Is The Devil Judge a dystopian au of Crime and Punishment?
Say hello to my new obsession. His name is Kang 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 Foundation.
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 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, the watch represents what Kang Yo Han is planning to do while also receiving what he hopes to get out of those around him. It’s also interesting to note that Kang Yo Han’s ‘father’ in the series is a loan shark, a cold-blooded man that people like Ga On’s family are indebted to. In Crime and Punishment, the rise and fall of Raskolikov centers on his murder of the pawnbroker. The pawnbroker in the novel is an elderly woman who takes advantage of the poor. She abuses and beats her sister, Lizaveta, and treats her like a slave. Much like Yo Han’s father does with Yo Han. The pawnbroker is a symbolic reference of corruption and greed, and the need to break free of being indebted to an unjust society. There are references to ‘loans’ throughout the drama, including posters on the destitute streets promising them. Murdering the pawnbroker is the step toward a better life.
THE COLOR YELLOW
In Crime and Punishment, the color yellow represents poverty, crime, corruption, guilt, and disgust. For example, the novel describes the faces of the poor as yellow, the yellow ticket Sonia has symbolizes her prostitute status and shame, and money (often linked with corruption) is described as a yellow note. The same connotations seem to apply for The Devil Judge. 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 (religion plays a heavy hand in the novel), two key examples are when Sonia gives Raskolnikov a cross before he confesses his crime and when Raskolnikov throws the cross necklaces on the pawnbroker post murder. The cross on Yo Han’s back is the suffering he bears.
KIM YO HAN’S HOME
When Kim Yo Han’s mansion flashed onto the screen, my mind exploded. What it represents 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.
In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov commits two murders, one pre-meditated, the other unexpected. He plans to kill the pawnbroker, who is a vile part of society, but is also forced to kill the pawnbroker’s innocent and warm-hearted half-sister Lizaveta when she appears at the scene of the crime in order to cover up the murder. While these murders themselves don’t happen this way in The Devil Judge, what they represent do. Raskolnikov struggles with the two aspects of himself. He feels little to no remorse over the pawnbroker’s death, but he is haunted by Lizaveta’s. This is seen in how haunted Yo Han is over his ‘brother’s’ death, but how nonchalant he is over his ‘father’s.’
THE SIMILARITIES BETWEEN GA ON AND KANG ISAAC
In The Devil Judge, Ga On bears an uncanny resemblance to Yo Han’s ‘brother’ in the series. in Crime and Punishment, Lizaveta, an innocent woman that Raskolnikov murders, is Sonia’s friend. Both women are warm-hearted, although Lizaveta is often portrayed as an idiotic servant to the pawnbroker whereas Sonia is portrayed as intelligent and religious. Lizaveta is taken advantage of by the pawnbroker, and she dies at the hands of Raskolnikov when he attempts to take care of the ‘problem’ that is the pawnbroker. Later, Raskolnikov struggles with having killed Lizaveta before her friend, Sonia, the equally warm-hearted woman Raskolnikov falls in love with. It is yet another case of ‘doubles’ often seen in Crime and Punishment, and a case of facing oneself. Both Lizaveta and Sonia are warm-hearted people who suffer. Sacrifice is a prevalent theme in Crime and Punishment, and Kang Issac’s name is also a nod to this religious subtext.
In Crime & Punishment, Raskolnikov has a dream about a plague that causes hyper-intelligence, which leads to a chaotic society where everyone thinks they are better than everyone else, leading them to kill each other. But since it is a dream, will the plague be nothing but an illusion in The Devil Judge?
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 characterization of Raskolnikov’s love, Sonia, or Porfiry? Or is he a mix of both, as Sonia and Porfiry are both redeeming characters for Raskolnikov? I am more apt to believe Sonia, considering the stance the series has taken with him, his self-sacrifice and the way he questions his own profession (as Sonia did), and his admittance into Yo Han’s home and life. Which mirrors Raskolnikov wanting Sonia to join him, and Raskolnikov’s need to provoke her.
In Crime and Punishment, Sonia 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 Sonia fears Raskolnikov, she also defends him and cares for him. When Raskolnikov falls in love with Sonia, it’s in the end that he begins to truly seek redemption.
While I see a lot of Sonia 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, Sonia 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 Sonia, will Ga On carry a bromantic (unless mainstream Korea surprises us with romantic) torch for Yo Han by the end because he cares for and pities Yo Han despite his crime? Will Ga On see a bit of himself in Yo Han the way Sonia 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 Jin Young’s Ga On is both Porfiry and Sonia 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.
UPDATE July 25, 2021 :
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. But how? She represents the goal Kang Yo Han is trying to reach and the pain Kim Ga On has himself endured.
