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Korean Movie The Believer Ending Explained - because it is definitely not clear what happens in the end.
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I enjoy conundrums in movies. I like thinking about them. I like unpacking them and sifting through the evidence that the movie gives us, in order to try and make sense of it all. I like coming to my own conclusions and then watching you guys dismantle them all one by one! hahahah. But all that to say, the South Korean film, The Believer is a fantastic little movie conundrum that is worth trying to figure out. I mean, the move is twisty and turny from beginning to end. But we need to talk. So, here we go – Korean Movie The Believer Ending Explained.

If you haven’t seen the movie The Believer, I’ve got a little treat for you. But make sure you watch it first (here or here) before you go any further, because this thing is going to get spoilery immediately.

Believer Movie Walkthrough

Won-ho, a policeman in Korea, has been hunting the leader of one of the world’s biggest drug cartels for years. Mr. Lee is a notoriously elusive character – so elusive that no one has ever seen him in person. Which means, that imposter Mr. Lees have popped up over and over again throughout the years. They do it in order to garner the fame, pride, and honor that comes with being the biggest dealer in Asia. But each time a Lee has popped up, the real Lee has always managed to find a way to cut the imposter down.

Now, the movie kicks off with a number of high powered executives arriving at a location, but a bomb, set-off by “Mr. Lee” goes off, killing everyone – save for three important individuals. The first survivor was Oh Yeon-ok, a high powered executive who was the last person to arrive at the meeting. And the second was a guy named Rak, whose mother passed away in the conflagration. After surviving the attack, Rak agrees to help Won-ho chase down this evil “Mr. Lee”. And the final survivor is a dog that Rak says is named Jindo Dog. Which, is weird, because it isn’t a Jindo dog. But whatever. We’ll get to that later. Well, survivor #1 doesn’t matter much, because Oh Yeon-ok is killed by Mr. Lee when her driver brings her the medication that she needed. Definitely don’t miss her much, she was all kinds of high maintenance.

Now comes the confusing bit. Rak and Won-ho decide they are going to meet with Ha-rim, a drug dealer who is posing to be Mr. Lee. But then they use what they learn with Ha-rim/Mr. Lee, in order to meet with another drug maker Park Sun-Chang, as Ha-rim/Mr. Lee. I mean, they needed to figure out a way to get drugs for Ha-rim, didn’t they? So, they play Park Sun-Chang, with Won-ho having learned all his lines from their recent encounter with Ha-rim. Where this goes horribly wrong is when Park Sun-Chang gives Won-ho, the cop impersonating Ha-rim, a couple lines of his bespoke drugs. Won-ho attempted to avoid taking the drugs, but eventually he relents and takes them anyway. The cops in support barely save him from a lethal heart attack.

So, with Won-ho getting the materials necessary to make the drugs from Park Sun-Chang for Ha-rim, Rak takes the drugs up to two contacts that he has. They are two mute Walter Whites and Jesse Pinkmans, drug maker savants. Now, when Won-ho and Rak are supposed to finally meet up with “Mr. Lee,” they instead meet a new player named “Director Brian”. OK. Another player. Weird. Well, at that same time, the cops learn that Rak isn’t actually Rak. Rak as a child shipped with his parents in a shipping container filled with bananas and drugs. But when Rak and the shipment arrived at the drug facility, “Rak’s parents have died of an overdose. So Rak is adopted by a couple who work at the facility whose young son had died previously. The boy takes on Rak’s identity and voila, Rak is Rak. So it makes sense that Rak would be very upset by his adopted mother’s death from the explosion.

Now, things get a little bit crazy when Ha-rim’s girlfriend steals the drugs and abducts Won-ho and Rak. The two men are taken to Ha-rim and a super sweet, full-tilt, gun battle goes down. Won-ho gets hurt, and Ha-rim is killed by Rak. Afterwards, Won-ho gets his team together, and prepared, to get Mr. Lee – whom he expects Brian to be. Well, upon arriving at the meet up, Rak is caught, and is almost killed. Won-ho figures out that Brian definitely isn’t Mr. Lee, but when they capture him, the rest of the police force is convinced that Brian is Mr. Lee. Rak though kidnaps Brian, tortures and then burns him like Brian did to his dog. But the police are not interested in searching for this mythical Mr. Lee anymore, convinced that Brian is the guy.

Now, everything clicks for Won-ho, when he realized that the dog didn’t respond to the name “Jindo dog”. Instead, the dog responds to the name Lieca… which means that Mr. Lee named his drug after his dog. After Brian was arrested, and the police weren’t interested in searching anymore for the “real” Mr. Lee, Won-ho realizes that he would be the only person interested in seeing the hunt to the end. Won-ho tracked Rak down by following the a GPS tracker he had had planted on the dog. Eventually Won-ho finds Rak living up north along with the mute drug makers. And there we leave Rak and Won-ho…sitting at the table, drinking coffee, and amicably talking…with their guns on the table. The end.

