A Bloated & Formulaic Story
The rise and fall of drug smugglers has long been a staple of the crime thriller genre. From Narcos and El Chapo through to Layer Cake and Breaking Bad, The Drug King follows in their footsteps with a similar slice of drug-fueled action. At a run time of over 2 hours and a slow-paced plot that never quite delivers as well as it should, The Drug King feels like a missed opportunity, especially given the decent acting on display from an inspired Kang-ho Song at the helm of this one.
Set in the 1970s, The Drug King chronicles the rise and fall of drug mogul Lee Doo-sam as he builds an empire as a drug smuggler in the Busan underworld. After a long introduction to this cut-throat world of crime, we’re introduced to prosecutor Kim In-goo who does his best to catch the infamous criminal. As Lee Doo-sam continues to rise to fame, so too do the walls he’s surrounded by shrink, leaving him in over his head and surrounded by enemies. This all culminates in a somewhat predictable and formulaic ride to the end where the inevitable eventually does occur.
While the story itself is okay, with enough stylistic ticks to keep you watching through to the end, the films feels very pedestrian in its approach and lacks the necessary dramatic tension to justify its long run time. At times the film feels overlong and especially toward the final act, The Drug King certainly feels like it has outstayed its welcome at times.
Thankfully the acting is good enough to prevent this from being too much of a slog to watch, despite thin characterisation for the supporting cast. There’s a sprinkling of humour thrown in here to balance out the more moody tone of the film but overall The Drug King fails to establish itself as well as it perhaps should do.
With a tighter script and a more original premise, The Drug King could easily be a really exciting Korean film. Whilst the plot itself is enjoyable and there’s certainly some exciting moments peppered throughout its run time, especially late on, it’s ultimately a pretty forgettable movie compared to others in this genre. It’s a shame too but with a run time of 135 minutes, it’s difficult to really recommend this to anyone other than die-hard fans of this genre.