A Guide to the World of “Punch”

펀치01_00032The legal world is riddled with technical terms and job titles that boggle the average person’s mind – and it certainly doesn’t help when we’re discussing a legal system of a foreign country! Though Punch kindly provides us with names and titles of our main characters each time they’re introduced in an episode, I still found myself confused as to who exactly these people were. Why does Yoon Ji-sook get a beautiful room and Shin Ha-kyung a mediocre one? Why was Lee Tae-joon so desperate to become the “Geom-chal Chong-jang”? In a tension-laden room, who is allowed to pull rank? And why?

I know you’re all smarties, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to get a little background down pat as we move forward at what I am sure will be breakneck speed. We ain’t got time to be hitting the ‘pause’ button to look at our character chart come next episode. It’s all-out war now.

A Little Background on the System

Korea is divided up into 9 provinces and the suffix “do” (pronounced “doh”) is affixed to the end of the province’s name. They are as follow:

  1. Gyeong-gi-do is in the northwest
  2. Gang-won-do is in the northeast
  3. Choong-cheong-do is in the Midwest
    1. Choong-cheong-nam-do is the southern half of Choong-cheong-do
    2. Choong-cheong-book-do is the northern half of Choong-cheong-do (though on a map, the halves are more like east and west than north and south)
  4. Jeolla-do is in the southwest
    1. Jeolla-nam-do is the southern half of Jeolla-do
    2. Jeolla-book-do is the northern half of Jeolla-do
  5. Gyeong-sang-do is in the southeast of the peninsula
    1. Gyeong-sang-nam-do is the southern half of Gyeong-sang-do
    2. Gyeong-sang-book-do is the northern half of Gyeong-sang-do
  6. Jeju-do is the island south of the peninsula


The flow chart (adapted from the Korean one below) explains the basic outline of the Korean Prosecutors’ Offices. At the head, we have the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office. Below that is the High Prosecutors’ Office, and below that is the District Prosecutors’ Office. At the bottom of the totem pole are Branch Offices (which are not depicted in the English version I created).

검찰청 조직map_04

The High Offices are divided by region but not ‘equally’ amongst the 9 official provinces. Seoul, for example, is such a large city and home to so many people that it has its own High Office and multiple district offices. Jeju-do is its own province but it only has a District Office. The High Prosecutors’ Offices are as follow:

  1. Seoul (Gyeong-gi-do)
  2. Dae-jeon (Choong-cheong-nam-do)
  3. Dae-gu (Gyeong-sang-buk-do)
  4. Busan (Gyeong-sang-nam-do)
  5. Gwang-ju (Jeolla-nam-do)

(These are five of the “special cities” of Korea, which have administrative status equal to those of provinces.)

Within each office are several divisions, which all have their own leaders; and each office has its Director and Assistant Director. To add even more fun to our already complex system, all offices are not created equal. The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office has more ‘power’ than, say, the Je-ju District Office. And, on top of all of that, there is the ever-present “sunbae” and “hoobae” relationship (senior and junior) as well as good ol’ age. Simple, no?

Who is who in Punch?


Seoul Central District Director, Lee Tae-joon


“Director of the Judicial Training and Research Institute Jung Gook-hyun, Likely Nominee for Geomchal Chong-jang” (headline)

In the opening scene of Episode 1, we meet Lee Tae-joon (Jo Jae-hyun), who is the Director of the Seoul Central District Office. He brings a newspaper with a headline declaring that Jung Gook-hyun (Kim Eung-soo) is a likely nominee for the position of “Geom-chal Chong-jang” (검찰총장) – the head of all Korean prosecutors. Some dictionaries may translate the position as the Attorney General, but in the U.S., for example, the Attorney General is the Korean equivalent of the “Beob-moo-boo Jang-kwan” (법무부장관) or Minister of Justice (which doesn’t exist in the U.S.). The Minister of Justice (or Attorney General in the U.S.) is the head of the Justice Department. The GC (Geom-chal Chong-jang) is the head of all the prosecutors, who make up one portion of the Justice Department. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll use the terms Minister of Justice and GC (for Geom-chal Chong-jang).


Minister of Justice, Yoon Ji-sook (left), President’s Chief of Staff (right)

Both the Minister of Justice and GC are appointed positions – an individual cannot ‘run’ for office and be voted in by the people. The nominee must undergo hearings in Congress and be approved before taking the position. When we open the show, Yoon Ji-sook (Choi Myung-gil) is the Minister of Justice, and the GC is currently vacant. No nominee has been named, but the opening scene shows the media speculating that Jung Gook-hyun is a strong contender.

