'Extraordinary Attorney Woo's' take on autism spectrum acceptance becoming a global sensation
Popular drama takes 'open-hearted approach' to people with disabilities
Autism spectrum characters have popped up in Korean dramas or films once in a while. Yet, it seemed very rare for those characters to become the center of the show's spotlight, as they are rather placed in minor or supporting roles.
However, the recent series, "Extraordinary Attorney Woo," not only challenged such notions by having a lawyer on the autism spectrum as the lead character, but it also has proved that it can hit the right note and become a sensational series.
Local cable network ENA's legal series, which also streams on Netflix, revolves around a character named Woo Young-woo (Park Eun-bin), who is a genius but autistic newbie at a top law firm. Starting her first job after graduating from a prestigious law school at the top of her class, Woo tackles challenges and prejudice in and beyond the courtroom with the help of the firm's co-workers, including paralegal Lee Jun-ho (Kang Tae-oh) and senior lawyer Jung Myung-seok (Kang Ki-young).
The heartfelt series topped Netflix's official non-English Top 10 chart in the following week of its premiere, recording almost 24 million hours of viewing. Its production company, AStory, revealed last week that it is reviewing a proposal for a remake in the U.S. The series is also set to be made into a webcomic and released globally in four languages: Korean, English, Chinese and Japanese.
Pop culture critic Kim Hern-sik explained that the series has the whole package ― from the characters to the plotline ― to garner popularity, on top of the uniqueness of a main character on the autism spectrum.
"(The series) built a storyline as a legal drama ― considered one of two major genres for success along with medical dramas ― from a female-centric perspective. And it presents a socially valuable character who has a disability. And this character, unlike previously portrayed ones (in the media), is not only charming and adorable, but also has a perspective that even people without disabilities can empathize with," he told The Korea Times.
"The lead character is not like any other characters people have seen before. The autism spectrum provides the series with uniqueness and distinctiveness. It's not easy to create (a story) that seems familiar but is not. Yet, the series accomplished this and that's what makes it different," Kim said.
In each episode, Woo comes across different lawsuits, and she finds creative, extraordinary ways to work around the cases.
The series invites the viewers into Woo's quirky but lovely world, filled with people who care for her as well as the CGIs of her favorite, comfort animal, a whale, floating around the scenes. She constantly faces obstacles and prejudice despite her talent as a lawyer, but manages to take steps forward to grow into a better attorney.
Moon Ji-won, the creator and writer of the series, shared that she wanted to take viewers on a journey to get to know the "extraordinary Woo Young-woo."
"We usually refer to those, who are atypical, unfamiliar, unique, peculiar, uncanny, random, odd and outside-the-box, as extraordinary. Those people can stir tensions and sometimes cause trouble. But they also can change and enrich our world, and make it a more interesting place to live," she said in an interview released through the network. "I hope, through the series, that people can experience the extraordinary energy that such extraordinary people have."
Critic Kim noted that such a feel-good series met the audiences' needs amid the current content market filled with blockbuster, dark and dynamic genres.
"The series is a coming-of-age story and overall, it is filled with an optimistic, heartfelt human story rather than negative views," he said.
One series viewer, surnamed Jung, 29, expressed that the series' healing, heartwarming story is the reason she follows the drama.
"The recent series I've watched were usually hard-hitting and often portrayed people's twisted desires and social injustices. That's what makes them interesting and intriguing, but it also puts emotional stress on you," she said.
"But 'Extraordinary Attorney Woo' doesn't have any of that. And in the cases that lead the story, there's no absolute evil. Each person has their reasons and stories that led to the case, which I could resonate with and makes it easy to watch," she said.
Source: Lee Gyu-lee, The Korea Times (July 2022)
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