A hit Netflix series is reigniting a debate in South Korea over the country’s massive military, its history of abuse scandals, and the mandatory conscription that fills its ranks with young men.
D.P., short for Deserter Pursuit, has been among the top Netflix shows in South Korea since it premiered at the end of August.
The series follows military police assigned to capture deserters, shining a light on daily life for many conscripts, including mental and physical abuse from other soldiers.
Photo: Reuters via Netflix
Director Han Jun-hee said he sought to tell a humanising story about how the system makes deserters both victims and criminals, as well as the toll it takes on those forced to do the hunting.
“D.P. is a story of tracing a deserter, but at the same time, it is a paradoxical story of looking for someone’s unfortunate son, brother, or lover,” Han said.
Asked about the popularity of the show, a defense ministry spokesman said that the military environment has changed and that the ministry has tried to stamp out abuse and harsh treatment.
Photo: Reuters via Netflix
Last week the military announced that even before the series came out, it had planned to do away with the system of having rank-and-file soldiers track down AWOL comrades. That change will go into effect in July next year.
South Korea maintains an active duty military of 550,000, with 2.7 million troops in reserves, amid decades of tensions with North Korea. All men must serve for up to 21 months, depending on the military branch.
South Korea’s military criminal law punishes desertion by up to 10 years in prison.
The Defense Ministry says abuse and desertion among conscripts are down, largely because of a 2019 decision to allow enlisted soldiers to use cellphones in their barracks.
The ministry declined to confirm the exact number of deserters, but South Korean media reported that 55 cases were reported last year, down from 78 in 2019. Military deaths by suicide also dropped from 27 to 15 in the same period.
The series landed as the country debates the future of conscription and the potential for abuse, particularly as young men facing dim economic prospects have complained of losing time to military service that they could have spent on studies or work.
In 2018 a Supreme Court ruling for the first time found that conscientious objection is a valid reason to forgo military service. Parliament last year passed a bill allowing K-Pop stars to postpone their military service to when they are 30.
The military has been rocked by multiple sexual abuse scandals this year, prompting lawmakers to pass a law that sex abuse and violent crime in the military will be handled by civilian courts.
Reaction to the series among former conscripts has been mixed, with some saying it mirrored their experiences, others saying its depictions of abuse are overblown, and some avoiding the show altogether to prevent traumatic memories from resurfacing.
“There is a scene in D.P. where they throw combat boots (at the soldier). I went through a lot of similar harassments,” said Ma Joon-bin, who described his time between 2013 and 2014 as the “dark ages.” “Now that I look back I feel it was unfair, but back then it was so common.”
Lee Jun-tae, 24, who served from 2017 to 2019, said he had never experienced or heard of any of his friends suffering abuse during their service.
“There was no harsh treatment during my time,” he said.
Last week the presidential favorite for the ruling party, Lee Jae-myung, called the stories in the series a “barbaric history” of South Korea. Hong Joon-pyo, an opposition party candidate, has said he endured cruelty as a soldier and pledged to consider moving to voluntary military service.
Ending conscription won’t solve all the problems if broader military culture doesn’t change as well, said pop culture critic Kim Hern-sik, who served as a D.P.
“As long as there is military service, whether mandatory or voluntary conscription system, problems are inevitable one way or another,” Kim said.
In Taiwan’s rural lowlands, it’s a common sight at this time of year. Having cleared and plowed their fields, farmers intending to grow pineapples, strawberries or certain other crops, roll lengths of thin black plastic across the ground. To keep the film in place, soil is piled over the edges. Plastic sheeting — or plastic mulch, as it’s often called — makes farmers’ lives easier by suppressing unwanted foliage that might otherwise crowd out their crops. As an inexpensive labor-saving technique, its appeal is obvious. Taiwan’s farmers are getting old (in 2014, their mean age was 62 years), and finding
Foreign viewers at the Cannes premiere of Moneyboys (金錢男孩) may not have noticed the glaring incongruities that persist through the movie, but Taiwanese viewers certainly will. They’re apparent to the point that it’s difficult to enjoy the movie. First of all, the entire film is obviously shot in Taiwan, but the plot is set in fictional locales in southern China, with most secondary characters, passersby and television announcers speaking in Beijing-accented Mandarin. This melancholy tale revolves around gay sex workers in China and the unique challenges they face, especially regarding traditional expectations, including marriage, and the large-scale rural-to-urban migration of
My goals were straightforward. I’d ride my motorcycle from my home in Tainan along back-country roads into Kaohsiung’s Tianliao (田寮) and Cishan (旗山) districts, then loop back through Yanchao (燕巢). I had a short list of places I wanted to visit along the way, and I was confident I’d stumble across a few more points of interest. Turning off Provincial Highway 19A (19甲), I veered northeast on Tainan Local Road 163 (南163) until I saw a sign for Daping (大坪). Like 163, this second (and apparently unnumbered) road turned out to be a gently undulating rural delight. I passed a few
Ten years ago, the psychologist Steven Pinker published The Better Angels of Our Nature, in which he argued that violence in almost all its forms — including war — was declining. The book was ecstatically received in many quarters, but then came the backlash, which shows no signs of abating. In September, 17 historians published a riposte to Pinker, suitably entitled The Darker Angels of Our Nature, in which they attacked his “fake history” to “debunk the myth of non-violent modernity.” Some may see this as a storm in an intellectual teacup, but the central question — can we learn