K-Drama/K-Pop

Why Extraordinary Attorney Woo is most talked about today

Quiet drama about autism gets highest ratings and the buzz among netizens

After a highly popular 'The King's Affection,' Park Eun Bin plays an autistic lawyer.


Credit: Netflix Asia/YouTube

Extraordinary Attorney Woo
Starring Park Eun Bin and Kang Tae Oh
Ongoing episodes
Netflix

At the close of viewing hours on July 14, netizens in various socmed platforms were abuzz about the heartrending drama that had just transpired in a courtroom—the sixth episode of the season’s breakthrough series,  Extraordinary Attorney WooNielsen Korea reported that it had just registered a rating of 9.569 percent, not a mean feat in this time slot in the highly competitive Wednesday and Thursday K-drama arena.

But, what makes the news all the more EXTRAORDINARY (underscoring mine) is that seemingly, Extraordinary Attorney Woo did not have much going for it when its initial episode aired. Apart from the critically acclaimed Park Eun Bin (The King’s Affection) in the title role, there were no compelling reasons for viewers to follow the series.  Viewership rating was a mere 0.9 percent, one of the lowest ever scored by a first episode.

Apart from its female lead, the drama had no crowd drawer in its cast and it was produced by the little known cable station ENA. On the same days, it was running against other big station-produced dramas with bankable stars.

So what is going on? How can a quiet drama with a potentially risky storyline—about a 27-year-old female lawyer (IQ of 164) on the autism spectrum—survive, much less leave the rest of the pack far behind in the ratings war?

Viewers who have been with the drama from the start, however, saw Extraordinary Attorney Woo release its cache of excellently written and directed episodes week after week. Park Eun Bin also has the steady support of an ensemble of actors who give highly nuanced and sensitive performances.

On its second episode, the drama doubled its viewership to 1.8 percent, rose to 4.0 percent and 5.2 percent the following week, then made the giant leap to 9.1 and 9.5 percent on its fifth and sixth episodes. Netizens were soon heating up chatrooms and global audiences were chiming in as Attorney Woo Young Woo won the day for the clients of Hanbada Law firm.

Its 9.569 percent overall rating also put Extraordinary Attorney Woo in 6th place on Flix Patrol, the Netflix global chart of its TV shows while securing first place in non-English-speaking Asian countries like Hong Kong, Japan and Indonesia.

Its leads Park Eun Bin and Kang Tae Oh are now the most buzzworthy actors

According to the Good Data Corporation index, EAW is the most talked-about show in Korea today and its leads Park Eun Bin and Kang Tae Oh are now the most buzzworthy actors. The two also went viral on TikTok with 110,100 viewers early on in the series. The advertising contract of Park also rose from 200 million KRW to about 400 million KRW

The huge leap in overall ratings was largely fueled by one of the highest viewer ratings for a K-Drama—11.8 percent. This for a series that debuted so inauspiciously.

The phenomenal series has also boosted the stock of its producer, the little known cable station ENA.

The story revolves around the autistic lawyer, doted on by her father (no mother in sight, so far), who joins one of Korea’s biggest law firms. How she adapts to this toxic environment—or better still, how she wins cases in court—is what draws you to the series week after week. Not only is she winning in the courtroom she is also apparently winning the heart of a (goodlooking) colleague. It helps that there’s a different court case each episode, from a tear jerker to the hilarious (a bride’s strapless gown snapping open and falling as she walks down the aisle—the making of a multi-billion Korean won suit).

As the ratings rose, our autistic lawyer also steadily grew on her colleagues in the Hanbada Law firm. Their mentor and boss portrayed by Kang Ki Young, one of the best supporting actors in K-dramaland, who was initially skeptical about hiring her, became her staunchest supporter and believer. A colleague, the para legal and former detective Lee Junho—ably played by the charming but underrated Kang Tae-oh—is not only supportive but secretly nursing a crush on her. Woo Young, then nicknamed “Wild Woo” for the way she carried on in court, also found a sweet and kind ally in the person of Choi Su Yeon (Yoon Kyeong Ha), a young Hanbada lawyer and classmate in law school. There is also her cheerleader and only best friend from high school, Dong Guerami (Joo Hyun Young)

Thus, as the star of Park Eun Bin (PEB) soars in the K-drama firmament with her latest portrayal, she also lights up the sky for the entire ensemble of Extraordinary Attorney Woo, most notably Kang Ki Young (KKY) and Kang Tae Oh (KTO).

