The Believer has been one of the most exciting operations made by the world of cinema in the last few years. Initially, it was just a remake: the first movie was the remake of the Chinese film Drug War, but The Believer managed to make the story bigger, and with The Believer 2, the franchise proposed the unique idea of a “midquel,” a movie that shows what happened in the same timeline of the first one. However, one of the most common questions is about the movie title. Why “the Believer”? Who is the believer in the movie plot, what’s the meaning of this title? Let’s try to understand everything together, including the movie plot.
The Believer 1 & 2 plot shortly explained
The plot of the first movie was already a little complicated to decrypt: we have the infamous Mr. Lee, a drug lord nobody ever met in person, the police detective Won-ho, the survivor Rak who also desperately wants to find Mr. Lee, and another gangster, Brian, who pretends he’s Mr. Lee. The film ends with Brian’s arrest, the world thinks he’s Mr. Lee, but Won-ho knows that’s not true: he finds Rak, believing he’s the real Mr. Lee, and the movie ends with that famous, enigmatic gunshot.
The Believer 2 gives life to the curious concept of “midquel”: its plot develops inside the timeline of the first movie, explaining the sequence of events that took place before the ending scene of the first movie. We discover that Rak is not the real Mr. Lee but an orphan who wants revenge on him because Mr. Lee killed his parents. The real Mr. Lee is an older man living in Norway, partially retired from business. Rak has already killed his whole family and finally finds and kills him. When we see again the ending scene in the second movie, we understand that Rak wants to die: he raises his unloaded gun toward Won-ho and gets shot. Won-ho dies too, shot by one of the deaf-mute drug makers.
The meaning of the title: who is the Believer?
Understanding the meaning of the movie title is an interesting journey. To have a complete understanding, remember that the movie Believer was based on Drug War, a Chinese film released in 2012. This information will be helpful to understand the meaning of the original Korean title.
The Korean title of Believer is 독전. It can be translated as “Supervising the War” or “The War Supervisor.” From this point of view, the original movie title wanted to point our attention to the fact that a war is taking place inside the drug cartel, with many characters pretending to be Mr. Lee and Detective Won-ho trying to follow the battle, intending to catch the real Mr. Lee.
While the Korean title wanted to present Won-ho as “The War Supervisor,” the English title addresses him as “The Believer.” The main reason is the relationship he developed with Rak: Won-ho is suspicious of him and doesn’t fully understand why he desperately wants to help the police find Mr. Lee. Every time, Rak asks Won-ho: “Do you believe me?” From this perspective, Won-ho becomes a believer: he decides to trust Rak and follow him, trying to catch the real Mr. Lee. The ending of the first movie, with its enigmatic shot, makes us think believing wasn’t a wise choice.
In a more poetic interpretation, Won-ho is the believer because he believes in his mission as a way to find happiness. The question he asks at the end of the two movies is full of meaning: have you ever been happy in life? From this point of view, Won-ho is challenging everything he’s been believing in his life. He dedicated his career to chasing Mr. Lee, and now that he (thinks he) caught him, he realizes he will not be happy anyway. Won-ho is a believer because he’s also a missionary, but did his mission ever make him happy?