Just when you think that a movie is perfect as is, Netflix comes along and commissions a Part 2 to wrap things up accordingly. This is definitely the situation here with the release of Believer 2. With the success of 2018’s Believer and its ambiguous ending, the door was left unintentionally open for further exploration. More functioning as the second half of a duology rather than a sequel, Believer 2 functions well if viewed through that particular frame of mind. Jumping immediately into the fray after the events of the previous film, viewers are led on a wild chase to hunt down Mr. Lee with the rest of the characters.
Directed by Baek Jong-yul and written by Kim Hee-jin, Believer 2 brings back some familiar faces to the cast. Cho Jin-woong returns as Detective Jo Won-ho and Cha Seung-won returns as an incredibly pained Brian Lee. Hee-jin tries to get people caught up as quickly as possible in a quick previously-on kind of montage at the beginning of the film. Unfortunately, while this does get new viewers up to speed somewhat, the emotional connection we would have built watching the first film is lost if you’re jumping into Believer 2 blind. Watch the first film before you jump into this for a stronger pull to the characters.
Hitting the ground running after getting caught up, we encounter drug cook, Seo Young-rak (now played by Oh Seung-hoon) who, with the help of his two deaf assistants, Manko (Kim Dong-young) and Rona (Lee Joo-young), has set up a plan to try to lure the mysterious Mr. Lee out from the shadows. Young-rak is not the only one gunning for Mr. Lee. Detective Won-ho can’t let go of the idea that Young-rak is the real Mr. Lee based on information he seems to possess, and this obsession has him trying to follow the trail.
For Brian Lee and Young-rak, their exploits garner the attention of the eerily psychotic Big Knife (Han Hyo-joo). With Ha-rim, her brother, now dead, Big Knife is the closest associate to Mr. Lee. Capturing her attention and not getting killed are the prime goals for both Brian and Young-rak. With her job being to clean up the mess left behind by Mr. Lee’s business, she’s saying red, which puts everyone within eyesight in danger.
Believer 2 spares no expense with its grimy settings and explicit violence. The action choreography is slick and top-notch. With so many seasoned criminal characters, the efficiency and proficiency displayed in the shootouts and action sequences are impressive and paint a further image of the depravity of Mr. Lee’s indirect influence.
The violence, while some may argue is gratuitous, is anything but. From beheadings to shootouts to torturous moments, these scenes are no different from recent films in the Korean action movie market. They illustrate to the viewer the lengths these characters will go to, and we see this contrast highlighted in Won-ho’s usage of violence compared to characters like Big Knife, Young-rak, and Brian Lee. It is also these three morally compromised characters that steal the thunder away from actor Cho Jin-woong in this outing.
Won-ho as a character fades into the background both in the story as well as onscreen. With the performances delivered by Cha Seung-won, Oh Seung-hoon, and Han Hyo-joo, it’s easy to see how. Charismatic as always, Seung-won’s Brian Lee resonates, even despite the character’s unfortunate circumstances. With lines espousing God’s will and reaching the end of the road, Seung-won makes meals of what he’s given.
Han Hyo-joo has the devil’s task of taking on a character new to the universe and boy, does she absolutely slay it. Her Big Knife is terrifying. The constant mood swings between sarcastic laughter and outright cold murder keep viewers and the characters onscreen on edge. Knowing Hyo-joo’s ease with languages, her handling of Mandarin in this role was also fluid and well done.
Oh Seung-hoon stepped into the role of Seo Young-rak, which had been previously played by Ryu Jun-yeol. Having to fill in the shoes established by someone else is no small feat but, whether one is familiar or not with the previous actor’s portrayal, he manages to fill Young-rak with such passion and mystery that you can’t help but feel compelled. Seung-hoon holds his own easily with veteran actors Seung-won and Tzi Ma which reveals the depths he can reach to draw a viewer in.
Barring the limited time audiences actually spend with Mr. Lee once revealed as well as the nearly instantaneous leap into the action at the beginning of the film, Believer 2 works as the second half of a duology quite fine. Does it make the case for its existence? Yes. There is no ambiguity left up to the viewer by the film’s end, with all the scores settled and tucked away. This leaves Believer 2 as the best capping point for a story steeped in obsession, revenge, and violence galore.
Believer 2 is streaming exclusively now on Netflix.
Barring the limited time audiences actually spend with Mr. Lee once revealed as well as the nearly instantaneous leap into the action at the beginning of the film, Believer 2 works as the second half of a duology quite fine.