At a huge budget of 35 billion won (approximately US$25m), you can make two seasons of the very successful Crash Landing On You, or two seasons of Kingdom.
Or you can throw all into Narcos-Saints, which just started streaming on Netflix two days ago.
Koreans had mastered all they needed to in the domestic lovey-dovey romcom genre a long time ago. Even murder thriller is a walk in the park. So they needed a new challenge.
With the world returning rapidly to normalcy, it’s time for Korean drama productions to venture abroad again. Just think about the tourism dollars generated as a result of series like Lovers in Prague and Descendants of the Sun. No brainer right?
Set in Suriname but filmed in the Dominican Republic, Narco-Saints tells the story of an innocent Korean businessman dragged into the dark world of drug trafficking. That the character played by Ha Jung-woo had ventured to South America in search of gold for his family is not surprising at all. But for him to run into another Korean drug lord masquerading as a pastor, now that takes guts and imagination.
Then again, Koreans are always known for their entrepreneurial spirit, so maybe not.
Hwang Jung-min, not the most handsome of all Korean actors, is a damn convincing bastard. Every ounce of him in his ‘messiah’ role feels genuine. What was he really on in order to play the role so well?
At times, I did wonder if his followers were mesmerized by his sermon or were they just drugged. Perhaps the director is saying religion is like drug – once hooked, you become dependent. Clever, regardless.
Not to gloss over the rest of the cast but Chang Chen, Park Hae-soo, Jo Woo-jin and Yoo Yeon-seok all put in more than a day’s worth, especially Jo, who is fast becoming one of my favorite baddies. You’ve got to watch him in Inside Men and Kingmaker if you have not.
While Narcos-Saints may not result in Koreans jetting off to Suriname or Dominican Republic, it should give encouragement to others to surface tales in lesser known places.
Just like Escape from Mogadishu, Narcos-Saints is another solid proof of the Korean ambition, except they no longer need to prove anything to anyone.