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Movies Reviews The 1 to 5 on Movies

The 1 to 5 on movies: Drug King

This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all movies, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.

Drug King is a 2018 Netflix Original movie that can be derivatively be summed up in one title: Korean Scarface. If that sounds interesting, then you will not be disappointed; however, you won’t be thrilled either. Watching this movie is what I would use as the actual definition of “adequate”, because at no point was I bored, or wishing that I was watching or doing anything else, but at the same time I was never moved beyond being ‘satisfied’. There’s a base level of quality the movie always reaches and it sustains that until the end and ultimately, that is enough for me to cautiously recommend this movie, but do not go into it expecting to have anything more than a solid, crime drama.

The movie stars Kang-Ho Song (known for his role in Parasite and other Bong Joon Ho movies) as Lee Doo-sam, a real life “drug king” in 1970s Busan. He goes from small time street hustler to drug smuggler and kingpin, before his inevitable fall from “grace” (hence the Scarface reference). Unsurprisingly – at least to Korean cinema fans – the best thing about this movie is Kang-Ho Song; he’s an incredibly gifted actor and it was a real treat to see him in such a role, where he essentially carries the movie in his shoulders. He nails the comedic and absurd sides of his characters, but importantly he nails the dramatic elements. His character is essentially a reverse hero’s journey, and with such characters it is incredibly difficult for the actor to portray a likeable and relatable hero for most of the movie, while effectively giving hints to his turn towards villainy, but he handles it like a pro.

Besides Kang-Ho, the main draw for this movie is experiencing an established genre piece from the lens and context of a vastly different culture from mine; in that regard, Drug King does enough to warrant a watch. There’s enough brevity and off-color moments in the movie that it feels distinct in that way, as well as a different aesthetic to the presentation and different methods in filmmaking both in front of the camera and behind it, that this movie feels distinct and not a cheap rip-off.  

Beyond this, Drug King does nothing particularly great or bad in any way for it to stand out; it has a decent story that I felt was slow to get into what was actually interesting about this real-life individual, however I can’t really fault the decision to show vital information that makes the turn of the character more interesting and believable; the cinematography and production values were pretty good, in that nothing stood out as poor or particularly great; sound design and music were a bit of a letdown, since I expected something more unique, however it was in no way a poor attempt.

Given the length of the movie (2 hours and 19 minutes) there are much better alternatives – especially in the crime drama genre – however, due to the strong lead performance and how this is a movie made from completely different cultures and techniques that I do not have as much experience on as far as this particular genre, Drug King for me is a GOOD movie. With someone else as a lead actor, or were this from the more traditional western filmmaking, it would be a fine movie that I would have a hard time justifying why you should watch it over (re)watching something far better. I do wish they were more “ambitious” or simply tried to be more unique in this genre, but instead they went with something that’s a bit “safer” and that results in an adequate experience that is somewhat skippable and forgettable, but still a worthwhile experience for people who want to see something that feels different in this genre.

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