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Upcoming film ‘My First Client’ deals with issue of child abuse

In 2013, a woman from Chilgok county, North Gyeongsang Province, fatally abused her stepdaughter and forced the girl’s sister to confess to murder, in a case that shockwaves across the country, sparking a nationwide debate that resulted in a special law on child abuse the following year.

Six years later, a film based on the incident is to be released in May, directed by Jang Kyu-sung who has tugged at the heartstrings of moviegoers mostly through comedy.

“My First Client,” follows the story of lawyer Jeong-yeop (Lee Dong-hwi) on a quest to uncover the truth behind a 10-year-old girl’s suspicious confession to the murder of her brother. 

“My First Client” (Lotte Entertainment)
“My First Client” (Lotte Entertainment)

“Unlike my previous works, there was the pressure that came from the subject matter,” the director said about his recent work during a press event in Seoul on Wednesday. “It deals with something that is far different from my other works, so I had to be more careful. I don’t know if I could call it a ‘sense of duty,’ but I was doubly cautious.”

He shared how he met the victim of the incident -- the girl who was abused and forced to confess to a murder.

“She was more cheerful than I thought. She also talked about the future, and when I asked if she was all right, she ...” the director broke off, overcome with emotions, before continuing to say, “She just said, ‘Please make a good movie.’”

When casting the role of the stepmother, the director faced the tough job of asking actresses to play a hateful human being. Many turned down the role, but a couple of days later, Yoo Sun returned his call.

“I was actually thankful that I got to play such a role, and I had no hesitation in my answer,” Yoo said.

“It (the film) has a clear message for society, and as a mother myself, I know that a child feeds on a parent’s love. I thought that I ought to participate,” she said, adding that saying and doing hideous things in the film was a painful experience.

Meanwhile, Lee Dong-hwi, an actor better known for comic roles, said he had to constantly ask himself, “What would I do?” in the film.

“I felt that Jeong-yeop’s life before he met the kids was similar to mine. ... After I read the script, I felt that it is a story we need, one we need to know and something that someone has to tell,” he said.

Dealing with such tough subject matter, the production staff had to ensure that child actors would not be scarred by the filming. A therapist accompanied the children on the scene to keep a close eye on them, and Jang said he constantly assured kids after shooting “certain scenes” that it was all an act and fake.

“They are kids more than they are actors, so we had to be more careful,” Jang said.

“My First Client” opens in theaters in May.

By Yoon Min-sik