KKY has won awards for playing  supporting roles in critically acclaimed dramas in a long career but in this series, he lights up the small screen whenever he appears with PEB resulting in rave comments from viewers.

KTO has played lead roles in a number of well-received dramas but here, he is a most charming OTP to PEB, their chemistry so heartfelt in their scenes together. This early, romance hasn’t developed between Attorney Woo and JunHo but there are sweet scenes that hint at what is to come. With EAW, Kang Tae Oh is getting the notice from viewers that he has so long deserved.

And, before we forget, the veteran character actor Jin Kyeong in the character of Tae Sumi, CEO of Hanbada, is someone viewers should pay a close attention to. Thus far appearing in just a few short scenes, how she figures in the saga of Attorney Woo bears watching.

Aside from a strong ensemble supporting an excellent lead actor, the success of a drama also rests largely on the shoulders of both director and writer.  Director Yoo In Shik, who deftly balances all the elements of the drama, has a long list of critically acclaimed works and does best drawing out his actors’ strengths. He has megged such outstanding dramas as Dr. Romantic Teacher Kim (seasons 1 and 2), Vagabond, and History of the Salaryman, among others.

Only a skilled writer who has done her research will be able to show nuances of the autism spectrum not seen by many people 

Its writer Moon Ji Won has written one of the best legal dramas thus far even as she tackles issues about autism in a very realistic but sensitive manner. Not one to downplay or sugarcoat the context in which our main character thrives, she does not avoid the more controversial issues in relation to how autism is portrayed in the drama. Attorney Woo is at the highest level of the autism spectrum but she shows behavior and mannerisms of an autistic person. Conversely, an earlier episode shows a client in the lowest level of the spectrum. Only a skilled writer who has done her research will be able to show nuances of the autism spectrum not seen by many people.

The format of the series—a new client with a different case in every episode—also allows the writer more than enough elbow room to fully flesh out its main character and give us a balanced fare of comedy, high drama and a budding (still hinted at) romance.  The versatile Park Eun Bin and the charming Kang Tae Oh and the ensemble make for a well-rounded drama the likes of which we haven’t seen in a while.

Writer Moon Ji Won’s use of Woo Young Woo’s fascination—obsession actually—with whales is a masterstroke in plot development. Aside from depicting an autistic person’s singular focus on something that fascinates him, to the exclusion of other subjects, the story of how the mother whale stays with her pup even if it means being harpooned, foreshadows a key issue in and a major aspect of our autistic savant’s life.

Park Eun Bin’s portrayal of Attorney Woo has also generated favorable comments from netizens even as some have criticized the way the autistic client of the firm was depicted in an early episode.

Reacting to criticism from some sectors that the drama portrayed Attorney Woo both as “cute and adorable, antics and all” and that dramas on the subject must move away from “portrayals of infantilism like this and very obvious awkwardness” of people with autism, many other netizens said that Extraordinary Attorney Woo presented “one of the best portrayals of autism seen in K-Dramas.”

Thus far,  EAW has gained more positive than negative reactions for its portrayal of autism.  For instance, netizen @rhia_is_here said, “A lot of my autistic friends love it also. While it is not perfect, for a K-drama, it is pretty good. I feel the same way. This isn’t because EAW is trending or anything. I used to think everyone has the same issues that I do. It shows that autism has a spectrum, too and it is different for everyone.”

Now that Extraordinary Attorney Woo has entered the “how-high-can-we-go” category in K-dramaland, viewers are closely watching as the relationship between Woo Young Woo and the gallant and sweet JunHo progresses and the series climbs the ratings chart higher.

Read more:

Twenty-five Twenty-one: The ending that broke our hearts

After wedding hangover, the reel drama of Son Ye Jin

Why you shouldn’t miss Twenty-five, Twenty-one—& BTS JK loving it

Song Hye Kyo, Jun Ji Hyun: Is K-Dramaland shifting stars?

BinJin: The lovers have landed, and how

About author

Articles

After saying goodbye to daily deadlines in 2009, WINNIE DOROTHEO VELASQUEZ worked from home editing manuscripts and writing on subjects close to her heart. She discovered the world of K-Drama in the early 2000s. Today, she cooks, does some gardening, and is training Cookie, da mutt-with-the-mostest.

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