The Drug King

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
The Drug King Movie Poster Image
Ultra-violent Korean crime movie has cursing, drug use.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 139 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No positive messages. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

No positive role models. 


Fighting with guns, knives, punches, kicks. Lead character hung upside down, tortured by officials, beaten with sticks. A street gang forces a man to drink a bucket filled with urine. Man attempts suicide by pointing a gun at his head and pulling the trigger, has his hand pulled away at last second. Man in a hot tub fights off his attackers, gets stabbed in the eye with a syringe, is left dead in bloody water after stabbing attackers. Shoot-out between lead character and police, then with soldiers. Dog shown dying from gunshot wound. Students protesting government face off against riot police, who hit them with clubs and fire teargas. Lead character kills a man by having his partner choke him when the man leans into his car, then drives off, running him against a wall until he falls down dead; lead character and partner are then shown hacking the dead body into pieces to dispose of. 


Brief nudity, male buttocks. Scenes of women in strip clubs dancing with pasties covering their nipples. 


Constant profanity, including "f--k" used several times, as well as "motherf----r." "S--t," "bulls--t," "d--k," "bastard," "hell."


In one scene, character makes specific reference to Taster's Choice coffee. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Movie centered on a man who becomes biggest exporter of crystal meth from Korea to Japan. Characters shown high on "crank," shown tying off their arms, shooting up with needle and syringe. Characters shown acting delusional, violent while high on crystal meth. Alcohol drinking in bars and in homes. Cigarette smoking. Talk of marijuana smoking. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Drug King is a 2018 Korean crime movie about the rise and fall of a Korean drug smuggler. It's in Korean with English subtitles. Like so many other movies about the criminal underworld and the drug trade, this movie is very violent. Characters fight with guns, knives, fists, and kicks. The lead character is tortured by the Korean secret police in one scene, hung upside down and beaten with sticks until he's bloodied, bruised, and urinating through his underwear. This same lead character is forced to drink a bucket filled with urine by a gang of street toughs. A character is stabbed in the eye with a syringe, shown dead in a bloody hot tub. The lead character kills a man by dragging him from the driver's side window of his car, and is later shown hacking up the dead body so it's easier to dispose of. Drug use is prevalent, with characters shown tying off their arms and shooting up crystal meth. Frequent profanity is heard, including "f--k" and "motherf----r." There's also brief nudity, including male buttocks and scenes of women in strip clubs dancing with pasties covering their nipples. 

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What's the story?

In THE DRUG KING, Lee Doo-sam (Song Kang-ho) is a jeweler in Busan, South Korea, in the 1970s, but he wants to find a way to make a better life for himself and his wife. He begins to make inroads into the criminal underworld, and soon becomes a minor player in the smuggling of narcotics. After getting busted and changing his name, Lee Doo-sam gets out of prison on a fake medical leave and promptly changes his identity. With the help of his cousin, as well as his connections in the underworld and in the Korean government, Lee Doo-sam develops a powerful strain of "crank" that he has decided to name and market as "Made in Korea." He begins a meteoric rise as the drug lord responsible for exporting all the crystal meth in Japan. While he tries to maintain a level of respectability as an upstanding community leader and supporter of the economic growth of Korea, Lee Doo-sam loses his wife and begins an affair with the powerfully connected and materialistic Kim Jeong-ah (Doona Bae). As his power grows, Lee Doo-sam becomes more and more delusional and addicted to the drug he's smuggling, and an intrepid police investigator from Seoul moves ever closer to finding a way to stop Lee Doo-sam and his criminal enterprise. 

Is it any good?

This movie is incredibly derivative. The slow descent into the drug-crazed madness of the lead character (among other moments) mirrors Scarface. The "follow the money" montages mirror Casino. And the ironic use of '70s bubble-gum pop, classic rock, and opera is by now as much of a cliché as any other cliché in the "rise and fall of a player in the drug-smuggling underworld" genre. The attempts at humor often fall flat, and end up muddying the waters as to the type of person the lead character is supposed to be. Is he a bumbling fool? A criminal mastermind? Both? Neither? With the movie running for two hours and 20 minutes, there comes a point when the triteness and the confusion become wearing.

The acting is universally solid, and there's a compelling story in all of this. But it's so often lost in hitting all the overdone tropes, exhausted character types, and missed plot points that The Drug King lacks any potential originality it could have had. The result is the constant feeling that you have seen this all before in so many other (better) movies. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about movies centered on the drug trade. How does The Drug King compare to other movies that show the criminal underworld and how they manage to export and import drugs from one country to another? 

  • Did the movie glamorize drug use? Why or why not? 

  • How was music used in this movie? How is this similar to the way directors such as Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino use music in their movies? 

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

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