Character Development 3.5
The story begins as An Jun-ho (Jun Hae-in) gets drafted to do his two-year military service. He is quiet and calm and an excellent fighter who keeps to himself. Then, one day, he gets transferred to the Deserter Pursuit (D.P.) unit, where he is tasked with his partner Corporal Han Ho-Yeol to find and catch all the men who desert the army. This show takes the viewer inside the army barracks, as we witness the toxic masculinity and bullying from a group of men in the military.
In just six short episodes, D.P really packs a punch. It covers a whole lot of dark themes and issues that I feel like aren’t mentioned in other dramas (at least not that I’ve seen)—the main one being around the effects of bullying. I have definitely seen K-dramas (mostly in high school) covering bullying before, but it was really interesting to see this play out in an adult military setting. One of the reasons I found it so interesting was that the cause for the bullying seems to also be the reason why people desert—they don’t want to be there. These toxic men turn to bullying as a way to cope with the unfortunate reality of their lives. They need to feel powerful, to feel like they have any control. It’s truly horrible, especially when you see how it affects the victims.
When one of the victims eventually cracks and commits suicide, the viewer can totally understand why. There was a build-up of tension until the penultimate moment that, wow, was intense. I found it so impactful when Jun-ho gives his condolences to the victim’s sister, saying that his comrade was kind and diligent. The girl then asks Jun-ho why he stood by and watched as her brother got bullied. This part really resonated with me. It holds the bystanders who say—and do—nothing accountable. Now, I know nothing about what it’s like to be in the Korean military, but bullying sadly happens everywhere—at work, at school, on sports teams—and it’s important to speak up whenever you see it happen.
I thought the whole aspect about deserters was interesting as well. It went to show that everyone is just trying to do their best in life with whatever skills they have. Korean men—and men all over the world—seem to have so much pressure on them. Society dictates that they should be tough and strong and never show weakness. I think this adds so much emotional stress to them that it doesn’t serve them well in the long run, especially when surrounded by other men who are just trying to prove they’re strong. The deserters that they show in the drama all had different reasons to desert, some of which I could absolutely understand.
I thought An Jun-ho’s character development was really subtle but powerful to watch throughout the six short episodes. He starts off not wanting to get too involved in anything. He keeps very much to himself and doesn’t cause too many waves. However, when he is tasked with finding deserters, I think that is where we start to see his emotional growth. We see him start to want to help people and do the right thing. He begins to question everything he was told by society about the military and, as he gets close to these deserter cases, thinks more independently. I also believe that growing closer with his friend, Corporal Han Ho-yul, does him a lot of good because he doesn’t feel as isolated.
I think D.P. also did an excellent job of showing negative character development. We see Cho Suk-bong literally have a mental break from the months and months of being bullied. He starts off as being so kind and hardworking, and we see his decline to the point where he wants to cause harm to others and doesn’t care about the repercussions to himself—he just wants revenge which he believes will be an end to all his troubles. We see this in the last scene too. It takes months and months of build-up but only a split second for a person to snap and cause irreparable damage.
D.P. was certainly very different from other K-dramas that I watch, but I still really liked it. I think there were parts towards the beginning where I found myself losing interest. I LOVED the later episodes, though. I think towards the beginning, I don’t know if it was because I didn’t get to know the characters yet, but I had some trouble being interested in their lives right away. The last two episodes really made the show for me though. I loved the portrayal of the darker side of the military because I feel like it’s not something that anyone ever discusses (at least from an outsider’s perspective). A toxic environment breeds toxic individuals, and this is put on blast during this drama. I would recommend this show to anyone looking to try something very different from the usual K-drama. There is essentially no humor and absolutely no romance, but there are some excellent action and fight scenes that are sure to entertain anyone.