How Extraordinary Attorney Woo became a beacon of hope for on-screen autism representation!

Aishwarya Srinivasan
New Update
Autism Awareness Day

2 years ago came a K-drama that featured an autistic lead but thankfully the makers decided to break stereotypes and go beyond the autism with this one, and in the process of that, we all fell in with her!

Over the years, whenever there has been an autistic character in a movie or TV show, it’s either a very clear case of tokenism or a very bad representation of what they’re really like. The characteristics that they show feels like they’re checking it off a list rather than actually elaborating on the character well. Hence, as an audience, I usually feel skeptical about how the portrayal can been done every time there’s something new made related to this topic. We all resonate with characters on-screen but because of very few good portrayals, people who are on the autism spectrum might not have the same relatability that we do. Which is sad because everyone should feel represented, everyone should feel proud seeing someone like them in mainstream storytelling.  

Also Read: K-dramas' impact on representing Down syndrome on-screen and changing perspectives!

Extraordinary Attorney Woo, directed by Yoo In-Shik fills that void beautifully and Park Eun-Bin does a fabulous job playing an autistic character on-screen without making her look like a caricature. She isn’t a prodigy math genius who solves problems that look like rocket science. For once, she has a profession we see and understand in our daily lives. She is a lawyer. Her autism makes her different from her colleagues for sure but because of that same reason she is able to look at cases a bit more differently and creatively than others. 

If you translate the title of the show in Korean, the literal translation of it would be ‘Weird Lawyer Woo Young-Woo’ instead of ‘Extraordinary’ how it is depicted to be in English. The actual title is that because in society anybody on the autism spectrum is considered to be ‘weird’ and the name of the show subtly calls people out for it. Woo Young-Woo is an endearing character in so many ways. She's good at her job but she struggles with making connections and navigating situations in real life. She doesn’t really understand the concept of lying, which is why she is rather straightforward, and surprisingly, even though she is considered to not be able to make friends, telling the truth has worked in her favor and in building relationships many times in the show. 

Woo Young-Woo is also a creature of habit and very routine driven. She found comfort in the same Kimbap that she ate every single day. She found it anxiety provoking to eat new foods as she didn’t know how to deal with new tastes and textures - a trait that is not often explained well about autistic characters in movies. She also wore noise canceling earphones so that she can avoid sensory overload, something that’s too much for her to take. These small details are what made the character one for the books. Woo Young-Woo was different from most of us but at the end of the day she also wanted the same things that any of us strived for - happiness, excelling at work and a stable love life. Her love story with Joon-Ho melted our hearts and it was such a beam of hope to see an autistic female lead fall in love with someone so naturally. He made an effort to adapt to her life, he gave her time and space to get to the point of being intimate when most couples do those very same things on the first or second date itself. 

woo young-woo

She even faces a lot of prejudice at work. Her boss and her teammates were really cold and distant towards her in the beginning, they often gave her menial tasks like paperwork instead of solving real cases. Her clients too are initially always hesitant when it comes to trusting her with their legal issues. But she only focused on her job and proved everyone wrong one case at a time. It was not until the second half of the show that even her colleagues started warming up towards her and accepted her for who she is. This is why the show went beyond just her autism. Unmasking layers and trusting one another takes time. How she reacts to getting used to her job and dealing with people on a day to day basis is what her self improvement is based on.

Extraordinary Attorney Woo is a massive leap for content in terms of good representation. It is comforting, joyful, romantic and sorrowful all at the same time. It’s like you feel every emotion with her and you just wait for her hair to fly in slow motion and for her to give a whale reference before she cracks a case. It is the most atypical yet one of the most wholesome K-dramas and on-screen autistic representations we’ve seen in a while.

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Extraordinary Attorney Woo Lee Jun-Ho and Woo Young-Woo Woo Young-Woo Yoo-In Shik park eun bin autism awareness day