Fantasia 2018 Review: Believer

Cho Jin-woong plays policeman Jo Won-ho. See all that stuff on the wall behind him? He’s been collecting information on a drug kingpin for two years now.

cutline: Ryu Jun-yeol plays Rak, a quiet guy with nerves of steel who wants to avenge the death of his mother.

cutline: Cho Jin-woong plays policeman Jo Won-ho.

cutline: Here, Cho Jin-woong’s policeman character, Jo Won-ho, is in disguise as a dangerously unpredictable drug lord.

Believer is an edge-of-your seat experience, scarier than many horror movies! It’s a Korean remake, or shall we say, re-imagining, of Drug War (2012) from Hong Kong director Johnnie To.

(Drug War was equally nerve-racking, of course, but co-writers Chung Seo-kyung and Lee Hae-young have changed several aspects for their version. Bear in mind, too, that Drug War was shot in Mainland China, where authorities insist on a “crime does not pay” message.)

Policeman Jo Won-ho (Cho Jin-woong) has been chasing a powerful drug king-pin, the mysterious Mr. Lee, for more than two years. He hasn’t got very far in all that time, because no one knows what Mr. Lee looks like, and many people pretend to be Lee to trade on his fame and prestige.

Things start picking up after a fatal explosion in one of Mr. Lee’s drug labs. The lone survivor, a young man named Rak (Ryu Jun-yeol), wants revenge because his mother was among the people killed in that explosion. He agrees to help the police catch Mr. Lee.

Ryu Jun-yeol plays Rak, a quiet guy with nerves of steel who wants to avenge the death of his mother.

Jo Won-ho goes undercover and impersonates a big-time drug buyer, Mr. A, and then a drug manufacturer, Mr. B, in back-to-back hotel meetings, with barely a chance to change clothes, let alone catch his breath, in between. I am calling these guys Mr. A and Mr. B for the sake of simplicity, they do have other names in the film.

(Jo Won-ho meets buyer Mr. A at a hotel, while pretending to be manufacturer Mr. B, with a team of cops in a nearby room recording it all from a microphone in Jo Won-ho’s watch and a camera on Rak’s tie pin. THEN, the cop pretends to be Mr. A, and acts just as crazy as Mr. A did, and that’s plenty crazy, when he meets the REAL Mr. B. Got that?)

Mr. A (played by Kim Joo-hyuk) is right out of his gourd, from sampling the merchandise, I guess, and could easily kill Jo Won-ho and Rak, by accident or just for fun, at any minute, which makes the already tense atmosphere almost unbearable. The cop keeps his cool with difficulty, while Rak seems to have nerves of steel. He knows sign language, too, which allows him to communicate with the “cooks” at the drug lab. Scenes with the three of them add some levity, because a sign language interpreter translates their conversation for the watching cops and for us. Who knew sign language had so many swear words?

Here, Cho Jin-woong’s policeman character, Jo Won-ho, is in disguise as a dangerously unpredictable drug lord.

Believer is full of twists, turns and surprises and worth checking out even for those who who have already enjoyed Johnnie To’s Drug War.

H-110 in the Hall Building was close to being full, the audience was in fine form and to further set the mood, we were all given a container of NongShim ramen as we walked in.

BELIEVER

2018
South Korea, in Korean with English subtitles
124 minutes
Directed by Lee Hae-young
Written by Chung Seo-kyung, Lee Hae-young
With: Cho Jin-woong, Ryu Jun-yeol, Kim Joo-hyuk, Kim Sung-ryung, Park Hae-joon

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