Jung Hae-in’s K-drama ‘D.P.’ spotlights on abuse, violence in Korean military service

Published September 7, 2021, 10:06 AM

by Jonathan Hicap

Jung Hae-in in “D.P.” (Netflix Korea) 

Korean actor Jung Hae-in’s Netflix series “D.P.” has resonated with viewers in different countries especially those which have military service.

“D.P.,” which stands for deserter pursuit, is about a team in the Korean military police which catches those who abandon their military duty and not returning to their units.

In the series, Jung Hae-in plays the role of Ahn Joon-ho, who enlists in the military, and his superior, Corporal Han Ho-yul (played by Koo Kyo-hwan). Ahn Joon-ho is selected as a member of the D.P. team and together with Han Ho-yul, they go after deserters.

“D.P.,” released as a six-episode series last Aug. 27, has been the No. 1 show on Netflix in South Korea, according to streaming analytics website FlixPatrol. South Korea is one of the countries where military service is a mandatory duty for men.

The series, set in 2014, spotlights the abuse, bullying and violence in Korea’s military and military service, a contentious issue. Some of the deserters depicted in “D.P.” are victims of bullying and abuse perpetrated by their superiors and fellow soldiers.

In reality, Jung Hae-in, now 33, finished his military service before he started his career as an actor.

“I felt like I was re-enlisted while doing ‘D.P.,’” he told Busan.com, adding that he was discharged in the army in 2010. Although he smiled shyly at the favorable reception that “D.P.” got in South Korea and abroad, the website reported, he said, “The truth is sometimes uncomfortable, but it has great power.”

“There are still many problems in the military. It centers around the military story, but it could be everyone’s story. Isn’t the theme of the last episode ‘Bystanders’? It sends the message that we’ve all been bystanders at some point so we can reflect on ourselves. I also looked back on myself a lot after doing this project,” he said.

2014: Painful year for Korean military

2014 was a controversial year for the Korean military. In April 2014, Army private Yoon Seung-joo died after being beaten by six soldiers. He was having a snack at the time and he died of asphyxiation after food obstructed his airway.

In June 2014, Senior Sgt. Lim Do-bin went on a shooting spree at an Army post, killing five people and became a deserter.

About the two incidents, Jung Hae-in said, “Even though I was discharged from the military at the time, my heart ached when I read the articles about the incident.”

“It is the army that young people go to, and I do not want them to get hurt either physically or mentally. This is the ultimate message I want to convey through this work,” he said.

Ministry of National Defense comments on “D.P.”

A news report by Korean media outlet Segye stated that based on the Korean Ministry of National Defense’s statistical yearbook, the number of deserters in the Korean military has been decreasing.

From 640 deserters in 2013, it went down to 472 in 2014, 309 in 2015, 217 in 2016, 164 in 2017, 142 cases in 2018 and 115 in 2019. From 2013 to 2019, the number of deserters decreased by 80 percent.

Under Article 86 of Korea’s Military Service Act, “Any person who deserts, absconds, or injures his body or commits a deceitful act, with the intention of evading military service or having military service reduced or exempted, shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one year, but not more than five years.”

About the depiction of violence, bullying and abuse in “D.P.,” Ministry of National Defense deputy spokesperson Moon Hong-sik said on Sept. 6 during a press briefing that “the military environment is changing into a military environment where malicious accidents cannot be concealed due to the use of mobile phones after work.”

“So far, the Ministry of National Defense and each military [division] have been making continuous efforts to reform the barracks so we can eradicate absurdities such as assault and abuse,” he said, adding that the cast of “D.P.” did not violate any law for wearing military uniforms in the drama.

An SBS news report published the statistics on the number of assault and harassment cases in the Korean Army, Navy and Air Force from 2016 to 2020.

Based on data submitted by the defense ministry to the National Assembly Legislative Investigation Office last May, the number of assault cases in the Korean military are as follows: 755 in 2016, 1,185 in 2017, 939 in 2018, 854 in 2019 and 946 in 2020.

There were 65 harassment cases in the Korean military in 2016, 55 in 2017, 44 in 2018, 42 in 2019 and 64 in 2020.