[HanCinema's Film Review] "Believer 2"

While "Believer" was a fairly well-liked movie back in 2018, it wasn't so well-regarded that the announcement of "Believer 2" last year in 2022 ever made a whole lot of sense. Especially since Netflix didn't even have "Believer" available for streaming worldwide. For what it's worth, Netflix does have "Believer" now, and while the first minute or so of "Believer 2" recaps the first film somewhat impressively without spoiling its main plot twist, nothing that happened in "Believer" is all that essential for understanding what's going on in "Believer 2" at any given moment.


This is mainly because, much like its predecessor, "Believer 2" has an incredibly convoluted plot that only becomes slightly more coherent in the final act when various characters outline their until-then hidden motivations. Cho Jin-woong reprises his role as Won-ho, a detective who never really knows what's going on and struggles to try and follow other peoples' storylines. In this case, he's trying to track down Mr. Lee, the notorious drug lord behind the distribution of Laika.

In the four years between "Believer" movies, South Korea has had an alarming outgrowth of xenophobic attitudes. I bring this up because the way "Believer 2" frames Chinese people and Thai locations as hotbeds of drug crime is a little disconcerting, not to mention poorly timed, in the wake of the Thai boycott of South Korean tourism. Ironically this location shooting was probably done with the explicit permission of the Thai government as part of a tax credit scam.

Setting aside the questionable politics, though, "Believer 2" hits the same beats as its predecessor when it comes to deranged, menacing drug operations. Han Hyo-joo is nearly unrecognizable as Big Knife, a gang leader who can best be described as a socially maladjusted and disconcertingly competent violent nerd. Her backstory ultimately being less impressive than we might have assumed is just one of the story's any deliberate letdowns.

Indeed, if there was anything distinctly charming about "Believer" it was the fact that the movie convincingly portrayed drug dealers as broke-brained people whose apparent coolness in the more intensely violent scenes was undermined by their decrepit depressive tendencies everywhere else. The only exception was the deaf brother-sister team, and they come back here. Unfortunately, this time their being relatively well-adjusted ends up not being much of an advantage.

The finale of "Believer 2" is oddly elegaic in this way, and actually heightened by the general incoherence of the story up until that point. Even as Brian, played by Cha Seung-won, is explaining his elaborate plan, he sounds oddly unconvinced that any of this was worth it. Likewise, Rock is now played by Oh Seung-hoon rather than Ryu Jun-yeol in a way that makes it a bit surprising Ryu Jun-yeol didn't want to come back for the sequel. The new version of the character is soulless. Not in the sense that his appearance is a corporate cash grab, mind you, but because for all the speculation of whether he died in "Believer" his fate in "Believer 2" is clearly even worse than that.

Written by William Schwartz


"Believer 2" is directed by Baek Jong-yeol, and features Cho Jin-woong, Cha Seung-won, Han Hyo-joo, Oh Seung-hoon, Kim Dong-young, Lee Joo-young-I. Release date in Korea: 2023/11/17.

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