DELVING INTO THE POWER OF NUMBERS
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. And then he will rise from the dead. Yo Han is honestly a clear representation of Raskolnikov. I still get Sonia vibes from Ga On. The romance is clear between them, as innately clear as it is in the novel.
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.
UPDATE August 13, 2021
For this update, check out my write-up about Kang Yo Han and Kim Ga On as figurative representations of Raskolnikov and Sonia and their romance from Dostoyevsky’s Crime & Punishment on my good friend’s site, The BL Xpress at this link: WHEN THE DEVIL FALLS IN LOVE.
UPDATE Aug. 21, 2021:
There it is. Episode 15 brought a “confession”, a thunderstorm, and an Elijah endgame. Although there are key differences between the novel and the drama, The Devil Judge is giving me my Crime & Punishment au in an incredibly brilliant way.
Instead of murder, Yo Han confesses to committing a crime against his viewers (humanity). Although it’s very similar to his confession in the book, it’s not about murder but protecting someone else. In the book, Raskolnikov confesses during a thunderstorm on Elijah’s Day. Here, Yo Han confesses to being a sinner, and then we discover he’s commited crimes to protect Elijah. The big reveal for this happens during a thunderstorm. And like in the book, Ga On is as much a weakness for Yo Han as Sonia is for Raskolnikov. In Crime & Punishment, Sonia pleads for Raskolnikov to confess in order to redeem himself, and he does. In The Devil Judge, Ga On is also the reason Yo Han’s big confession and reveal happens, only under different circumstances.
I have to believe, for my own heart’s sake, that this will have the same bittersweet but happy ending that Crime & Punishment does. In the end, Raskolnikov and Sonia end up together as Sonia waits for Raskolnikov to complete his imprisonment in Siberia. Raskolnikov gets sick in prison but recovers. Also, one of the overall themes for Crime & Punishment is the story of Lazarus, which Sonia reads to Raskolnikov before his confession. I have faith my Devil judge will rise from the dead.
I have to believe there will be justice in the end, and that Ga On and Yo Han will live on with Elijah. And that neither Ga On or Yo Han dies.
Here’s to hoping.
UPDATE: Aug. 22, 2021
Watching The Devil Judge and writing this review as it aired has been a great labor of love for me. Yo Han and Ga On represent the great love story of Raskolnikov and Sonia that I fell so deeply in love with back in my university days. The end of this show left me with the exact same feelings the book did. Complete but also wanting. And I think that’s the point.
Crime & Punishment was meant to make readers think about themselves and humanity, the way we view the world, greed, and redemption. Because it centers on crime, it isn’t supposed to make the reader feel easy about themselves or their fellow man. It isn’t supposed to make you feel great at the end. But it does make you think and feel and analyze.
That’s exactly what The Devil Judge made us do.
So, let’s break down why The Devil Judge is the perfect dystopian au of Crime & Punishment.
If you’ve read through this entire write-up, then you know why, from July 12th when the first part of this was published, I believed this was an au of Crime & Punishment. Rather than rehash what I’ve already written, I will simply add on to it. From the beginning, I should have known who Jung Sun Ah represented in this series. She is Svidrigailov from Crime & Punishment, a villain in the book who fell in love with a character named Dunya. He is a violent, corrupt villain who believes he can shape society to his will and who dies at his own hand when he is rejected by Dunya.
The use of seeing two sides (or doubles) of something is incredibly prevalent in Crime and Punishment. Svidrigailov is a dark side of Raskolnikov. Both commit crimes, but one finds redemption and the other suicide. In contrast, Sonia is the warm, humane side of Raskolnikov’s character. In essence, it’s as if Raskolnikov is a split personality, a man who at some point rejects the dark part of himself (Svidrigailov) and accepts the suffering (Sonia). In the novel, there are times when Raskolnikov is ‘turned off’ by each side of himself, times when he seems disgusted in either Sonia or Svidrigailov, depending on which part of himself he’s relating to in the moment. Like a love triangle with himself, in which he ultimately rejects Svidrigailov.
Who Sun Ah represented should have been the first thing I realized, but it’s been a few years since I read the novel. It hit me during the scene where she dies exactly who she portrayed. Like two different sides of a coin, with the same type of religious connotations seen in Crime and Punishment.
As a devout Christian, Dostoyevsky uses a lot of heavy religious references in Crime and Punishment, something that is also prevalent in The Devil Judge. Sun Ah, like Svidrigailov, is heavily inspired by Judas Iscariot. While Raskolnikov can often be compared to Peter, the opposite of Judas, but is also seen as a Jesus figure in a mocking way. There are heavy examples as to why for each character. The novel itself delves symbolically into the relationship between class, religion, and politics with a very Kantian-like point of view. It’s also interesting to note that one of Nietzsche’s books is also seen in The Devil Judge. Nietzsche’s work is occasionally referenced with Dostoyevsky in academia, which made the nod to Nietzsche stand out here, as they are two men who suffered bad health and had similar themes to their work. And, although the Crime and Punishment premise in particular stands out, Nietzsche is also used symbolically in differing ways in the series, especially in a ‘God is dead’ way. Yo Han is a man who becomes like God, an antithesis of Dostoyevsky.
