The South Korean crime action thriller series “Narco-Saints” intentionally names itself in a manner that is sure to get quick attention, for the narcotic leader in this show is a supposed saint as well. While it seems like this saintly drug lord is going to be the focus here, the Netflix thriller actually stresses on the long operation to bring this corrupt man to justice. “Narco-Saints” does provide an entertaining watch as a six-episode series, but its expected storytelling and lack of anything spectacular visually or otherwise, fail to make the show anything remarkable in the already-crowded drug crime thriller genre.
‘Narco-Saints’ Season 1: Plot Summary – What Is The Korean Series About?
Every episode of “Narco-Saints” opens with a disclaimer that the series is based on a true story but has been recreated for the purpose of dramatization. This story revolves around Kang In-Gu, a South Korean man very well accustomed to the struggles of life from a young age. When still a young boy, Kang’s father had left the house, first to fight in the war and then to look for odd jobs in order to feed the family. Despite being talented in judo, Kang only used the sport to ensure he got a free education at school, and then had to eventually leave it. As a teenager, he lost both his parents and had to take up the responsibility of two younger siblings. Kang started working as a waiter at a bar and then as a garage mechanic, while he got married in order to have someone help around with household chores and then eventually had two children of his own. Having to live through difficulties in life, and also his past experiences, had made Kang a resourceful man, and he made his way to becoming the manager of a bar frequented by American veterans who stayed on after the war. Although he was making fair money this way, Kang was worn down by his life of always having to work hard and never having time for his family and kids. It was around this time that his childhood friend Eungsoo first told him about an exciting business proposition. From his years of doing odd jobs around the planet, Eungsoo had been to the small Latin-American country of Suriname and had learned how the Surinamese people throw skates-fish back into the water because they do not eat them. On the other side of the planet, in South Korea, skates-fish happens to be a fish in high demand and with diminishing supplies. Although Kang is not immediately impressed by such a wild business idea, a few more troublesome nights at his bar and his mental desperation finally convince him.
It is with the plan of buying skates-fish for dirt-cheap prices and selling it for huge profits in the South Korean markets that Kang first goes to Suriname. Along with Eungsoo, he sets up a small plant to buy and store the fish from the local fishermen, and they quickly realize how corrupt a country Suriname is. The army general walks up to their front door and makes a settlement for a protection policy, even though it is clear that the only threat Kang and his business might face is from the army themselves. While the business gets off to a good start, more problems come Kang’s way, this time in the form of the local Chinese mob, who now want money from him. Kang and Eungsoo visit the local Korean church one day, and find unexpected help there, as the pastor, a South Korean man named Jeon Yo-Hwan, offers to solve their problem. Jeon, who seems to be a very respected figure in Suriname, irons out the Chinese mob problem, but after only a few days, Kang receives news that the batch of fish he had been exporting had been found with cocaine inside it, and had been detained. Very soon, Kang himself is arrested and sent to prison on a sentence of a few months.
It is while being imprisoned that Kang is first approached by the National Intelligence Service (NIS), South Korea’s topmost intelligence agency, through an operator named Choi Chang-Ho, and he is given an operation to take part in. It was actually Jeon who had hidden cocaine in Kang’s fish supply, for the pastor was actually an established cocaine distributor in Suriname, and the South Korean government was desperate to arrest him. In fact, Jeon had made a cult for himself out of followers whom he regularly drugged with meth and cocaine in order to keep them under control. However, such was Jeon’s influence that he could not be touched in Suriname, and therefore, Choi and the NIS wanted Jeon to be dragged out to US territory. With a promise of absolving all the criminal charges against him and also with a large monetary reward attached, Kang In-Gu is given the responsibility of being a NIS informer inside Jeon’s gang and somehow persuading the narco-leader to operate in American territory.
How Does The NIS Infiltrate Jeon’s Gang And Prepare To Arrest Him?
Although Kang understands the incredible danger, he would be putting himself in by trying to work against Jeon, especially after he learns that Eungsoo has been killed by Jeon’s gang, he also knows that there is no other way out for him from prison and a tarnished life. After agreeing to work for the NIS, the agency helps him become known as a drug seller inside the prison in order to get noticed by Jeon’s bodyguard, who is also put up in the same prison. Once he is released, Kang goes over to Suriname’s Chinatown district to build relations with the man who had earlier threatened him, Chen Zhen. Due to their ethnic and business differences, Chen and Jeon had been averse to each other for a long time, especially since Chen dealt with meth and Jeon with cocaine, and both wanted to get the other’s business. As Jeon supplies his drugs to Europe, Kang proposes to Chen that he knows someone willing to sell cocaine in South Korea and the rest of Southeast Asia, which is a tremendously lucrative market. While Chen agrees to such a proposition, the real reason why Kang had gone to see him seems to only be noticed by Jeon, and he succeeds in it. Jeon’s men forcefully take him away from Chinatown and to Jeon’s own sprawling estate to talk business. Jeon, too, is equally interested in the Asian market and wants Kang to sell his cocaine there.
