The rise of Korean cinema over the past two decades has been nothing short of remarkable. From the early days of gritty crime thrillers like “Oldboy” and “Memories of Murder” to the global phenomenon that was “Parasite,” Korean filmmakers have captured the imagination of audiences around the world with their unique blend of suspense, humour, and social commentary.
In review, I want to explore the factors that have contributed to the rise of Korean cinema and take a closer look at the recent Netflix series “Narco Saints,” which I found sooooo original and entertaining. “Narco Saints” is a prime example of the innovative storytelling that has made Korean cinema so popular.
One of the key factors behind the success of Korean cinema is the government’s investment in the film industry. In the late 1990’s, the Korean government launched the “New Korean Cinema” initiative, which provided funding and resources to local filmmakers in an effort to revive the struggling industry. This investment paid off in a big way, as a new generation of Korean filmmakers emerged and began to create films that resonated with audiences both domestically and internationally.
Another factor that has contributed to the rise of Korean cinema is the country’s unique cultural identity. Korean films often explore themes of family, tradition, and societal values like religion and work ethic in a way that is both relatable and fresh. Additionally, the country’s long and often tumultuous history has provided a rich backdrop for filmmakers to explore themes of power, corruption, and resistance.
The rise of streaming platforms like Netflix has also played a significant role in the success of Korean cinema. With the global reach of these platforms, Korean films have been able to find new audiences around the world, particularly in markets where they may not have had a strong presence before. In addition to providing access to Korean films, these platforms have also allowed Korean filmmakers to experiment with new formats and genres, leading to the creation of innovative and exciting content.
One such example of this experimentation is the Netflix series “Narco Saints.” A series written and directed by Yoon Jong-bin. Based on true events, the series depicts an ordinary entrepreneur who has no choice but to risk his life in joining the secret mission of government agents to capture a South Korean drug lord operating as a Church leader in Suriname.
The series, which premiered in 2021, tells the story of a group of Koreans who find themselves in Suriname of all places. Who all become embroiled in the world of drug trafficking, both intentionally and some reluctantly. The series is a unique blend of genres, combining elements of Korean religious fanaticism, crime, drama, and humour in a way that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.
Complexity of Character
At the heart of “Narco Saints” is a group of complex and compelling characters. Narcos-Saints follows the story of drug lord ‘Pastor’ Lim Sang-goo and his rise to power in the world of South American drug trafficking. The show is a thrilling and intense portrayal of the dangerous world of drug cartels and the people who try to take them down. The series features a talented cast, including Lee Joon-gi, Jeon Hye-jin, and Park Byung-eun, who deliver compelling performances throughout.
One of the strengths of “Narco Saints” is its originality and its ability to balance humour with drama. The series is filled with moments of dark comedy, particularly in the interactions between the good guys and the criminal kingpin who also happens to be a Korean religious (cult?) leader, and his devout machine gun toting associates. At the same time, the series never loses sight of the serious consequences of the characters’ actions, and there are several moments of intense drama and violence that are sure to keep viewers on the edge of their seats.
Another standout element of “Narco Saints” is its use of the Korean religious fervour, religious imagery and symbolism. The series explores the themes of faith and redemption in a way that is both respectful and provocative. The Drug Lord/Pastor’s followers/henchmen are portrayed as complex individuals who are deeply religious, fanatics even, and struggling to make sense of their place in the world, and their journey is deeply informed by their beliefs and values. The series also explores the ways in which religion can be used as a tool of power and control, particularly in the context of organised crime. It’s an ‘out-there’ premise but it’s pulled off with much aplomb.
Another one of the most impressive aspects of “Narco Saints” is its visual style. The series is beautifully shot, it was actually filmed in the Dominican Republic and South Korea, specifically on Jeju Island. And it features a vivid colour palette that captures both the beauty and the darkness of the world in which the characters live. The use of aerial shots, particularly in the scenes set in the rural countryside, is particularly striking. The series also makes excellent use of music, with a haunting score that adds to the sense of unease and tension.
Overall, “Narco Saints” is a prime example of the innovative storytelling that has made Korean cinema so popular in recent years. The series combines elements of crime, drama, and humour in a way that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. The characters are complex and compelling, and the series is filled with moments of intense drama and violence. At the same time, the series never loses sight of the serious consequences of the characters’ actions, and it explores themes of faith, power, and redemption in a way that is both respectful and provocative.
In conclusion, the rise of Korean cinema over the past two decades has been driven by a number of factors, including government investment, a unique cultural identity, and the global reach of streaming platforms. The success of Korean films has been built on a foundation of innovative storytelling, complex characters, and a willingness to explore difficult themes and issues. The Netflix series “Narco Saints” is a prime example of this approach, and it is sure to captivate audiences around the world with its unique blend of genres and themes. As Korean cinema continues to evolve and grow, it is clear that it will remain a major force in the world of film for years to come.
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