In both Johnnie To’s superb 2012 Hong Kong crime thriller “Drug War” and Lee Hae-young’s fine new Korean remake, “Believer,” a dogged detective infiltrates a narcotics syndicate with the help of a possibly untrustworthy informant. Although they share a premise, “Drug War” is more of a gritty, realistic study of authoritarian power, while “Believer” is a slick action picture with sympathetic characters.
Lee’s film stars Cho Jin-woong as Won-ho, a cop who gets the break he’s needed for years when he crosses paths with Rak (Ryu Jun-yeol), a drug dealer with valuable info about his organization’s mysterious kingpin, “Mr. Lee.” But Rak discovers his informant has secrets of his own.
“Believer” is structured as a series of flashy set pieces playing out in swanky apartments and high-tech drug-labs. There’s nothing down-and-dirty about this movie. It’s all outsize — more like an escapist TV series than a nuanced exposé of international criminal networks.
The action sequences are unspectacular but effective. “Believer” has a well-told, entertaining story sustaining a running time 20 minutes longer than “Drug War.” With the extra space, Lee explores the motivations of his two protagonists, working toward similar ends for different reasons.
To’s film was more interested in how the characters reflect the larger dynamics of the Chinese justice system. In “Believer,” Won-ho and Rak represent only themselves: two determined men who exploit anyone to get what they want.
In Korean with English subtitles
Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes
Playing: Starts June 8, CGV Cinemas, Los Angeles