As it is, Believer was not a fantastic movie; in fact, it’s a grain of sand on the shore that is the Korean action film industry. It’s not unusual to have great expectations from a country that has given us action-packed spectacles like Oldboy, I Saw the Devil, or most recently, Ballerina, and it’s equally fair to be disappointed. Personally, Believer wasn’t anything special on its own, and in an attempt to make a twisted film, the story got lost within itself, making for a convoluted film with an open ending. Now, we get Believer 2, a (very unnecessary) sequel to a rather mediocre movie. At least the first part had a decently cohesive story, though. Believer 2 follows Detective Won-Ho (again) as he continues his search for Asia’s (supposed) biggest drug-ring mastermind, Mr. Lee, along with looking for Rak, the inside man who got away. There’s also Brian, who was left crippled by Rak and wants revenge, while everybody has a one-way ticket to Mr. Lee– a woman who goes by Big Knife.
As usual, Believer 2 focuses more on the impact of its action sequences than the actual plot. I wouldn’t say there are plotholes, but the movie as a whole is entirely in knots that I’m not interested in untangling. Yes, high-stakes action is exciting (Nah, I’m honestly so bored), but there has got to be some sort of saving grace, a gritty ending, or a massive twist that makes it worth it. Directed by Baek Jong-Yeol, who is collaborating with Han Hyo-Joo again after 8 long years, the film has only one big highlight: her character. Before we get to her (the few positives), this film really suffers from the absence of Ryu Jun-Yeol as the leading man. In comparison to Ryu Jun-Yeol’s more seasoned appearance and alluring presence, unfortunately, Oh Seung-Hoon falls very short. It’s like asking for salted caramel and getting vanilla instead. This is not to say the actor is bad at all; in fact, he does a decent job with the little that he’s given, but the ease with which Ryu carried the character is missing. On the other hand, Lead Detective Won-Ho, played by Cho Jin-Woong, continues to be an annoying character who isn’t very exciting to follow. Cho is as good as he can be with the script, but he’s definitely in the back seat for this one, unlike the first, where he shines through with his versatile performance. Cha Seung-Won doesn’t have much to do with Brian except roll around in his electronic wheelchair and make Hector Salamanca-esque expression. There was nothing memorable there. There’s a gaping void where actor Kim Joo-hyuk (RIP) would’ve been too.
At the end of the day, if you want to waste time watching this film because you liked the first one and need a conclusion, then the only reason it’s worth it is Han Hyu-Joo’s Big Knife. Even dirty with vile teeth and dressed in rags, she’s absolutely commanding on screen. She is a masterful actor who can carry any kind of character, even a blood-thirsty villain whose back story doesn’t quite add up. Obviously, it is rare to see Korean mainstream actresses choose such roles, but everything she’s done so far this year proves that she doesn’t really care for the mainstream and will be an icon, whatever she chooses. Still, the role isn’t as demanding as one would expect, and so much more could’ve been possible given the actress’ caliber.
We can’t go without mentioning the action-packed sequences, which are one too many, according to me. There are scenes meant to be nauseating with a high level of “gruesomeness,” but it all looks very fake and lifeless. The chase scenes, too, are not at all captivating, and there’s nothing jaw-dropping or even wince-worthy. If you challenged me to keep a straight face for 2 hours, I’d play this movie to make sure. Nah, there’s really nothing good to say about this one. It’s not fair to categorize anybody, but after watching Believer 2, I’d say director Baek should stick to drama and romance because his first film, The Beauty Inside, was quite a phenomenon. In terms of visuals, the movie tries to be close to its first part but the way it’s divided into chapters doesn’t quite work. There are some sequences with the screen blacking out to add a pumping effect; however, it is exasperating. The non-stop action sequences are terribly stitched together, leaving you waiting for the end, which doesn’t help either.
Ultimately, Believer 2 is butchered by its overdone action and underwhelming script, which doesn’t keep anything together. Not even editing could save this film. Yet, after saying all these awful things, the (somewhat) saving grace of the film is that the ending does carry some sort of weightiness to it, but it’s not worth the journey there. It’s a good conclusion to the first film and weaves together parts from Believer with Believer 2 fittingly. It’s not that I don’t enjoy relentless action, but what new are we seeing? How different is this decapitation, or how much further is this torture scene going to go to make me want to cover my eyes and swallow my whole arm in fear? These are the exciting things we look for, especially when it comes to Korean action films (oh, how they love their gore). There’s a lot of profanity, violence, and depiction of drug use. Believer 2 is yet another violent, merciless thriller that misses the target by miles. Maybe this was a sequel that never should’ve been made. I’d give Believer 2 out of 5 stars. If you’ve already forgotten the first part, don’t bother coming back for this sequel.