Entertainment

K-drama midseason recap: Police University — romance fizzles as drama ploughs forward with improbable investigation


This article contains spoilers.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and that adage holds true for Yoo Dong-man (Cha Tae-hyun), the bulldog investigator who finds himself begrudgingly saddled with new recruits in his new post at Police University.

The veteran detective needs a little time to adjust to his new surroundings, and it comes as little surprise that he turns out to be a poor role model. He skips meetings and slides on his duties while he continues his dogged pursuit of a cryptocurrency -financed gambling operation on the side. Even when he is present, his macho demeanour constantly gets the better of him.

Dong-man quickly locks horns with Kwon Hyeok-pil (Lee Jong-hyuk), a straight-laced professor who takes an instant dislike to him. The pair spend several episodes posturing and glaring at each other, until Hyeok-pil finds himself caught in Dong-man’s investigative cross hairs.

The detective uncovers a link between the crime network and his university, and he believes Hyeok-pil might be that link. Dong-man enlists the help of student Kang Sun-ho (Jin Young) to find evidence to finger Hyeok-pil. Sun-ho makes a lame attempt to distract Hyeok-pil while Dong-man tries to break into his car, but he’s caught in the act.

Despite showing little interest in teaching his students – and illegally investigating a fellow police university professor – Dong-man’s position as an instructor is never thrown into doubt. Instead, Hyeok-pil voluntarily shares his car’s black box chip and, after letting off steam in a friendly judo match, the pair suddenly become cautious allies.

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Every story requires a certain suspension of disbelief and, depending on what you are watching or reading, there’s likely to be a built-in tolerance for improbable scenarios. K-dramas can rate fairly high on that scale, with stories pieced together through a mass of major coincidences.

Yet even with that heightened level of expectation in mind, Police University stands out. Before becoming a professor, Dong-man investigates a case with the help of an anonymous hacker. That hacker is a pre-university Sun-ho. The pair meet by chance because of a minor car crash, and then again when Sun-ho happens to enrol in Police University.

Dong-man’s investigation winds up being connected to the university. Also implicated in the crime ring is the mother of Oh Kang-hee (Krystal Jung). Sun-ho met Kang-hee at the beginning of the season, fell for her and followed her to university.

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Dong-man’s former partner Park Cheol-jin (Song Jin-woo) – also connected to the gambling ring – somehow becomes a professor at the school in a pointless narrative arc that is snuffed out as quickly as it appeared.

Coincidences like these pile up throughout the show, and the deeper we get into the story the smaller the world becomes. The narrative beats in a K-drama are often a means to an end, a way to manoeuvre characters into certain places, be it to bring them together, tear them apart or just put them through heightened scenarios.

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However, in Police University the improbable investigation has occupied an increasingly significant role, so much so that the cutesy romance between Sun-ho and Kang-hee has often been sidelined. By episode 10, Dong-man has unwittingly roped two fellow instructors and four students into his investigation.

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Among those students is Kang-hee, who was introduced in the show as a fierce judo competitor and a very capable young woman determined to be a police officer. She has all the tools to be a big part of the investigation but, when she eventually joins it, her role is slight. Meanwhile, Sun-ho – who a few months earlier harboured no dreams of joining the police force – has proven to be a vital partner to a 20-year veteran detective.

Similarly, it was Sun-ho who first fell for Kang-hee, but midway through the series that crush appears to switch as Kang-hee becomes a lovestruck teenage girl, flustered every time she bumps into Sun-ho.

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Furthermore, since there’s an opportunity for Sun-ho to exonerate Kang-hee’s incarcerated mother through the investigation, Kang-hee is reduced to a damsel in distress.

With most of the action taking place beyond the campus walls, since Dong-man has handed in his resignation, the show seems determined to focus squarely on what has been a predictable and dreary investigation.

There’s still a little time before we reach the show’s endpoint, but Police University hasn’t given us much cause to be optimistic.

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Police University is streaming on Viu.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.



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