Lee Tae-joon frantically explains that if Jung becomes the GC, Lee will no longer be able to serve as a prosecutor. Say what? This is where the whole sunbae and hoobae relationship comes in. As many of you may already know, a sunbae is someone who is your ‘senior’ – someone who attended your school before you did, someone who began working at your company before you did, etc. A hoobae is the opposite – your ‘junior’. You attended school or began working or whatever it may be, before your hoobae did. In Korean society, where Confucian principles of respecting your elders hold such significance, the way you are treated – and the way you treat others – is determined by where you stand in relation to others. Are you the sunbae? Then your hoobaes will defer to you. Are you the hoobae? Then you better be careful not to upset your sunbaes. (Of course, there are always exceptions and not everyone is super anal, but the majority of people consider these ‘ranks’ important.)

Lee Tae-joon explains that Jung Gook-hyun is older but a hoobae by one year. In Korea, after students graduate from law school and pass the bar exam, they attend the Judicial Research and Training Institute (사법연수원). Upon graduation, they can either become a judge, prosecutor, or independent lawyer. The majority of people either become a judge or prosecutor, and after a few (or many) years, enter the private sector as a corporate lawyer, defense lawyer, etc. – the former is where the power is, the latter the money.

For whatever reason, Jung is older but finished all his training after Lee, making Lee the sunbae. Traditionally, when someone is appointed as the GC, all the sunbae attorneys – as well as those from the same graduating class – resign. Why? As the GC, you are the head, the leader, and as such hold the most power. You need to be able to direct others at will. But if you have sunbaes (or those from the same class) in positions ‘below’ you, well, things can get a little awkward. How do you order your sunbae around? How would a classmate, who was your equal, feel about ‘serving’ you as his superioer? Thus to facilitate the incoming of a new leader, all sunbaes and classmates resign when a new GC is appointed. Everyone remaining is a hoobae, and the GC can ‘comfortably’ work without worrying about stepping on any sunbaes’ or classmates’ toes.

Thus Lee Tae-joon finds himself in a bad spot – if Jung Gook-hyun, his hoobae, is appointed as the GC, Lee will essentially be forced to resign. Lee, as the Chief of the Seoul Central District Office, is holding one of the highest positions in the system and is one step away from becoming the GC himself. If Jung is appointed instead – Lee can kiss that GC position goodbye. Thus Lee tells Park Jung-hwan that he (Lee) needs to become the GC.


Director of the Judicial Training and Research Institute, Jung Gook-hyun

Who is this Jung Gook-hyun guy, you ask? He is the Director of the Judicial Training and Research Institute, which is where all attorneys must train if they are to practice. Later in the episode, Jung-hwan explains that they were unable to find a speck of dirt, much less a skeleton in Jung’s closet – he’s a do-gooder who toes the righteous line. When Jung-hwan meets with Jung, we see first-hand that the man is serious about promoting justice and upholding the law. He refuses to bow to pressure from crooked men like Lee Tae-joon, and he isn’t afraid to put his reputation on the line for what is right.


Seoul Central District Office Special Team 1 Assistant Chief, Park Jung-hwan

Park Jung-hwan (Kim Rae-won), our man of the hour (or should I say 19 hours?), is the Assistant Chief of Special Team 1 of the Seoul Central District Office (so he is in the same District Office as Lee Tae-joon). In Episode 3, we get a flashback to 7 years ago, when Jung-hwan was merely a ‘regular’ prosecutor in the Young-wol Branch Office – in other words, he was a nobody in the middle of nowhere, far faaaar away from Seoul. He finally clawed his way up to the Seoul Central District Office as a regular prosecutor when he got investigated by Jung Gook-hyun, who then was the Chief of Internal Affairs in the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office. At this time, Lee Tae-joon was second-in-command (“cha-jang”) of the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office, and Yoon Ji-sook (current Minister of Justice) was the Seoul Central District Office Director – the position that Lee currently holds in 2014 at the beginning of Episode 1.


