Netflix’s Narco Saints: Is the TV Show Inspired by a True Story?

Netflix’s ‘Narco-Saints’ (also known as ‘Suriname’ and ‘The Accidental Narco’) is a South Korean crime thriller series created by Yoon Jong-bin and Kwon Sung-Hui. It follows the life of Kang In-Gu, an ordinary businessman who travels to the South American nation of Suriname to make a living from fishing. However, he gets trapped in a dangerous scheme to capture a dangerous drug cartel leader. The enthralling series takes viewers behind the workings of a drug cartel. Therefore, viewers must be wondering if real events inspire the series. We also got curious about the same and dug out the truth. Here is everything we learned about the conceptualization of ‘Narco-Saints.’

Narco-Saints: Based on the Life of Real Drug Lord Jo Bong-Haeing

Yes, ‘Narco-Saints’ is based on a true story. The series is adapted for television by Yoon Jong-bin and Kwon Sung-Hui and is based on the life of a real drug lord Jo Bong-Haeing. The drug lord operated in the South American country of Suriname. He smuggled drugs from South America to European countries using Korean people as carriers. While not much is known about Jo’s early life, he was forced to flee South Korea in 1994 after he was wanted on charges of fraud.

Jo is said to have created a channel of drug smuggling and supply in the 1990s. Between 2004 and 2005, Jo smuggled approximately 48.5 kilograms of cocaine into European countries. The package is estimated to be worth at least 160 billion won ($140 million). Jo hired several Korean people to serve as carriers to smuggle drugs and paid them paid 4-5 million won for each trip. The law enforcement authorities arrested Jo in 2009 in Brazil. He was deported to South Korea and was indicted on charges of smuggling cocaine from South America into Europe using Korean people as carriers in 2011.

In an interview, co-creator Yoon Jong-bin opened up about the conceptualization of the series. Yoon revealed that he initially approached to make a film about the real-life drug lord in Suriname. However, after realizing that the story is difficult to tell in a two-hour movie, he decided to make a six-part television story based on the true story. “When I first heard about the story, I thought it was really interesting. But when I got the script for the film, a lot was missing, like the things that drew my interest at first. It seemed to be difficult to capture the whole story in a two-hour running time,” Yoon stated at a press conference,

While the series opens with text claiming that true events inspire the narrative. However, a cautionary warning follows. It states that the story, although inspired by real events, is heavily dramatized, and the names and details of certain characters have been fictionalized. For example, the show’s version of Jo Bong-Haeing is named Jeon Yo-hwan.

Moreover, it is unknown if the real-life drug lord posed as a pastor and fronted his drug cartel and smuggling operations against the facade of religion. Likewise, there are no reports of a South Korean businessman working undercover with the NICS to capture the drug lord. Hence, it is likely that Kang In-gu’s character in the series is a fictional construct. Furthermore, the series’ attention to cultural representation makes it similar to other Netflix crime dramas about drug cartels, such as ‘Narcos‘ and ‘Narcos: Mexico.’

Ultimately, ‘Narco-Saints’ is based on actual events, as claimed by its co-creators and opening credits. However, the makers have likely added various fictional elements to the story to make it more engaging. Nonetheless, the premise of a South Korean businessman venturing into a dangerous world cartel to take down its kingpin is rooted in reality through emotional storytelling and dramatic moments. Therefore, viewers will be shocked and entertained by the careful concoction of fiction and reality.

Read More: Where is Netflix’s Narco-Saints Filmed?