“Who do you think will betray you, the angel or the devil?”
<Drug King> was easily my most anticipated film of 2018. With it originally having a summer 2018 release, the film was delayed to December 19th due to reasons I’m unsure of. It’s been a long wait for this R-rated movie, and there’s been a lot of hype surrounding it both domestically and internationally. But was it worth the anticipation?
Directed by Woo Min-Ho, the director of the 2015 masterpiece <Inside Men>, this newest Korean crime film takes place in the 1970’s when South Korea was in a turbulent state. With an incredible main cast lineup of Song Kang-Ho, Jo Jung-Suk, and Bae Doona, as well as a just-as-amazing supporting cast of Kim So-Jin, Kim Dae-Myung, Lee Sung-Min, Lee Hee-Jun, Jo Woo-Jin, Yoon Je-Moon, Park Ji-Hwan, and more(!), <Drug King> easily had the best lineup of Korean films in 2018. The movie was loosely based on real events from the 70’s, and did a wonderful job in portraying the day and age of the time.
The synopsis is as follows:
1970’s South Korea, a time of instability and uncertainty; A time where exporting drugs to foreign countries made you a national patriot. Lee Do-Sam (Song Kang-Ho) was a low-grade smuggler of jewelry, specifically gold. During his course of smuggling, he gets involved with drug trafficking, and soon opens his eyes towards the methamphetamine market. With his cunning intelligence, swift crisis-management skills, and God-given dexterity, he starts a business of producing, distributing, and exporting meth. As Kim Jung-Ah (Bae Doona), a business-minded lobbyist with superb connections, joins the business, they brand their product as “Made in Korea” and start to take over not only the Korean and Japanese markets, but the Asian market as a whole. However, as they start conquering the drug industry, Kim In-Goo (Jo Jung-Suk), a prosecutor of the South Korean government, starts to investigate into Lee Do-Sam.
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There were two main aspects that stood out about <Drug King>: The cast members, and the phenomenal acting. As mentioned above, the full cast of this film was extraordinary. From the main to the supporting cast members, all of the actors and actresses of <Drug King> did a wondrous job portraying their characters and were perfectly selected for their roles. What was especially striking was the great lineup of supporting cast members that could be (and are) main actors in other films.
Take for example Lee Sung-Min, Lee Hee-Jun, Jo Woo-Jin, and You Jae-Myung. Lee Sung-Min was marvelous as the lead in <The Spy Gone North> and <The Witness>; Lee Hee-Jun gave amazing performances as the main cast member of <Miss Baek> and <1987: When the Day Comes>; You Jae-Myung took on the lead role in <Young-Ju> as well as <Feng Shui>. These are just a few of the incredible supporting cast members that, in other films, take on the main roles. This is not to take away from the main cast members of <Drug King>, though. The lead actors were equally great.
Out of all of the numerous main and supporting cast members, it was the one and only Song Kang-Ho who really stole the show. He was absolutely brilliant in <Drug King>. Song has been in countless hit-films; <A Taxi Driver>, <The Age of Shadows>, <The Attorney>, <The Face Reader>, <The Host>, etc., and those are just the ones that received critically-acclaimed awards. However, it’s with <Drug King> that he showed his range in acting abilities. From the evolution of his character, Lee Do-Sam, as a low-grade jeweler to the “Drug King” of Asia, the audience is gifted with the dynamic portrayals of Song.
The story itself is quite a dark and eerie one, but by adding some comedic elements to the mix, it created a great balance between seriousness and humor. The occasional humor peppered throughout its duration kept it from going too dark, and saved it from being too serious. I found myself at the edge of my seat, puzzled with questions, and frequently laughing, all throughout its 139-minute duration. A lot of people compared it to <Narcos> and “Pablo Escobar,” but contrary to many speculations, the film had a very different tone and vibe than with the Netflix series. It had more of a similar feel to that of <New World>, my all-time favorite Korean movie.
<Drug King> was loosely based on real events that took place during the 1970’s, and reflected upon the drug trade/trafficking of the time. I’m unsure of how accurate and to what degree the film was “real” or fictional, but after watching, it’s crazy to think how much has changed in 50 years. The movie did a great job showing Korea during this time, and from its cinematography and effects, you really feel like you’re watching Korea in the 70s’.
Really hate saying this, but despite my high hopes and big expectations of the film, <Drug King> wasn’t the must-watch masterpiece of 2018 that I was wishing for. Don’t get me wrong, the movie definitely had great aspects and I do recommend watching it; but it comes with some flaws and weaknesses.
First, I feel like the movie would’ve been much better as a drama series. I say this because since there was so much to the story, the 139-minute running time (which isn’t short) just didn’t cut it. It was as if they tried stuffing a lengthy story into a limited timeframe. This is also why it felt as if the story jumped around frequently, and as if various characters were introduced without proper explanations. In addition, because it covers so much ground in a limited amount of time, you get exhausted and tired from watching, making the movie feel way longer than 2 hours and 20 minutes. Quite possibly they may release a director’s cut version of the film, including more of what’s needed to fill in the gaps.
Furthermore, the film didn’t take full advantage of the main cast members Jo Jung-Suk and Bae Doona. Frankly speaking, Song Kang-Ho was the only “main” cast member; all else could be seen as supporting roles. Jo Jung-Suk doesn’t come on screen until about 30 minutes into the film, and Bae Doona doesn’t have her first scene until after the one-hour mark. This has nothing to do with their performance (they were both amazing in their portrayals); it just sucks that we couldn’t see more of them.
Visual/Special Effects: 7/10
<Drug King>, my most-anticipated-film of 2018, was good, but not up to my expectations. The acting was amazing, couldn’t ask for more. Loved the tone and vibe as well. However, the progression of the story could’ve been improved. Overall, it was recommendable, but not the movie-of-the-year I was hoping for. Compared to the other drug-related movie of 2018 <Believer>, I personally enjoyed that more than this; possibly because I didn’t really have high expectations for that film. I recommend <Drug King>, but just don’t go into it with extremely high expectations.
Ticket Price Value: $11
(Ticket Price Value is the price I would pay to watch the film again for the first time)
What were your thoughts on the movie? Do you agree or disagree with my review? What would your ‘Ticket Price Value’ be? Leave a comment down below!
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Please keep in mind this review is composed of solely my own opinions, and should be taken with a grain of salt. I am in no way a professional writer, nor have I majored or studied journalism. This is for informative entertainment purpose only, representing my personal views. I do not own the images and/or videos used in the review. No copyright infringement intended.