‘Han River Police’ review: same old police procedural, new hyper-specific law enforcement

Written by on 13/09/2023

han river police disney+ review

The Korean entertainment scene has always had an affinity for the cop shows, drawn to the inherent intrigue, intensity and danger that accompanies the profession. After all, who can resist the thrill of following an enigmatic detective’s pursuits of cunning serial killers, thieves and kidnappers?

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We’ve witnessed a plethora of police and public servant procedurals over the years, each taking on distinct forms and some even branching out to explore other noble callings like paramedics and firefighters. Yet, one group often remains hidden in plain sight, especially to those beyond South Korea’s borders: the dedicated coastguards who safeguard Seoul’s iconic Han River. Disney+’s latest action-comedy series Han River Police looks to rectify that oversight, as it says on the tin.

Han River Police follows five of the team’s officers: Du-jin (Kwon Sang-woo), Chun-seok (Kim Hee-won), Na-hee (Bae Da-bin), Ji-soo (Shin Hyun-seung) as well as their captain Do Hyun-il, played by veteran performer Sung Dong-il. The series starts on a high note; masked terrorists are hijacking a peaceful cruise along the river, holding its occupants hostage. The police – who we are led to believe are the Han River Police but are, in fact, not – rush in to put a stop to the situation and successfully arrest the surrendered criminals, but when an officer shoots a subdued criminal with what turns out to be a BB gun, the latter groans in pain and hastily removes his mask, revealing himself to be Du-jin.

The police officers start making fun of the Han River team, calling them “weak” for not being able to take a bruise on the chest from a rubber bullet. This rightfully pisses Du-jin off, who begins to tackle the entire group of five to six officers manning the room in one fell sweep. His fellow teammates chide him for his rash behaviour, apologising to the police on his teammate’s behalf for the unexpected fight. But this starts a full-on brawl between the coastguards and the police force, who we see comically manhandling each other in a huddle as their shared weight rocks and tips the boat on its sides.

When an emergency flare is accidentally dropped and shoots out onto a platform of high-status officials, businessmen and politicians who were spectating the drill, the Han River Police are thrust with the blame. As the rest of the team come into the picture, we see them deal with everyday problems that usually plague the waterway, and none of them are nearly as thrilling as the show’s opening. Among the Han River Police’s cases are drunk party-goers in their private yachts, fishermen without the proper licences and resilient demonstrators who engage in persistent interactions with law enforcers advocating for the discontinuation of cruise lines in the area.

Aside from the case-per-episode format, there’s also an overarching antagonist that tries to use the Han River as a means for his illicit activities. But beyond that, Han River Police delivers a mostly light-hearted series that highlights the vital tasks undertaken by these coastguards that usually go unrecognised by the public, even if somewhat dramatised and unrealistic in certain areas.

Considering the heavily saturated market of procedurals on Korean television – some of which are even award-winning cult classics – Han River Police is nothing to really write home about. Its genre, format, style and even jokes of this subsection of the action-comedy genre have become so homogenous that it is becoming a growing challenge just to differentiate one from the other, save for the common thread of writers somehow always finding new law enforcement divisions to feature.

That said, the main cast do their best with the tepid material they’re given – especially on a type of show that largely relies on the on-screen chemistry and performance of the actors. The central quintet effortlessly showcases the synergy that gives this show its spirit, and their well-crafted personas brilliantly depict the intricate, complex relationships among the officers.

For those on the hunt for a cheerful and humorous show with charming characters to get attached to, Han River Police might fit the bill. However, if what you’re looking for is a police procedural that actually introduces fresh perspectives and substance, you may be better off looking elsewhere.

Han River Police is available to stream on Disney+

The post ‘Han River Police’ review: same old police procedural, new hyper-specific law enforcement appeared first on NME.

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