There are no pretensions put up by either Jeon or Kang with regard to their past, as they both acknowledge the fact that it was Jeon who had used Kang to traffic his drugs, and Kang now convinces him that he has returned to Suriname only to make money for himself. Once Jeon is ready to believe the story and places business over his personal doubts, Kang tells the man about his friend Sangman, who operates in Brazil and would be able to transport the drugs to South Korea. This Sangman is indeed Choi Chang-Ho, and Choi meets Jeon in person to plan out the deal. Being a drug lord with a huge reputation and direct ties to the Surinamese President, Jeon Yo-Hwan obviously has his doubts at first, and he ensures that both Choi and Kang’s pasts are verified by his gang. After all such checks and procedures, when Jeon is sure of his clients, he strikes a deal with Choi for a ton of cocaine to be sold to him that he would then transport to Asia. The NIS knows well that they cannot immediately strike Jeon down, and so Choi plans this first deal only as a rough start to his time with Jeon. He asks the drug lord to transport the drugs to the Brazilian border, and with the NIS, he plans to stage a police intervention at this handover. Jeon agrees to the deal and sends his men over to the Brazilian border along with the drugs; here, they meet with Choi as Sangman, but the Brazilian police stop the deal. Although the NIS had planned to keep the ambush non-hostile, the situation quickly escalates when some of Jeon’s men call for backup. Kang manages to escape the place with the other men of the Jeon gang, and they also manage to bring the drugs back.
Choi acts livid with Jeon, saying that he has lost his money and now tries to find a different route for the drug smuggling to take place by communicating with Jeon via Kang. While Jeon denies playing it so easy, he starts to take Kang more under his wing and give him some more power. He introduces Kang to President Delano, who also happens to be his good friend, as the man had become President based on the monetary help of Jeon. The drug lord then also tells Kang of his future business idea—so far, Jeon has been buying cocaine from the Columbians and only selling it, but now he plans to grow his own plants and manufacture his own drugs to sell for larger profits. Jeon even offers Kang a managerial role in this new business, but Kang realizes that he and the NIS need to act fast in order to catch the drug lord. But Choi and the NIS do not act exactly according to his wishes, and Kang grows increasingly frustrated with the agency’s orders. He feared for his own safety since Jeon had now realized there was a traitor inside his camp and had started to find out who it was. Meanwhile, the NIS cut a deal with the DEA in the USA, making it guaranteed that the DEA would arrest Jeon if he did business on American soil. Choi then takes on the role of Sangman once again and negotiates with Jeon, saying that the cocaine be transferred over to Puerto Rico, from where it would be shipped over to Asia. However, Jeon obviously rejects such a deal since Puerto Rico falls under American jurisdiction, and he does not want to expose himself to such a threat.
Perhaps out of his frustration with the NIS, and also from his constant effort to find some solution to his problem, Kang decides to carve out a path for himself, and he contacts the Chinese gangster Chen Zhen over it. As Jeon had a ton of cocaine sitting with him and he was unwilling to make the dangerous trade with Choi, he, too, contacted Chen as a solution to his problem. Since Chen had distribution networks all across Europe and Asia due to his meth business, Jeon wanted to make use of this network to sell off his cocaine while also not getting into trouble with the notorious Cali cartel, who ran most of the cocaine supply chains in Latin America. Kang’s proposition to Chen, however, is that Chen agrees to deal with Jeon but actually kills him in an encounter, and then Chen and Kang would take over the cocaine business and make a fortune for themselves. Chen once more agrees with Kang’s plan, and tells Jeon that he is ready to do business with him only if Jeon handed over a man named Byeon Ki to him. Byeon Ki had been a loyal worker for Chen until he had switched sides and had been taken under Jeon’s protection, and Chen now wanted him back so that he could kill him and take his revenge. Jeon agrees to this deal, and as the whole handover is about to take place, Chen and his men ambush Jeon and kill most of his gang, but fail to kill the leader himself. Jeon and a few of the men manage to return to their base, and on the other side, Byeon Ki also manages to escape Chen’s men. The cocaine that Jeon had been selling, however, had been taken over by Chen and was now hidden somewhere inside Chinatown.