Seoul Central District Office Special Team 1 Chief, Jo Kang-jae

Jo Kang-jae (Park Hyuk-kwon) is Lee Tae-joon’s right-hand man, and when we open the story, he is Jung-hwan’s superior: the Chief of Special Team 1 of the Seoul Central District Office. See a pattern here? Lee Tae-joon is the Director, Jo Kang-jae is the Chief of Special Team 1, and Jung-hwan is the Assistant Chief of Special Team 1 of the Seoul Central District Office. Makes you wonder if perhaps positions aren’t awarded based on merit alone?


Criminal Investigation Team 2 of the Seoul East District Office, Shin Ha-kyung

펀치01_00020Last but certainly not least is Shin Ha-kyung (Kim Aj-hoong), our resident smart cookie who is compassionate, pursues justice, and kicks just as much butt as any of the boys. At the start of the show, she is a ‘regular’ prosecutor with Criminal Investigation Team 2 of the Seoul East District Office. Halfway through the first episode, Jung-hwan is sent as the Chief of Criminal Investigation Team 2 of the Seoul East District Office – wonder if he gets any say over what Ha-kyung does, eh?

So there you have it, a quick look at the various offices and positions of the prosecutors of Korea. Hope it helps give some background so you can enjoy the show proper. Punch is the real deal, Patch Friends. It’s pure gold – don’t miss out.


7 responses to “A Guide to the World of “Punch”

  1. FANTASTIC summary, thank you! The distinction you make between the Minister of Justice and the Chief Prosecutor was very helpful. Here in NZ, we have a similar situation – the Attorney-General is the cabinet Minister, the Solicitor-General is the lawyer in charge.

    Without detailed, helpful blog posts like this one, I’d never be able to make sense of K Dramas set in the legal arena. That’s mostly because I get the distinct impression from K Dramas that the Law is a figment of the imagination there. In the last ten years, the country I live in has never been outside the top 3 in the Corruption Perceptions Index, while the RoK languishes in the 40s-50s, easily the developed nation with the worst perceived level of corruption. This makes the apparent impotence and pointlessness of law enforcement agencies difficult to fathom, and so posts like this a re godsend. Thank you!

    • Welcome to the Patch, stuartnz!! 😀
      Thank you so much for your kind words! I feel unqualified to be writing about the legal sphere (esp. about another country), but I hope it’s of some help when watching kdramas – so many of them are about the legal world these days! 😉
      It was so interesting, throughout the research process, to see how similar and yet different the legal systems are of different countries. The solicitor general here in the US is similar to the GC of Korea, yet not… perhaps the “US attorneys” of the 94 districts are more similar since they are the ‘top dogs’ of their respective districts… but there are so many of them lol 😉
      But yes, what you noted wrt corruption and the power of law (or lack thereof) is certainly highlighted in dramas. I don’t know how ‘true’ some of the things we see in dramas are (in terms of nepotism, the power of chaebols to shut down investigations, etc.) but it is present. A part of it is that democracy and the modern legal system are relatively quite new in Korea. I remember listening to a Korean broadcast of an MLB game last season, and they were talking about Wrigley field, which was built in 1914 — they offhandedly noted that in 1914, Korea had just begun its period of Japanese occupation. While Americans were playing baseball, Koreans were still wearing hanboks and living in ‘medieval’ times, so to speak. It’s crazy to think of where Korea was even 60 years ago, at the end of the Korean War… and where it is today. Going from a war-ravaged third-world country to a prosperous, technologically advanced one in the span of decades is an amazing feat — but I think it takes a little more time for things like systems of justice to really become established.
      In any case, thank youuu again for joining us here at the Patch! I hope you’re enjooooying Punch and continue your dramaland journey here with us! 😀 😀

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  4. Ahh thanks for this! Punch will definitely be missed T^T I was wondering though..how is it possible that in the end Ha Kyung can be the prosecutor for a case she’s involved in? Not to mention that she had a speedy recovery from a HEART SURGERY. And although sometimes it takes many court sessions to finally decide on the final verdict, let’s be real haha…I knew they were going to bend the rules somehow, although I was secretly hoping for Jung Hwan to be cured >.< lulz

    • aaaack so sorry for the late reply!!
      gosh, i’m getting a flashback to all the wonderful memories of “punch”… hehehee! as to your points: lol yeah, i wasn’t suuuper happy with the ending. it wasn’t terrible by any means, but it was just a little too ‘neat’ – a little too… forced(?) there’s no way she can look that good and be that okay that soon after a heart transplant, and i’m pretty sure she wouldn’t be allowed on the case… hahahaa 😉
      and yes, i wished for a miracle for our jung-hwan, too… T_T

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