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Narco-Saints : Will You Be Trusted or Busted?

Can an ordinary businessman arrest criminals with the National Intelligence Service (NIS)? Narco-Saints, a Netflix series based on actual events, has recently become a sensation. How about looking into the series with the Sungkyun Times (SKT)? The plotline, which consists of a drug lord who escapes overseas, members of the NIS chasing after him, and a businessman that was unfortunately entangled in the situation, will surely catch your attention.

Drugs, Cults, and a Businessman

Introduction to Nacro-Saints

Narco-Saints is a Netflix original series consisting of six episodes that tell a story of a Korean businessman involved in a drug cartel in Suriname, a small country in South America. It is also the first television series directed by Yoon Jong-bin, well-known for producing the film Nameless Gangster: Rule of Time. A slew of famous actors catches the public’s eye: Ha Jung-woo stars as Kang In-gu, a typical Korean businessman, and Hwang Jung-min plays the role of Jeon Yo-hwan, a drug lord. According to Netflix, Narco- Saints ranked first in the non-English series sector only a week after its release, with 6,265 hours of viewing from September 12th to 18th. Following its popularity, director Yoon remarked that he is “considering making a second season” in an interview with the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS).

Characters of Narco-Saints

Summary(*Spoiler Alert)

Narco-Saints follows the story of Kang In-gu, who has lived in poverty since he was young. In-gu became a breadwinner as a child after losing his parents and still struggles under the burden of supporting his family. Nonetheless, hope arrives in the form of his high school friend Park Eung-soo, who invites In-gu to invest in a fermented skate-fish shipping business. They plan to purchase skates from Suriname for almost nothing and export them to the Korean market. As In-gu had long disdained his life in Korea, he decides to follow his friend to Suriname. At first, their business seemed to be going well; that is, until In-gu meets a Korean pastor named Jeon Yo-hwan. Soon, their business is revealed to be affiliated with cocaine, and In-gu is imprisoned for false charges. However, Choi Chang-ho, a member of the NIS, visits In-gu to tell him that Yo-hwan had tried to manipulate In-gu into smuggling cocaine to Korea. Hence, In-gu agrees to participate in a secret operation to capture Yo-hwan. He pretends to organize a huge drug smuggling affair to lure Yo-hwan, claiming that he must earn money to support his family. Although Yo-hwan is initially suspicious of In-gu, he successfully convinces Yohwan to smuggle cocaine to Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the United States (U.S.). At the end of the series, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) arrests Yo-hwan because he has no choice but to send the drugs to Puerto Rico, and In-gu returns to Korea to resume his life with his family.

Looking into Narco-Saints

The Reality and Dramatization

Narco-Saints is based on the real-life story of Cho Bonghaeng, who was arrested in 2009 for operating a massive drug trafficking organization in Suriname. Thus, the plotline largely follows this case. For instance, Cho ran a drug business with the Cali Cartel, the biggest drug cartel in South America. Moreover, “Mr. K,” who later inspired the character of In-gu, cooperated with the NIS by sneaking into the cartel to capture Cho. Much like the series, it is known that Mr. K would often utilize great wit and eloquence in escaping deadly situations whenever he was under suspicion. As such, the events in the series are highly probable. However, some adaptations were also made. For example, while Yohwan pretends to be a pastor in the series, Cho did not do so in reality. On this note, director Yoon commented in an interview with The Joonang, “I made Yo-hwan act like a pastor to create a sort of dramatic irony within the series. He is a man that only deserves to be trusted by himself, and yet In-gu trusts him, leading to the collapse of his business.”

Trust Is the Deadliest Deal

What makes Narco-Saints more entertaining is the tension between the internal and external forces surrounding Ingu. The external forces surface when In-gu is let out of prison and jumps into a plan to enact revenge on Yohwan. Such external tensions and the clashing of different forces are depicted continuously throughout the series. In-gu even manipulates such relations and emotions to provoke distrust within the cartel. On the other hand, Ingu experiences internal conflicts between his private and social interests. He constantly agonizes over whether to earn enormous amounts of money with Yo-hwan or cooperate with the NIS for the greater good, even though it is of no benefit to him. Because he lived a life of poverty and lost his business, he struggles even more to make a choice.

Jeon Yo-hwan Being Suspicious of Kang In-gu (newsis.com)

Fight for Money

In-gu, the main character of Narco-Saints , is a cunning businessman who moves based on his personal interests, not social justice. Although he longs for justice and vengeance when his friend Eung-soo dies, and witnesses Yo-hwan exploiting young children for his drug- dealing business, these thoughts do not lead to actions. Such character development has to do with In-gu’s background, who devoted everything to the skate-fish business in Suriname. Meanwhile, the audience is also demonstrated a different aspect of In-gu: his life as a father. In-gu is always rational and calculating, and his goal is to support his family. Thus, his intense obsession with money originates from his love for his family. Thus, the audience is led to perceive In-gu as a dynamic and touching character who does whatever he needs to do for his family.

Kang In-gu, Conducting a Business (ytn.co.kr)

홍성광  gsh06063@g.skku.edu

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