The South Korean remake of Hong Kong’s Drug War was a decent action-thriller boasting of and cashing in on its fantastic cast. 5 years later, we get Believer 2, a contrived and rather unnecessary sequel that tries terribly hard to fill up the (purposely left behind) gaps in the mysterious first film. What was fascinating about part 1 is the desperation with which Won-Ho wants to believe in the existence of Mr. Lee, who at this point appears as a fable rather than a real person. Won-Ho is keen on catching the mind behind the drug “Laika” that has taken over Asia (as we hear). Believer follows his vigorous journey to find the elusive man and shows us who he encounters on the way. Won-Ho is focused, moving ahead with nothing in his peripheral vision. He says to Brian, when he’s impersonating the big man that he knows Mr. Lee inside out because of how obsessed he is with him, so in his gut, he can tell Brian is not the real deal.
Won-Ho’s pursuit is relentless and quite off-putting, in all honesty. He’s a police officer but presents as a gangster with no family or lover to look out for. All he really cares about is the job. Even in the first part, there’s a young girl who dies while helping him out, and he refers to her as a niece rather than a daughter. A small detail but a clear picture of how he keeps anyone at an arm’s distance. Won-Ho is also blind to the fact that his team, unlike himself, have all got something to look forward to at the end of the day outside of catching this one drug lord. Even though he’s meant to be the good guy, there’s something very dry about him, and we never feel fully invested in his struggle.
At the beginning of Believer 2, the police force is happy with capturing Brian as Mr. Lee and being done with this massively unworthy chase. Won-Ho, on the other hand, is absolutely against this idea because he’s personally dissatisfied and knows in his heart that this mythical man, Mr. Lee, is actually a real person. Somehow, struggling in part one, even with an inside man, in Believer 2, Won-Ho gets his answers rather easily, and by asking around here and there, he’s quickly able to track the man to Thailand, where it all started. In part one, Won-Ho and Rak develop a kind of friendship, working together in the field, and even though Rak has just one goal, he falters with Won-Ho in the picture.
Rak isn’t an antagonist in this film; he is, in fact, the driving force of this story, the man who wants revenge, which is why Won-Ho gets left behind as a simple pawn in comparison to his crusading knight in “Believer.” Actor Cho Jin-Woong also feels entirely underutilized in Believer 2 because of how flat the character becomes after everything that he did in the first film. The beginning and the end of the first film are in Norway, where Won-Ho drives to a snow-clad town to meet Rak, who seemingly is Mr. Lee at that point. You can assume that, even if there was a real Mr. Lee, Rak has now taken his place. In Believer 2, we finally get a glimpse of the real guy, who has now retired after handing over his business to Big Knife, one of his little minions. Mr. Lee is completely done with his work as a drug lord; after all, he did all of it out of curiosity and has a family to spend time with now. This could’ve been the reason for Won-Ho to stop looking; after all, he would’ve been rewarded for everything he did anyway. But Won-Ho’s obsession with the man wouldn’t allow him to stop.
We could compare Won-Ho’s obsession with his chase for Mr. Lee to that of an addiction to drugs. He isn’t bothered that he’s hurting those close to him, and when it goes too far, instead of getting help, he chooses to take things entirely into his own hands. In “Believer,” Won-Ho is a character we want to root for, the righteous police officer who will make a big name and capture the lord of drug lords himself. But, in Believer 2, there is no feeling of excitement attached to the character. In fact, he just gets more annoying as the film progresses. Additionally, his relationship with Rak also doesn’t play out very clearly, and the end result is a rather strange and unappealing one.
It seems at the end of the movie, Won-Ho has found Rak with a hunch that he’s going to kill him. In many ways, he may be jealous of Rak for having found the real Mr. Lee and killing him. Won-Ho would’ve captured the man and made a big difference in the force. Or maybe he just wanted to be face-to-face with the guy he was chasing after so desperately. At the end of Believer 2, Won-Ho is met with the memory of the myth and the man who took his chance to meet Mr. Lee away. This is probably why he doesn’t hesitate even for a second to pull the trigger on Rak, even with all their history. At this point, Won-Ho has nothing left to look forward to; at least, that’s how he feels. He’s killed Rak, and Lee is gone. What he doesn’t know when he lies dead in the field of snow is that his work would be awarded, and he’d have been promoted after everything he did to get the drug lord. Of course, this, too, wouldn’t really have mattered for Won-Ho, who would have a void in place of his search for Mr. Lee.