Disney+ K-drama Rookie Cops: Kang Daniel and Chae Soo-bin star in police university comedy-drama that's worth a watch but lacks edge

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Sweet Home, My Name, Police University

Just as the controversial Snowdrop quietly wraps up its run, Disney+ has launched its latest Korean drama, Rookie Cops, a romcom set in a police university.

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However, since this is the first show that Disney financed locally (Snowdrop was acquired during post-production), this 16-part drama with Kang Daniel and Chae Soo-bin may give us a better idea of what Disney’s plans are for the Korean market.

In his first screen appearance, pop star Kang (formerly a member of Wanna One) plays Wi Seung-hyun, the son of a top police executive who is hoping to enter the Korean National Police University (KNPU).

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Chae – last seen in the Netflix film Sweet and Sour – plays Ko Eun-kang, a gutsy girl from an ordinary family who dreams of entering KNPU, partly to follow a boy she likes who is already enrolled there.

While Seung-hyun has no problem getting into KNPU, Eun-kang and her family are crestfallen when she doesn’t make the cut.

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The term at KNPU kicks off without her and before long the new recruits are subjected to rigorous training. Boot camp is so tough that one of the new female recruits drops out. During her high-school graduation ceremony, a down-in-the-dumps Eun-kang gets a call – she’s scored the newly vacated spot at KNPU.

Eun-kang is the kind of bubbly character who instantly makes friends with those around her, but also draws attention to herself from the wrong people. No sooner does she arrive than she gets on the wrong side of the strict instructors.

This mirrors an earlier scene when we first meet her during a panel interview with the KNPU admissions board. Eun-kang grabs everyone with her frank answers and endears herself with one of the interviewers through flattery, but her attitude clearly rubs other people on the panel the wrong way, given that she doesn’t initially make the cut.

On the other hand, Seung-hyun is far more circumspect in his actions. He doesn’t draw attention to himself and in the first brace of episodes, almost completely fails to stand out.

Sweet Home, My Name, Police University

Chae Soo-bin in a still from Rookie Cops.

His only big moment comes early on, when he helps track down his friend’s ex-girlfriend, who is in a motel room with her new beau. An altercation later erupts outside, with Seung-hyun arguing with the girl’s sister, who happens to be Eun-kang. Both Seung-hyun and Eun-kang display their protective nature and Seung-hyun even gets to show off some fighting skills when the new boyfriend starts grabbing the wrist of Eun-kang’s sister.

Seung-hyun is a typical K-drama male lead, a handsome, capable and stoic young man feeling pressure from his rich family, but Kang feels dry in the role, evincing a reticence that goes beyond what the character calls for. He may well grow into the part in the coming weeks, but for the moment the more experienced Chae does the heavy lifting, demonstrating enough charisma to carry both of them.

Sweet Home, My Name, Police University

A still from Rookie Cops.

Outside the leads, the cast is rounded out by Seung-hyun and Eun-kang’s trio of male and female dorm mates, with the women being the more defined and interesting of the two groups, and the hierarchy at KNPU.

Lee Joon-woo (Sweet Home) and Chung Su-bin (Live On) stand out as chilly and domineering drill sergeants, relating their orders to the training officers in a mix of menacing whispers and nerve-shredding barks.

Above them in the pecking order, the ever-genial Kim Sang-ho (My Name) is a welcome presence as a senior executive at the school, who delights in re-watching his appearance as a guest expert on the real-life mystery investigation show Unanswered Questions, with long-time host Kim Sang-joong appearing in a cameo.

Sweet Home, My Name, Police University

Kang Daniel in a still from Rookie Cops.

Beyond the boot-camp shenanigans, which involves lengthy montages of group exercises out in the training yard (the producers clearly made the most of all the extras and costumes they had to hire for the day), KNPU is also facing an existential threat, as a National Assemblyman is attempting to pass a bill that would see the school abolished.

Eun-kang has her own existential crisis when a USB stick is found on her person containing secretly filmed footage of corporal punishment at the school. Facing expulsion, she ventures on her very first case – find the real owner of the spycam. After a little back and forth, she manages to rope Seung-hyun into her investigation.

Sweet Home, My Name, Police University

Chae Soo-bin in a still from Rookie Cops.

Just like the recent KBS show Police University, Rookie Cops is bright and easy-going, with lots of sound effects and cute animations employed to punch up its very broad comedy. This low-hanging-fruit variety of comedy, however, occasionally stands at odds with the show’s darker moments, such as the corporal punishment and its flashy opening action scene.

This opening scene, which features an unknown character facing off against several opponents during a rainy night, may have you briefly wondering if you’ve turned on the wrong show.

The first true Korean original from Disney+ is a watchable yet very conventional affair that doesn’t attempt to rock the boat in any way. While rival streamers such as Netflix, Apple TV+ and Korea-based Coupang Play have ventured into the market with edgy content, Disney looks to be embracing the more conventional stylings of classic K-dramas.

Sweet Home, My Name, Police University

Kang Daniel (left) and Chae Soo-bin in a still from Rookie Cops.

Rookie Cops is streaming on Disney+.

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