Military dramas often revolved around a heavy topic that requires a good amount of caution. Since military organizations are substantially isolated from the public eye, our conception of military life usually consists of hazing rituals of newcomers and outsiders, physical drills during training, and abusive behavior from superiors within the different units. New recruits learn about the values and norms of military culture during their training for a new unit. Their personal life is heavily restricted to crush their old identities and to indoctrinate the new military values. And despite the rigorous training, recruits must still earn their status as soldiers.
Netflix’s array of quality Korean original dramas continues with the premiere of “D.P.” (Deserter Pursuit). It is a webtoon adaptation about the military police’s sub-unit called DP soldiers who are tasked to go after army deserters. Jung Hae-in led the pact as An Jun-ho, a delivery guy who just enlisted in the Korean military. Like every single recruit, he struggled during training and had to face extreme power tripping from senior officers. But Jun-ho is a resilient trainee because of his tough upbringing as a child. His father used to physically abuse his mother and him, so he had to learn boxing to dodge his father’s beating. Of course, this type of personality doesn’t sit well with the seniors. Eventually, because of his keen eye, Jun-ho got the attention of Sergeant Park Beom-gu (Kim Sung-kyun), the head of the investigation unit and team lead of the DP soldiers. He was offered to fill in for an injured DP soldier (later, Koo Kyo-hwan) and arrest a deserter who’s currently hiding in Seoul.
Together with the happy-go-lucky Corporal Park Sung-woo (Go Kyung-pyo), Jun-ho’s first assignment as a DP was pretty much typical. A bullied soldier decided to escape from the military and now he’s in hiding. But the usual hide-and-seek chase that Jun-ho imagined didn’t happen in this first mission. His senior Sung-woo is an irresponsible party rat who doesn’t care about the urgency of the task at hand. And their first taste of failure is one hell of a bitter pill. On the very same night they were assigned to look for him, Jun-ho met Private Shin Woo-suk (Park Jung-woo) accidentally and lent him his lighter (a clever symbol used in the episode), which was ultimately used by the deserter to kill himself.
One of my favorite shots in the entire drama came from the pilot episode. Jun-ho mercilessly knocked down Sung-woo, but the camera frame switched from Sung-woo’s beaten face to Jun-ho’s shocked reaction. It’s an ingenious way of showing Jun-ho’s guilt as an aftermath of their inaction.
A well-executed screenplay
Sung-woo injury was also laid out as a perfect introduction for the main duo – Jun-ho and Corporal Han Ho-yeol (Koo Kyo-hwan). Aside from the script and direction, the chemistry between Jung Hae-in and Koo Kyo-hwan made the drama an easy watch despite its heavy theme. Ho-yeol’s experience plus Jun-ho’s tenacity was what made their tandem work. Of course, it helped that they were under the wing of Sergeant Park. He may seem indifferent, but his concern for the DP soldiers’ welfare always came first.
The background story of each deserter was also unique. Of course, most of them revolved around bullying and hazing as the main driving force of the desertion, but I liked how they incorporated other reasons why soldiers escaped the military and the different outcomes with every pursuit. Shin Woo-suk’s case, for instance, was Jun-ho’s wake-up call on the gravity of the task assigned to him. Because of their reckless actions, a person died. Jeong Hyeon-min (Lee Jun-yeong), on the other hand, is just a trash person who had no sense of responsibility – no deep meaning behind his desertion. And there are people like him in the military. Lastly, Heo Chi-do (Choi Joon-young), a straight-A student-turned-deserter, is a good judgment of character on the part of Ho-yeol. Not all pursuits should lead to arrest. After all, these men are still their brothers in the organization.
Horror stories from duty service usually consist of aggressions by either a senior or a fellow soldier bullying and hazing a newcomer. A quick differentiation between the two is that hazing could be the initiation rituals by which recruits are harassed and humiliated as a test or preparation for acceptance into the group. Bullying may be rationalized by some as hazing, but it is usually just abuse done in private. And both institutional hostilities are painfully depicted throughout the drama.
The drama centered around how bullying is already innate in the military system. Wherever you go, whether in South Korea or not, the hierarchy in the military is always a big deal. Seniors always torture their juniors. Some punishments are harsher than others, while some are so absurd that it is already inhumane. These behaviors in the military should be of serious concern because they are isolated from moderating social norms, are being trained for violence, and have access to weapons. Further aggravating the situation, the soldiers can’t quit the organization if they feel abused.
The main conflict of the drama was introduced in Episode 4 where the once cheerful Cho Suk-bong (Cho Hyun-chul) changed into a monster after the extreme bullying from his seniors Hwang Jang-soo (Shin Seung-ho), Ryu Yi-kang (Hong Kyung), and more. The torment he experienced led him into doing things that even Jun-ho and Ho-yeol could never imagine. A perfect explanation of the flawed system was how Suk-bong was just supposed to accept the insincere apology of his senior who’s about to be discharged from the military. The hazing he experienced is supposed to bring him and other recruits into group solidarity with their tormentors, but this is precisely what’s wrong with the organization. The collective and individual morale is so damaged that it stains the entire organization.
The final episode title “Onlookers” was also spot on, especially with the parting question raised by the drama. “If he was so kind and diligent, why didn’t you do anything when he was getting bullied?” It is a question directed not only to Jun-ho but to us as the audience, who finds it hard to stand up against the system. The drama was clear to point out that if the system really had the intent to change, it would do so even before, but until now even the canteens were the same as the ones used during the war period. Plus, the last line of the drama gave me goosebumps – “I should at least do something,” which came from another bullied soldier Luffy and echoed the last words uttered by Suk-bong.
🪖 I’m not sure how the military police system works in South Korea, but I didn’t see any single female soldier in the barracks. Were they assigned in a separate unit/headquarters?
🪖 Honestly, I didn’t appreciate Captain Lim Ji-seob (Son Seok-ku) at all. I couldn’t warm up to him throughout the series, as he only cared about himself. His last-minute redemption moment was a bit too late; it had no impact on the story.
🪖 Did you know that Ho-yeol is a new character that only appeared in the drama? And it’s a perfect addition to spice up the heavy storyline! @maknaeahjumma and I are also both so into Koo Kyo-hwan!! More of him please, Namoo!
🪖 Jun-ho’s fate was open-ended in the story. Did he just became an army deserter, too?