With mandatory military conscription drilled into every male Korean’s psyche, it is still surprising how the harsh realities of soldiers' lives aren’t as visible in k-drama as they are in k-cinema. But lately, that seems to be changing. The worldwide popularity of Netflix’s military drama D.P. (Deserter Pursuit) last year bravely exposed the long concealed abuses and extremes of Korean military training. Surprisingly, the show wasn’t dropped or canceled. Instead, D.P. has been rewarded with a whopping six Baeksang Arts Awards nominations, even a nom for Best Drama this year.
Will Military Prosecutor Doberman follow D.P.’s controversial steps, or will it just be part of a short-lived military drama trend?
Ahn Bo-hyun stars as a corrupt and apathetic military prosecutor Do Bae-man who has a change of perspective (and heart) when he meets his replacement, captain Cha Woo-in (Jo Bo-ah), a prosecutor who is bent on inflicting revenge on all those who had a hand in disgracing her late father and their firm. Soon, Do Bae-man realizes that he has also been victimized by the powers that be in the military, and now therefore has his own very personal reasons for taking revenge.
The series showcases the numerous scandals and issues that both prosecutors have to untangle before they can take down the most corrupt and powerful players in the military, mysteriously referred to as “The Patriotic Society.” Not only do the duo have to deal with their own private demons, but they also have to serve justice to fellow victims who have been subjected to the worst military experiences, from excessive power trips, horrific discipline tactics, fake heroic narratives, medical “accidents,” rampant abuse, mass shooting, and even murder.
A Quick Review
Military Prosecutor Doberman has enjoyed rather strong and steady ratings in Korea, most probably because of how fast each episode metes out justice and how entertaining its fight scenes can be. Every two episodes shows a military issue that is grounded in the reality of military conscription: tales of rich kids dodging the draft, of higher-ups using private soldiers as their personal slaves, of using military influence and power for personal estate and gain. While the resolution of some cases can be borderline fantastical and unbelievable (the show even makes vigilantes out of its leads from time to time to do this), it still feels good to watch powerful villains fall in a court of law.
Even if the plot can get very muddied and complicated on many fronts, with some resolutions more unbelievable than others, Military Prosecutor Doberman does have a very talented cast to its credit. Ahn Bo-hyun has clearly entered his true leading man era with this show, and he fully flexes his action-star background for the fight scenes he has to do every other episode. Jo Bo-ah steps up nicely as a fighter as well, and the two share a slow-burn chemistry that will keep everyone guessing until the end. Military Prosecutor Doberman also has a great villain in the soft-spoken General No Hwa-young (Oh Yeon-soo, Bad Guy). Keep your eyes peeled for amazing performances from the cast of soldiers, especially on rookie Kim Woo-seok (Rookie Cops), who plays No Tae-nam, the general’s traumatized son.
All in all, Military Prosecutor Doberman is a thickly-stacked tour of the worst abuses of the military disguised as a revenge action drama. It's not as bleak as D.P., because Doberman allows for some comic relief and a bit of legal fantasy to seep in.
What to Watch after Military Prosecutor Doberman
More Ahn Bo-hyun
Yumi’s Cells (2021)
A lonely 32-year-old Kim Yu-mi (Kim Go-eun, Goblin, The King: Eternal Monarch) devotes so much of her time and talent at work that she gets promoted to Assistant Accounting Manager at Daehan Noodles. She reluctantly goes on a date for the first time in three years. Certain “frog-related” incidents bring her closer to Goo Woong (Ahn Bo-hyun), a game developer who has set up his own studio with his friends. Yu-mi and Woong’s relationship strengthens over time, but is constantly threatened by work demands, an obnoxious ex, and a manipulative friend, among others.
My Name (2021)
Han So-hee (Soundtrack #1) takes on her most challenging role to date as Oh Hye-jin, a lonely student whose father — a gangster on the wanted list — is murdered in front of her eyes. Despite her gangster background, she enters the police narcotics unit, but has to make sure the chief, Cha Gi-ho (Kim Sang-ho, Kingdom, Sweet Home), and her partner, detective Jeon Pil-do (Ahn Bo-hyun) don’t discover her identity while she searches for answers.
