The Drug King tells a familiar story with a respectable level of competency, but its overlong runtime and padded script make it far too much of a slog.
Unimaginative title notwithstanding, Min-ho Woo’s The Drug King is nonetheless certain to find an audience on Netflix given how it falls right at the intersection of the streaming giant’s two favorite things: Korean stuff (we have you covered there) and stories about drug lords (we have you covered there, too.)
This particular story concerns the rise and fall of Lee Doo-sam (Kang-ho Song), a cutthroat drug smuggler in the underworld of 70s Busan, and the prosecutor, Kim In-goo (Jung-suk Jo), determined to curtail his infamy. At over two hours and with a glacial pace, The Drug King might boast the subject matter, but not the tight storytelling and action of Netflix’s own, absurdly popular drug-fuelled dramas.
And The Drug King never really earns that length, either. The story is rote and predictable, and aside from the specificity of its setting offers little of note or value, and solid performances do little to offset thin character writing and a screenplay desperately in need of a judicious edit.
There is, in truth, little to recommend here. While The Drug King is by no means actively bad, it’s hardly actively engaging, either. I suppose die-hard fans of such things – either Korean productions or drug-lord dramas or possibly both – will enjoy the basic competence of this one; its straightforward treatment of a familiar story, and its lack of look-at-me stylistic quirks and structural flourishes. There’s always something to be said for a film that is perfectly content to deliver a familiar experience and do so well, but The Drug King’s length and meandering script are simply too much of an obstacle for its humble intentions to clear.
If you’re in the market for these things, Netflix is the place to find better ones. The Drug King is the kind of film you might find in your recommended thumbnails as a result, but you’d be better off looking a little deeper for something a little more substantial – and maybe a little shorter.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.