19th Far East Film Festival: New Trial

Injustice, corruption, and oppression of the underprivileged are continuing topics in the South Korean motion pictures, but instead of focusing on the themes of personal vengeance, filmmakers often turn to common social issues to raise public awareness.

2000. In the southern city of Iksan, a 15-year-old boy was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the killing of a taxi driver and served full sentence. 16 years after the incident, his case was reopened as the accused claimed that he was beaten and forced to make a false confession while in a police custody. The case was upsetting on many levels, particularly since it was a juridical system failure that included unscrupulous detectives. Based on the story of the unfair investigation, abuse of power and mistreatment of a teenage boy, Kim Tae-yoon wrote the screenplay and directed New Trial, starring Jung Woo, Kang Ha-neul, Lee Dong-hwi and Kim Hae-sook.

new trail

New Trial, taking on the classic form of  a film based on a true story, centres around the suffering of the innocent man, Hyun-woo. It also creates a hero in the person of Lee Jun Young – a lawyer who later became known as the “New Trial Specialist”. Jung Woo, somehow, after the drama Answer 1994, did not rush to take on new roles; he waited awhile for the next project to come along, as he was more interested in those that involved more serious human elements/social issues; therefore, he chose New Trail as his next acting venture.

So what is the New Trial all about? Jo Hyun-woo (Kang Ha-neul) is framed by a few detectives for the murder of a taxi driver. He spends ten years in prison for a crime he did not commit. After leaving the prison, he is a wreck of a man who cannot find a job and lives with his blind mother who still believes in her son’s innocence. Fate brings to them one Lee Jun Young, a lawyer, who – after loosing a high court battle against a cooperation – now works as legal adviser to a prestigious law film. Lee selfishly thinks that by taking the case, his career might improve and give him a better chance at becoming a celebrated lawyer. Over time, while digging deeper into the case and realising that all evidence has been destroyed and all witnesses silenced, Lee starts to believe – now more than ever – in Hyun-woo’s innocence. He decides to fight against everything and everyone to reopen the cold case.

new trail 3

Luckily, New Trial does not turn into a tear-jerker. Despite the title, the trial is not included in the film frame; interestingly, the end credits appear when the court case is about to start. But, in all honesty, we do not need to see the trial itself, since we all know the outcome. Instead, the film turns into an investigative picture and recalls the past events step by step. Kim Tae-yoon devotes the screen time to two main characters and their struggle with the legal system. New Trail enhances the feeling of realism, every step of the way.

New Trial is a very well-directed film; the narrative flawlessly circulates around the pathos, the despair, the happy ending, the blossoming friendship and the realistic sense of helplessness, without overly emphasising any of the topics; it is a well-balanced film. I would not say that New Trail impressed me, but it turned out to be a good production with very strong performances by Jung Woo and Kang Ha-neul, an emerging young actor. Kim Tae-yoon has definitely impacted the domestic and now also the European audience with his court drama and honest story-telling.

Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Opus Pictures

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