portrayed in the movie. “The Advocate: A Missing Body” (2015) never really clarifies the central character’s motivations. He is just an empty archetype. For this type of story, it doesn’t need to be elaborate but it needs to be clear since all the twists and turns of the plot hinges on his motivation.  Why is he going through with this?

Is it just amusement?
Does he has his own sense of justice?
Is it all according to his plans?
Or is he just pissed off?

When the situation gets tough and elaborate as it does, you are left asking why this smart character is subjecting himself to what he could just easily avoid. According to the title of the movie, I guess the movie is leaning towards the “pissed” motivation but this is not evident on screen.


Genre Shift
Another serious mistake the movie made is that, one hour into this 2 hour movie, the movie shifts genres.

2 hour pilot episodes…
Part 2 let downs are common in TV.


Part 1

Part 2

It goes from being a detective movie to being an 80s corporate thriller/caper movie. You can let your protagonist be a static giant who is not fazed by anyone in a “smartest man in the room” detective movie. It is better if the protagonist has a character arc and change but you can work with the spectacle of superiority alone. 80s corporate thriller/caper movies are different. Those movies feed on insecurities and discrepancy in power on the part of the protagonist. They are more psychological albeit still playing in the shallow end of the pool. Thus, not only is there a serious clash between the two parts of this movie but also the protagonist does not work in both.


If I were to judge the two parts of this movie against each other, I would say that the first part is better. At least, the protagonist works somewhat in the first part. He is Sherlock Holmes! The mystery and the detecting elements in part 1 kept me on my toes although it was obvious that the movie was omitting information deliberately to make the shift in part 2 more dramatic. The casting alone does give stuff away. In a way, I think I was in more suspense praying the movie would not go in the stupid direction I thought it might go.


No one answered my prayers!

In contrast to part 1, part 2 works far less well. First, it is far more soap operatic and cheesy than part 1. You have to sudden reduce your movie watching IQ by 2 digits to adjust to the shift. Second, it was far more predictable and pandering to the Korean audience. I would not be specific in order to avoid spoilers. But you’ll see what I’m talking about when you see the movie.



Characters and Actors
Another consequence of the genre shift is that supporting characters suddenly find themselves without a story function. Lim Won-Hee, who plays the Dr. Watson type sidekick, disappears from the movie about 40% into the movie. This is quite a shame since he was a fun side kick.


However, his case was far better than what Kim Go-Eun’s character got. She is meant to be the protagonist’s friendly antagonist/ love interest. However, her character could have been totally cut out of the movie without much problem. I couldn’t even classify her as the token female lead as she is so irrelevant. She barely has any screen time and her subplot goes nowhere. And I am not sad of it.


Kim Go-Eun!

She seems to be positioned by some in the industry to be new leading lady. In this year alone, 4 of her movies are scheduled to open. I have seen 3 of them and she is only decent in one. That would be the “Coin Locker Girl” (2015) in which she co-starred with Kim Hye-Soo. In the rest which includes “The Advocate: A Missing Body” (2015), she is just bad.


BAD!

I haven’t seen a professional Korean leading actress look so awkward just acting normal like her. She has no skill. Her facial muscle don’t move at all while she delivers dialogue.  



Her only selling point as an actress seems to be her ability to look vulnerable while playing miserable. And that is 100% in her eyes. She has the perfect eyes for playing miserable as evidenced in “Coin Locker Girl” (2015). There are benefit of acting across from Kim Hye-Soo.

“Coin Locker Girl” (2015)
Lee Sun-Kyu
What about the protagonist and Lee Sun-Kyun? Well, he seems okay for the role. He is a good actor although he seems somewhat of minor miscast. The role is more like a mix between the suave Neal Caffrey from the TV show “White Collar” (2009–2014) and Saul Goodman from “Breaking Bad” (2008-2013) and “Better Call Saul” (2015-). In other words, it is a role for Robert Downey, Jr.! 



Lee Sun-Kyun comes more off a mix of the puppet Bert of “Sesame Street” and “Rob Schneider” from “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo” (2005). He doesn’t have the charm and is more irritating.


At the End
It is difficult to say that “The Advocate: A Missing Body” (2015) or “성난 변호사” is a terrible movie. The parts where the focus is an sleuthing is at least fun and  Lee Sun-Kyun is trying his best. While the character of his does not totally work in the time limit of a 2 hour movie, I think he would become an interesting character when given the time to develop as in a TV show.

The problem is that the movie tries to be clever and cheeky before it can properly walk which makes the results feel uneven and unfocused. If it just tried to play the movie straight in terms of its genre, the movie could have hidden its deficiencies better. However, it had to be hip and attempt a mid-movie genre shift which just opened up its issues bare to its audience.

The result is meh.

Overall, “The Advocate: A Missing Body” (2015) is good enough for a home rental where people tend to be more forgiving. You could just think of it as a two hour TV show pilot that has some promise but you’ll have to wait and see if it gets picked up for a second season. I will give this movie a score of a C+.

Score: C+ or 5.25/10

This was Prof. AKIA with a review of “The Advocate: A Missing Body” (2015). 


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Created by AKIA Talking
Email: akoreaninamerica@outlook.com

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