Which brings me again to Raskolnikov (Yo Han) and Sonia (Ga On). Raskolnikov is a non-believer, an atheist with many of his thoughts being similar to Nietzsche (as Dostoyevsky did question God at one point). Sonia is a believer, a devout Christian. Raskolnikov wants Sonia to join him. He worries because she is too religious, but she is also the key to ending his lonely alienation.
Which brings me to Yoon Soo Hyun. Her character has played with my head the most in this series. At some point, I’ve found myself suspecting her to be both Porfiry and Lizaveta. But then innately realized she is a loose representation of Raskolnikov’s sister, Dunya. Dunya is a strong female character in Crime and Punishment. For me, the most interesting thing about Soo Hyun being loosely based off Dunya is how Dunya makes Sonia feel, not intentionally, but through her actions. As a prostitute, Sonia chose her profession out of desperation to save her family. She has conflicted feelings about prostitution, feeling both shame and an odd kind of admiration for it because she is self-sacrificing herself. Much like Ga On feels about being a judge. But, as a prostitute, Sonia is also seen as a sinner who finds herself feeling like a dishonorable person when in Dunya’s presence. She can’t look Dunya in the eyes. The fact that Ga On often feels inadequate in Soo Hyun’s presence and undeserving, and the fact that Soo Hyun also fulfills an ‘older sister’ role makes her being a loose representation of Dunya that much more pivotal. Dunya makes Sonia question herself, but Raskolnikov respects both women. He believes them to be equal through their suffering, but these two women have a hard time finding a balance in their friendship. They have little time together in the novel. While Dunya respects and loves Sonia, she also doesn’t know how to take her. Sonia loves and respects Dunya, but doesn’t feel equal to her, her ‘sin’ keeping her from that.
There are other such loose characterizations in the drama, such as ‘K’ being what I believe to be a loose interpretation of Raskolnikov’s friend, Dmitri, a kind, amicable poverty-stricken man who is a voice of reason who helps people better understand Raskolnikov, although he is very different from his isolated friend.
I’ve mentioned this before earlier in this write-up, but Lazarus and rising from the dead is an important symbolic theme in Crime & Punishment. Near the end of the book, Raskolnikov has Sonia read the story of Lazarus to him, and we get to see Kang Yo Han rise from the dead in a truly spectacular way in The Devil Judge.
The scene where Kim Ga On says to Kang Yo Han, “I’ll go with you,” was everything to me because it represented one of the most beautiful things to me in the novel; Sonia’s complete devotion to Raskolnikov despite her unease over his criminal actions. When he goes to prison in Siberia at the end, she follows him there.
And finally one of the reasons this book will always stand out to me. Although this is a book about crime and redemption, it is also about love, no matter how subtle that love was. In the end, Sonia and Raskolnikov face each other the same way Ga On and Yo Han do in The Devil Judge. In the book it is written like this:
So, all in all, The Devil Judge gave me the romance and redemptive journey I loved so much in the book, a romance that left me feeling both empty and full. The love expressed in Crime & Punishment and The Devil Judge is equally deep. I found this to be a love story between Ga On and Yo Han, one where they surprised each other and fell in love in an unexpected way. Like the awkward way Raskolnikov and Sonia first are with each other in Crime and Punishment when he admits her into his apartment to the way Raskolnikov provokes her to gauge her reactions to the end when they walk a similar path. The same goes for Yo Han and Ga On.
It’s also easy to see why the name Yo Han is the official Korean equivalent of the Biblical name John. And that Ga On means “middle” or “center,” representing fairness and reliability.
“What have you done—what have you done to yourself!” she said in despair, and, jumping up, she flung herself on his neck, threw her arms round him, and held him tight.Sonia to Raskolnikov, Crime & Punishment
In the end, Sonia is aware of both Raskolnikov’s crimes and his ideologies. But she doesn’t turn away from him despite this. She embraces him.
In the larger scheme of things, Yo Han is not a hero. He’s not meant to be seen as one. He’s a victim and a criminal with a purpose. It’s important to remember that Dostoyevsky saw the cruelty of poverty firsthand and served time in Siberia. He wrote a very layered novel about crime and punishment seen from the eyes of the damned, from the eyes of a man who questioned God and then found him again. It’s also a love story between a prostitute who sacrificed her body to help support her family (Sonia) and a murderer (Raskolnikov), two suffering people who find solace in each other. Thank you, The Devil Judge, for bringing one of my favorite love stories to life in a very Dostoevsky versus Nietzsche, only to find love kind of way.