All eyes in S. Korea are on ‘Extraordinary Attorney Woo,’ the latest hit drama bringing autism awareness

All eyes in S. Korea are on ‘Extraordinary Attorney Woo,’ the latest hit drama bringing autism awareness
Iris Jung
July 14, 2022
Continuing the recent trend of successful K-dramas, “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” has captured the attention of millions of viewers with its heartwarming characters and controversial plot.
With new episodes available on South Korean TV channel ENA and Netflix every Wednesday and Thursday, “Extraordinary Attorney Woo,” which stars Park Eun-bin, Kang Tae-oh and Kang Ki-young, has captured the attention of South Korea and the world. The drama has risen to first place in South Korean media rankings as well as Netflix’s Top 10 Non-English Shows list.
Following the story of Woo Young-woo (Park Eun-bin), a rookie lawyer with autism spectrum disorder and an IQ of 164, “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” has risen to new heights in South Korea, surprising many with its popularity. The country, which is known for its collectivism and conservatism, is also known to heavily stigmatize those who do not conform to society. 
According to Jung Youn Park of Sungkyunkwan University, “the type of discrimination against persons with disabilities in South Korea [in the past] was seen mainly as being related to the physical environment and social systems.” Yet, with the emergence of anti-discrimination laws — such as the Act on the Prohibition of Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Act No. 14839) — discrimination has still prevailed through microaggressions, which can be seen in “Extraordinary Attorney Woo.”
In addition to revealing how members of South Korean society contribute to the growing discrimination against people with disabilities, the legal drama also confronts religious pressures — specifically pointing to the Christian versus Buddhism debate — as well as same-sex love, domestic violence and oppressive hierarchical systems.
The impact of “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” can not only be seen in its rankings and high viewership, but also in the explosion of conversation throughout the streets of Seoul. While walking around clothing stores, sitting in subways or sipping coffee at cafes, “Woo Young-woo” or “the autistic lawyer” can be heard everywhere, becoming an echo that has spread throughout the city. 
Although many viewers speak positively about the show and its featured stories, voices drop to a whisper and eyes dart while using the terms “autistic,” “gay” or “disabled.” Further, several of these viewers have critiqued the drama as fantastical, with one user who commented on an article by The JoongAng writing that “even if a thousand years pass Korean culture will never change.”
Regardless, “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” is quickly becoming the top “healing drama” in South Korea and around the world, as indicated by its growing audience. As the legal drama continues to feature controversial topics and stories on such a large platform, its viewers are forced to confront prominent issues that are often turned away from due to their taboo nature. 
In an era where more and more areas of conversation are becoming controversial, “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” confronts not only the willful ignorance of individuals, but also the process in which we overcome hardships together as a community.
Featured Image via The Swoon
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