Kang is understandably scared of the situation at first, but soon realizes that he can actually make a good deal out of it. He decides to bring the cocaine back to Jeon and earn his trust back to then make Jeon agree to the Puerto Rico deal, as there was no other dealer left for Jeon to go to. In this matter, Kang is tremendously helped by Byeon Ki, who is revealed to have been a top NIS agent working in Suriname all this time to bring Jeon to justice. Together with Byeon Ki and Jeon’s support, Kang brings back the cocaine while killing Chen Zhen in the process. Now that Jeon once again has a huge stash of drugs in his hand that he is desperate to sell off, and after he kills his close aide, David, wrongly believing him to be a mole in his gang, the pastor drug lord is ready to agree with Choi’s Puerto Rico deal. As both Kang and Choi repeatedly tell him that Puerto Rico is not really under American land and is, therefore, safe to deal with, Jeon seems really out of choice, and he finally seems convinced.
‘Narco-Saints’ Ending Explained: Does Kang And Choi Arrest Jeon In Time?
The initial plan for the whole drug handover was that Kang would take Jeon’s drugs and fly to Puerto Rico, where the NIS and the DEA would be waiting for them. Here they would declare that Jeon had tried to smuggle drugs through American territory and would then arrest the man from Suriname, while Kang would be safely returned to South Korea. However, with so many alarming events taking place in the past, Jeon grows wary of such an outcome, and at the very last moment, he decides to send a different man to Puerto Rico with the drugs, and instead keep Kang with him as a possible hostage if need be. The plane arrives in Puerto Rico, and the DEA takes control of the situation. While it was being feared that Jeon might have smartly not sent cocaine in it, such fears were quashed as the drug was found in the cargo, and the authorities were now on the way to Suriname to arrest them. Meanwhile, both Jeon and Kang had been desperately waiting for some news, and Jeon constantly tried to contact the man he had sent for the handoff. This man, a young, loyal follower of Jeon’s cult, managed to send Jeon a cryptic message while in custody, and this made it clear to Jeon that something was going wrong. He takes Kang hostage, but the man is saved in time by Byeon Ki and then the approaching DEA soldiers. Jeon tries to escape into the dense Surinamese forests, which was almost like a safe haven for him now, but Kang, Choi, and the rest of the DEA team arrive just in time to stop him and arrest Jeon Yo-Hwan once and for all.
As the teams celebrate their success, both Byeon Ki and Kang return to their native South Korea. Kang returns to his home in Dongducheon and reunites with his wife and two children. Six months have passed by, and Kang has restarted his garage business, repairing cars and selling parts, as the money that had been promised to him by the NIS still has not reached him. One day, Choi comes to meet him and tells him that while the NIS could not directly hand over such a large amount of cash to Kang, they were willing to give Kang two popular karaoke bars for free. Kang could therefore run the bars, just like he used to before going to Suriname, and earn large profits for himself, but the man rejects the idea. He disagrees with going back to the routine life of being away from his family in order to earn money all the time and now seems more content with the little amounts he earns from his garage and the restaurant his wife opened. Choi seems to understand him, and he tells him how Jeon, who was now in prison, had said that a prized possession of his was still with Kang. Kang remembers how Jeon had earlier given him a ball with autographs of supposed baseball stars all over it, and he had always thought that the autographs were fake. However, it now seems that they were indeed real, and Kang thinks of how much money selling this ball would earn him when “Narco-Saints” draws to an end.
It was to earn large amounts of money and a subsequent life of comfort that Kang In-Gu first stepped out of South Korea, but in the process, he had to endure an unimaginable series of events as a businessman. Working in a covert operation with the NIS was no small deal, but Kang had still wanted money out of it, for such exciting experiences do not really pay for one’s monetary needs. But not only did he not receive the money promised, but he could also never prove that he had worked with the NIS because the agency could not confirm such covert missions. Throughout his time in Suriname, Kang had missed spending time with his family and had also feared an outcome similar to that of his friend Eungsoo, whose family would never see him again. Kang did remember his friend just as he remembered his own family, as he made sure that parts of the money, he was earning were sent to both his and Eungsoo’s family. Finally, in the end, it is the time with his loving family that Kang cherishes the most, and he does not want to lose out on seeing his children grow up for any amount of money in the world.
“Narco-Saints” is a 2022 Drama Crime Series streaming on Netflix.