K-Drama Review: ‘Narco-Saints’ A Mediocre Series Led By Veteran Actors

Narco Saints Review

Edited by Hong Hyun Jung
Translated by Yu Jin Kim

Narco Saints Review
Credit: Netflix

Narco-Saints is on the rise with its intriguing plot, as expected. The series helmed by director Yoon Jong Bin, who successfully made Korean versions of gangster and espionage movies Nameless Gangster: Rules of The Time and The Spy Gone North, garnered huge attention even before its production as he teamed up with Netflix to produce a series about a true drug lord story. Joining director’s longtime friend Ha Jung Woo, Hwang Jung MinPark Hae SooJo Woo Jin, Yoo Yeon Suk played a big part in building hype around the series ahead of its release.

The series tells a story of a civilian businessman who becomes involved in the National Intelligence Service’s covert operation to bring down a Korean drug lord operating in Suriname. Just like Narcos, the series is written based on a true story and provides an intriguing setting of the drug lord being Korean and the victim joining the NIS operation. This is where Narco-Saints gets very interesting and gives us all the hype about it being based on movie-like true events. As director Yoon Jong Bin proved himself through many of his hit movies, the new drug trafficking story involving the NIS was expected to give us the fun we could experience in crime and espionage films.

However, our expectations might have been too high. Although it’s worth watching, the drama failed to leave a strong impression on viewers. It begins by telling this long story of how Kang In Gu (played by Ha Jung Woo) grew up to be who he is, perhaps to show why and how he had to become part of the NIS operation. Still, the patriarchal figure seemed too outdated, and the whole introduction dragged the story a little too much. The devoted breadwinner figure working day and night was something that we have seen a lot in other variety of Korean shows, and the character even reminded us of Ik Hyun (Choi Min Sik) from Nameless Gangster: Rules Of The Time.

Upon the arrival of Kang In Gu in Suriname, the story unfolds just like any other crime series. The Korean drug lord Jeon Yo Hwan (Hwang Jung Min) hides his true identity as he disguises himself as a pastor and names his syndicate members with religious titles. However, such character development and placement do not stand apart from other existing crime stories. On top of that, the rival Chinese gang led by Chen Jin (Chang Chen) and Jeon Yo Hwan’s right-hand man Byun Ki Tae(Jo Woo Jin) reminds us of the hackneyed portrayal of Joseonjoks (Koreans in China) in other crime films.

Narco Saints Review
Credit: Netflix

Although the true story is shocking and compelling, we all know that narcotic crimes have been a general subject of many different film projects. Therefore, it’s understandable that it would have been impossible to create characters and stories that are entirely new to us. Narco-Saints tries to give a fresh take on its characters by placing them in a situation where they constantly deceive and doubt each other. Kang In Ku constantly makes NIS agent Choi Chang Ho (Park Hae Soo) anxious while deceiving Jeon Yo Hwan, and the drug lord is caught in a pit of doubt about In Gu and his possible accompanies. Although the storyline sometimes gets loose as it was originally planned to be made into a movie, the tight tension between characters is surely there.

It’s all thanks to the actors that the series has some compelling parts. The personality of the characters and how the actors portray them might give us a little sense of déjà vu, but there are certainly some other factors that make the story refreshing. Ha Jung Woo calmly leads the drama with his slice-of-life tone amid the chaos, while Hwang Jung Min keeps the tension tight as he intensely depicts his evil character. Park Hae Soo, the NIS agent who goes undercover, and Yoo Yeon Suk, who exudes the swindler-like vibe, make the plot much richer. Jo Woo Jin was the actor who stood out the most in the series. He caught viewers’ attention by playing Byun Ki Tae, Jeon Yo Hwan’s loyal man, with his fluent Chinese and tough action scenes.

However, it’s a shame that there is no female character in the series and that Jeon Yo Hwan’s cult group fades away after evoking the suspicion of Kang In Ku. Similar to the small portion of the female character, the cult group doesn’t play a big part in the series, making the ritual scene rather embarrassing to watch. The drama also only depicts Suriname in a negative light without trying to build a deep cultural understanding of the country, giving us the impression that the series only used the country as its prop.

The ending was not very strong either. The long chasing scene between Kang In Ku and Jeon Yo Hwan seemed a little too much, just like the first episode, and the epilogue didn’t seem necessary. Plus, the plot twist in the fifth episode already gives the impression of the grand finale, which makes the remaining stories rather dull and dragging. Although Narco-Saints became the latest hit series from Netflix in a long time after All of Us Are Dead and Juvenile Justice, it didn’t become more than a decent piece made by veteran actors and a great production team. (6/10)

 

Edited Hong Hyun Jung: I am a K-content guide who publishes various articles for people to enjoy Korean movies and dramas deeper and richer. I’ll introduce you to the works that you can laugh, cry and sympathize with.

 

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