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The D.P. or Deserter Pursuit Unit is a team in the Korean military police who are in charge of finding those who abandon their military duty and escape. Article 86 of Korea’s Military Service Act states, “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.”

Actor Jung Hae-In plays the role of Ahn Joon-Ho, who is a pizza delivery man at the first of the series. Long alienated from his middle-class family and his abusive father, Joon-ho knows how to fight for what he needs before starting the mandatory military service. Thrown into a barracks with a mix of new and senior recruits when enlisting, he experiences bullying and abuses. However, he quickly establishes himself as a man with a keen eye for details. This turns the head of his superior, Sergeant Park Beom-gu (Kim Sung-Kyun), who recruits him to join the D.P. department. His D.P. senior Han Ho-Yul, on the other hand, is a quirky and free-spirited partner who shows him the ropes of investigating and tracking down deserters. But when the duo goes out to find these deserters, they are taken aback by the reasons for their colleagues’ desertion and discover a darker side to the military.

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The overarching story here is about how those in positions of leadership abuse their power, mistreat/bully recruits, and make the army work even during their leaves. For that reason, Joon-Ho and Ho-Yul get stuck between fulfilling their duty as soldiers, as they battle trying to convince soldiers to return knowing the brutality they faced.

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Directed by Han Jun-hee, this amazing series is set in 2014, which 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, Senior Sgt. Lim Do-bin went on a shooting spree at an Army post, killing five people and became a deserter. That’s why with only six episodes, this K-drama spotlights the abuse, bullying, and violence in Korea’s military service.

Each episode focuses on specific deserters, and while the mileage varies with these individual stories, the overall story of the dynamics within the army barracks is frequently captivating. It’s a chapter by a chapter case study of the vicious cycle of bullying in a systematic organization. It demonstrates wonderfully how crimes against humanity can merely be accepted as long as the cogs decide if it is acceptable.

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The drama uses various forms of bullying and hazing, from assault to verbal backlash. D.P. also sheds light on the justice system as one deserter is brought back, but his superiors do not face criminal charges for the mistreatment they inflicted. Soldiers also experience severe physical and mental hazing by their superiors and is often a reason for desertion. Even the sit-ups, squats, and crawling in the mud required for military training are easier to endure than the vicious harassment at the hands of their superiors that sometimes takes place behind closed doors.

Bullying is common and can be so extreme that young recruits are traumatized for life. There have been many cases of soldiers dying during acts of hazing, while others have taken their own lives. Others still have cracked under the pressure and gone on murderous rampages that shocked the nation.

D.P. director Han Jun Hee revealed in an interview that the never-ending news on incidents inside the military bases is proof that the show is based on true stories. He pointed out, “Just because we don’t see it with our own eyes or have it happen to us does not mean these incidents are not real.”

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Many soldiers have killed themselves over at least the past decade, and there have been numerous incidents where abused soldiers ended up murdering their comrades in frustration. A news report by a Korean media outlet stated that based on the Korean Ministry of National Defense’s statistical yearbook, the number of deserters in the Korean military hopefully has been decreasing. From 640 deserters in 2013, it went down to 115 in 2019. But based on data submitted by the defense ministry to the National Assembly Legislative Investigation Office, in 2020 alone, there have been 946 reported cases of violence and harassment in the military. Without a question, there are countless more cases that have gone unreported.

Actor 33-year-old Jung Hae-in also fulfilled his military service when he was 21-years-old. In an interview, he said, “I tried to put my own memories of military life in him. Stating one’s rank and name, the salutes, cleaning the lockers and boots, and dealing with the seniors, I revived all those past memories.” He also added, “I felt like I was re-enlisted while doing D.P.” The webtoon’s creator Kim Bo-tong and some production team members had served in the real-life D.P. and that’s why the series was more realistic. Director Han Jun-hee also said, “What was most important for me was what kind of stories could be portrayed through this series. As young men in their early 20s all go serve in the military and I think people can easily relate with the story and put themselves in the shoes of the characters.”

Overall, D.P. came to life as a way to challenge the idea that ‘things have gotten better since.’ It came to help those who are still fighting in the dark by themselves. It is one of the finest K-Drama series released this year.

* Rumaiysa M Rahman is a 10th grader at Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, Dhaka

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