Film Review: Believer

Cops use an informant to break up a drug ring. Korean remake of Drug War leans more on style than substance.
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My vote for the best crime movie of the last decade goes to Johnnie To’s Drug War, a brutal dive into the Chinese underworld. The stylish remake Believer lifts several key plot points from that movie while adding distinctive Korean flavors. If it doesn't match To's vision, Believer still offers a tough, vicious take on the drug world.

Director Lee Hae-young, who also co-wrote the script with Chung Seo-kyung, keeps most of the focus on beleaguered cop Jo Won-ho (Cho Jin-woong), who has spent years tracking a mysterious druglord known only as "Mr. Lee." He is ordered to close the case after the murder of a young informant.

But an explosion at a drug factory wipes out several leaders in Lee's gang. Survivor Seo Young-Rak (Ryu Jun-yeol), who lost his mother in the blast, agrees to help Won-ho find Lee by infiltrating a planned deal with a new Chinese supplier, the unhinged Jin Ha-rim (Kim Joo-hyuk).

Won-ho impersonates Lee underling Park Sun-chang in a meeting that threatens to explode at any moment. Then he turns right around and plays Ha-rim to the real Sun-chang (Park Hae-jun), who's first seen sawing off an enemy's limb. It takes a near overdose for Won-ho and Rak to pull closer to the elusive Lee.

Meetings at a new, remote drug lab raise Won-ho's suspicions about Rak, who may have his own agenda. Clues point to the son of a murdered shipping magnate, leading to a series of confrontations and betrayals inside yet another warehouse and drug lab.

To ended Drug War with an off-the-charts gunfight so furious it stunned viewers. Lee Hae-young takes a different route in Believer, unfolding smaller reversals that are satisfying, if not as surprising as the filmmakers hope. A bitter pall of hopelessness hangs over the final scenes.

A few moments of gore aside, Believer is a focused, efficient cop story. It slumps during some overly sentimental passages, but its high body count will please genre fans.

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