They wanted to speak, but could not; tears stood in their eyes. They were both pale and thin; but those sick pale faces were bright with the dawn of a new future, of a full resurrection into a new life. They were renewed by love; the heart of each held infinite sources of life for the heart of the other.
~Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime & Punishment
For those who follow my Twitter, my website, or those who have read my previous write-up about the Korean drama, The Devil Judge, here on the BL Xpress, you have probably seen the above quote multiple times.
It’s no secret that I believe this drama is a dystopian au of the novel Crime & Punishment, and there are many reasons why this is so. For a detailed explanation, you can check out my comparison between the novel and the drama on my website at:
But for this particular final look at the drama, I am focusing only on the romance. If you’ve watched the last episode of The Devil Judge, you know that it concluded with our Judges Kang Yo Han and Kim Ga On in a sentimental face-to-face, their eyes brimming with emotion. This emotion is why the quote at the top of this page is so potent. Like the heartfelt moment at the end of the drama, the novel also has a beautiful, intimate face-to-face moment full of unspoken feelings between Raskolnikov and the woman he loves, Sonia.
Although The Devil Judge is not marketed as a BL drama, nor does it suggest it is one, there is no doubt that Kang Yo Han and Kim Ga On are dramatic representations of the couple Raskolnikov and Sonia from Crime & Punishment. I delve into the symbolic use of color, imagery, and actions that help tie the drama into the novel at the link above. It includes the reasons why I believe certain characters from the book inspire each main and supporting character in the show. But for Kang Yo Han and Kim Ga On, what makes them stand out, and what makes them a perfect example of Raskolnikov and Sonia is simple. They are polar opposite personalities connected by shared suffering and need. They want someone who understands them, and they find that in each other. Although Ga On, like Sonia in the book, is often afraid of Kang Yo Han’s aggressive take on justice and even questions his morality, Ga On awakens to this blurred line of justice and comes to accept Kang Yo Han’s purpose.
The Devil Judge delivers electrifying tension and chemistry between our two male leads, and I think even though there’s an obvious romantic interest for Kim Ga On with Soo Hyun, this drama leaves a possible burgeoning love connection between Yo Han and Ga On up to interpretation. For many of us who have read Crime & Punishment, it’s easy to see the beautiful but complicated love that bloomed between Raskolnikov and Sonia in Yo Han and Ga On.
The essence of what makes the relationship between Raskolnikov and Sonia so potent in Crime & Punishment remains in The Devil Judge.
Sonia opened Raskolnikov up to love, and in the process, led him to his redemption. Although the trust that blooms between Yo Han and Ga On seems to lead in this same direction, The Devil Judge adapts it in an exciting, suspenseful way. Rather than Ga On leading Yo Han to redemption, their growing relationship opens them both up to new possibilities. Because of Ga On, Yo Han’s cold exterior begins to crack, allowing him to open his heart in a more accessible way. Rather than push away the people he loves, Yo Han begins inviting them into a warmth he’s hidden. This new openness creates a bond between Yo Han and Ga On and creates a more open and later deeper relationship between Yo Han and Elijah.
The villain in Crime & Punishment (other than Raskolnikov himself) is a man named Svidrigailov, who not only commits despicable acts but attempts to rape the woman he loves. In the end, it is being rejected by this woman that leads to his taking his own life. This villainry is projected well by the character Sun Ah in The Devil Judge. Only her obsession and love for Yo Han adds a unique dimension to The Devil Judge that isn’t in Crime & Punishment. Instead, The Devil Judge uses her to create a divide between the two male leads. There is no such divide in Crime & Punishment. The only thing that divides Raskolnikov and Sonia is the murder Raskolnikov commits, but Sonia understands, to an extent, why he did it and believed Raskolnikov is redeemable.
The Devil Judge uses Sun Ah to plant a seed of distrust between our two leads, primarily Ga On. However, the tool (Ga On) meant to bring down Yo Han becomes the tool that helps save him.
