Say hello to my new obsession. His name is Kim Yo Han, and whether or not this is the case, he is my Raskolnikov.
For a year in college, I was somewhat obsessed with Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I’d committed to writing a graded study on it, and through this, I became overwhelmingly invested and intrigued by the novel, especially the main character. Raskolnikov is a complex character who isn’t innocent of the crime he commits but who the reader can’t help but identify and relate to because there’s a sense of justice guiding his actions. He leaves a deep impression on the people around him, and his disdain for humanity literally seeps off the page.
My fascination with Crime and Punishment may be why the currently airing Korean drama The Devil Judge enthralls me. The Devil Judge is a dystopian crime series starring Ji Sung and Park Jin Young as judges Kang Yo Han and Kim Ga On. In the drama, chaos has settled upon society, drawing a stark line between the rich and the poor. There’s an open distrust and hatred toward the leaders of the nation. In an attempt to quell this, a live reality court series is born with Kang Yo Han becoming a face of justice for the people. Behind the scenes, a bitter rivalry is growing between Kang Yo Han and the seemingly benevolent Social Responsibility Society.
From the beginning, this series grabbed me, not because of its dystopian crime genre or its visually beautiful actors, but because of our lead Kang Yo Han. He is my Raskolnikov. He’s the reason I spent countless hours in college sitting in the library attic researching possible mental illnesses, psychology, and philosophy.
If The Devil Judge is not a modern au dystopian retelling of Crime and Punishment, I will eat my shoe. Okay, maybe not literally, but I will undoubtedly be disappointed because everything about this series fulfills all my “wanted to write fanfictions about this novel” need on it in college.
This fascination brings me back to Kang Yo Han.
Like Raskolnikov, Yo Han is emotionally detached from society, and morality plays a minor (if any) role in his decisions. Like Crime and Punishment, specific symbolic driving points and references in Kang Yo Han’s behavior and surroundings stand out in the drama.
In the series, a wristwatch makes several not-so-discreet appearances. By the fourth episode, its most significant screen time is the moment when Kang Yo Han pulls a watch off a fallen man’s arm and when he offers a watch to Kim Ga On while dressing him. In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov pawns a watch. He has two reasons for doing so: money and to devise a plan for murdering the pawnbroker. In The Devil Judge, I feel like the watch represents what Kang Yo Han is planning to do while also receiving what he hopes to get out of those around him.
In Crime and Punishment, the color yellow represents poverty, crime, corruption, and guilt. For example, the novel describes the faces of the poor as yellow, the yellow ticket Sonya has symbolized her prostitute status and shame, and money (often linked with corruption) is described as a yellow note. I’m not sure if the same connotations apply for The Devil Judge, but the color yellow makes several vital appearances that point to these things; the yellow school bus, yellow car, yellow dessert, yellow jacket, and more.
Although Kim Yo Han is rich in the drama, he is surrounded by the same chaos and poverty that Raskolnikov is surrounded by in Crime and Punishment. He holds himself above this chaos, separating himself from society while also using those around him. This same alienation is the central theme of Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov is a prideful, superior man who uses people. His philosophy and belief that he is a “better man than others” make it hard for him to relate to humanity.
In The Devil Judge, Kang Yo Han has a cross burned into his back. In Crime and Punishment, the cross represents redemption and suffering. Though there are several such incidents in the book, two key examples are when Sonya gives Raskolnikov a cross before he confesses his crime and when Raskolnikov throws the cross necklaces on the pawnbroker post murder.
When Kim Yo Han’s mansion flashed onto the screen, my mind exploded. What it represents for me is pivotal. The small room Yo Han stayed in as a child describes the poverty, abuse, and shame he rose out of. The top floor room he has later as an adult represents his view of society and his alienation from it. In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov’s garret means something similar. Small and cramped, it symbolizes his poverty, but it also denotes his contempt for others, his plotting, and his separation because it’s located at the top of the house.
Although Kang Yo Han is a clear representation of Raskolnikov for me, I am still trying to pin down who Jin Young’s character, Kim Ga On, is in the drama. Is he a loose characterization of Sonya or Porfiry? Or is he a mix of both?
