Mental health and the lack of support or resources for anyone who needs help as well as the scourge of bullying and school violence continues to plague South Korea. And that has offered plenty of opportunity for such topics to be portrayed in many a television drama; whether in a coming of age high school drama or a psychological crime thriller. But dealing with those themes with the backdrop of Korea’s compulsory military service is rare, especially on TV. That’s one of the many reasons Netflix’s original series D.P. (디피) is so striking and intriguing.
D.P., an acronym for Deserter Pursuit, follows Private Ahn Joon Ho (Jung Hae In) and Corporal Han Ho Yul (Koo Kyo Hwan) who are members of a military police unit tasked with catching deserters.
The deserters they track down each have different reasons for abandoning their posts. And though Joon Ho and Ho Yul’s mission is merely to catch the deserters and escort them back to face the consequences of their actions, they can’t help but find themselves empathizing with each unique situation. In turn, both Joon Ho and Ho Yul face their own scars and pain as well.
D.P. offers an unflinching look at life in the Korean military for the thousands of young men who are required to enlist every year. The series touches upon bullying and hazing in a very bold and direct way. Though obviously not an assertion this is representative of every single military unit in the country, it is nonetheless a somber indictment of the kind of culture that can exist both in the military and the civilian society.
Though school violence and the physical and mental abuse of youth have gotten an increased and necessary spotlight over the years, the fact that such pain and suffering can also exist in the adult world might be a surprise to some. And D.P. will certainly be an eye-opening experience.
The hazing that is depicted in the series is brutal and almost unimaginable, yet somehow still sadly believable and realistic. And that makes some of the deserters’ stories all the more emotionally affecting. Especially when discussing the toll such abuse can take on a person.
Again, each of the deserters that Joon Ho and Ho Yul must find have different stories to tell. And not all face the same experiences.
In a similar way to Move to Heaven, Netflix’s other exceptional original Korean drama this year, D.P. does a particularly excellent job at being able to tell those stories with equal care and attention while also delving into the personal stories of our two main characters.
Alongside of the “case” of the week and the procedural aspect of focusing on the stories of each deserter, we get to know Joon Ho and Ho Yul as well. Though not as much as we’d like to, D.P. nonetheless gives us enough to understand where both are coming from as they pursue the deserters and react to each one’s unique story. The series definitely leaves a lot open for future possibilities with them if Netflix were to continue beyond this six episode-first season.
D.P. deals with heavy themes, but it also deftly maintains an interesting tonal balance. At times, the series plays like a fun buddy cop adventure. The dynamic between Joon Ho and Ho Yul is perfectly established in a way where we can slowly peel back the layers of each character just as their relationship grows as well.
In the middle of the chase and the emotional revelations of each deserter, the series sprinkles in a welcome amount of lighthearted fun and exciting action. And never once does this take away from the gravity and importance of each deserter’s story. The series offers a sincere compassion, by way of Joon Ho and Ho Yul, toward the deserters and anyone else suffering while in the military. And this again allows for Joon Ho and Ho Yul to be deep, multi-dimensional characters.
Jung Hae In and Ko Kyo Hwan are just excellent in their roles. They share a magnetic chemistry that is ensured right off the bat. And that helps a lot with the series’ brisk pace. The characters’ contrasting personalities, Joon Ho a quiet, brooding rookie and Ho Yul a laidback, though skilled officer, provide much of the more lighthearted moments in the series. Both actors effortlessly deliver those moments as well as in the series’ heavier and darker moments. And their performances are a big part of D.P. being immediately accessible in spite of its difficult subject matter.
Kim Sung Kyun as Sgt. Park Bum Gu, head of the D.P. unit and Son Seok Koo as Captain Im Ji Sup are also standouts. As Joon Ho and Ho Yul’s superiors, they provide the face of the military’s higher ups. And both character’s development through the six episodes is one of the series’ most interesting threads to watch as well.
Based on his webtoon D.P Dog’s Day, Kim Bo Tong also writes the screenplay for the series alongside director Han Jun Hee who gained international acclaim for the film Coin Locker Girl/Chinatown. The brisk pacing of the series is complimented by its stunningly cinematic visuals. A careful direction with its use of lighting and cinematography helps properly set the stage for every emotional and literal punch throughout the six episodes. And at the end of those six episodes, you are certainly left wanting more.
Tackling a difficult, but necessary subject matter with care and sincerity is an accomplishment in and of itself. But with its total package of a strong cast, beautiful production and excellent writing, D.P. has certainly made its case to be considered one of the year’s best dramas.