21 September 2022

K Drama Review: Narco-Saints / Suriname (2022) 4.2 || 4

We seem to be avoiding romantic stories these days. Or we probably really enjoyed Big Mouth that we were intrigued by this drama on Netflix. And while it didn't really live up to our expectations, it was fortunate that it only had six episodes. 


Narco-Saints (Korean title: Suriname) tells the story of Kang In Gu (Ha Jung Woo of 1987: When the Day Comes), a Korean entrepreneur who was lured to Suriname by the prospect of a skate fish business. Things go crazy, however, when In Gu's first shipment to Korea was held up after it was found to contain cocaine. In Gu's sent to jail and his business partner, Eung Soo (Hyun Bong Sik of 1987: When the Day Comes, Our Blues, and D.P.), is killed. While serving his time, In Gu is approached by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) through agent Choi Chang Ho/Goo Sang Man (Park Hae Soo of Persona, Money Heist: Korea - Joint Economic Area, Squid Game, and Prison Playbook). The NIS needs In Gu's help in catching Jeon Yo Hwan (Hwang Jung Min), a Korean drug lord in Suriname who goes around pretending to be a pastor. Pastor Jeon was responsible for putting drugs in In Gu's skate shipment. The Pastor befriended In Gu earlier, making it appear that he could protect him from the bad elements in Suriname like Chinese gang leader Chen Zhen (Chang Chen). The drama takes us through In Gu's struggles as he agrees to be a private agent for the NIS as he stays in Pastor Jeon's lair. 

Ha Jung Woo as Kang In Gu

Ha Jung Woo was great as the trapped and scared Kang In Gu. Despite the difficult situation he was in, I loved how In Gu remained confident, probably masking his fear with pomp. And I liked that he knew his worth like when he negotiated with the NIS. He always made sure that whatever risk he took would be worth it. And I loved his mental fortitude. Living with the evil Pastor Jeon and being subjected to various kinds of abuse (mental, emotional, physical) were difficult. Yet he persisted because he always had his eye on the end goal. 

Hwang Jung Min as Pastor Jeon

Hwang Jung Min was perfect as the evil and manipulative con man, Pastor Jeon. I admit, however, that he did a better job as a gang leader than a pastor. I was not too happy with him when he went around acting like a leader of his religious flock. One of his scariest moments was when he confronted In Gu about the latter's real motive in pushing for the Puerto Rico route. 

Park Hae Soo as Agent Choi/Sang Man

I've been vocal about how much I love Park Hae Soo. Even if I end up not liking a show, I still manage to enjoy a bit of it when it has Park Hae Soo because he's that good. Any Park Hae Soo drama is a must-watch for me now. We've seen him in a number of shows already and I love how he approaches each character differently. He always has this commanding presence regardless of what role he plays. In this drama, he was a supporting character, yet he still stood out. Although I hated how Agent Choi tried to manipulate In Gu to advance the NIS' goals, I felt that he was conflicted because he always wanted to treat In Gu humanely. 

Jo Woo Jin as Byeon Ki Tae

Jo Woo Jin was probably one of my most favorite actors in the show. He was such a revelation. After watching him in Mr. Sunshine, Happiness, Guardian, Seobok, and 1987: When the Day Comes, it was surprising (or shocking?) to see him in a very badass role. Jo Woo Jin was perfect as the Chen-minion-turned-Paster-minion Byeon Ki Tae. He was so scary because he seemed so unstable. I felt like he was going to kill In Gu anytime. That's why it was such a huge plot twist for me when Byeon turned out to be an NIS agent. It explained so many things, like how he was able to escape all those guys Chen sent to take him. I love how versatile Jo Woo Jin is as an actor and he's definitely one that I'll watch out for. 

Yoo Yeon Seok as David

It was nice to see Yoo Yeon Seok again as the Pastor's lawyer. I admit, however, that this was not one of my favorite characters that Yoo Yeon Seok's played. I'm not sure if sleazy stuff suits him. He seems to be better off as a nice guy like his characters in Hospital Playlist 2Hospital Playlist, Warm and Cozy, and Reply 1994 or even as a villain but with a kind heart like in Mr. Sunshine. It didn't help that he had a tragic ending as the fall guy for In Gu. 

Kim Min Gwi as Deacon Lee Sang Jun

We first watched Kim Min Gwi in Nevertheless where most of his scenes were cut due to a cheating/abuse controversy. I was surprised to see him bounce back just a little over a year later. I know most actors take longer than that to make a comeback after a scandal. 

