Netflix’s ‘The Drug King:’ Delivering more lows than a good high


Trailer for Upcoming Korean Film “The Drug King” by Woo Min-ho.

The story about the rise and fall of drug lords is one that has been told time and time again.

Sadly, “The Drug King” doesn’t do much to set itself apart from other films in the genre. Although the film isn’t necessarily one of the worst that Netflix has to offer, it may leave audiences wondering why they even watched it in the first place.

Premiering on Thursday, “The Drug King” strays away from the usually setting of drug trafficking in the United States or South America, and instead takes place in South Korea. The foreign film, starring Song Kang-ho and Cho Jung-seok, is based on the true story of a drug smuggler from Busan during the 1970s who becomes the king of drug exports to Japan and is later targeted by Cho’s character, a prosecutor attempting to apprehend him and the powerful figures he’s bribed.

The film begins with providing some historical context: Crank, or methamphetamines, were produced in Japan and given to factory workers in order to increase productivity, to soldiers to illicit fearlessness and even to kamikaze pilots during World War II. Following the war, many remained as addicts and a ban was placed on the drug which left drug dealers no choice but to turn to Korea for the further creation and export of crank.

At the beginning of the film, the historical context seemed crucial and made the plot interesting, but it ended up not playing any important role whatsoever throughout the rest of the film. The writing was average at best but quickly became boring. In addition to being predictable and uninteresting, the story also became slightly convoluted and hard to follow in the latter half of the film.

The cinematography throughout “The Drug King” was mediocre, but did seem to surprise me in some scenes where the colors seemed to align with the tone of the film. One scene in particular shows Song’s character, Lee Doo-sam, spiraling into madness whilst sitting in a room washed with neon lights streaming in from the city outside. On another note, the movie has a very small and forgettable soundtrack that’s only heard in the most dramatic scenes of the film or in a typical drug-making montage.

Funnily enough, a lot of material towards the end of the film was obviously borrowed from “Scarface” (1983). Song’s character becomes so rich that he lives in a mansion, with the interior of his office decorated in the iconic black and gold—sans piano—with video surveillance monitors lining the walls. Fans of “Scarface” can probably guess where the ending of “The Drug King” leads, but even still, the film fails to turn its main character’s final hurrah into a blaze of glory.

While the initial concept was interesting, “The Drug King” falls short of any expectations that are created during the opening sequence. For audiences looking for a crime-drama, it’s probably best to skip over “The Drug King” and perhaps revisit a classic like “Scarface” or maybe try watching a show like “Narcos.”

Rating: 2/5

Brandon Barzola is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at He tweets @brandonbarzola.

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