By Chang Dong-woo
SEOUL, March 22 (Yonhap) -- Those who have followed SBS TV's legal thriller "Defendant" may know by now that it's best to remain vigilant around Cha Min-ho, the show's psychopath antagonist played by Um Ki-joon, until the very last minute.
Thankfully, the show's finale on Tuesday provided a sigh of relief for viewers as it ended on a note of poetic justice and redemption -- even as Cha and his minions desperately tried to pull a last-minute trick but to no avail.
According to Nielsen Korea on Wednesday, Tuesday night's final broadcast recorded a 28.3 percent viewership nationwide. The figure stood at 32.3 percent in Seoul alone.
A follow-up to the hit medical series "Dr. Romantic," "Defendant" had a lot to prove. The show was a gamble in many respects, especially in today's TV landscape oriented heavily toward time-slip fantasies and romantic comedies.
And for a series that is disturbingly dark, and often grizzly and brooding, SBS' bet paid off from the start.
The show made a strong debut on Jan. 23, garnering a 14.5 percent viewership for its premiere. Owing a large part to its plot-focused narrative, albeit a highly unrealistic one, ratings stayed above the 20 percent mark since episode four, prompting the network to order two additional episodes from the strong demand.
Tuesday's finale brought closure to the never-ending game of one-upmanship between good and evil: represented by the protagonist, Prosecutor Park Jung-woo, and Cha Min-ho, the diabolical son of the chairman at the fictional Chamyeong Group.
The series started out with Park chasing Cha, who kills a woman he brings home from a bar. As Park's investigation zeros in on him, Cha murders his twin brother Seon-ho, an executive at Chamyeong, covers it up as though he himself committed suicide and assumes the brother's life.
But with Park unrelenting, Cha seeks revenge by killing Park's wife and framing the prosecutor for the murder.
From early on, the Park on death row doesn't remember what's happened to him. He loses his mind, part of his memory and often blacks out from trauma. Park believes that he is guilty as charged, until he recollects his memory and decides to fight back.
"Defendant" is arguably Ji Sung's best work to date, putting a relatable human face on a tale that is often disturbingly grim and somber. Early mental breakdown moments and other dramatic scenes by Ji never felt forced, putting up a persuasive performance throughout the twist filled plot.
Actor Um Ki-joon, a well-reputed stage and musical actor who's made successful traverses into television, played Cha Min-ho. The character is as complex as is nefarious, as his jealousy over father's disproportionate love toward Seon-ho made him the way he is.
Cha is as ruthless as TV bad guys come. With Chamyeong's full resource at his disposal, he does anything and everything to make sure that he is always ahead in the game against Park.
Often times, the playing field is so rigged against Park -- to the point of almost breaking the show's suspension of disbelief. But that's also what makes Cha the perfect troll: His conniving moves are tantalizing just enough to prompt Park to go the extra mile and thus making viewers root for him.
As much as the series is focused on Park, half the viewing pleasure is watching Cha navigate within his newfound existential conundrum -- of having to live out his deceased twin brother's life in public. He has to run the family business and engage with his dead brother's mistress, all the while dealing with Park through his henchmen.
Plot-wise, Cha's missteps later catch up to him like a butterfly effect. Director Cho Young-kwang and screenwriter duo Choi Soo-jin and Choi Chang-hwan made sure that even the smallest details, along with multiple sub plots, were there for a reason.
Besides the two leads, the series is also filled with a supporting cast army. Idol star Yuri of Girls' Generation played Park's public defender Seo Eun-hye, actor Oh Chang-seok was cast as Park's old buddy and fellow prosecutor Kang Joon-hyuk, and Park's prison mentor was portrayed by veteran actor Woo Hyun. Park Ha-yeon, the prosecutor's kidnapped daughter, was played by child actress Shin Rin-ah.
The Monday-Tuesday series will be followed by "Whisper," another legal corruption series starring Lee Sang-yoon and Lee Bo-young, who is Ji Sung's wife, next week.
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