In Crime and Punishment, Sonya is the only person Raskolnikov truly gets close to. She is a prostitute with a heart of gold. Everything she does is for others, while everything Raskolnikov does is for himself. Although Sonya fears Raskolnikov, she also defends him and cares for him. When Raskolnikov falls in love with Sonya, it’s in the end that he begins to truly seek redemption.
While I see a lot of Sonya in Kim Ga On, I also see a lot of Porfiry. Porfiry is the detective who clearly sees beyond Raskolnikov. He is Raskolnikov’s main antagonist. But, like Porfiry, Sonya also suspects Raskolnikov of the crime, which leads me to believe that Kim Ga On may be an adapted mix of the two.
If The Devil Judge is a dystopian au of Crime and Punishment, I see this ending with Yo Han being punished for his crimes. But how will that ending go? If Kim Ga On is indeed Sonya, will Ga On carry a bromantic (unless mainstream Korea surprises us with romantic) torch for Yo Han by the end because he cares and pities Yo Han despite his crime? Will Ga On see a bit of himself in Yo Han the way Sonya does? Could we see a changed but devoted Ga On at the end who frequently visits the punished but satisfied Yo Han?
Is Yo Han well aware that Ga On (like Porfiry) is the only one who sees through Yo Han’s righteous facade and knows he’s a criminal? However, like Porfiry, will Ga On begin to respect Kang Yo Han throughout the series and end up realizing the same sense of justice, just in a different, less prideful, obviously less criminal, and alienated way. This means that Yo Han knowing that Ga On realizes who and what he is, is not seeking forgiveness or even innocence from Ga On but is discreetly training him to take over for him. Will Yo Han confess publicly in the end, surprising everyone? Because he does, after all, have a story to tell. The parallel backs, the burned cross on Kang Yo Han and the Phoenix rising on Kim Ga On, somehow makes me think JinYoung’s Ga On is Porfiry and that Yo Han may be grooming Ga On to replace him. Is the Phoenix rising out of the burning cross?
Or plot twist, Yo Han is nothing like the above and doesn’t end up punished at all. Instead, I’m imagining this whole Crime and Punishment theme, and we get a symbolic Count of Monte Cristo story instead.
However, this entire Crime and Punishment idea does lead me to one conclusion: Kang Yo Han is guilty of something. But what exactly is he guilty of? Will Raskolnikov’s fascination with Lazarus and rising from the dead in Crime and Punishment make an appearance in this? Will bridges and crossroads bear some kind of meaning?
Either way, or even if I’m totally wrong about everything, Yo Han is my Raskolnikov, and I am obsessed.
Having completed through Episode 8, I am even more convinced about my original theories. Elijah is my main reason for this. In a study once done on Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment by a scholar, it was pointed out that Elijah the prophet has quite the influence, including the fact that Raskolnikov confesses on Elijah’s Day.
The Devil Judge is not making it any secret that Elijah is end game. She represents the goal Kang Yo Han is trying to reach and the pain Kim Ga On has himself endured.
This end game leads me to Soo Hyun and Kim Ga On. Detective Soo Hyun points out that Ga On has cried a total of five times, and that she has confessed to liking him each time. Five is a number that often represents balance and grace.
285 7511 … Yo Han’s license plate number. All it takes is looking up the numerical significance behind ‘285’ and ‘7511’ to know The Devil Judge has not come to play.
I stand behind my initial belief that in the end, Yo Han may burn on the cross he seems so determined to carry. But he will do so having completed his objective, having meted out the retribution he is striving for, leaving Kim Ga On behind to carry the torch. Though I also have to wonder after seeing Episode 9’s preview, if Kim Ga On is actually Raskolnikov while Kang Yo Han is the pawnbroker with the crosses that represents Kim Ga On’s conscience.
I am hoping for a happy ending for my devil judge, but whatever the outcome, I feel like I’m going to be satisfied with it.
Bring on the rain because when that time comes, there will be thunder and lightning.