Kim Min Gwi was credible as the Pastor's deacon. What made Sang Jun so scary was how he blindly followed the Pastor. He was super brainwashed that he would do anything that the Pastor ordered him to do. He was probably the Pastor's most dangerous minion because he was blinded by his loyalty to the con artist. 


As I mentioned earlier, the show didn't really live up to our expectations. The pilot episode was quite slow. Yes, those scenes might have been necessary to build up the story. But given that the show only had six episodes, viewers might have expected something tighter, faster, and more action-packed. 

I know there's a bit of a trend to create shorter series as opposed to the usual 16-episode ones. This drama might be one of them. Unfortunately, it didn't work that well for us. Some parts felt like the show put more premium in coming up with a short series and in the process, it compromised fleshing out the story. Some jumps/gaps made the story quite difficult to follow at some point. 

For a supposedly secret operation, I felt that In Gu was quite reckless in his conversations with Chen and Agent Choi. He would do this in public places around the Pastor's house where anyone could overhear him. 

And for criminals who put premium on agreements, I was surprised that there seemed to be no follow through on some of the alliances created. For instance, Chen agreed to work with In Gu if the latter can kill the Pastor before the cocaine handover in Brazil takes place. It didn't happen yet Chen continued working with In Gu. 

I was also disappointed with how weak Chen seemed to be. He was supposed to assassinate the Pastor and he was given his location and other details that could help him. Yet Chen failed to capitalize on all of these advantages he had over the Pastor. The Pastor was not fully surrounded and Chen didn't send enough people on the ground which helped the Pastor escape. That was a very ill-conceived plan for a supposed organized crime group. 

I also found it inconsistent for the Pastor to make Byeon dispensable one minute, agreeing to return him to Chen, then have him appointed as Chen's replacement as leader of the Chinese gang the following scene. And didn't the Pastor wonder why Chen trusted Kang such that Chen would reveal his location to Kang? There was definitely something going on there. And it was weird that someone as suspicious as the Pastor missed that. 

I hated how Byeon and In Gu had that little nodding/eye contact scene after the Pastor agreed to route the drugs to Puerto Rico. That was so stupid and amateur for an NIS agent. And true enough, Sang Jun caught it, which led to Kang being hostaged in Suriname while the shipment was being delivered. 

But the show had its good points too. While the concept of using a church/religious organization as a front for illegal activities is not entirely new, I liked how the show managed to still keep things entertaining. 

I liked the show's take on corruption - how when it exists, it would probably be present in various levels of a government. Like how everyone from the military to the Chinese gang tried to exploit In Gu when he was just starting his business. And how corrupt countries make for ideal hideouts for criminals like the Pastor. And how you should never trust anyone in situations like this. 

I also liked how the drama showed us that even the government that's supposed to protect its citizens can be flawed. Like how the NIS used all means to achieve its goal of catching the Pastor, even at the expense of sending In Gu to jail or making him dispensable during the final operation.  


However, I was not too pleased with the ending. There were too many loopholes for me. Like it was too risky for the NIS to allow Sang Jun to speak with the Pastor. They might have secret codes that could give the Pastor clues about what was happening. The fight scenes were not that impressive either. 

When the Pastor found out that In Gu duped him, I wondered why they didn't kill him right away. Or how the Pastor's numerous minions couldn't do anything when Byeon hostaged the Pastor. Or why they didn't shoot at In Gu when he was following the Pastor who was trying to escape. They just let him follow them until the end. And the driver just watched In Gu and the Pastor fight it out and he only helped out belatedly. The only bright spot here was that In Gu captured the Pastor. I would've been furious if the Americans stole the show from In Gu. 

I was also very disturbed about how the drama didn't seem to show any resolution about the Pastor's remaining followers, specifically the kids who were being killed and/or made to take drugs. I felt that this was an important part that should have been resolved. The matter was too serious for me to simply assume that it was properly addressed. 

Some sort of epilogue in the end would have helped in explaining what really happened to the true story where the drama was based on. How did the Pastor end up? What happened to Sang Jun? 

And while I'm all for free speech and freedom of expression, I somehow get why Suriname's angry. I found it quite improbable for one man like the Pastor to have complete control of the country, including its President, military, etc. The least the producers could have done was explain in the end how Suriname dealt with the problem and if it has been resolved already. 

So while the show somehow managed to be entertaining and interesting, it was unfortunately lacking in a number of aspects. 

Oppa says...4.2.

Noona says...4.