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Innocent Witness - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Jeung-in

South Korea 2018

Genre:
Crime, Drama

Director:
Lee Han

Cast:
Jung Woo-sung
Kim Hyang-gi
Lee Kyu-hyung
Yum Hye-ran
Jang Young-nam
Jung Won-joong


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Innocent Witness

Innocent Witness - Film Screenshot 1

Story: Soon-ho (Jung Woo-sung) is a lawyer who, as of late, is employed by a law office where he hopes for a quick promotion. So far, he has been an idealist, but because his father, who is now living at his place, ran into debt, he tries to make a career. His newest case could be the stepping stone he wished for. It is about an alleged homicide. His client Mi-ran (Yum Hye-ran) supposedly killed an elderly man. She claims that he suffocated himself with a plastic bag. The only reason why she is in custody, is the girl Ji-woo (Kim Hyang-gi), who claims to have seen the murder through a window. Therefore, Soon-ho's starting point is Ji-woo. However, she is an autistic person. The girl's mother Hyeon-jeong (Jang Young-nam) wants her daughter to be left alone, because the entire situation already stresses her out as is. Therefore, Ji-woo catches the girl on her way back home from school, but she doesn't talk to him. The lawyer has trouble finding a common ground with her because he doesn't know anything about autism. For his case, her autism is a good thing, though, as you can easily refute her statement's credibility. Thus, his current case seems to be a mere formality, and the attorney already has his next case lined up, for which Soon-ho even has to get his hands dirty, but is guaranteed to be promoted in return. But as time goes by, he manages to see the world through Ji-woo's eyes more and more, and he begins to question whether he should really put money above everything...

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Innocent Witness - Film Screenshot 4

Review: "Innocent Witness" is exactly the kind of movie you expect when you see the poster. It is not a thriller, through, which could also have been possible considering the title. The fronts are clear right at the beginning and strictly speaking, it is not all about being guilty or innocent. In the foreground stands the special relationship between the lawyer and the autistic girl, who at some point simply asks the nave question whether Soon-ho is a good person. And this is not that easy to answer for this man in his forties. The warmth, the movie oozes out, is the reason why you are captivated by the story from start to finish. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't get any points for originality since the story is told in a classic manner without any surprises. However, those aren't really necessary, as the two main characters manage to carry the movie without any problems. Luckily enough, the heart-warming story also refrains from any sort of kitsch.

Innocent Witness - Film Screenshot 5

If you are familiar with director Lee Han and his work like the movies "Punch" and "Thread of Lies", you know that his thumbprint is to create a close tie to the events on an emotional level without relying on cheap methods like manipulative music or streams of tears. And this movie forms no exception to that. The way the lawyer and the schoolgirl get closer to one another is intentionally clumsy and that's what creates the special appeal of the events on screen. When it comes to autism, the majority of the population most likely has some prejudices, and Soon-ho, too, finds himself confronted with those. At some point, though, he is able to see things from the girl's perspective, even though she actually represents a huge problem for his case. Of course, there is the Sword of Damocles hanging over the establishing friendship, because maybe the lawyer only wants to get closer to the girl so he can discredit her testimony.

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This puts the focus back on Soon-ho, who used to be an idealist and now is a man changing. This can be seen in a subplot with a woman who is actually supposed to be his love interest, but he starts to drift away from her because he devotes himself to money. That's why he falls in her esteem, and Soon-ho struggles with that, too. A certain kind of determination can be noticed about him as well, though. But his father is in huge debt, so what choice does he have? The subplot with the father also gives room for some humorous moments and also fleshes out the lawyer's character a little bit more. Jung Woo-sung ("Steel Rain") is not a particularly good actor, to be honest. But he fits roles that are about somebody who at his core is a good person. After all, his look has something innocent and loyal about it. In some scenes you can see where Jung is stretched to his limits, though. But luckily, that does not harm the movie as a whole.

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This brings us to the biggest problem of "Innocent Witness". You actually never doubt that Soon-ho is a good guy and you also already know how the story will end right from the beginning. Same goes for the twist, which you expect pretty early on, because it revolves around a sentence that every normal person would find suspicious, except maybe if you think of autistic people as imbeciles. The investigation itself is also pretty unspectacular and the facts are presented one after the other - in court, of course. Even though, a huge portion of the movie takes place in court, you don't get the feeling of dealing with a courtroom drama. For that, the atmosphere is just too warm, which is also thanks to Lee Han and his eye for neat picture composition. When it comes to narration, it would have been nice, though, to get Soon-ho's moral conflict fleshed out a little bit more.

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There is no doubt that the director and actress Kim Hyang-gi ("Along with the Gods: Two Worlds") put a lot of effort into presenting autism respectfully. In her portrayal, Kim shows fine nuances and even though her character lives in another world, she is still able to interact with other people. This sometimes happens a little awkwardly and therefore also presents the basis for some humorous scenes, but it also causes some of the most moving moments. This mixture is nothing new, just think of the Netflix show "Atypical", but it works. Unfortunately, the ending was constructed according to a well-known formula, but the special friendship that develops throughout the movie is exactly the right thing if you want to watch a heart-warming movie without it being tacky. Just what director Lee Han's specialty is.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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