D.P.-Season One

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Written by Kim Bo-tong & Han Jun-hee
Directed by Han Jun-hee
Original Release Date: 27th August 2021
Netflix

There is a violent aura to D.P. right from its opening scene. It’s a moment that cannot help but put you edge and it’s something that the series never really loses sight off, even as its focus changes and develops over the course of its six-episode run.

To watch the trailer for the series might leave one expecting something along the lines of a buddy cop drama/thriller and certainly it does settle into that, but there is also a boiling anger to the storytelling that proves incredibly powerful. In fact, it spends the first episode establishing character and tone before settling into its procedural nature in episode two, eventually following its two central characters as they chase down deserted soldiers from the South Korean army.

Yes, there is a level of wit and comedy to some of this, but the aspect of the series that you will remember the most is just how embittered and angry the tone can be at times, and that’s not just within the characters of the series.

Military service in South Korea is mandatory, and D.P. portrays life within the ranks of the South Korean army as something quite nightmarish, where abuse and power imbalances lie in wait, with scenes that play quite disturbingly.

Authority figures who abuse their power and fester an environment of toxicity have been rightly called out for their actions in recent years and it’s scenes depicting such abusive imbalances which forms a large part of D.P.’s storytelling. It would have been so easy for the series to just do a straight forward ‘chase the soldier’ storyline for each episode (and remarkably this functions as more of a procedural compared to so many K-dramas and Netflix series), and while those stories are very entertainingly told, relying as they do on the banter between it two leads, scripts with twists and turns and entertaining use of chase and fight sequences, the entire endeavour has a much more complex pull to it and it cannot help but draw you into its orbit.

Past K-dramas that featured a military element to them have dealt with this side of South Korean life in very romanticised ways, usually as the setting for literal love stories, but D.P. has no time for that. If anything, you get the feeling that the soldiers that are being chased have totally understandable reasons for not wanting to go back.

The threat of abuse hovers over scenes set within the army world of the series, and it’s here that you can feel that simmering, boiling, politicized anger coming into play. It comes as a relief that there is a procedural nature to the series eventually and one with levity that comes from the introduction of Koo Kyo-hwan in episode two, but the emotional centre of the entire six episode run is Jung Hae-in as Ah Jun-ho who finds himself at the mercy of abusive sergeants above him but who eventually finds a direction by chasing down deserters.

The first episode is perhaps the most dramatically powerful of the six released here, primarily because there is little levity or humour to be found. If one can compare it to anything, it’s less to other K-dramas and more to Park Chan-wook’s superlative JSA: Joint Security Area and that film’s own complexities when dealing with Korean military life, as well as Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick’s devastatingly cynical and powerful account of US soldiers training in preparation for, and eventually fighting in, the Vietnam War.

Jung Hae-in is mesmerising in the lead role, navigating his way through an abusive system he now finds himself in. You might be forgiven for thinking this is going to be all dark and grim just from that opening episode, but when the series eventually partners him up with Koo Gyo-hwan, a straighter style of entertainment kicks in, but it never loses sight of its anger or cynicism.

This is perhaps one of the most daring K-dramas in recent years, and it being a Netflix production means that it can push its way into the areas that this does.  The humorous banter between its two leads is always welcome, but you always have the sense of something horrifying just waiting around the corner, that aura of potential violence never for one minute disappearing even if you find yourself chuckling along with some of the more overt humour.

It’s something that D.P. uses magnificently to put you edge for the duration of its run, and when it goes and delivers a finale as memorably gripping and suspenseful as this manages to pull off, despite the darkness and horrifying behaviours it’s documenting, it also leaves you hoping for a second season.

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