How much you get out of Believer will depend on your affection for South Korean cinema. Though ostensibly of the same DNA as some of the finer examples of the country's cinema (I Saw The Devil, Oldboy, The Age of Shadows) the film struggles in finding a central hook to elevate the material on screen to those heights. That's not to say there isn't much to enjoy here, but this feels like a film for those who are already fans of works from
Loosely a remake of Johnnie To's Drug War, Believer tells the story of Jong Won-ho, a police detective pursuing a mysterious drug overlord, Mr. Lee. As part of this he recruits a low-level member of Lee's gang, and together they penetrate the inner workings of a drug empire all to reach the top.
Cho Jin-wong, as the cop, and Ryu Jun-yeol, as the mole, make fine work of a script that has left them with some underwritten parts. There's only so much they have to play with given that it's necessary for them to carry some of the film's more convoluted plotting. Believer is far stronger in the fabulous roster of supporting characters it has, each bringing a colour absent from the film's central characters. With each new one that pops up the film feels energised. I particularly enjoyed the over-the-top performances from Kim Sung-ryung and Kim Joo-hyuk. What scenery isn't devoured by these scene-stealers is promptly blown up thanks to some spectacular action sequences that punctuate the film's second half. Certainly director Lee Hae-yeong knows how to reward an audience that makes it through the needlessly convoluted first half of Believer.
This is a notably tamer affair then some of its genre forebears, aiming for a sleeker, more approachable vibe. It is frustrating that Believer never quite escapes the genre that it's part of, with several of the twists suffering due to predictability, in particular the big one that the finale builds towards. But Believer is a fine genre piece, endlessly watchable and often a very enjoyable affair. In the film's action and its roster of supporting characters it shows the promise of a better film. If you go in expecting the next Oldboy you'll be disappointed. But few films can ever hope to reach those dizzying heights. On its own merit Believer is a film worth checking out.
This is a London Film Festival preview and Believer will be released at a later date.