I saw the viewers’ anger over Ga On’s betrayal in The Devil Judge, and while I know many may disagree, I understood why Ga On did it. I also understood why Yo Han, though heartbroken, remained loyal to Ga On. Because the same way I know why Ga On did it is the same way Yo Han understood why Ga On did it. Both Yo Han and Ga On are betrayed in awful ways, and weirdly, this created an even tighter bond between them. Ga On lived in a world of illusion created by people he thought he owed his future and life to. What Yo Han’s brother and Elijah mean to Yo Han is what Soo Hyun and Chief Justice Min Jung Ho mean to Ga On.
Let’s look at what this love these two men feel for the people closest to them means and what it leads them to.
Ga On and Yo Han share similar suffering, having both lost people to a corrupt society. Viewers easily fall in love with Yo Han because his loneliness hurts them and his aggressive form of justice is satisfying. He has no issues crossing the line between good and evil to achieve his goals, but his intentions are good. He exists on that blurred line between the law and injustice.
Because we relate so profoundly to Yo Han, it’s hard to relate to Ga On’s reasoning behind some of his actions. But it’s important to remember that Yo Han falls for Ga On because of Ga On’s moral naivety and innocence. I think Yo Han suspected from the beginning that Ga On was being used and was hoping to shape him in a way that would prepare Ga On for what may come. But I don’t think Yo Han fully realized the extent of what was happening to Ga On, how intricate the web Sun Ah wove was. However, he knew Ga On was headed for pain.
Yo Han saw himself in Ga On, a version of himself that might have existed had he not been tarnished by the monster complex society drilled into him. Ga On is loyal to the few people he loves dearly. This loyalty is why the scene where Ga On realizes he’s been used by someone he loves to betray a man he’s developed deeply confused feelings for is so heartbreaking. We should be angry that Yo Han was betrayed, but we also must remember that Ga On was also betrayed. What makes this story so powerful is that Ga On is living what Yo Han has already experienced, and Yo Han sees that.
Yo Han adored his brother and placed him on a pedestal. Ga On does the same with Soo Hyun. Soo Hyun’s death is an ironic retelling of Yo Han’s brother’s death. Like Yo Han’s brother, Soo Hyun dies while surrounded by a corrupt society. Ga On is reliving what happened to Yo Han. And like Yo Han, Ga On wants justice. The justice blinds Ga On. He goes on a rampage, separating himself from society the way Yo Han did.
Eerily, Elijah is the actual cause of Yo Han’s brother’s death, although inadvertently so. And in another ironic twist, Chief Justice Min Jung Ho (who represents a polar opposite but similar role as Elijah) is inadvertently the reason behind Soo Hyun’s death. Only Chief Justice Jung Min Ho has been blinded by the insatiable need to be remembered by history as someone who helped save the world. Would Elijah have become like that if Yo Han hadn’t so closely protected her? Would she have become like Min Jung Ho if Yo Han hadn’t given her someone to blame in himself?
This parallel storytelling is why this show is so compelling. We see a morally naive Ga On living an odd retelling of Yo Han’s life minus the physical abuse and tragic orphan background.
Ga On’s priority is Soo Hyun, his only family, and Chief Justice Min Jung Ho, his only parental figure. He loses Soo Hyun in a traumatic way and is betrayed by his symbolic father figure. These events leave him in the same lonely, no longer naive state that Yo Han already exists in. As uncomfortable as it was for us to watch Ga On unknowingly betray Yo Han, I think it was necessary for Ga On to go through this character transformation for him to understand Yo Han on an elemental level. Now Yo Han truly has someone who understands him in his life, someone who has lived what Yo Han has lived.
While Yo Han was physically and emotionally abused by the man (father figure) who took him in, Ga On was also abused by the man (father figure) who had taken him under his wing and first helped shape his career. While Yo Han lost his brother in a traumatic way, Ga On also lost Soo Hyun (both his only family and the woman he loved) in a traumatic way. All of it was instigated by Sun Ah, a woman who loves Yo Han so obsessively; she strives to be as much a devil as she wants him to be.
