PC: Tony Kim

A lot of the recent Korean movies follow the same pattern: they follow an overarching plot based on a transaction of a drug trafficking business with the cops trying to destroy the drug organization. They have the same archetypal movie characters, the same settings, and the same plot. Because of the similarity of Korean movies, there needs to be a special spark to kindle interest. In “Believer”, the caliber of acting turned out to be the true X factor for success; it garnished the otherwise stale plot with vivid details.

The movie’s plot mainly revolves around a cop, Won-ho (Jo Jin-Woong), chasing down a gigantic drug cartel; at the center is a mysterious man called “Teacher Lee” — not much is known about him. When a person close to Won-ho dies, he vows to finally capture Lee once and for all. Just in time, a valuable opportunity comes to him in the form of a drug dealer, Rak (Ryu Jun-Yeol), ready to spill the beans on the organization. As the plot develops, Won-ho realizes that Rak isn’t to be completely trusted — thus, an elaborate game of trust and wariness begins between the two of them as they try to incarcerate Lee.

You might think that the plot of “Believer” is similar to the one of “Drug Wars” by Johnnie To. You’re right. “Believer” is a modern interpretation of To’s masterpiece by a relatively new competitor in the filmmaking business, Lee Hae-Young. There were mixed reactions to “Believer” in the producing stage, with many thinking that the film would have to be a critical success to even begin to match the complexity of To’s. Hae-Young’s interpretation eventually manages to differentiate itself from a clone of “Drug Wars” by its splendid acting, spearheaded by the characters Jin Ha-Rim (Kim Joo-Hyuk) and Bo-Ryung (Jin Seo-Young).

Such acting fuels the suspense in the entire movie in the short face-offs between the cops and the criminals. In one particular eye-catching scene of the movie in a hotel, Kim Joo-Hyuk adopts the persona of an extremely intimidating and insane Ha-Rim pressuring the cops. When acting the part out, Kim conveyed every aspect of the character Ha-Rim was. Every twitch of his face displayed his insanity; especially the part when he inhales the drugs and starts spasming is about as realistic as acting gets. Such vivid performing assists in truly portraying the emotions and personalities of the characters.

As a side note, fans of the actor Kim Joo-Hyuk should be sure to watch this movie. Before his tragic death in October 2017, there were two films that he was part of: “Believer” and “Heung-Boo”. As mentioned above, his acting was particularly notable in “Believer” — any fan of his would enjoy the movie purely because of the depth of the persona of Ha-Rim.

Because “Believer” is able to differentiate itself from typical Korean movies, the box office records reflect how unique the film is in an oversaturated market of crime films. Through the actors’ portrayal of each of their characters, “Believer” establishes itself as one of the best movies of 2018.