It’s interesting how much we like a negative female character who is wholly violent and has not an inch of empathy but is bogged down by something like daddy issues or raging PTSD. Maybe this is today’s manic-pixie dream girl. The signs are all there; she’s not like the other girls; no, really, never mind doing her nails; she probably doesn’t even shower every day; and she’s always hungry… for blood. Specifically, in the K-world, there’s a special attachment that fans have to intense female characters with superpower-level physical strength and the ability to fight for themselves, whether they are positive or negative. This is, presumably, a direct reaction to having female leads who are docile, caring, fragile, and in need of protection. They’re independent, career-driven women, but they’re still desperate for love and need their Prince Charming. No, there are female leads who are fighters too; they know how to cuss and bring a crowd of thugs to their knees, yet at the end of the day, there’s a single man she wants on his knees. Of course, aesthetics and visuals have more value than most character backstories in such a situation. “How does her body move that way?” “She’s so cool when she’s fighting!” “I want to be like her” (or with her, whatever floats your boat). Korean entertainment has nailed this type of goddess-like character.
There’s absolutely nothing desirable about Seob So-Cheon as a character in Believer 2. She’s filthy, violent, and really quite gross, yet the second she’s on screen, we’re wide awake. The most obvious reason is, of course, the casting choice. Not only is Han Hyo-Joo a national favorite, but she’s got an international fanbase that is soaring at the moment thanks to her latest role as a devoted mother in Moving. This isn’t an accidental or coincidental choice; this is absolutely on purpose and very effective. Hyo-Joo is stunning, even as a woman dressed like a rag doll, looking like she hasn’t brushed her teeth or hair in decades. She is what makes this character desirable—sorry, maybe not desirable, but worth watching. There isn’t much to “Big Knife.” She’s a woman who is dying for a connection with an old man she believes to be her father, but he’s completely uninterested in taking her in (tell us something new). So-Cheon doesn’t know love; she only knows hate, and she goes through life with little else in her heart.
Believer 2 introduced Big Knife with a cigarette in her mouth, ready to burn the bodies of her stepbrother and his lover after they messed up in Korea, while So-Cheon was working hard on keeping things together. She’s the one handling the drug business for Mr. Lee after he’s moved away to Norway (as we learn much later) to retire. The old man could’ve just agreed to have her call him “Ba,” which really would’ve saved a lot of lives, time, and effort. She’s only motivated by violent pursuits; that’s how she’s been raised. It seems the makers of the movie are banking on Hyo-Joo’s presence in the film to make it work, but while everyone is all praise for her, Believer 2 fails to impress. Somewhere in the second half of the film, we learn that So-Cheon used to be (almost) normal, but her jealousy took over. So-Cheon tried to frame her brother Ha-Rim and get him killed so that she could be the only person Mr. Lee could rely on. However, it was Ha-Rim who showed Mr. Lee reports of So-Cheon acting on delusion and having no self-control. When she’s beating Rak up, we see how bruised and scarred her body is from all the years of being beaten up in order to become invulnerable, but she fails to see that it’s all futile.
It’s not entirely clear if Mr. Lee isn’t So-Cheon’s biological father. After framing her brother, she addresses Mr. Lee as her father, but he hits her hard, reminding her never to call him that. He says family is a liability, so she should never be bothered by petty things like that. Later, the same guy retires to spend time with his own family (hypocrite!). If only he had accepted the girl’s pleas or, better yet, gotten her some help, he would’ve never been found out by Rak either. After figuring out how to make the drugs again and keep their business afloat, Big Knife finally makes a call to Mr. Lee, expecting a pat on the back or at least a thank you, but instead he tells her that he’s retiring and spending time with his family. This obviously triggers So-Cheon, who has been desperately craving that little affection or even just appreciation from the man. She takes out her anger on Rak, who is right in front of her, beating him to a pulp. She blames him for “Ba’s” retirement and then ends up dying by his hand. It’s a real shame because she could’ve been a fantastic businesswoman (another fan-favorite trope). Although there isn’t much to bank on, we still empathize with Big Knife and feel for her, possibly because she fits in a mold that we’ve seen done so well so many times before.
A little while ago, we got Ballerina, a revenge thriller about a woman whose best friend is sexually abused and ends up taking her own life. Ok-Ju isn’t a villain, of course; she’s a morally gray character (like many male action leads) who is driven by revenge and will not stop at anything to get it. Although the packaging is different, there are quite a few similarities between Ok-Ju and Big Knife, but one’s righteous and the other is just delusional about parental love. It seems to me there isn’t really a protagonist and antagonist in Believer 2, just many muddled-up characters with stupid motivations, So-Cheon included. There’s definitely no one to feel for—not Rak, not Won-Ho, the police officer who got his friends killed, or Brian, barking like a dog. I suppose that’s why we’re drawn to the big female character in Believer 2, even though she’s sort of obnoxious and dramatically violent.
It’s probably the feminine nature of these characters—the ability to bow down when required—that makes these characters universally appealing. In a forgettable movie, we managed to get one memorable character: Big Knife. Not because of how well she was written, but because of her portrayal. Even the way the camera moves around her makes her nothing short of a South Indian hero, making us feel the urge to worship her.