More Jo Bo-ah
In a small village in fictional Miryeong Forest, Kang San-hyuk (Park Hae-jin, Cheese in the Trap), an investment executive, is training to become a member of the Miryeong Forest rescue team so that he can land a deal that will turn the forest into a resort. There he runs into Jung Young-jae (Jo Bo-ah), a surgeon who has been “exiled” to the small clinic in the village. As the leads struggle to adapt to their new lives, they come to grips with the trauma of their past and find healing in the forest and with each other.
Tale of the Nine-Tailed (2020)
Jo Bo-ah seems to like feisty roles, and her role in the fantasy gumiho drama Tale of the Nine-Tailed is no different. Not only did she play the reincarnated love interest of a centuries-old nine-tailed fox (Lee Dong-wok, Goblin, Bad and Crazy), but she also had to play other characters as well — her past self, her past possessed self, and even a current possessed self. Confused? Don't be. Her many iterations are easy to distinguish, and make for a rather interesting twist to the old fantasy tale.
More dramas about military life
D.P. (Deserter Pursuit) (2021)
D.P. is the brutal six-episode Netflix adaptation that reveals the hardships of abuse, bullying, and other harrowing experiences in the Korean military through the eyes of its D.P. (deserter pursuit) team. Ahn Jun-ho (Jung Hae-in, Snowdrop) and his partner, Han Ho-yeol (Koo Kyu-hwan, Escape from Mogadishu) are tasked to chase down the deserters at any cost. Through their difficult hunts, we learn why some men would much rather risk life and limb to escape the military and its abuses.
Search is a military thriller/zombie k-drama produced by OCN's Dramatic Cinema project, a studio that combines the drama format with cinematic production value. There are zombies, zombie dogs, a whole North-versus-South plot, and enough jump scares and military scenes to keep you interested. It also offers a rare look at life in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and gives you an idea of the risks soldiers take every time they patrol the border.
This fusion k-drama was part of our Most Underrated K-Dramas of 2020.
Descendants of the Sun (2016)
One of the biggest hits that ushered the “k-renaissance” in 2016 (along with Goblin). Descendants of the Sun effortlessly made global stars out of its lead couple Song Joong-ki (Vincenzo) and Song Hye-kyo (Encounter) and spawned a number of international versions. While many k-drama fans have already watched this tale of a military captain falling in love with a war doctor while stationed in a far-off place, its loose plot lines, great soundtrack, and relaxed approach to life in the frontlines make it a comfort rewatch for many.
Other Notable Legal Dramas to Watch
Legal dramas abound in k-dramaland, most likely because of the Korean sense of “han” or unrequited anger that longs for justice. As long as “han” is felt so deeply in a people’s collective bones, the pursuit of justice and fairness in legal dramas will never go out of style. Some of the best legal dramas include:
Stranger/Secret Forest (2017)
One of the first k-dramas to be offered on Netflix, Stranger is one of the rare shows whose legal thrills still hold up nicely even after five years. Winner of three Baeksang awards, Stranger is fronted by excellent acting from both Cho Seung-woo (Life) and Bae Doona (Kingdom), who play the unlikely duo of an apathetic prosecutor on the spectrum who has to work with an extremely pragmatic detective. The cinematography of Stranger is as beautiful as they come, while its writing and scenarios are plausible and understandable even if you’re not familiar with the Korean justice system.
One Ordinary Day (2021)
Kim Soo-hyun (It's Okay to Not Be Okay) stars in this adaptation of BBC’s Criminal Justice as a man wrongfully accused of a murder and rape in a drama that is both unwatchable and completely bingeable at the same time. It is an understatement to call the drama suspenseful as it keeps you on your toes from the first notes of its opening sequence all the way till the very last second of each episode.
Juvenile Justice (2021)
Juvenile Justice is a 10-episode Netflix k-drama about young offenders and how they are saved or ruined by the existing juvenile laws of Korea. It is hardly a show to be entertained by, but it is a show worth thinking about and talking about. Like its controversial Netflix predecessors Extracurricular and D.P., Juvenile Justice is as thought-provoking as they come, giving global k-drama viewers a glimpse of the jarring realities Korean youth face that the usual romcoms and even domestic crime shows dare not even touch.