Cops in K-dramas? Is there a clearly defined police archetype in K-dramas?

Hello! This is a Korean in America. While watching the paranormal detective K-drama “Who are you?”, I could not believe that our protagonist was a proper police career officer.

This made me think about the past portrayal of police in K-drama. While the number of K-dramas based on the subject of crime and police is by no means low in recent years,  I do not think that the “cops and robbers” genre has been solidly established in Korean entertainment. There seems to be no clearly established formula regarding what a crime series should be and what it means to be a police officer in K-dramas. Rather, it seems that in many cases, but not all, the crime elements are grafted on to existing K-drama sub-genre structures.

From my experience of viewing K-dramas during the past few decades, the portrayal of police officers seem to be stuck between two old archetypes stretching back to the 80s.  One archetype would the fatherly detective captain archetype that gets confessions out of criminals by some kind words and a big rice bowl with beef toppings. Afterwards, he helps rehabilitate criminals and they end up thanking him. The other archetype would be the cops out of organized crime/mob movies who tend to become more like the criminals than straight laced police officers. These officers would be representative to the police during the military dictatorship in which police were there to keep order and not to serve the people. The only thing the two archetypes had in common is the activeness in which the police officers conducted their jobs.

However, going into the 90s, there was an introduction of a civil service archetype to the mix. No longer were police something special compared to the other civil service.. Even during the dark ages of dictatorship, the ideal characteristics of a police officer would be his dogged pursuit of so called “justice” even though, in many cases, the definition of justice was protecting the weak against the mighty and not the law strictly. The matter of law was secondary. In that vein, these police officers had more in common with America super heroes. However, the police became just another over entitled cob in the machine of government. This generated a sense of passiveness to how police officers conducted their jobs portrayed in K-dramas.  So, the result was that there was no longer a clearly defined ideal archetype for police in K-dramas.  

So, I cannot think of a character in K-dramas that could be used to represent what a police officer should be in K-drama. This is not the same for American crime shows where there are many characters that represent the cop archetype.

Do you agree? What is the most memorable cop character you have seen in K-dramas?  Please leave your comments below about the best cop character in K-dramas.


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