• Believer (Well Go USA) Blu-Ray Review

    Released By: Well Go USA
    Released On: October 30, 2018.
    Director: Lee Hae-Young
    Cast: Cho Jin-Woong, Ryu Jun-Yeol, Kim Sung-Ryoung, Park Hae-Jun
    Year: 2018
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    Believer - Movie Review:

    Proving that the Koreans are as adept at remakes as the North Americans, the 2018 film Believer borrows heavily from Johnnie To's Drug War, released just six years earlier. In this outing, Cho Jin-Woong plays Won-ho, a narcotics detective pursuing the mysterious and very elusive drug lord, Mr. Lee, in an effort to shut down a massive drug cartel. Won-ho proves in the first few minutes that he's not above stooping to new lows to capture his quarry, when he uses a teenaged junkie as bait; a plan that gets the girl killed for being an informant. Lady luck smiles on the detective shortly after, though, when Mr. Lee attempts to blow up one of his own drug labs to cover his tracks, seriously injuring his personal assistant, Oh Yeon-ok (Kim Sung-Ryoung), which turns her into a very willing witness. Yeon-ok has a pretty great story to tell about Mr. Lee's business dealings, including his involvement in the murder of a high-profile CEO; but finds herself as dead as Won-ho's first witness while she's under guard in the hospital.

    Won-ho catches another amazing break immediately, however, when he finds Rak (Ryu Jun-yeol), a curious-looking young man who is pissed that his mother was killed in the lab explosion, and, to add insult to injury, also had his dog half-cooked in the fire. Rak gives the detective some good news in that he was to meet a serious player in the drug market named Ha-Rim (the late Kim Ju-hyuk) the next day, and invites Won-ho to pose as his boss, but things quickly go sideways when Won-ho finds out that Ha-Rim is a complete maniac with a severe hatred of LED bulbs and a fascination with drug-fueled sex romps. Taking advantage of the situation and Ha-Rim's need to suddenly excuse himself with his lady friend, the detective disguises himself as Ha-Rim in order to meet another major player; but that too gets unexpected results when the lawman is forced to snort the highly potent drug Leica in order to maintain his cover.

    Despite the setbacks, Won-ho and Rak establish their credibility and obtain the materials necessary to manufacture millions of dollars worth of narcotics in an abandoned factory, with the help of two mute lab-workers, rising through the ranks of the drug trade swiftly, and drawing the attention of Director Brian, heir to the Chief Executive Officership of EWOO Shipping; a self-professed man of faith who may also have the answers that Won-ho is looking for. With his cards all in and the chance that his cover may be blown, Won-ho and Rak have no choice but to head to a brutally violent showdown at a massive train terminal, where the identity of Mr. Lee is finally revealed.

    Believer is a film with a whole lot going on in it's 2 hour running time, and I'd be lying through my damn teeth if I said I was able to follow it with no issues. More than a few holes are lightly glossed over, leaving unanswered questions, and there's a fair bit of oddness throughout that distracts the viewer from the story, likely intentionally. You see, there's a big reveal in the film; one that really wasn't too difficult to figure out in the first act; and keeping your eyes focused on other things is really the only way to keep that reveal under wraps. So, while there's plenty to look at and listen to during the two hours, the viewing experience can be somewhat frustrating, trying to piece things together in order to maintain a coherent narrative.

    However, there are a whole load of things about this film that make it a fun night out at the movies, and that starts with two very standout performances. Ryu Jun-yeol as Rak is terrific, his somewhat different look making his performance intriguing in a way that's difficult to explain, but nonetheless effective. When Rak is on screen, your eyes are on him; the way he talks, the way he moves, his facial expressions, all make for compelling viewing. The same can be said about the late Kim Ju-hyuk as Ha-Rim, who explodes on the screen like a bomb in a bathrobe, in a performance that is at least on par with Alfred Molina in Boogie Nights. There's really not a bad performance to be found here, but those two; hoo boy.

    Director Lee Hae-Young gets a healthy dose of credit for the film as well; it's well-paced, it's smartly shot with loads of things to look at in every frame, and it's got a lot of flash strewn throughout. Visuals and audio cues work well together also, building suspense and then punching through effortlessly, and it's overall stylish, tastefully so. The only big complaint here, what doesn't work at all, is the epilogue; it feels tacked on as an afterthought, like after confusing the audience for 2 hours, everything needed to be explained. Believer would most likely be a much stronger film without it.

    Believer - Blu-Ray Review:

    Well Go USA brings Believer to Blu-ray (with included DVD) in a 2.35:1 AVC-encoded transfer that looks great, maintaining the newish and bluish aesthetic that modern Korean films are sporting. Compression issues are non-existent, detail is nice, and blacks are deep and not crushy.

    There are two audio options available, both Korean; one is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, the other a lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Unless you have a straight stereo or TV setup, there's no reason to check out the lossy 2.0; the 5.1 is the way to go. Dialogue remains crystal clear and front and center, and the action sequences pop out of the speakers with bullets and explosions. The 5.1 also carries the punchy soundtrack nicely, with solid emphasis on the LFE. English Subtitles are available for those not fluent in Korean.

    A Trailer for Believer is included, as well as trailers for three other Well Go USA titles; the same previews that the disc starts up with.

    Believer - The Final Word:

    Despite the flaws, Believer is a decent entry in the Korean Action Cinema catalog, with some standout performances and nifty direction. The Well Go USA disc doesn't provide much in the way of extras, but the presentation of the film is plenty fine.

    Click on the images below for full sized Believer Blu-ray screen caps!