K-drama One Ordinary Day: Kim Soo-hyun leads edgy Korean remake of BBC legal drama series Criminal Justice

Kim’s record-breaking salary, Sinkhole

Both Apple TV+ and Disney+ recently launched in South Korea, and now fledgling local service Coupang Play has made its own foray into original content with One Ordinary Day, the latest vehicle for superstar Kim Soo-hyun (It’s Okay to Not Be Okay).

Beyond being Coupang Play’s first original series, the legal drama made waves for Kim’s record-breaking salary, reputed to be around 500 million won (US$419,000) per episode.

Imagine our surprise when, instead of a splashy event series, One Ordinary Day turned out to be a sober and grounded show that dispenses with theatrics to deliver a brooding and tightly controlled story about an ordinary day that leads to a terrible night for one unlucky student.

From The Fiery Priest director Lee Myung-woo, the show features Kim as Kim Hyun-soo, an ordinary university student in the middle of exams who spies a chance to unwind when a friend invites him to a pool party. Lacking the cash for the taxi ride there, he does the next best thing, and sneaks out with his dad’s cab instead.

Unable to shut off the For Hire sign, Hyun-soo accidentally gets a passenger when Hong Gook-hwa (Hwang Se-on) steps in and refuses to get out. He drives off with no destination and before he knows it enters a night of drink, drugs and sex with this mysterious young woman after she invites him back to her swanky suburban house, where she lives alone.

Hyun-soo wakes up on her couch a few hours later and goes to say goodbye to her before he leaves, only to find her covered in blood and a dozen stab wounds. In a panic, he rushes to his dad’s cab outside, but having forgotten the keys as well as his wits, he breaks back into the house and retrieves his belongings and a knife they used to play a dangerous game the night before.

Flagged at a breathalyser stop, a visibly shaken Hyun-soo is shoved into the back of a squad car when the officers are called to a suspected break-in nearby. They drive back to Gook-hwa’s house, find her body and call in world-weary police captain Park Sang-beom (Kim Hong-pa).

Hyun-soo is sent to the Jungang Police Station and eventually undergoes a routine search which reveals the bloodied knife, at which point he’s arrested on suspicion of murder.

Third-rate lawyer Shin Joong-han (Cha Seung-won) takes an interest in the case and becomes Hyun-soo’s lawyer, and his first and most important piece of advice is not to say anything beyond “I don’t know” in response to anything he might be asked. With a mountain of damning evidence against him, Hyun-soo and Joong-han go before a judge.

Kim’s record-breaking salary, Sinkhole

Cha Seung-won in a still from One Ordinary Day. Photo: Viu

If all that sounds very familiar, chances are you’ve seen this story before – One Ordinary Day is a remake of the first season of the 2008 BBC series Criminal Justice, which HBO remade in 2016 in the critically acclaimed The Night Of.

This story of a hapless youth and an eccentric lawyer taking on the uncaring judicial system bristles with intrigue and dynamic characters, and it’s easy to see why top TV storytellers have been eager to adapt it to their own markets.

Kim’s record-breaking salary, Sinkhole

Kim Soo-hyun in a still from One Ordinary Day. Photo: Viu

Kim Soo-hyun plays the lead character, and while he does fine in the role he isn’t quite as convincing as Ben Whishaw (who played the student in the BBC series) and Riz Ahmed (who played the character in the HBO series), both better actors; that’s partly because he’s a little too good-looking to be taken seriously as a bashful young man stumbling into a night of unexpected passion.

Cha Seung-won, recently seen in the summer disaster comedy Sinkhole, also has big shoes to fill, following Con O’Neill and John Turturro in the lawyer role, and he throws himself completely into the challenge, rounding out his usually chiselled features with unkempt stubble, a greasy ponytail and oafish attire. Cha brings a lot of energy to the screen whenever he appears.

While the show is strictly a remake of Criminal Justice, the first weekend’s worth of episodes are more closely aligned with The Night Of, which was also an eight-part drama.

Kim’s record-breaking salary, Sinkhole

Kim Sung-kyu as prisoner Do Ji-tae in a still from One Ordinary Day. Photo: Viu

Time will tell if One Ordinary Day will diverge from The Night Of, but with great production values, a controlled tempo and a strong cast, even if the show remains largely a retread of the superlative HBO drama that preceded it, it will be hard to go wrong when the template is so strong to begin with.

With drug use and violent crime scenes, the show appears to indicate that Coupang Play is positioning itself away from the safer thrills of South Korea’s broadcast and cable channels; the debut show is among the riskier fare available on streaming services.

Kim’s record-breaking salary, Sinkhole

Cha Seung-won (left) and Kim Soo-hyun in a still from One Ordinary Day. Photo: Viu

One Ordinary Day is streaming on Viu.

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