Retro series premieres on Disney+

IN THE 1950s, repeatedly defying the military government of South Korea would be enough to get one branded as a rebel. Detective Park Yeonghan (played by Lee Jehoon) does this, and he is punished by being assigned to the thankless task of removing homeless people off the streets of Seoul.

However, this fate is short-lived when Yeonghan and his team must reawaken their passions to catch a dangerous killer on the loose. At his side is his crime-fighting partner, detective Kim Sangsun (played by Lee Donghwi), known as the temperamental “mad dog” of the homicide team.

Chief Detective 1958 is a prequel to the widely loved 1970s and ’80s crime drama Chief Inspector, which first introduced the popular Detective Park to the Korean national consciousness. In the original 880-episode series, he was played by veteran actor Choi Bool-am.

The new prequel premiered on April 19 on Disney+, with a total of 12 episodes.

Joining Lee Jehoon and Lee Donghwi in the cast are Choi Woo-sung as the wealthy and polite detective Jo Gyeong-hwan, and Yoon Hyun-soo as the younger Seo Ho-jeong who dreams of becoming a master investigator. The two newbies complete the four-person homicide detective team.

Set 10 years before the original series to explain the histories of the four memorable characters, Chief Detective 1958 aims to bridge Korea’s old and new generations, according to director Kim Sunghoon.

“The team led by Inspector Park is a team we wished actually existed back in the day, almost like a superhero group. What makes this series different from Western shows is that we ask whether they were born heroes and where their motivation to uphold justice comes from,” Mr. Kim said at a press conference on April 18 that was livestreamed and translated online from Seoul.

He added that the late 1950s setting also required much research, since it was a postwar time with many economic difficulties that Koreans today only learn about through textbooks.

“It’s [set at] a time that’s slowly becoming modern but still feels very old. It’s a mix of remnants from the Josen dynasty, like traditional Korean headwear, but with modern items and clothes. We tried to capture that mix of old and new,” said Mr. Kim.

For Lee Jehoon, who has had experience with the Korean crime genre before through movies and shows like Taxi Driver and Signal, his approach to this new series was far different from any of his previous projects.

“When we were doing the table read, I met with Mr. Choi Bool-am for the first time. He told me that Detective Park is a guy who has a lot of rage inside because he wants to take on all the bad guys and protect the weak. We talked a lot about the humanistic aspects of Detective Park,” he said.

Lee Donghwi, as the impulsive sidekick, saw his lead co-star as a reliable man to work with, much like their own characters in the show.

“I don’t have memories about the original drama because I was so little, but I’ve watched a lot of clips on YouTube. I thought it was such a cool show because it’s so refined and their charisma oozes out of the screen. I hope we were able to capture that,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kim said that, as one of the showrunners, it was hard to pinpoint which would be the perfect year to set the prequel in. Eventually, 1958 was chosen since “there was a lot of social unrest” that could help show Detective Park’s younger mindset.

“We tried to move it to the ’60s to add things to the show, but it didn’t work out. For this to be a prequel to capture the youth of the detective team, we decided the late ’50s was the time to do it,” he said.

Fans of the original series may notice how Detective Park is less controlled and more emotional than they remember — a purposeful portrayal on Lee Jehoon’s part.

“Mr. Choi played Park Yeonghan as an experienced, competent detective, but I’m playing him when he was just getting started. I thought that he should have personal growth, from being rash, passionate, and full of grit, some-one you’ll want to root for in the long run,” he said.

Chief Detective 1958 is out now on Disney+. — Brontë H. Lacsamana