D.P.: Episodes 1-2 (Review)
Netflix’s latest original drama is here, and oof, it’s a heavy one. D.P. is a military drama that’s as rough as it is uncompromising. Don’t let those early teasers trick you — there’s very little lightness here, and instead, a whole lot of bullying, torment, and miserable young men.
Note: Coverage will be limited to this review.
EPISODES 1-2 REVIEW
I love a good military story and have many under my belt, but perhaps because Netflix Originals are couched in the clothing of K-dramas, I always seem to get thrown off by the content, and the way the content is handled. And D.P. is no exception. There isn’t the tiniest glimmer of K-drama-ness here; instead, we have a Netflix miniseries that happens to be told in the Korean language. It’s not happy, it’s not hopeful, and it’s not exactly an enjoyable watch thus far — but it does what it set out to do, and that’s hit you in the gut.
We first meet our hero, PRIVATE AHN JUN-HO (Jung Hae-in), getting bullied in his military barracks. It’s a brutal introduction that will only get worse later, but first we bounce back in the timeline and see Jun-ho the day before his enlistment. The events of the day tell us a lot about the drama we’re going to get: Jun-ho meets injustice at basically every turn — and meets it with the straight face of someone who’s used to being on the bottom, and half numb to the world around him. Still, he has a strong sense of right and wrong, and a personality that makes it easy to relate to him, even when we know so little about him.
When he’s accused of stealing 500 won, he calmly confronts his accuser that he did not. When his boss fires him and refuses to pay him the wages owed, Jun-ho calmly leaves as instructed… but steals a scooter on the way out to take his rightful pay. The details don’t matter here as much as what we learn about Jun-ho, whether it’s his sense of justice, how he interacts with others, or how his worldview has been shaped.
During his enlistment ceremony, Jun-ho is one of the only people in the stadium with no one to bid him farewell. There are family hugs and crying mothers and girlfriends running through the crowd, but Jun-ho just stands there, slightly removed from it all. His hardness on one hand seems to alienate him from people and relationships, but on the other hand, it just might turn out to be the coping mechanism he needs once he gets into the army.
Basic training is torture for everyone, and we see snippets of this, mostly focusing on Jun-ho. As expected, his detachment seems to serve him well. It’s an actual real-life coping mechanism that many veterans have talked about: being able to pull yourself out of the hellacious circumstance you’re in, and giving your mind somewhere else to go to keep you from breaking down. Jun-ho seems to take endless punishment by his superior HWANG JANG-SOO (Shin Seung-ho), but in certain moments we see through his exterior; he is getting close to cracking.
Jang-soo is the token bully of the barracks who seems to live to humiliate and torture the new recruits — physically and psychologically. He seems to have a particular dislike for Jun-ho, and we soon circle back to our opening sequence where Jang-soo smacks Jun-ho (and the others) around. If they can’t hold the line where they’re supposed to stand, they get shoved back against the wall, where a particularly nasty-looking nail at head-level waits for them. It gives me the shivers.
Because of Jun-ho’s height, he automagically joins the military police, and from there, through circumstance, timing, and his psychological acumen, gets appointed to the D.P. team. It’s a joke of the military that no one knows what D.P. actually stands for, but the mission is clear: they go into the real world dressed as civilians to bring back army deserters. The D.P. teams work in pairs, and Jun-ho is paired up with CORPORAL PARK SUNG-WOO (Go Kyung-pyo).
It’s hard to read Sung-woo exactly, but when they get sent to Gangnam to find a deserter, his character becomes clear. Rather than start their investigation, like Jun-ho keeps pressing them to, Sung-woo wants to party. They spend the whole night at a bar, drinking and smoking in excess.
Jun-ho is clearly conflicted by their actions, but Sung-woo’s military rank means he has to fall in line — and it has dire consequences. Jun-ho goes outside the bar to smoke, barely conscious at this point. When a kid walks over and asks to use his lighter, Jun-ho gives it to him, saying he has two. It’s a small moment that will have a huge ripple effect: the young kid is in fact the very deserter they’re supposed to be looking for. He uses Jun-ho’s lighter to smoke himself to death in his motel room.
In the aftermath of this tragedy, Sung-woo only cares about hiding the truth and protecting himself. Jun-ho, on the other hand, is absolutely stricken about what’s happened and the inadvertent role he has played in the young soldier’s death. His emotions come out in one way, which is basically the same way everything in the drama is expressed: violence. Jun-ho beats Sung-woo to a bloody pulp, and while we’re watching this scene play out, we see that in his head, Jun-ho is actually punching (i.e., punishing and blaming) himself.
Jun-ho expects to be a goner after this incident, but enough of the truth is exposed, and it earns him a second chance. The original soldier from the D.P. team comes back from a stint in the military hospital, and he’s teamed up with Jun-ho. Here we meet CORPORAL HAN HO-YEOL (Gu Kyo-hwan), a total weirdo for sure, but one that takes his D.P. duties seriously.
The pair are given their next mission, and are set loose in the city with a warrant and 200,000 won for expenses. Jun-ho goes along with Ho-yeol’s usual methods of investigation, and it’s a dynamic that we’ve seen many times, but it still works: Ho-yeol is the oddball that seems strangely insulated from the brutalities around him. He has his own way of working, but he’s also not opposed to listening to Jun-ho. As the two carry out their investigation, we see not only the start of their partnership, but how Jun-ho’s insights can be put to good service. Episode 2 covers their first investigation, and ends with the successful arrest of a deserting private.
It’s probably a blessing in disguise that D.P. is only six episodes in total; it’s a lot of heaviness to take in, the half of which I haven’t even gotten to here. Suffice it to say the overall ethos of this world is one of real unhappiness. You get the feeling every character is just dragging themselves through by their claws, doing whatever it takes to survive the misery until tomorrow.
Even the higher ranking soldiers that are in charge of the military police are equally heavy and unhappy characters. Kim Sung-kyun is particularly great here, playing the D.P. team’s commanding officer.
Though D.P. is set in the present-day, the way it’s shot, and the color palette used, gives the drama an older feeling. From aesthetics to emotions, it often feels like you’re watching one of the great U.S. films about the Vietnam War. In D.P. we don’t get a story of combat, but we do get the same emotions, the same color, the same slow drags on cigarettes, and the feeling of this really raw exposè of military life.
In addition to all the heaviness of the military setting, and the really heartrending backstories of the deserters (which I imagine will only get more so as the drama continues), we’re also able to glean a bit of information about Jun-ho’s family. This is just as dark and dire as the rest of the drama. He seems to come from an abusive family, and though he cares about his mother, was unable to bring himself to see her before his enlistment. Similarly, her letters to him stack up in the barracks; he is unable to open them.
Jun-ho’s mother will likely play an important part in his own story, but the idea of mothers and comfort from a mother is referenced and inserted into this story again and again. I can’t think of where I originally heard it from, but there was a movie line that went something like this: in the end, when men die, they all cry for their mothers.
While the love of a mother might be used as a way to humiliate the new privates, in a deeper sense, it’s a current that’s running through this story, and something that (whether they want to admit it or not) unites us all. Whether it’s Ho-yeol saying how the deserters almost always reach out to their mothers, Jun-ho’s guilt and heartache around his own mother, or the fact that the deserter they catch is allowed a touching phone call with his mother, it’s hard to discount this element of the story.
Dark and depressing though D.P. is, it tells its story insightfully instead of gratuitously. I don’t want to exist in the world of this story any longer than I have to, but I do appreciate what it’s doing and the story it’s telling. It’s slower, darker, and harsher than we might have expected, but it’s a story worth experiencing.