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(Movie Review) Believer: Veteran cop goes undercover to get drug kingpin

All Headlines 16:38 May 18, 2018

By Shim Sun-ah

SEOUL, May 18 (Yonhap) -- "Believer" tells the story of the unlikely partnership between police anti-drug unit officer Won-ho (played by Cho Jin-woong) and low-level drug dealer and informant Rak (Ryu Jun-yeol) as they take down a massive Seoul-based international drug cartel to which the latter once belonged.

After a mysterious explosion at a meth lab kills his mother and injures him, Rak is apprehended by the police and agrees to facilitate meetings between Won-ho and his drug associates and a ruthless drug giant in China.

A still from "Believer" (Yonhap)

The purpose of the sting operation is to apprehend the highly secretive and "devilish" boss of Rak's cartel, who goes by the alias "Mr. Lee." Won-ho has followed him for years without knowing his real name, age, or even gender.

With help from the hard-boiled Rak -- the only person who knows what the Korean-Chinese drug lord looks like -- Won-ho goes undercover, posing first as mid-level local cartel member Seon-chang (Park Hae-jun) when he meets the Chinese drug lord, Jin Ha-rim (Kim Ju-hyuk), and then as Jin when he meets Seon-chang.

He even risks his own life in the dangerous operation, snorting large amounts of drugs to deceive Seon-chang. His cover is blown while in a Seoul hotel room for a final deal with Jin, and a bloody gunfight follows.

A still from "Believer" (Yonhap)

These scenes are a strong acting showcase for Cho Jin-woong, allowing him to adroitly switch between his normal stoic self and imitations of the hotheaded and eccentric Korean-Chinese drug lord and the Korean drug thug Seon-chang.

Writer-director Lee Hae-young, who directed "Like A Virgin" (2006) and wrote the screenplay for "26 Years" (2012), by and large succeeds in creating tension and suspense throughout the film's two-hour running time, especially when it comes to the bogus meeting sequences.

A remake of Hong Kong crime thriller "Drug War" (2012) by Johnnie To, this fast-paced drug-soaked thriller provides unrelenting tension and violence.

A still from "Believer" (Yonhap)

The movie's biggest problem, however, is that it devotes virtually no time to developing its characters, even the duo at the center of the story. Some audiences may find it difficult to understand why Won-ho clings so much to getting "Mr. Lee." Being built on a lie, the budding friendship between the pair may also confuse the cinemagoer. The last-minute twist in which Mr. Lee's identity is revealed seems tacked on.

A still from "Believer" (Yonhap)

The film has too many genre cliches, too much violence and sexual content, which leads to my complaints: Why must mainstream Korean crime thrillers these days disassemble victims, describe Chinese people with Korean ethnic background as ruthless criminals and present female characters solely as eye candy?

"Believer" is set to open in local theaters on Tuesday. It also stars Kim Sung-ryung as Oh Yeon-ok and Cha Seung-won as Brian.


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