A Must-Watch: “Deserter Pursuit” Raises Awareness On Mental Health

Updated: April 11, 2022

Deserter Pursuit (2021) is a 6-episode Korean drama, exclusively aired on Netlix last August 27, 2021. It narrates the untold stories of military life based on the webcomic “DP: Dog Days” written by Kim Bo-Tong. Director Han Jun-hee revealed during the press conference that there are major differences between the original webtoon and the live adaptation of the series—to make the show more thrilling yet relatable.

On April 11, 2022, the military drama earned six (6) nominations at one of the most prestigious entertainment awards in South Korea, Baeksang Arts Awards. The titles include Best Picture (Drama), Best Director, Jung Hae-in for Best Actor, Cho Hyun-chul for Best Supporting Actor, Koo Kyo-hwan for Best New Actor, and Shin Seung-ho for Best New Actor. The ceremony will be held on May 6, 2022.

Here are some of the reasons why this drama is worth the stream on Netflix:

1. It has a strong storyline that raises public awareness on mental health.

“It’s an ordinary, yet an extraordinary story. I wanted to make all characters familiar to all of us. Like ordinary people next door.” – Director Han Jun-hee

One of the mandatories of male citizens, aged 18-28, in South Korea is the two-year military service. The length of its training is among the world’s longest and objection to this obligation is not allowed. Those who defy the compulsory duty face imprisonment.

Deserter Pursuit (2021) is more than a military drama that takes you on a journey to the underexplored and delicate facet of military life. It is one of those rare Korean drama series that strongly relates to human problems and helps raise public awareness on mental health that is often taboo.

The plot centers around two soldiers who are given a special mission to capture deserters and bring them back to the camp. It’s a detective kind of assignment for the duo that goes around the country to locate the subjects.

It has a good balance of intense action and high drama. But it doesn’t only serve a satisfying series of intense fights and chasing after the deserters. It also navigates the painful realities of life within homes and in the society, showing a number of issues such as domestic violence, women abuse, dishonest gains, violation of labor law, injustice, and others. “I learned boxing so I could avoid getting beaten up by my dad,” states Private An Junho played by Jung Hae-in whose father abuses his mother for money.

It is quite heavy and distressing to watch. However, despite its dark, violent, horrifying, and depressing vibes, it is entertaining and keeps the audience glued to the series until the end.

Another thing that makes the drama unique is the structure of the story. It has the quality of being unpredictable since each episode delivers different hurdles and addresses distinct solutions to each crisis.

2. It explores the undisclosed military abuses and its impact on psychological well-being.

This drama is an eye-opening experience that bravely tackles the struggles of new recruits and reasons why some enlistees decide to desert the army. It also heavily portays the strong impact of abuse that sadly brings the soldiers to a psychological state of trauma, rage, violence, depression, and suicide.

According to reports, rates of abuse is higher among the military soldiers than the civilian population due to their high levels of aggression as part of the military training. One aspect that is often overlooked and denied inside the military camp, as shown in the drama, is the psychological well-being of the soldiers.

“Every lesson comes with pain,” is one mantra of becoming aggresive soldiers through rough trainings. Sadly, power is used beyond limits, to the point of violating human rights, unknown to the outside world, such as bullying, harassment, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, and physical abuse.

The frustrating part is that such mental torture becomes a norm—a military culture that every enlistee must experience while co-soldiers remain indifferent as onlookers. “You knew everything. You all just sat back and watched. Why should I be punished? He’s the one who did wrong!” exclaimed a deserter.

Every deserter pursuit brings you to every heartbreaking sight and feeling that the victim of abuse experiences—where the perpretators often go unpunished and the victims are left behind in the dark.

Sadly, it happens not just inside the military camp but domestic violence is also reported to be an issue among military families. Since the soldiers are trained to be aggressive to face combat, it is suggested that soldiers tend to use violence as a conflict resolution in their personal life and relationships.

3. It conveys a desperate message for justice and change.

This drama serves as a strong voice and platform, building awareness and helping the public understand the unresolved, denied, and neglected issues, not just in South Korea’s military camp, but generally the systems and institutions set up by society around the world.

A frustrated mother defended his abused son, “He joined the army to protect the country, but he was beaten and harassed. That’s why he deserted. Why isn’t anyone taking responsibility?”

But the Commander of the army strongly responded, “We decided to keep things quiet about what happened in his unit, so keep that in mind.”

The portrayal of abuse and injustice in this drama is visually powerful, expressing a desperate message for change. “Why don’t you just tell me that the entire army’s going to change?” a depressed soldier asked a co-soldier.

“I hope something like this never happens again,” the drama said.

Bullying, harassment and abuse happen around us and these sinful acts remain a pressing global issue. And the message is clear on what the drama wants to impart to the audience—a call to social empathy, protect the victims, empower justice, take part of the change, and not respond indifferently as bystanders or onlookers.

Each one is an instrument of change—that includes you and me. “It could change. We can change things,” uttered a member of the Deserter Patrol Unit.

Copyright 2021. Myra Bansale for KORB Blog.

Synopsis: A young private’s assignment to capture army deserters reveals the painful reality endured by enlistees during their compulsory calls of duty.
Based on: D.P Dog’s Day by Kim Bo-tong
Genre: Drama, Military fiction
No of episodes: 6
Starring: Jung Hae-in, Koo Kyo-hwan, Kim Sung-kyun, and Son Seok-koo
Written by: Kim Bo-tong and Han Jun-hee
Directed by: Han Jun-hee
Date: August 27, 2021
Network: Netflix