Narco-Saints Review: Netflix’s latest Korean thriller is a derivative downer

Even the most hostile Indians and Pakistanis will put their differences aside if they ever find themselves sitting next to each other, say, in a London pub. There, like two South Asians united in a foreign land, they probably will finished bond Pasoori o the latest film by Shah Rukh Khan. Any enmity will be forgotten, at least for the moment. Similarly, two Delhi residents who would likely kill each other in a parking lot in their hometown would exchange at least half smiles if they ever cross paths overseas. Thrown out of their comfort zone, people tend to find solace in familiarity.

Narco-Saints, the new Netflix series in Korean, seems to have been inspired by this idea. What if two people on either side of the law found themselves bonding under extraordinary circumstances, simply because they are a pair of compatriots in an unknown new country. Darting on movies like Scarface and shows like Breaking Bad, Narco-Saints tells the maniacally paced story of a hapless man named Kang In-gu (played by superstar Ha Jung-woo), who finds himself at the center of an operation. international drug.

Having grown up in poverty and with little chance of transcending his position in society, Kang is drawn into a get-rich-quick scheme by his old school friend. The two travel to the former Dutch colony of Suriname, where they plan to buy discarded fish and sell it to hungry Koreans at an inflated price. But a business like this can’t grow smoothly. Soon, Kang and his friend are cornered by corrupt cops looking for bribes and local gangsters worried about infiltrating the territory.

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However, the Smartest Street Kang has it all covered; he butters the local law enforcement chief with packages of specialty Korean coffee as well as large wads of cash. But he fails to fend off the Chinese gangster who warns him to stay out of his territory. For help, Kang and his friend turn to a Korean pastor, who presides over a large congregation in Paramaribo. Pastor Jeon (played by Hwang Jung-min, the star of Ode to My Father, who inspired Salman Khan’s Bharat) neutralizes the Chinese threat, apparently threatening them with the wrath of God. Kang’s will work after all.

But things soon go wrong when it turns out that Kang’s seafood expedition is full of cocaine that neither Kang nor his friend know anything about. Arrested on rather serious charges, Kang is hit by a bombshell revelation by an intelligence agent played by Squid Games’ Park Hae-soo: Pastor Jeon is no pastor at all; he is, in fact, a drug lord. Officer Choi tells Kang that he can drop his charges if Kang agrees to become a mole for the police and lures the pastor into a trap.

Two ideologically opposed men who find common ground is familiar territory for screenwriter and director Yoon Jong-bin, the man behind modern Korean masterpieces like Nameless Gangster (which has been marketed as the kind of film that would make Martin Scorsese proud) and The Spy Gone North (which remains my favorite spy movie of the last decade). But as tempting as director Yoon’s thinking back home may be, Narco-Saints is too derivative and plot-driven to be truly engaging.

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Focusing almost exclusively on the twists and turns of the story, Yoon neglects to flesh out the characters of Kang or Pastor Jeon and their unusual relationship. So instead of writing scenes where the two struggle with mixed emotions over the mess they ended up in, the show would rather throw its characters from one predicament to another. Moments of introspection are what helped both Nameless Gangster and The Spy Gone North push the boundaries of their genre. Narco-Saints, on the other hand, leans on the tropes of gangster films with more enthusiasm than necessary.

Even with six long episodes, the show feels exhausting. And that’s mainly due to Yoon’s relentless pace. Aside from the first episode, most of which is devoted to Kang’s backstory, Narco-Saints hardly ever stops to catch his breath. Fiery conversations give way to gory street-side shooting as walls close in on Kang and the police. The cast’s interpretations are typically (for a Korean thriller like this one) exaggerated, although a long cameo-chewing scenario of the Chang Chen feels more tonally aligned with the mood of the show than I expected.

A lot is happening here, often at the same time, although the show actively pushes aside narratives that would have made the whole thing more meaningful. Kang’s wife, for example, is essentially forgotten after he abandoned her and their two children in the opening episode. Narco-Saints never examines the consequences of this manipulative behavior: in addition to leaving her drunk, we are shown that Kang basically scammed her into marrying her. Nor does the show, for all its enthusiasm in quoting scripture, have anything significant to say about greed. Narco-Saints may be director Yoon’s most massive project, but it may also be the weakest.

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Director – Yoon Jong-bin
Cast: Ha Jung-woo, Hwang Jung-min, Park Hae-soo, Jo Woo-jin, Yoo Yeon-seok, Chang Chen
Rating – 2.5 / 5

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