Wait A Minute – What Happened at the End?

Notice that photo above? It took me ten minutes to catch that exact frame in the movie. Huh, what was so hard to catch you ask? What I was trying to catch was that light flashing in the windows. Remember, Rak and Won-ho were sitting there, amicably, chatting over a cup of coffee. Well, maybe it wasn’t such an amicable chat. What we know for a fact is that there was one flash. Outside of that, we don’t know much more. There are a number of different ways that we can interpret that one flash of light in the window of the house.

  1. Won-ho shot Rak – Well, Won-ho worked so hard to avenge his “niece” that Mr. Lee (But more likely Brain) had killed, that he isn’t going to stop until Mr. Lee is dead. Obviously Won-ho killed Rak.
  2. Rak shot Won-ho – We’ve watched the entire movie long while Rak has done anything and everything, including killing nine other imposter Mr. Lees, to stay alive and succeed. A single police officer showing up out of the blue isn’t going to stop Rak.
  3. Rak committed suicide – Throughout the course of the movie, Rak has done the right thing, helped the police, and shown that he can be a moral person. All of this ‘being goodness’ has gotten to his head, and his life long amorality sent him over the edge. Obviously he committed suicide to make amends.
  4. Won-ho committed suicide – look, Won-ho should be tired. He has spent years untold hunting down the real Mr. Lee. But the years of doing absolutely anything to get at the truth have caused their own mental toll. By the time he arrives at the answer, Won-ho is spent, and done. It only makes sense that Won-ho shot himself in the end.
  5. Won-ho & Rak kill each other simultaneously – now, there is a decent chance that both Won-ho and Rak pulled their triggers simultaneously. Could they have both reached for their guns with the same speed and dexterity only to kill each other at the same time, thereby causing only a single flash in the windows? Hrrmm.

See? That was easy. Or not. And I didn’t even mention, or bring into play, the two mute drug makers, Dong-Young and Joo-Young, into this equation. #28 Dong-Young committed suicide. #29 Dong-Young shot Rak and Rak shot Won-ho simultaneously. #30 Dong-Young shot Won-ho…etc., etc. Hahahah.

But seriously, what really happened at the end of the movie Believer??!?

This movie really is about Won-ho and it’s also about Rak – or maybe we should call him Mr. Lee now. Won-ho has really been chasing Mr. Lee for years. He’s watched as people he has been close to, even this gal he’s taken in as his niece, have died. Much of his search has gone on long before the movie even started. Heck! Rak said he had killed NINE other imposter Mr. Lees. We’ve seen a ninth of the chaos! And at the beginning of the movie Won-ho’s boss was pretty much done with his search for this mythical boogie man. So Won-ho had gone all in on his desire to hunt Mr. Lee down.

Now, let’s look at Rak. Rak isn’t even Rak. His parents probably committed suicide in that shipping container. They opted out of this life, and left the pre-Rak to find for himself. Luckily, a kind family working in the drug business who had lost a child, they chose to adopt him. But he lived the entirety of his life taking over the drug business that killed his parents. He created this mythical persona, and secured connections in the drug manufacturing side of the drug world that he relied on to create his Lieca product that cornered the market. And he ruthlessly secured his business against all comers. So much so, that he “partnered” with the police to kill imposter Mr. Lee number nine.

Where this question becomes really cloudy is that Rak and Won-ho are good guys in our mind. We have watched them “partner” to hunt down this horrible, and ruthless, Mr. Lee. So we have become jaded in our perspective of who Rak really is. Personally, I believe that Won-ho was obligated personally to the debts he had in his soul to lost loved ones to try. So he did. And Rak understood that. But did he really have a chance at killing the mythical Mr. Lee? No. I don’t even think Won-ho even pulled his gun off the table. I mean, take a look at their faces in the last shots that the movie gives us of the two men:

You probably can’t see it very clearly in these smaller photos, but Won-ho is crying. Mr. Lee asks him if he’d like coffee, and Won-ho asks if Lee has ever been happy in his life. But we get the sense that it’s Won-ho that is asking this question more of himself than for Mr. Lee. “Have I ever been happy in this life chasing you down? Why did I do it? What was it all for?” And then Mr. Lee kills Won-ho.

If you are looking for another movie similar to The Believer, I think the very best option for you would be No Country For Old Men. Check it out and tell me if it isn’t on par.

Edited by: CY

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8 Responses

  1. deKev

    I must agree, I think it was Mr Lee who shot and killed Won-ho at the end. In fact, I think much of Won-ho’s actions leading up to the final confrontation suggested he was asking for ‘suicide by gangster’: saying goodbyes to colleagues, quitting his job, getting his gun out just in case Rak had thought that Won-ho was probably just visiting, the forlorn looks and what sound like final words of a dying man… And the fact that Rak had saved him from certain death a couple of times at least (albeit for whatever selfish reasons that Rak might have) also suggested that Won-ho owed Rak his life. It just made more sense this way.