Sun Ah’s schemes bring me to another important point. Because of Yo Han, Ga On is also inadvertently hurt. Although it isn’t Yo Han’s fault that Sun Ah’s obsession led her to use Ga On and kill Soo Hyun, it is because of Yo Han that she does it. Ironically, Yo Han represents Elijah in this scenario. The same way Elijah doesn’t know she is inadvertently responsible for her parent’s death, Yo Han doesn’t fully understand the full implications of what Sun Ah’s obsession would lead her to do.
Therefore, Ga On and Yo Han live parallel lives, and because of this, they understand each other profoundly.
Many viewers won’t see this as a romance, and I’m not sure the writers behind this series intended it to be. But having Yo Han and Ga On become the readapted representations of Raskolnikov and Sonia felt very intimate, and for me, it was a love story.
Part of me also sees another direction the writers took with this. Yo Han and Ga On are also different versions of the same man. I once wrote a paper trying to prove that Raskolnikov had a split personality in college. To my dismay, my professor wasn’t a fan, so I didn’t do great on it, but there was potential there. I believe the writers of this show saw the same potential. So, even though Ga On has many of the same qualities Sonia does in Crime & Punishment, I am also fully aware that Ga On is also very much a parallel Raskolnikov.
The Devil Judge is a brilliantly done dystopian readaptation of Crime & Punishment that left me heartbroken and hopeful. Whether or not the writers intended this to be a love story, the devotion Yo Han and Ga On develop toward each other through shared painful experiences makes this a love story for me. The fact that Elijah represents the endgame makes it an even more impactful one. In many ways, Elijah symbolizes humanity. We hurt people around us without realizing it, we’re crippled by hatred (represented by her hatred of Yo Han and her physical handicap), and we’re lonely in ways we often can’t define. We want justice, but our limitations bind us. So, in the end, Elijah is the redemption from guilt Yo Han strives for, and Elijah is the fight for justice that teaches Ga On that existing inside blurred lines doesn’t always mean immorality.
As for the fateful, intimate face-off at the conclusion of the drama, I feel like it is a metaphor to Raskolnikov going to Siberia in Crime & Punishment and Sonia promising to wait for him, especially since Yo Han made reference to possibly returning in Ga On’s ear.
Elijah is the ultimate end game, but Yo Han and Ga On are the love story that grew out of that fight. Whether you prefer to view it as deep friendship or romantic love, their story is still a love story that rises out of the flames of hell to rise above it.
4 thoughts on “The Romance Behind The Devil Judge”
I wish I could write like this! it is a good analogy of how it’s a love story that rises from hell. I see the hard work that went behind writing it. I got directed to this piece from a MDL post and I will go thank that person. Well articulated and it has encouraged me to read ‘Crime and Punishment’ again.!!
What a great article!! I really love how you wrote about the parallels between the characters. Personally I think Ga On and Yo Han IS a love story, their chemistry is on fire! I only wish they had more time to create happy memories together. My heart breaks for both of them. 😥
A lot of relationships are built on shared / parallel trauma so this totally makes sense. I saw this as an unrequited love story as Ga On was less traumatised / healing whereas Yo Han had been like that for way too long. But Yo Han loved him unconditionally even though I questioned if Ga Oh deserved that much faith when he betrayed and doubted him all the time
The chemistry in the adaptation was amazing. That could just be Ji Sung being a fabulous actor though
the amazement i have went through while reading this post is unimaginable. i loved all the theories and all the linkings that you did for this series vs the book. but seriously, the thing that i was amazed so much was the fact that you loved crime & punishment so dearly and your love literally seeped through your screen. the passionate way you analyze crime & punishment versus this parallel drama is astonishing. THIS POST IS SMART AND AMAZING