Chae Soo-bin and kpop star Kang Daniel star in Disney’s first locally produced* k-drama “Rookie Cops.” Disney’s take on a cop drama is an interesting departure from the dark and edgy police fare that’s a standard on the Korean small screen.
*Snowdrop was acquired post-production.
Ko Eun-kang (Chae Soo-bin) and Wi Seung-hyeon (Kang Daniel) are college freshmen in the prestigious Korean National Police University (KNPU). Ko Eun-kang’s last-minute entry into KNPU shakes the decades-old hierarchical and patriarchal system. Seung-hyeon, Eun-kang, and their cohorts come of age in what can only be described as a police-themed university experience—complete with hazing, difficult professors, on-the-job training, crime-busting, loss, disillusionment, and, of course, romance.
Chae Soo-bin (I Am Not A Robot, Strongest Deliveryman) provides much of the charm in the drama as the k-pop-singer-turned-actor Kang Daniel is still wet behind the ears (but he’s cute and we forgive him because we know this is his first acting gig. Plus, he provides an appropriate amount of chemistry opposite Chae Soo-bin.) Lee Shin-young (Crash Landing on You, How To Buy A Friend), as Kang Daniel’s roommate, is much more interesting as a country bumpkin with a tragic past. Five other characters (played by Park Yoo-na, Min Do-hee, Kim Woo-seok, Park Sung-soon, and Cheon Young-min) round out the clique and provide enough backstory and adventures to keep the show interesting.
The show tackles crime and systemic corruption but without the trademark gritty undertones that make other police procedurals unbearable for some. In true Disney fashion, Rookie Cops offers hope and positivity in the face of a corrupt system and proposes kindness, friendship, sheer determination, and spunk as the antidote to the ills of Korean society. Think of it as the the teen-appropriate version of heavy weights Signal or Bad and Crazy—“police k-drama lite” if you will—without the time travel and the mental health issues. Or, if you grew up with the Disney channel, High School Musical and Cadet Kelly—but grittier, more angsty, and without the singing (well, except for that one memorable stage performance). In this show, the choice between good and evil is clearly defined and the the difficulty of decision making is more a matter of immaturity than a skewed moral code.
Perhaps Disney is still testing the waters with this one and trying to figure out if it can elbow its way into the local and international market alongside Netflix, Viu, and iQiyi with its own brand of k-drama. With Rookie Cops topping the ratings in Disney+ Korea when it aired, it seems that Disney is on the right track. For this viewer at least, Rookie Cops was a charming breather from all the shows smothered with han (Korean angst) out there. There’s just enough conflict and realism to keep the tension going but it never loses sight of its hopeful tone. But before you think it's all fluff and rainbows, you should know the show does take a much darker and heavier turn towards the end. This is, after all, still a k-drama about crime and its repercussions.
Some days, you just want to immerse yourself in the mud and filth of society for a cathartic experience. But other days, you also want to be reminded of what Samwise the Brave once said, “There’s still some good left in this world… and it’s worth fighting for.” Watching these youngsters attempt to grow up gracefully and right the wrongs left by the broken adults around them is 16 hours well spent.
STEAM: If you're in the mood for a police drama---college edition.
SKIP: If you like the hard core police procedurals.