    Not sure why Won-ho should feel so defeated and depressed though, to be honest. After all, he has avenged his ‘niece’, the authorities did get their villain (despite being the fall guy, Brian was still pretty majordomo in the scheme of things), many other lesser drug lords and henchmen were decommissioned, and not to mention a few drug factories too.

    On the other hand, one argument against this line of thought would be that Won-ho did still have one final score to settle with Rak, which was the death of his young colleague, the one who got blown up at the mutes’ factory. So one could argue it was Won-ho who managed to let off the one shot that killed Rak, as a final act of revenge.

    A little FYI, having watched the original Chinese movie years ago by acclaimed Hong Kong director, Johnnie To, I must say this Korean remake feels at once familiar and yet pretty surprising at times too. While broadly following the plot of the original movie, Drug War, the remake did spice things up quite a bit by introducing a new element to the plot, which is the secret identity of a mythical boss. And for this little plot tune-up alone, I feel Believer ends up being the better movie.

    In the original movie, the Rak character was a selfish and self-serving character, an unprincipled lowlife who owed loyalty to no one other than himself. He also possessed no second identity as a mastermind, someone who’s possibly calling the shots and playing the police. On the other hand, Rak, I feel, is an upgrade on the original character, in both his staunch principles and his hidden identity as the elusive Mr Lee, which enabled him to both help and hoodwink the police at the same time. Throughout his dealings with the police, it was shown that he acted with honour and held up his end of the bargain and in case it was not obvious enough already, he even intervened in a couple of instances when he did not strictly have to. Or so it appears. On the contrary, the awful things he must have done, were pretty much all off-screen and only alluded to. So I am not at all convinced that Rak was not just as self-serving and conniving as the original character. But there is at least some sort of moral ambiguity here, for what is worth, something that was missing from the original too.

    • Arun

      I just finished watching believer . And in the cut I watched , there is a scene where mr won steps out with his gun in his hands and blood stains on his face . So isn’t it enough proof already that it’s mr won who shot Mr rak aka Mr lee . May

  2. Taylor Holmes

    I agree with you – on many points. (And thanks for the education regarding the original, sheds a ton of light on the film in general.) Suicide by Gangster actually makes sense. But I don’t agree with your benefit of the doubt line of thinking wrt his doing so much good. His only goal, the only thing he wanted to do, was to get Mr. Lee off the streets. But he realized that the police, heck, society in general, wasn’t interested. He’d lost the war of public opinion. He was on his own. And therefore, when he went to Mr. Lee on his own, he knew he was going to die. He deserved to die, for failing. At least for the public opinion battle anyway.

    But yeah – the original movie really makes Won-ho’s character more interesting to me now. Because it could be 100% selfish motivation for going after Lee. Could be. Hrmmm. Interesting.

  3. deKev

    @Taylor, if you liked Drug War, which IMHO is far from being To’s best work, you could do a lot worse than checking out his earlier movies circa mid-noughties: Election (2005), Exiled (2006), and best of the lot, Mad Detective (2007). To me, Johnnie To is quintessentially Hong Kong cinema, in particular, the genre of crime and triad movies: stylised violence, deadpan weirdness, absurd codes of conduct, moral ambiguity, and just plain macho awesomeness. It’s just too bad his more recent efforts, like much of Hong Kong cinema of late in general, have lost their unique identity after assimilation into mainland China.

  4. Arun

    Hi . I just finished watching The believer (2018) . I don’t understand why there is so much confusion as to what happened in the end and it’s not ambiguous at all . In the version oli just watched , there is a scene where the cop , Won Ho steps out with the gun in his hand and blood stainss on his face after the shot is heard . So it’s clearly shown that it’s mr won who shot Mr Lee . Maybe the one I watched is a extended cut . And the ending titles are shown with the interior shot of Mr Won’s car returning back in the background . So isn’t it enough proof that it’s Mr won who shot Mr Lee aka Tak ?? And I didn’t find the Movie so great as I could tell from the beginning that Mr Lee was rak . But it was definitely a great watch !!

  5. James

    I just finished watching. As a armorer, I can tell you the sound of the gunshot was definitely a the .45 in front of Mr. Lee.

    I agree 100% with you. If you also look at it this way, if Won-Ho would have killed Mr. Lee, he would have exited the cabin to kill the two cooks.

  6. Myre

    Either the two.
    1. Mr. Lee gun is a silencer? they pulled the trigger simultaneously and killed each other. Not a gun expert but his gun seems different from Won-ho.
    2. Mr. Lee killed Won-ho, if not the car would have left. The car never left minutes after the shot, it’s just there.

  7. Matthew Mitchell

    Mr. Lee killed himself. The scene was this cold ice tundra which represented where Mr. Lee had found himself. Mr. Lee was never really happy and his life was a big paradox.


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