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[Herald Interview] ‘National Office of Investigation’ pays tribute to unsung heroes

Star crime docu series director follows real-life detectives as they solve cases

By Lee Si-jin

Published : March 24, 2023 - 21:39

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Director Bae Jung-hun speaks with reporters in Yeouido on March 22. (Wavve) Director Bae Jung-hun speaks with reporters in Yeouido on March 22. (Wavve)

Director Bae Jung-hun, who made a name for himself with the hit SBS investigative documentary series “Unanswered Questions,” said he's glad South Korean police are getting the praise they deserve with the rising public attention to his latest project “National Office of Investigation."

“The detectives, who starred in the show, said they felt awkward with the online compliments and praises. Here, in many cases, police officers are not applauded for their actions,” said Bae in a recent interview with reporters in Yeouido, Seoul, on Wednesday.

“I, especially, had argued with many of them while shooting ‘Unanswered Questions,’ questioning why certain cases were left unsolved and pointing out their shortcomings in past investigations. Some police officers whom I have known for a long time asked me why I was making such a documentary only now,” the director added.

The 13-part documentary “National Office of Investigation,” which began airing on March 3, presents how the national police solve murder and drug crimes by trailing their every move.

The series ranked third on Wavve’s real-time chart upon its premiere and contributed the most to the increase in the number of paid subscribers to the platform, according to Wavve. It quickly became its most-watched documentary series in early March.

Bae Jung-hun (Wavve) Bae Jung-hun (Wavve)

The 49-year-old followed the officers’ everyday life, but Bae and his production team had a strict rule of not interfering in the detectives’ investigation.

“We put our utmost effort to not stand in the way of investigations. Prioritizing the detectives’ tasks was the most important rule in shooting ‘National Office of Investigation,’” Bae told The Korea Herald.

“We were just an observer -- a third party -- throughout the whole series. I read one of the viewers’ comment that the series felt like experiencing what life was like in a police department as a rookie detective. That was how I wanted the show to be presented as well,” the director said.

“While ‘Unanswered Questions’ centered around the specific criminal cases, ‘National Office of Investigation’ strictly focuses on the detectives and their everyday lives,” he said.

Bae added that he also included footage of police officers' more emotional sides, like the clenched fists to suppress their anger, to present the lesser-known scenes on the job.

“If I get another chance to feature national police organizations, I want to follow the central police academy graduates. Their story of becoming full-fledged detectives will certainly be interesting,” the director said, his face beaming.

Bae continued on to say that he felt that the police yearned for words of encouragement from the people.

“None of the police officers work to get public recognition or praises. But they were surprised to see a TV show that present them as some sort of real-life heroes. Many detectives shared that their friends and families were proud of them after watching the series,” he said.

“I think they finally got what they have been deserving for a long time,” he added.

Two new episodes are released Fridays on Wavve.